Community Blogs May be the Newspapers of the Future

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By Kathy Tyson

Nashville. The appeal of bright lights, big city brought my family here more than five years ago, but instead of moving into the metro area we opted for a neighboring town. Homes were more affordable and we could get an acre or two to stretch our legs, get a dog, and plant a garden.

What I didn’t expect was the absence of a dedicated news source for my community of 25,000. Sure there was one daily paper for the entire county, but it focused on the bigger town up the road. Sure there was an army of media elite next door in the big city … newspapers, radio, and TV, but they also focused on Nashville.

Smyrna and LaVergne were the red-headed stepchildren of news coverage – we were the bump in the road between Nashville and Murfreesboro. With a gaping information vacuum for Northeast Rutherford County, a friend of mine started a web log called This is Smyrna (http://thisissmyrnatn.blogspot.com/). Her site traffic was strong and she pulled in a lot of comments and news suggestions from people living in the community. Through word-of-mouth – and the internet – This is Smyrna was growing into a great source for local information.

Following her lead, I started This is LaVergne (www.thisislavergne.com) on February 2, 2006 for my new hometown. I expected the city to be ecstatic about our site because I envisioned a partnership between us – a forum for citizen comments and a way for the city to promote their events. However, what should have been an asset to the town was viewed by some in the local government as a threat. There would be no welcoming rainbows and unicorns from our local government; instead, there would be a fight.

When readers would ask questions or comment about concerns, the city viewed it as an attack on their ability to govern. About a year after the site opened – and after we’d received several comments belittling the site – one writer suggested that police salaries should be increased because corruption often comes hand in hand with low police pay.
http://thisislavergne.wordpress.com/2007/04/23/no-jail-in-la-vergne-are-we-less-safe/ This caused quite a stir from one fuming reader, but others came to our defense,

If you want real action, stop griping on this site and write them [city officials] directly. That, they pay attention to…. Otherwise, out of sight, out of mind.

Good to know that the leaders of the La Vergne are only interested in the concerns that come through proper channels and can’t be bothered with a website created by concerned residents for fear of encountering occasional “controversy” of “bitchiness”.

After some very angry comments made against the site, our writers, and readers, we discovered that the attacks were coming from one person using several aliases (and whose IP address was listed as the city’s). The goal was to discredit our site, but the plan backfired because it was the controversy that greatly boosted our readership. After months more of trolling, an actual threat was made against me, so I went to one of our elected officials who with the mayor finally put a stop to it.

To this day, we don’t have what can be described as a good relationship with the city officially. Unofficially, I’ve been contacted by numerous city workers who’ve expressed gratitude and relief that there is a forum for the community. We give credit was credit is due when a city worker has gone above and beyond the call of duty. We attend city events and take photos. We write restaurant reviews and tell about new businesses that have opened.

The impact on the community is measurable. One reader suggested two years ago that the city buy a foreclosure in a huge subdivision that’s earned a bad reputation. He brought to public attention the idea to convert a house into a police substation and city offices – bring the city to the people for bill payments and police protection. While no house was purchased, the city did move a trailer into a park and now the police have a 24-hour presence in the troubled subdivision.

Although we can’t give ourselves credit because it may have been something in the works before it was publicly stated on our site, we can say we were quite vocal in our support of the idea and applauded the chief of police for his dogged pursuit of making it happen.

Meanwhile, we’ve grown to 10 volunteer writers and each has a distinct personality with views that appeal to a broad range of readers. We link to all the public schools that local students attend as well as other local web sites. In addition, I give periodic updates on the local housing market, including an annual neighborhood breakdown of real estate activity. Although they are linked, the community site and my business blog are in tandem because This is LaVergne was not developed to promote my availability as a real estate agent, but to provide a source of news and information for the residents of our town.

The print media might be disappearing from big towns, but in some small towns across America we can say, “Been there, done that.” We are used to it and have already found a way to communicate. Whether government or local officials like us or not, we are here to stay. Current major media should pay attention – community blogging may be the next wave news reporting.

Kathy Tyson is a Realtor specializing in residential real estate in Middle Tennessee. She was previously a communications manager for the National Association of State Treasurers, helped to establish the College Savings Plans Network whose membership gained tax exemption from Congress for state 529 college savings plans, and is an author of three books that can be found if you search her name at Lulu.com. When not selling real estate, Kathy uses her B.S. in Journalism and Broadcasting from Murray State University writing for Shak & Jill (www.shakandjill.com) and Banks.com (www.banks.com/blogs/realestate).

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One Comment

  1. Paul Chenoweth said January 18, 2009 | Permalink

    I applaud volunteer journalists who seek to fill the voids that Kathy describes. The long term success of internet delivery systems for this type of venture still depends on a business model that can generate enough income to support more than a volunteer staff. That model may require an ‘all out’ effort to create new methods of advertising plus the ability to demonstrate to local businesses that internet advertising will work on a targeted, local level.

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  1. […] CopyBlogger this morning as I’ve already linked them over there this morning. Also, go read Kathy Tyson’s featured article right now. It kicks the proverbial hiney. Seriously, it is some good […]

  2. […] and how they can move forward using technology. The featured article at this moment?  Mine. Here’s link love to my own article – something I don’t often do but every now and then when the context works I […]

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