The presidential candidates of both parties have uttered next to nothing about urban development, suburban well-being, and how to improve the quality of life in the places where 80 percent of Americans reside. But the Web sites of the candidates, particularly the Democrats, offer some clues.
My friend Brad Johnson, a graphic designer who with his wife, Julie Beeler, manages one of the hottest interactive multi-media studios in the country, Second Story Media in Portland, Oregon, sent me a link the other day to motionographer.com. Motionographer is a portal to much of the hottest and most creative online motion graphic artistry now happening around the United States and the world.
I’m often asked where the Web is going. My response since meeting and writing a New York Times piece last year about Brad and Julie is that it’s going to look a lot more like a video game than any of us ever anticipated. The rich motion graphics accompanied by music will immerse the visitor in a story-telling experience, much like video games do now.
Here’s one very cool site: Stardust, and its montage set to the Stones.
Spend more than a few moments clicking into the links on the left side of the page. Then look through the jobs section to get an idea of who’s growing, and what kind of skills are sought after in this new online graphic world. After a few minutes you’re likely to reach the same conclusion I did. Where’s the beating spirit of American creativity? It’s on the Web. Enjoy.
Thanksgiving at my house in White Plains wasn’t just the day that you could hear the trumpets and trombones warming up at the old stadium for the annual high school football game, or when grandmothers and grandfathers from both sides, aunts and uncles and cousins showed up for Mom’s turkey feast. It also was the day that the Reporter Dispatch thumped onto the driveway, a holiday newspaper stuffed with advertisements and inserts.
It’s still that way in some communities. But the ad-stocked Thanksgiving newspaper just like the daily newspaper itself is — in the parlance of the day — a content dissemination platform whose time is fast coming to an end.
Earlier this month IBM Global Business Services published a study based on an extensive survey of 2,400 consumers and 80 advertising executives that predicted 30 percent of the advertising revenue now being spent on traditional media — particularly television and print — will shift online in the next five years. Advertisers, aware of the ability of consumers to get what they want when they want it on the Web, also want their products placed where the consumers are. Advertisers look online to platforms and techniques that enable them to see what’s actually happening in click throughs, time spent on Web sites, time spent viewing and reading, the analytics that mainstream media can’t provide.
As a writer and public policy specialist who made the transition to online journalism and communications in 1998, none of IBM’s findings are surprising. They just confirm what is happening in my world. I spend much more time online working, reading, viewing, communicating, learning, and being entertained than I ever did with any other media. I earn my living reporting and editing online. I’ve developed a nice consultancy building the online capacity of individuals and organizations. My wife is enrolled in online college courses. My kids spend almost all their free time online, and a lot of time besides that.
But it’s also hard to watch daily newspapers, truly great civic institutions, get hammered by the online transition. What this means for civil society is still playing out. I see it as an opportunity and not a civic tragedy. Still, the near certainty of a day fast approaching when daily newspapers cease to be is producing painful career uncertainty for my friends in the business. Some have joined the thousands who’ve been bought out, laid off, dismissed, and forgotten all over the country.
Nancy Nall Derringer, who spent 25 years as a daily reporter, 19 of them as an editor and columnist in Indiana for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, published an essay last year that is among the most perceptive pieces on the subject that I’ve read. Nancy is a newspaper refugee. She lives in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, where she freelances. Her husband, Alan Derringer, is an editor with the Detroit News.
“I think about someone else I’ve been paying attention to lately,” Nancy writes at the essay’s end, “a young Fort Wayne native, Nathan Gotsch. In late spring of 2005, he started a weblog he called Fort Wayne Media Notes. A few months later he changed the name to Fort Wayne Observed (now edited by Mitch Harper) and widened the focus accordingly. Like most blogs, he started out slow and tentative, linking to published reports and adding a few comments. Soon, though, he was finding and breaking stories – not every day, but often enough that you wanted to check the site daily, just in case. He had a fresh and clear writing style, an eye for a story and obviously knew how to cultivate sources. Plainly, he understood the Internet. And he was unemployed, in the ebb tide after college graduation. In other words, he was the sort of bright young man a newspaper editor should be wooing with candy and flowers. It so happens that as a film school grad, Gotsch was more interested in making movies in Hollywood than journalism in Fort Wayne.”
Outside.in is a Web site launched last year to gather the panoply of writers doing place-based blogging. The site is the brain child of Steven Johnson, a prominent writer and blogger in New York who’s written five books and contributes to, among others, the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Johnson was helped by John Geraci, a social media specialist, and John Seely Brown, the former chief scientist of the Xerox Corporation and member of the board of Amazon and the MacArthur Foundation. Outside.in has done a good job of raising venture capital because its business strategy is to adorn the local reporting and commentary with local advertising. When I log in, for example, the page that pops up is an amalgamation of articles nominally linked to Grand Rapids that are contributed by bloggers as well as mainstream and new media sites.
A few days ago Outside.in posted its ranking of “America’s Top 10 Bloggiest Neighborhoods.” The number one position is taken by a Brooklyn neighborhood that I suspect is very close to Steven Johnson’s. The number two bloggiest neighborhood is the Shaw section of the District of Columbia. Neighborhoods in Portland, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, and Los Angeles also make the top 10, along with two inner ring suburbs of Boston (see pix). Outside.in said it based the analysis on the company’s close tracking of local bloggers in over 3,000 US neighborhoods during the past six months, and by measuring a number of variables: total number of posts, total number of local bloggers, number of comments and Technorati rankings.
