Your Digital Neighborhood
Free Weekly Staff
Go ahead, Google Blog.
That was mere gibberish a decade ago.
Maybe a handful of Wall Streeters and Silicone Valley hipsters noticed the private launch of a baby business called Google in September 1998. Open Diary, hailed as the first online blogging community went live a month later.
But in the ensuing decade, blogs became kudzu — dense, chaotic, sometimes a nuisance, sometimes a shady terrarium where the unexpected blossoms.
Local blogs take you into a community’s nitty-gritty, way past the safety ropes of sites that end in .gov or .org. Fayetteville’s virtual neighborhood indicates a fecund online ecology, spirited and intimate, a hothouse environment for a college town.
Here are a few of the Free Weekly’s favorites. In making this decision, three factors were key: daily updates, local content and quality of content. It doesn’t matter if that content is sharp political rhetoric, the latest band announcement or simply a day in the life of a mom, it just has to be about Fayetteville and interesting.
1. The Iconclast http://jonah-tebbetts.blogspot.com/
The Iconoclast is Fayetteville’s anonymous gadfly — like a virtual Socrates.
City officials read it. Local journalists read it. Even Little Rock’s Arkansas Times peers northward occasionally to take note of The Iconoclast on their own blog.
The Iconoclast’s writers channel their blogs through the long-dead persona of Jonah Tebbetts, a judge who built the historic Headquarters House in 1853 where the Battle of Fayetteville was fought in the front yard at the “bloody corner” of College Avenue and Dickson. The essays often call public officials out on their decisions, and the only people not named are the actual writers of the blog.
Read this one alongside your daily paper to help you read between the lines.
May you never be offered a hemlock-laced drink by the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Tebbetts.
2. Fayetteville Flyer http://www.fayettevilleflyer.com/
The Fayetteville Flyer, or just “The Flyer” to those in the know, came out of the gate with a flashy site that takes old school ‘zine ambitions to digital heights. Tongue-in-cheek but informative, the Flyer is usually just behind the professionals in putting news out the public online. On the entertainment news front, they’ve even broken a story or two. It’s worth bookmarking.
3. Sufferin’ Succotash http://alannahmassey.blogspot.com/
Alannah told the Free Weekly that she’s not quite ready for attention on her public blog yet. Thanks, but she’d prefer not to comment for this article. She’s likes to think of her digital audience mostly as friends she actually knows in real life. We understand. The problem is, if it’s a public blog, the public is reading it — especially if they can link to it from The Iconoclast. Blogs like Sufferin’ Succotash give a vicarious thrill to the reader just because they are so intimate and genuine. Alannah is stressed, and her writing about her stress, and her addiction to Bravo programs, makes for a good read. Feeling down? Go take a look at the trials of Sufferin’ Succotash and feel a little better.
4. Life Plus Kids http://www.lifepluskids.com/
This is the digital Promise Land for those with children. If it’s a kid-friendly event and its going on in Northwest Arkansas, Terri Chadick, mother of two children, will let you know on her blog. She said she formed it out of frustration, hoping to create a clearinghouse of information about things for kids to see in do in the area. If you find yourself with a kid and nothing to do, this should be your “go to” site.
5. Fayetteville and NW Arkansas Live Journal http://community.livejournal.com/fayetteville_ar/
Sometimes a week can pass before this site is updated, but it’s so random and representative of different people, we thought it worth inclusion. People post about anything here — a lost cat, a lost wedding ring, the June 22 Firefly Festival, a Mac for sale, bead classes being offered, or a request for how to get rid of ants in a pet-friendly way. And that’s just on page one. Got a question about the community, chances are you can get your choice of answers from other users’ response. You can often follow the poster back to their own live journal site as a bonus stalking treat.
Great nature photography and local political commentary together at last. Aubunique is quite unique and prolific.
Fayetteville Free Weekly
Were did you go? We miss you. Line by line deconstruction of the Free Weekly’s Tony Macklin movie reviews were a bittersweet treat. You stopped updating for awhile, then promised to be back, then disappeared again. We have trust issues now.
The Northwest Arkansas Crime Report
It’s not the kind of crime that makes you want to move away. It’s the kind of crime that makes you wonder about your neighbors’ intelligence and sanity.
An intimate blog with some great photography. Sarah’s documentarian eye and insight shine throughout. You have to go to the first post to uncover the meaning behind the name.
Light on images, but heavy on good writing and local political insight. Richard Drake’s blog keeps Northwest Arkansas informed.
Valerie’s musings about her life, her cat Tigger and “Superman” Mayor Dan Coody’s announcement he is running again are worth a look.
Five Questions with the Fayetteville Flyer
1. Who writes the Fayetteville Flyer?
We’d prefer not to use our real names for the time being. It’s not that we are necessarily afraid of being identified. We’d just rather the Fayetteville Flyer have a voice of its own rather than it being about what each of us think individually. However, if you really wanted to know who we are, it wouldn’t take long to track us down. Trust me, it’s already happened a couple of times! As for our “team”, there’s a core of three writers who consistently post stories and about a half dozen others who submit entries from time to time. We’re all local residents who love Fayetteville.
