About two years ago, Peter Feddo, a political consultant, and his neighbor, photographer Joe Schilling, started a tenant Web site covering safety issues in and around their building at 10 S. Boulevard (10sboulevard.com). Now it's morphed into a community news blog that covers public-safety issues — like dangerous intersections and crime issues in and around the Fan, Museum District and Carytown — with an irreverent voice.
"Public safety, awareness, it's kind of boring on the surface, but we've figured out a way we can make it fun," Feddo says. "In this day and age, there are so many distractions and competing media out there, that it's hard to break through, especially when you're trying to build a sense of community. It can be the last thing on people's minds when they come home, but we've made it fun and entertaining to hype something like potholes on the Boulevard into something everybody's interested in and wants to read about."
In recent years, a slew of local community blogs have emerged. Some are new-media upstarts looking to scoop the traditional broadcast and print outlets on street-level issues. Others capture the character of their areas with quirky articles on everything from quality-of-life topics to photo essays on lawn decorations. (Who knew there was a door to a Hobbit hole in North Side?)
The granddaddy of the region's community-news blogs is Church Hill People's News (chpn.net/news), started in 2004 by John Murden, a sixth-grade history teacher at Martin Luther King Middle School. "People are interested in what's going on around them on a real small scale, in a way that's not covered very much by the local media," says Murden, whose blogs include posts such as a local florist closing shop or recent neighborhood police reports. Community blogging leads to more real-world involvement between neighbors, Murden says. As a result of working on his Church Hill blog, Murden flirted with a run for City Council in the next election. "I've gone to so many meetings and I've walked so many streets and I've gotten to know so many people that I want to become more involved."
About two years ago, Murden began beating the drum to get other local bloggers to start community sites in their neighborhoods. One of the first to respond was self-employed Web designer/developer Ross Catrow, who now runs several community-news sites. "It's great to have local community blogs. They ferret out the hidden, important news that's happening locally, and sometimes that's important to Richmond as a whole," Catrow says. His sites include RVA News (rvanews.com), a one-stop site that posts content from many of the blogs discussed in this article, as well as original pieces from local personalities such as music expert Chris Bopst. It also pulls in coverage from the VCU Rams Nation site. Catrow also founded the West of the Boulevard News blog (wotbn.net) and RichmondCrime.org, a site offering city crime stats.
Another blogger who answered Murden's call was John Sarvay, who created North Richmond News (northrichmondnews.com) in 2007, which covers both the city and Henrico's Lakeside area. A typical day's content mixes everything from news about City Council and new sidewalks and shed break-ins to whimsical photos of tree faces in the Bellevue neighborhood. "It's become a pretty important hub for the community, but it's also a great way for me and my wife to stay connected to what's going on in the part of town we live in," says Sarvay, a self-employed leadership-development coordinator. He also pens another blog, Buttermilk & Molasses (floricane.typepad.com/buttermilk), which offers his take on Richmond culture and politics.
Yet another site inspired by Murden is Near West End News (nearwestendnews.net), run by Jonah Holland and Kory Mohr, and roughly covering the area west of 195 to Parham Road. Holland, a PR and marketing coordinator for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden who also runs her own social-media marketing business, handles the writing for the site, covering local news items and regional events such as the Richmond Folk Festival. Near West End News has a content partnership with the University of Richmond's student newspaper, The Collegian, and is seeking to start new partnerships with more area journalism students from high schools and colleges.
As a rule, these indie news sites aren't money-makers; they're labors of love and are looking for other laborers to share the load. "If you're one of those people who tend to know what's going on around town, offer your services," Holland suggests. "There's absolutely no pay involved, but it's a lot of fun."
ALSO OF NOTE: Other active community blogs in the Richmond area include: Carver and Jackson Ward News (cjwn.net/news/); Petersburg People's News (pburgpn.net); Chesterfield Daily (chesterfielddaily.net); Fan District Hub (fdhub.net); Oregon Hill (oregonhill.net); Hills and Heights (pharrout.com/~hillsand), which covers the Forest Hill area and nearby neighborhoods; Save Richmond (saverichmond.com), a news site run by local arts activist Don Harrison, who consistently breaks news concerning the performing arts center; and Slantblog (slantblog.blogspot.com) by mainstay Fan District muckraker and artist F.T. "Terry" Rea.