Rethinking Conversation

Last I stepped out from behind the curtain at TDN, it was to let you know that the Digest had launched to try to automate some of the effort of blogging. After a few months of running the site on near-autopilot, I thought I’d share some observations.

The results of the Digest were good and bad. On the one hand, it created a regular post of the day’s news, press releases, and tweets. Just a few clicks in my Google Reader and a handful of hot, toasty links were served up for your consumption. Blogging was drop-dead simple.

On the other hand, the Digest created some overhead that, at first, cut into blogging, then displaced it, and then overwhelmed it altogether. The results of which, faithful readers are all too aware, was that after a few months of solid digests, they got sporadic, then they got consistent again — consistently bad.

Having daily posts on the blog was great, but the Digest never offered the kind of engagement that I wanted. Rather than remove the effort informing you, dear reader, it shifted the burden of translation to you, leaving you guessing what I’d meant by choosing the links that I did, what theme there was between them, and if their order mattered at all.

Part of the reason for that was because, at times, it really just felt like that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy was working at the chocolate factory: feverishly trying to keep up with the conveyor belt of chocolates whizzing by. Quality suffered in the process of keeping up with the automated post deadline.

Well, suffice it to say that I’m taking the site in a (yet another) new direction.

Today, TDN features a new theme that encourages more conversation: every comment you post on the site shows up right under the post on the home page. As I said back in August, the reason I got into blogging was to connect with my neighbors and consider together how to make this city great again (well, okay, that and the glamor).

Some of you have asked me about making this blog a more accessible place to share your thoughts, press releases, and insights. I’ll be announcing some changes here that will make posting really straightforward — stay tuned for those.

I attended a blogger conference over the winter and discovered that “hyperlocal blogging” is a crowded space: everyone from stalwart print publishers to tech startups to your shrill, foul-tempered neighbor wants to sum up your neighborhood’s wisdom on a webpage, bombard you to local ads, and cash in on the inevitable payola. The land grab for local content dominance has the allure of an accident on the Turnpike: fascinating and repellent, all at once.

The state of local journalism is a topic for another post, but I’ll share an insight one mid-size media guy confided: “None of us is going to Newark,” he said. “There’s no money there.”

He may be right: with a third of the city in poverty and unemployment stubbornly at double-digits, Newark doesn’t have an established income base of professionals that helped make, say, BaristaNet or Hoboken411 a sustainable business. Or, he may be underestimating a city on the cusp of urban renewal, awash in unrealized opportunity that marketers will be clamoring over in the next three years.

Time will tell. I decided some time ago that I’m not in this for the money: I’m ten years into another career that provided for my family during the worst economic meltdown since the 20s. And, while I respect and support the work of my friends at Newark Live, GlocallyNewark, NewarkSpeaks, and NewarkUSA, I think there’s still room for insightful and lively discussion about Newark by the people who live, work and study here.

I’m here because I love this city, and I can’t help talking about it — and I bet that that’s why you’re here, too. Thanks for reading.

Author: Ken Walker

Husband, Father, Analyst. In a glass case of emotion since 1978.

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