August 10, 2008
Voices From the Suburban Blogosphere
By BOB TEDESCHI
WHEN bloggers emerged from the Web’s primordial ooze in 1999, many simply posted articles of the type that had long been inkjetted onto paper, quill-penned on parchment or chiseled in stone.
Suburban bloggers, though, spawned a subgenre of narratives about diaper changing, neighbor trouble, temporary traffic snags and other subjects rarely considered worthy of publication in previous eras.
Back then, it was hard to tell whether these lonesome scribes could sustain the chore over the long run, and if they did, what sort of audience they might attract.
Nearly a decade later, bloggers in the suburbs are starting to answer those questions. Many have let their sites go untended, but a few have built serious local journalism operations, while others have developed a following on certain topics and bask in the muted limelight of Internet fame. These survivors offer newly minted bloggers a pixilated blueprint for how to rise above the chaos of the blogosphere. For readers, the blogs are providing news in ways unseen in traditional local news media.
Perhaps no other suburban blog has led to as many wannabes as Baristanet.com, which focuses on Montclair, N.J., and surrounding towns. Like the other town-centered news blogs, Baristanet posts about five or six videos, articles or photos every weekday, but readers get much more than that on the site. The chemistry of Baristanet’s topics, tone and length prompts reader contributions at an impressive clip, often dozens per post.
Liz George, 41, one of the site’s founders, said reader postings often shed new light on a story. “It’s so cooperative — whether it’s people airing their grievances, or reporting some social inequities or telling us about a crime in progress,” she said. “That’s the thing that if anyone can develop, they can be successful.”
Baristanet.com debuted in early 2004 and now attracts 18,000 readers on peak days, Ms. George said. In recent months the site has attracted more than 82,000 monthly readers, or roughly twice the population of Montclair, and about three times the number of readers it had early last year, she said. (While some Web sites like compete.com and Alexa.com offer blog traffic measurements, that information is often incomplete. There are few reliable methods to verify readership figures for most blogs since Internet research firms tend to track sites above a certain threshold of visitors.)
The site has a full-time editor, Annette Batson, who is the "daily editor, " (the founders don’t regard themselves as full-time editors), a full-time designer, and four part-time workers. Ms. George said that the site now consistently generates more than $10,000 in monthly profits.
At least two other blogs in New Jersey have had similar success with readers and advertisers. Red Bank Green (www.redbankgreen.com), started in 2006, is edited — and largely written — by John Ward, 51, a former business reporter for The Star-Ledger of Newark, who recently published an offshoot, Red Bank Orbit, devoted to the town’s arts and dining scene. The main site, Mr. Ward said, attracts about 45,000 readers a month.
Hoboken411.com, meanwhile, attracts more than 250,000 monthly visitors, according to the site’s publisher, Perry Klaussen, 38, one of the area’s few successful bloggers who did not emerge from the news media industry. He previously negotiated contracts for corporations in New York. Mr. Klaussen said that methods for tracking Web site visitors probably overstated the actual number, but that readers click on “several million” pages monthly on his blog, founded in 2006, and have added more than 100,000 comments.
Mr. Klaussen said he found stories by walking the streets of Hoboken with his dog, Oscar, after waking at 10 a.m. He typically updates the site after midnight, quitting at 5 or 6 a.m. — a schedule that precludes much dating. “It’s been very hard for me to have a normal relationship,” he said.
Connecticut has also birthed a handful of successful town blogs. WestportNow.com (www.westportnow.com), started in 2003, has more than 40,000 monthly readers, according to Gordon Joseloff, 63, Westport’s first selectman and WestportNow’s publisher. Its famed “Teardown of the Day” feature highlights one of the town’s biggest hot-button issues, but the site’s readers have come to rely on it for fast-track reporting on gas line breaks, traffic snags and the like.
An even more ambitious site, the New Haven Independent (NewHavenIndependent.com), begun in 2005, has helped counter the declining local newspaper coverage of those areas. Like other journalists who run news sites, Paul Bass, New Haven Independent’s editor, does not consider himself a blogger.
“We’re a news site,” Mr. Bass said.