Blogs and Building Communities

Editor’s Note: I recently attended WordCamp Richmond, which was all about blogging using WordPress. I learned a lot, felt overwhelmed at times and was inspired to write several blogs. This is the final one. Part 1 focused on whether to start a blog and Part 2 focused on blog comments.

“We have a lot to talk about” was the refrain of several bloggers who write about their communities, whether it’s a neighborhood or a community built around the theater.

During the recent WordCamp Richmond several bloggers shared their experiences in keeping a community blog going.

Scott Berger writes about a small neighborhood in Richmond, Va., known as Oregon Hill. It’s near a major university, which has eroded some of the neighborhood’s character. He wanted to write about the community because “it’s such a great neighborhood.”

He also wanted to bring neighborhood concerns out in the open because “We weren’t getting through to the mainstream press. They weren’t really giving our viewpoint.”

John Murden also lives in a unique neighborhood in Richmond, known as Church Hill. “It’s a crazier neighborhood than I ever have lived in,” he told the audience. He cited the beautiful old houses and the hookers near his house. He started finding things that were important to the neighborhood such as historic preservation and the blog Church Hill People’s News was born.

Mike Clark and his wife created a blog around theater reviews, ShowBizRadio. “Our review was the two of us talking about the show and recording it and putting it up as a podcast,” he said. They added interviews with actors, producers and designers. Then they added a calendar with show times and audition dates. They started hiring writers. “Now we go to less shows, but have more content,” Mike said.

Scott says he tries to recognize the journalistic venture in his blog, but he also includes his opinions. And because he’s covering a small neighborhood, he has to be respectful of people’s privacy. He finds comments by listening, attending meetings and also checking out Craig’s List and foreclosures. A recent post highlighted a vintage 1950s blue vinyl chair and ottoman for sale. He then reminded the neighbors about an upcoming flea market.

John, too, pulls from wherever he can. “The best is when I do my own reporting,” he noted. One piece he was proud of was comparing crime data from the worst crime year to the present. It took a lot of time, and that, said the panelists was the difficult part. The blogs are not a full-time job for them and most don’t get paid. “It’s hard to find the time,” John said.

Added Scott, “ It’s a matter of time and energy.”

He’s had readers complain about his photography, but he has to laugh. He said he often takes the photos using his cell phone when he’s walking two dogs around the block. “They’re not going to be the best photos!”

They all agree that they need to find others to help with the blogs. Said Mike, “The site is not evergreen so if I don’t post something new within a few weeks, the site is dead.”

They keep doing it, though, because it helps their communities. Said Scott, “Sometimes people don’t always know what’s going on in the next block. Let’s get together and figure out what’s going on and how we can address it.”

John said letting neighbors know about meetings led to the formation of a dog park in his community. And he helped get the word out about neighborhood clean-ups. “Here’s how you can make a real difference in our neighborhood in a couple of hours.”

Blog Comments: Good or Bad?

Editor’s Note: I recently attended WordCamp Richmond, which was all about blogging using WordPress. I learned a lot, felt overwhelmed at times and was inspired to write several blogs. This is the second one. Part 1 focused on whether to create a blog and Part 3 will talk about communities and blogging.

One of the best parts of blogging is when someone writes a comment after I post a blog. The comment lets me know that I said something that resonated. My goal is to get to the point where there is a long comment stream because it means that the conversation is continuing.

When it comes to comments on blogs, there are three considerations.

  1. Should I respond to comments? “Yes! It’s building relationships,” says Bradley Robb, who spoke at WordCamp Richmond
  2. Should I allow comments? Yes, if you want to steer the conversation.
  3. Can I delete comments I don’t like? Yikes!

If someone posts that they liked the blog, I sometimes acknowledge the kinds words. I know I should do it every time. Sometimes, I get distracted, but really, it’s a compliment, and you should always acknowledge a compliment.

I have my blog set up that I must approve the comment in advance. Only once did I not allow a comment and that’s when someone made a wild claim that I could not substantiate and I feared it could lead to a libel issue.

One time, I made a grammatical mistake in my blog post. A reader sent me a comment. How embarrassing! I quickly revised the blog, and I allowed the comment to remain. I want my readers to know that their comments are appreciated.

Comments are a great way to keep the conversation going. At WordCamp Richmond Frank Fitzpatrick of Henrico County Schools (Va.) shared how students in his school district studied multicultural versions of Cinderella and then commented on blog posts about the topic. Students are taught early about internet safety. Commenting on blogs was a means for  students to pull their thoughts together and share with others, Frank said.

When won’t I allow a comment? As I already noted, if the comment could lead to legal troubles, is offensive or is off topic. After all, this is a community of professional communicators, and I think everyone expects a level of professionalism.

Going forward, I hope to hear from more of you on the blog through comments. For those who are consistent posters, thank you! Your comments mean the world to me.