BLOGFEST 07 IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
Ask a Brooklyn BloggerBy THE NEW YORK TIMES
This week, Louise Crawford, the founder of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, and creator of the annual Brooklyn Blogfest, will be responding to readers’ questions about her life as a blogger and her experiences in the blogging community in Brooklyn.
In 2004, Ms. Crawford started her blog, a popular hyper-local blog, which covers arts, culture, politics, restaurants, bars, local shopping, civics, urban life and parenting in brownstone Brooklyn. In 2005 she created the Brooklyn Blogfest, an annual gathering of Brooklyn bloggers for which she has been called “something akin to a den mother of Brooklyn blogging” by Time Out New York.
A writer of fiction and nonfiction, Ms. Crawford is the weekly Smartmom columnist for The Brooklyn Paper. Her articles have appeared in Newsweek and have been carried by The Associated Press. She also runs Brooklyn Reading Works, a monthly literary reading series that presents thematic readings, including Edgy Mother’s Day, the Memoirathon, Feast (Writers on Food) and Blarneypalooza.
Prior to her career as a blogger, columnist and event organizer, Ms. Crawford worked for several years producing film and video for corporations and nonprofits, including the Public Theater, where she worked on “Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk” and “Twilight Los Angeles” with Anna Deavere Smith. She also directed a documentary film called “In A Jazz Way: A Portrait of Mura Dehn,” which was financed by the National Endowment for the Arts and won blue ribbon at the American Film Festival. It was was shown at the Museum of Modern Art, at the Film Forum, on cable television and at many festivals.
Ms. Crawford was born at the French Hospital in Manhattan and grew up on Riverside Drive. Her father was an advertising copywriter and her mother ran the bookstore at the International Center of Photography. She lives in an apartment in Park Slope with her husband, the photographer Hugh Crawford, who posts daily photos on OTBKB as No Words Daily Pix. Her 19-year-old son is set to go to college in the fall, and her daughter is starting eighth grade next year.
And yes, she is a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op.
Out of Brooklyn, Endlessly BloggingBy Sewell Chan
Certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn seem to have become the most blog-rich areas of the United States, according to a recent informal survey by the blog Outside.in. So where better to take the pulse of this rapidly growing community of writers, thinkers and observers than the second annual Brooklyn Blogfest?
The blogfest was begun last year by Louise Crawford, who runs Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, which focuses on Park Slope and surrounding neighborhoods. Ms. Crawford said she expected perhaps a handful of people to attend last year’s event and was pleasantly surprised when 130 turned up.
Last night’s blogfest lasted an hour and was decidedly offline, with more than 100 bloggers and their admirers crammed into the second floor of the Old Stone House, a reconstruction of a 17th century Dutch farm house at the rear of J. J. Byrne Park in Park Slope. (Several people were turned away at the door after organizers said the house was filled to capacity.)
The event began, a bit formally, with a blessing by the Rev. Daniel Meeter, the pastor of Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope and himself a blogger. He gave a blessing then described blogging with some enthusiasm: “I just think it’s great. It’s a way of carrying the spirit over the wires. It’s marvelous what you do.”
Six bloggers, some of them quite well-known, then spoke on the question of what impact blogs have had on Brooklyn.
Steven Berlin Johnson, Outside.in
Mr. Johnson, the author of several books and an occasional contributor to The New York Times, said he had managed a personal blog for several years and, over the last two years, found that more and more neighborhood blogs were “providing information about the zone of my experience that I actually care the most about, beyond the immediate zone of my family.”
He said he started outside.in as a way of geographically organizing and linking blogs from neighborhoods around the country. Users search the site by ZIP code to find blogs in their communities.
Mr. Johnson — who acknowledged that his study of the nation’s 10 “bloggiest” neighborhoods (Clinton Hill came in first) was not entirely scientific — noted that six of the 10 neighborhoods are in the throes of gentrification. “When you have a neighborhood that’s gentrifying, all the issues, whether pro or con, that are happening, all the events that are happening are so charged and so passionate,” he said. “Blogging gives those issues a kind of form and a stature and a reach that previously was very hard to find in traditional media outlets.”
Lumi Michelle Rolley, noLandGrab
Ms. Rolley’s blog is devoted to criticizing the Atlantic Yards project, a massive and deeply controversial project that the developer Bruce C. Ratner is erecting near downtown Brooklyn. The Web site has become a popular resource for opponents of the project, which has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and regulatory challenges.
Ms. Rolley asserted that traditional news organizations had failed to give opposition to the Atlantic Yards project adequate and fair coverage. “While the rest of the mainstream media is busy wondering whether they’re still relevant, they’re doing a good job at being irrelevant,” she said.
Ms. Rolley credited several other bloggers for diligently poring over the plans for Atlantic Yards and said that the news media had failed to report the “unprecedented sale and historic scale of this project.”
(She was particularly critical of The New York Times. Forest City Ratner is the development partner building the new Midtown headquarters of The New York Times Company. Business executives involved with that effort have played no role in the news coverage of Atlantic Yards, which a recent article about new legal challenges noted was “one of the biggest construction projects in the city’s history.”)