As a promotion vehicle, the list is very creative. But as a measure of urban vitality, Outside.in’s Top 10 bloggiest corresponds closely with the consensus list of America’s top big cities as well. Urban vitality has long been measured by conventional 20th century standards — income growth, job creation, real estate values, crime and safety. New tools of measurement also are becoming more accepted — acres of parks and open space, miles of regional rapid transit, number of LEED-certified buildings and green roofs, ability to attract and retain college-educated young professionals. The Outside.in ranking suggests one more measurement of a metropolitan region’s superior quality of life: the number of place-based bloggers. After all, the richness of the human conversation also points to a place that people want to be.
Benzonia, our little town of 500 in northwest Michigan’s Benzie County, is abuzz with the story of Ellie Mae, the little black, nearly 18-year-old dog that turned up alive and well after wandering in the woods here for two weeks. Ellie Mae, of course, is the canine matriarch of my family. I reported in an April 12 post that she’d walked off the back porch in half a foot of snow and never returned. She’s back, is in good health, lost some weight, but otherwise is nosing around just like she’s always done.
For years, ever since I picked her up as a stray puppy off a highway in southern Virginia, she’s been my shadow. Ellie Mae’s attended public meetings, run road races, followed me around concerts and parties and gatherings of every sort. She’s spent nights in the car while I attended conferences. She’s run for eight or ten miles on forest trails, ahead of my mountain bike, and logged thousands of miles jogging with me. We’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail in several states. She posed with me in a picture in the Los Angeles Times. After we opened the Michigan Land Use Institute in 1995 in a historic house up the road, she spent years being the first to greet visitors at the door.
The last couple of years she hasn’t seen too well and doesn’t hear much and waddles around the house on legs that aren’t nearly as springy as they once were. None of us anticipated, though, that she’d trudge off into the snow, so far that we couldn’t find her. For two days after April 10 we looked in the neighborhood, spread the search to surrounding fields and woods, and when we didn’t find any sign, determined that she’d gone off to the great dog hunting ground.
The day that we ended the search it really struck me. She was four months shy of her 18th birthday and lived a long and joyous dog life — full of romps and nose-scharfling in stuff that smelled deliciously foul. She didn’t have a sick day in her life so far as I could tell. I’d finished work that night in my home office and headed upstairs to go to bed. Ellie Mae always followed me, her nails clicking on the wood floor in the hall, and then into the bedroom where she curled up on her bed at the foot of ours. That night, though, she wasn’t there. No shadow. No padding past the bath. No curled up black form, sleek as a seal. No head raised and ears pressed forward when I entered the room.
Ellie Mae has always been independent, so I just figured she’d had enough and didn’t want to make a mess or a fuss about it. Time to go. She went.
Turns out she’d just gotten lost and couldn’t find her way back home, though in this small town there is plenty of evidence emerging now that she tried. So here’s what happened.
On April 24, two weeks to the day after Ellie Mae disappeared, Barbara Stow, a friend who owns a nice piece of ground above the Betsie River (see pix) more than a mile west of me, was walking along the bluff near her house. She heard a plaintive wailing below her, near the bank of the Betsie, and saw a black form, an animal, maybe a dog. It was making quite the scene. Barbara said she wasn’t sure right away what to do since the river bottom was muddy and it wasn’t clear whether the animal was injured, tied up, or caught in a trap. The animal was far enough away and the ground leading up to the river was tangled and soft. She put on her boots, called some friends to help, and when they arrived at her house went down to investigate. As they closed in on the animal they realized it was a dog, that it wasn’t hurt or restrained. And when Barbara took a second look, she turned to her companion and exclaimed, “That’s Ellie Mae!” They gathered her in their arms, walked her up the bluff and Barbara fed her a raw egg and some Rescue Remedy. Meanwhile her neice called my house to let my wife know Ellie Mae was alive. Like everybody who’s heard this story, Pam just cracked up. She called me at the office in Traverse City. “You have to come home. You’ll never guess what’s happened.”
The way she said it, I knew. “Ellie Mae’s back,” I said. “She’s alive.” Then I cracked up. “She’s been out there two weeks,” I laughed. “Two weeks. What did she eat?”
I was surprised how good she looked. She’s thin and needed a bath, sort of how she looked when she was coaxed out of a drain pipe in the median of US 29 near Blacksburg where I found her in the early fall of 1989. She was about 7 weeks old and was standing along the highway’s edge, trying to cross. But the backdraft from the big trucks kept blowing her back into the median. I saw her for the the first time through the windshield, a little black ball tumbling backwards. I stopped and when she saw a person coming her way, she dove into the drain pipe, just far enough beyond my outstretched hand to remain free. It took an hour to coax her out. I scooped her up in a towel, put her on the floor of the passenger seat. She didn’t move in the car, or in the house, for a full day. After that, she never stopped moving.
You knew right away she was feral, born and raised in the woods. She scratched at the trees for grubs to eat and buried each morsel of food I gave her. Even as a puppy she hunted insects and chipmunks. Once as a three year old she flushed a rabbit from an old stump behind my house in Manistee County, tracked it down with her speed and quickness, and ate it with blood lust in her dark eyes. I figure it was that wild instinct that kept Ellie Mae alive for one week of fairly heavy April snows, and a second week of cold nightime temperatures.
She tried to let people know she was in trouble. As she slowly made her way down a network of gullies to the Betsie River, about 1.5 miles from here, she howled. We learned that over the last two days. People heard her but figured it was a coyote. She didn’t quit, though. Two days ago she howled and someone heard.
As I write this, Ellie Mae is sleeping by my desk, just like she always does. When I get up, so will she. We’ll head upstairs. It’s a gift. Somehow Ellie Mae was guided to safety and then came back home.