As the late House Speaker Tip O’Neill once famously noted, “All politics is local.” Today, news gathering, reporting and commentary are just as local.
Broadcast and print journalism outlets have always served broad audiences, while special interest magazines, newsletters and public access programming have stepped in to serve more specific audiences.
The phenomenon of hyper-local reporting — providing information of interest to a very specific segment of a well-defined small geographic area — is the newest branch in the evolution of reporting.
The weblog, or blog, is well-suited to this style of journalism, and bloggers in Howard and Anne Arundel counties have emerged to wax prolific on a growing number of subjects, both general and esoteric.
The following list, though hardly exhaustive, provides a starting point to explore some of the blogs that are popular now, and to discover others serendipitously by following links to other hyper-local blogs on a variety of subjects, recommended by the bloggers themselves.
LisaB, Mrs. S is the pseudonym of Lisa Schlossnagel, a former teacher and mother of three who developed a personal blog into one focused on the Howard County Public School System.
“It started out as a way to dump my brain and say what’s on my mind,” Schlossnagel said. “As my kids got to be school age, I had more time to devote to learning about issues affecting the education system. I think it’s important to be engaged. That’s easier to do with a blog, because there are only so many inches of coverage that can be allotted to any topic in traditional print media.”
Brian Dunn began his Columbia 2.0 blog in the early days of Howard County’s General Plan process. “It started as a way to get younger people involved with the redevelopment of downtown Columbia,” Dunn said. “I also try to keep people interested by blogging about other related development topics. We use social media to our advantage, reaching out via Facebook and Twitter.
Dunn uses a variety of social media tools to round out the blog. “We’ve been able to engage a younger audience with tools like Facebook and Twitter,” he said.
Jim Wang’s Bargaineering blog is aimed at early-career professionals in their mid- to late-20s. “It’s for someone who’s on their first job, trying to understand financial legalese,” Wang said. “Their parents took care of these things when they were young, and now the responsibility is on their shoulders and they tend to find it a little intimidating.”
The blog is popular because it distills esoteric financial-speak into something real people might say if they were hanging out together in a bar.” The readership demographic skews toward the wealthier, college-educated demographic, Wang said, and topics take more of a national focus than a local focus.
Tales of Two Cities is a blog focused on “stuff around here,” said writer Dennis Lane, “here” being Ellicott City and Columbia. “Because of my profession I look into real estate development issues, which is my thing, but it’s also about politics and literally anything that strikes my interest. I try to write it like my Business Monthly column — keep the reader in mind, get to the point and throw in a little opinion.”
The blog started, he said, “because developers were being pilloried in the press. There are a few bad developers out there, but the majority doesn’t deserve the bad press they tend to get.”
There’s no money in blogging, Lane noted. “But there’s incredible satisfaction when you get a lot of readers.”
Kyle Stewart is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Annapolis Sound blog, focusing on news, information and conversation for all Annapolitans. “We tell the story outside the triangle, instead of just leading with the fact and backing it up,” Stewart said. “We get past the facts and fill out the context that’s missing.”
Annapolis Sound does pick up some of the same stories that other mainstream outlets carry, “but we try to focus on life in the city, and include some of the most in-depth political coverage you’ll find outside of MarylandReporter.com,” Stewart said, referencing the reporting aggregator, analysis web site and blog operated by Len Lazarick, whose political column is a regular feature of The Business Monthly.
According to Stewart, the blog’s political content draws a demographic ranging from 39 to 65 years of age, while arts and entertainment skews to the 11- to 26-year age range. Coverage of family issues tends to draw the 22- to 40-year-old demographic, he added, making it one of the local blogs with the widest reading audience.
“We try to tell the stories as effectively as possible with all the tools at our disposal, including video and streaming audio,” Stewart said.
As redevelopment comes to Odenton Town Center, residents and patrons naturally want to stay up-to-date with the latest news. Two brothers — Shaun and Kevin Wilson — have made it their mission to do just that with the Wilson Bros. Blog.
The siblings started the blog approximately two years ago because Kevin, the broker of record for the 128-acre Independence Park development in Odenton, needed information about local amenities for marketing materials.
Surprised by a prevailing perception that dining options were limited to two restaurants, the Wilsons set out to highlight and review the amenities and restaurants that were being overlooked.
“So far we’ve reviewed more than 40 eating places ranging from sit-down dining to fast food to 7-11 convenience stores,” Shaun Wilson said. “We continue to highlight good amenities as we’ve become aware of them.”
The brothers also have addressed some of the complaints they’ve heard about the speed at which redevelopment is happening. “Our blog has a more positive outlook on what’s being done, and we’re doing our best to report what’s happening in the area as we talk with the developers,” Wilson said.
Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) and the Howard County Library have formed the first partnership of its kind in the nation to provide information on health education to the local populace through their Well & Wise blog. “We rolled the site out in May,” said Mary Catherine Cochran, who manages the blog for HCGH. “It’s a valuable tool, because it allows us to track statistics and identify the articles that seem to resonate with our audience.”
So far, she said, articles on fitness and eating right have enjoyed the best reception in the local community. “Our biggest readership to date was drawn to an article about how to have a simple Christmas,” she said.
Most Well & Wise blog readers tend to be younger, Cochran said, judging from the popularity of parenting blogs and others dealing with aging parents.
“We also provide a public service by listing scheduled events that promote health in Howard County,” she added, which include outdoors and activity events, health screenings, health fairs and other informational programs. “We see the blog as an extension of our own community.”
Frank Hecker, a sales engineer for the California-based IronKey Cyber Security Co., writes for what he terms a “very small” audience — 50 readers or less. But the topics he covers are extensive and recently included 23 installments on the history of redistricting in Howard County.
“My readers are mainly other bloggers and people involved in local politics,” he said.
Hecker has been blogging since the early 2000s.
“I blog about things I think are interesting, and for the last few years that’s been Howard County politics,” Hecker said. He has also dabbled in Howard County economic issues, social issues, and speculation as to whether Howard County could become something akin to an East Coast Silicon Valley with the right stimulation and planning.