BLOGGERS:They can give niche coverage to new subjects

When Peggy Sturdivant first started a blog about Ballard she had no idea it would change her life.

"I feel a responsibility now to the whole community," said Sturdivant, a Ballard resident for 19 years. "I've discovered I'm looking at everything differently now, as though I'm a keeper of Ballard."

For years, Sturdivant wrote down her observations about Ballard curled up on the end of her couch, scrawling away in her notebook. When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer started recruiting reader bloggers this past spring, she jumped at the chance to publicly share her musings about the neighborhood.

"I get to write about whatever I want, and I'm loving that freedom," she said. "You become changed by the knowledge that it's reaching people. You become empowered."

In ways once thought unimaginable, the booming blogosphere is changing the way many connect with each other and learn about their communities. From Georgetown to Ballard and all over the world, people are writing about what they see and experience.

Since blogging burst onto the World Wide Web more than 10 years ago, people have used them for various reasons like self-promotion and political gain. But the common characteristic remains the most basic human desire to connect with people and their experiences, said Kathy Gill, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington who specializes in the study of human-computer interaction.

"Blogs are making it easier for people to create communities," said Gill. "They foster community and conversation by allowing readers to comment on postings, thus becoming an author in turn."

A blog, short for Weblog, is an online journal that is characterized by reverse chronological publishing; authors post thoughts and observations and readers are invited to comment.

Personal publishing got a boost with the advent of GeoCities in the late 1990s, which required little technological knowledge to host a personal Web site. Since then, blogging software like Blogger and Blogspot has made it cheap and effortless to start a blog.

And it's exploded into the Web's landscape, said Gill.

In 1998 there were about 500,000 blogs in the United States. By March 2005, there were an estimated 8 million to more than 24 million, according to Gill. There's thought to be around 50 million today.

The types of blogs are constantly changing, too, Gill said, and subjects range from comic books to how-to ideas.

Sturdivant's posts are mostly expositional essays that she spends hours refining, which interweave observations about Ballard and the people here. Other types of blogs are short, pithy, opinions and observations.

"Blogs are truly an evolution not a revolution," said Gill. "It's a very fascinating world to be a part of."

Raechelle Marsh started blogging from her Ballard home last year to stay in touch with her family, most of which live in Texas and the East Coast. She got tired of writing out long personal emails to each family member to keep them up-to-date on her life.

"My blog is an account of what life is like daily around here," Marsh said. "The goal is to be humorous and entertaining at the same time."

Marsh has noticed her relationships with family members, even distant relatives, grow stronger since she started blogging.

"It's made my family relationships more relevant," she said. "Now they know something about my life and we fall more easily into conversation. It's allowed me to relate to people more."

Ms. Traveler, another Ballard blogger who maintains a blog anonymously, said blogging has made her world "much larger and much richer." She follows several blogs from all over the country, giving her a chance to be a part of those communities, even if it's just from her keyboard.

"I get to live vicariously through these other community's and it's just fabulous," said Ms. Traveler. "The blog is about contributing something. It's sort of celebrating people's understanding and knowledge."

Ms. Traveler's blog is about capturing the sounds, smells and tastes of Ballard-life's little oddities that are tucked away and might have not been shared otherwise.

"To me it's those great things that capture the flavor of this neighborhood," she said. "Making visible what, without me, might perhaps be unseen."

Sturdivant's blog became a place to mourn the death of a local woman who died from a rock climbing accident earlier in the year. Dozens of the woman's family and friends posted from all over the country after she wrote about the tragedy.

"I think that because there was no central point, her friends and family were seeking a place to connect which they did not have physically" said Sturdivant.

She's also received comments from Arizona, North Carolina and Amsterdam from people wanting to stay in touch with the community where they used to live.

"We can be even more connected now," said Sturdivant. "Through comments and emails I learn about connections with people that I may have passed before without knowing."

Blogging is also playing an integral role as newspapers shift their focus from print to online development to offset a steady decline in newspaper circulation. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer now has more than 60 staff and reader blogs, said Don Smith, the newspaper's interactivity editor.

Like community newspapers, community blogs tell people what's going on in their neighborhoods.

"When they have that information they can effect what's going on there," said Smith. "What's being gained is a sense of community for people of like interests."

Bloggers can also offer "very keen insight and say a whole lot more about a particular point of view than journalists can do," he said.

That more personal, two-way news is becoming increasingly popular as more people lose trust in mainstream media, Smith said.

"They (blogs) won't replace journalism, per say," said Smith, "but they provide access to niche subjects that newspapers couldn't possibly cover on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis."

And the blogging phenomenon is growing exponentially.

According to Gill's research, in March 2003, about 11 percent of those going online said they had read blogs. By early 2004, that number jumped to 17 percent and then to 27 percent at the end of the year.

Time Magazine started naming Blog of the Year in 2004 and some bloggers have even been issued press credentials.

But there' s danger in this type of citizen journalism, said Gill.

"Now we are awash with information, and some people don't know how to judge what's credible," Gill said. "We have to help people learn to be critical judges of information."

Sturdivant said the knowledge that her thoughts are reaching people has been empowering as a writer and member of the community.

"I want to promote the idea that every person - vote if you will - counts," she said. "If it makes it seem like a small town where we all feel connected to each other, that's a wonderful thing."

Check out these blogs produced by Ballard residents:

http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/ballard/, by Peggy Sturdivant

http://themysterioustraveler.blogspot.com/, by Ms. Traveler

http://binkymarsh.blogspot.com/, by Raechelle Marsh

Do you know of any blogs worth reading? Let us know, send a letter to the editor or post comments on our Web site under this story at http:// www.ballardnewstribune.com.

Rebekah Schilperoort can be reached at rebekahs@ballardnewstribune.com

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