“Blogs have become our only defense against Ratner propaganda,” Ms. Rolley said. “Information is power, and through this information-sharing, blogs have become the primary way that our community groups have empowered themselves.”
Robert Guskind, Gowanus Lounge
In the year since its inception, Mr. Guskind’s blog about “post-industrial Brooklyn and New York City” has attracted a loyal following, reflected in the warm applause that greeted his remarks.
Mr. Guskind, who is also the Brooklyn editor at Curbed, a popular real estate blog, estimated that between both blogs he had written 3,600 posts over the past year – an enormously prodigious output.
“I think if you had told me about 18 months ago that I’d be putting in 16-hour workdays, and spending my weekends on my hands and knees trying to take pictures of oil seeping up development sites in Williamsburg, I would have told you you were a little crazy,” he said.
Mr. Guskind, who has a background as a print reporter, said, “I’m not going to jump on The New York Times,” but he declared, “Mainstream media has thoroughly abrogated its responsibility to the borough in which we live, and to the issues that matter most to all of us.”
He said that local blogs had greatly raised awareness of development issues in Brooklyn. “The days when you could, for instance, tear down a building without anyone really noticing or paying attention are over,” he said.
Mr. Guskind was one of the only speakers to note that the gathering was hardly representative of Brooklyn, the city’s most populous borough. “I hope that when we do this again 12 months from now that there are bloggers here from Sheepshead Bay and from Flatbush and from other neighborhoods where you don’t have blogs,” he said, “and that there’s more diversity in this room.” (Of more than 100 participants, all but a handful were white.)
Jonathan Butler, Brownstoner
Mr. Butler, who started his popular blog two years ago, kept his identity a secret until earlier this year, when he quit his job at a Wall Street brokerage to focus full time on Brownstoner, which focuses on Brooklyn real estate, architecture and renovation.
Mr. Butler enumerated several advantages of blogs: their intense local focus, their transparency and their potential for fostering a sense of community. He estimated that he gets 400 e-mail messages a day on his BlackBerry. “It’s been really an eye-opening experience for me to witness and host this dialogue that is constantly going on,” he said.
But Mr. Butler said it was difficult to make a living off blogging. “In terms of supporting yourself, I wouldn’t encourage many of you to quit your job quite yet,” he said to understanding chuckles from his audience.
Mr. Butler, a Princeton graduate who grew up on the Upper East Side, suggested that full-time blogging was a mixed blessing. “What happens when you actually quit your job and you’re supposed to be paying the mortgage with this money?” he asked, noting that he often rises at 4 a.m. anxious about the blog. “You can’t get away from your blog and it becomes even more of an obsession. Be careful what you wish for.”
Norman Oder, Atlantic Yards Report
Like Ms. Rolley, Mr. Oder runs a blog that is devoted to criticizing the Atlantic Yards project, but he took pains to note that he sees himself as a journalist first.
“It’s commentary, it’s analysis, it’s reportage, but I really do call myself a journalist who uses a blog, because it’s easy to dismiss bloggers,” he said. “There are enough bloggers who are just noodling around their own personal musings that they manage to allow people who don’t understand us, who don’t read what we do carefully, to dismiss us.”
Eleanor Traubman, Creative Times
Ms. Traubman said her blog – which began as an e-mail newsletter in 1999 — is dedicated to honoring creativity. “I want to celebrate people who are local heroes,” she said. “I’m tired of the obsession with celebrity culture. Yeah, it’s fun, it’s eye candy, but I want to put the spotlight on local heroes.”
She cited her blog post about Eva Zeisel, a glass and ceramic designer who was imprisoned in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist era before emigrating to the United States. (Ms. Traubman, on her blog, noted that she first learned of Ms. Zeisel in a CBS News program.)
Ms. Traubman said she was focused on creating a support group for female artists. “I don’t want to hide behind my blog,” she said. “I want to create a real community of artists based on my blog, and that’s my vision of where I want to go with it.”
After the presentations by the six bloggers, Ms. Crawford invited others in the room to line up and briefly speak into the microphone about their blogs. Twenty-two people took up the offer. A sampling:
- Urbanseashell — A Collection, a blog, run by Lisa Di Liberto, for artists and small businesses.
- Supervegan, a vegan blog and restaurant guide.
- Clinton Hill Blog, run by Robin Lester, who moved to the neighborhood in 2004.
- Flatbush Gardener, which promises “adventures in neo-Victorian, wild, shade, organic and native plant gardening, garden design, and garden restoration.”
- Non-Profit Tech Blog, billed as the confessions of Allan Benamer of Sunset Park, an information-technology director at a nonprofit organization.
Thrice Fresh, a blog by Ted Lange, devoted to comics and sketches.
- Crazy Stable, run by Brenda Becker of Flatbush, who said she enjoyed writing about “everything from bird watching to bipolar disorder.”
- Self-Absorbed Boomer, a delightfully named blog run by Claude Scales. “If you do look at it, I hope you’ll agree that it’s intentionally ironic,” he said. “It’s self-absorbed in the sense that it deals with all kinds of things that I happen to be interested in.”
Luna Park Gazette, run by Rob Lenihan, a Brooklyn native, who said, “Pretty much whatever is in my mind is on my blog.”
- The Food of the Future, a food blog run by Sam Horine.