As my readers know, at my recent session at the No Better Time conference on dialogue and deliberation, one of the things I talked about in depth was the local blog I founded over two years ago, Rockville Central. Civic idealist and geek that I am, I created Rockville Central in order to have a sort of “test bed” for a number of the ideas and principles I had been working on for more than a decade in the civic field.
It seems to be filling a need, as this overtly civic online space is the second most-read local blog in the state. This growth has occurred organically, without trying to pump numbers and without hype.
(I understand that this blog is a different breed of local blog — that many local blogs are devoted to political argumentation and to snide commentary.)
At the No Better Time conference, some of my colleagues led discussions about the differences between “blogs” and “newspapers.” There were strong views, and a lot of it was expressed in the abstract. This week, two things happened on Rockville Central that illustrate important aspects of what the blog is about. I’ll discuss them in separate posts (today, and tomorrow).
A New Mayoral Candidate
In my town, the incumbent mayor has just announced a first re-election run. There’s a city council member who has been considering running for mayor, too, which is generating a great deal of interest among City Hall watchers. The current mayor announced her re-election campaign on Saturday. I covered it by posting a quick video.
Shortly before that time, I began to get notes from various quarters about the city council member’s plans, cluing me in that she was planning on running. They came from a few independent sources whom I believed to be credible. I had the sense, though, that the council member would rather not have the information get out until they were ready to announce.
Our weekly newspaper comes out on Wednesdays. Today, the paper announced that the city council member had confirmed her mayoral run. They had called the council member on Saturday to get confirmation of the rumor, and ran with it.
I could have done that, but chose not to. I let us get scooped on purpose, and I am proud of it.
Rockville Central is not an in-your-face blog, forcing people to respond to tough questions — it’s a civic space. Sometimes that means conveying news but it does not mean conveying news with a sense of competition behind it. I figured that when the council member was ready to announce (which I expect in a few days) I would cover it the same way I covered the mayoral announcement, offering essentially the same space to each.
I believe this all is rooted in my sense of purpose in what I do, and it defines the difference between my local civic blogging and Journalism — even though the two may look similar. The difference is this: a journalist sees their role as to inform. I see my purpose as helping the community to be as good as it can be. And that means sometimes I let stories unfold naturally, without help from my own questioning.
This has raised questions among some of my local friends from time to time, when they send me a “scoop” that I then do not run with. It’s all becuase I see my obligations differently. We’ve got a newspaper, and their job is to cover. We’ve also got a local civic blog, and our job is to open up a space for people to enter public life.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about what it can look like when someone enters that space we’ve opened up.