2. Why did you start the blog?
Fayetteville is easily one of the greatest cities in the country to call home. As a college town full of music, culture, arts, and of course sports, we believe there’s got to be some kind of alternative voice on the internet. Frankly, I am surprised that it has taken this long for someone to step up to the plate. Our original goal was, like many bloggers, to simply be heard. However, our pageviews per day have skyrocketed and now we feel like we have more of a responsibility to inform rather than just to rant. Of course, with full-time day jobs, we’re certainly limited in terms of capacity to perform original investigative journalism. Fortunately, however, that limitation seems to have become a strength lately as we’re finding that our readers appreciate brief, to-the-point stories that eventually provide links to further information. It’s only natural, though, as the vast majority of our readers probably only have about as much time to read as we do to write…during breaks at work or between classes. We’re keeping advertising out of the picture for now but we’re not ruling it out entirely. With 2007’s severe decline in print ad revenue and the giant leap that its online counterpart raked in, it’s exciting to look towards the future. It would be the greatest job in the world if we could somehow make a living out of writing for the Fayetteville Flyer. However, we feel like making the jump to hosting ads might not be as thrilling to some of our readers. We’d certainly have to do that in a way that was not only right for us but for our specific audience as well. Until then, we’re content with the way things are right now.
3. What role do you think local blogs can play in a community?
Local blogs have a lot to offer a community. At the very least, they provide local residents with a means to be heard. At a deeper level, though, they can be extremely hyperlocal and much more audience-specific than traditional print media. A typical “letters to the editor” section in a newspaper can only hold so much and it certainly doesn’t provide a very good means of conversation. An online article can be written, published, commented upon and updated or corrected in a matter of minutes. It can also be immediately read by anyone with internet access. What I find most interesting, though, is that as younger people start to rely more on websites like ours for their daily dose of locally pertinent information rather than by reading newspapers, we still rely on those sources for our information. This could obviously lead to some serious tension between the professionals and the community journalists. However, in many larger cities, the big newspapers are starting to explore ways to partner up with small community-based blogs in order to reach a specific audience. I find all of this to be incredibly fascinating and could go on forever. I’ll stop now.
4. Do you read The Onion?
Not much, really. From time to time, I’ll stumble across something hilarious they’ve done but for the most part, I’m glued to local and national news outlets. At the Fayetteville Flyer, we don’t do much satire. Partly because nobody could ever come close to covering issues in such a clever way as The Onion but also because I believe that in order to earn the trust of your readers, you can’t be mixing fake news in with the real stuff unless it’s incredibly obvious what you’re up to. That takes skill and we’re certainly not professionals by any stretch of the imagination.
5. Anything else you’d like to comment on … Favorite cheese, paper v. plastic, mayoral endorsement, etc?
As for a mayoral endorsement, we haven’t even begun to figure out who is the best person for the job. However, we are currently lining up interviews with the candidates in order to educate not only our readers about who’ll be on the ballot, but also ourselves.
The many voices (We think seven) inside the head of 140-year-old Jonah Tebbett’s agreed to an interview. Here are the unedited sounds we captured when they spoke in unison.
The Iconclast on The Iconoclast
At the Iconoclast, we are concerned mostly with local institutional power and politics. Government, media, business, and educational institutions have paid employees to spin their message and present their images in the light most favorable to their comfortable captains.
In theory, the media might serve as a check on the others, but it hasn’t worked out that way for a number of reasons. Advertising revenues, club memberships, and the need for sources make the news and editorial departments about as critical of local institutions as sportswriters are of hometown sports teams.
We get no advertising revenue and are paid no salaries, so we get to poke fun at the powerful and point out the absence of their wardrobes. We try to take the average citizens’ point of view, to offer alternative versions of the official story, and to present interesting arguments. Sometimes we do that well and sometimes we fail, but either way it is a polysyllabic picture of our community.
People can read the blog or not, but a surprising number of people do. We seldom have more than 600 unique visitors a day, but many of them are regular readers. One day last week, we had 15 visits from City Hall computers during regular office hours, staying logged on for more than two hours total. We are always glad to see our friends from the paid media stop by to see what we’re laughing about on a particular day. Even the Chamber and the UA brass check in from time to time. We are glad, but we are disappointed that they seem to take it so personal when we take issue with their actions.
We don’t hate anyone and actually like most of the public figures we discuss here; we just want them to be more open and less pompous and to do a better job. We all share the goal of a better community hereabouts, but we don’t always share the same vision of what that might be. We try to give voice to a version that often doesn’t get heard in the mainstream media and offer it up for consideration in an interesting way. We try to be serious about local issues without taking ourselves too seriously. And we always try to have some fun while we are doing it.
The Iconoclast on local blogs
Local blogs are a rag-tag lot, and we love them all. Some are personal reflections on private lives, much like a diary, and many of those are interesting. Sufferin’ Succotash is among the most interesting of that type. Others can serve as a clearinghouse of information, and nothing beats Life Plus Kids in that category. Aubrey Shepherd (Aubunique) is the most prolific local blogger. He has a bazillion blogs on numerous subjects from the environment to neighborhoods to city government, combining great photography with commentary. The Fayetteville Flyer is in a class by itself, half-website and half-blog, an amusing electronic minotaur of sports, entertainment, and wisecracking observation. The NWA Crime Report is also a favorite here. Richard Drake does a good job with Street Jazz, melding the strength of his CAT program and the Ozark Gazette into the blogosphere. Arkansas Tonight is a good local political blog, but none of us come close to the Arkansas Times blog that is a true model of what blogs can be and do.