10 Questions for Ed Cone

by Terry L. Heaton
Courtesy FlickrEd Cone is a newspaper columnist from Greensboro, North Carolina and one of my favorite bloggers. He's understood this blogging thing longer than most, and he's been an inspiration to his community, encouraging others to enter the blogosphere. As a result, Greensboro's blogging community has been the talk of media observers — like Jay Rosen — and many think the community is pioneering the future in terms of local media.

I can't possibly overstate my agreement with this, and I encourage all of my television friends to carefully explore what's taking place in Greensboro. Ed graciously agreed to answer ten questions, and I'm happy to present the interview here.

Q — What's happening in Greensboro that the rest of us should be watching?

Two interesting things are happening here in terms of blogging and local media: one is a local blogging scene that is approaching some sort of critical mass -- dozens of local sites, and a self-awareness in the blog community, which may be the beginning of a decentralized, independent online alt-media. Aggregator sites that serve as portals into local content have started to appear -- front pages and tables of contents for the new alternative press.

The second thing is that our local daily paper, the News & Record, is into blogging in a big way. This is a regional daily of decent size (100,000+ circulation) in one of North Carolina's most populous counties. The editor in chief, John Robinson, has a blog of his own, and he's asking for input from the public on what a community-oriented newspaper site should look like.

Q — Why Greensboro? Is there something unique about Greensboro that explains why it's producing so many (and good) blogs?

Greensboro is not unique. Nothing we are doing here can't be replicated elsewhere. It helped us to have a newspaper columnist who was early into blogging, which bridged the gap between traditional and alternative media, and it helped to have an editor within the paper who has been evangelizing from his position, but those were just a marginal difference that allowed us to be quick on the draw. We had a local blog conference here in August that helped define the community, anyone could do the same.

Q — Your local newspaper is actively involved in this. Why is that important?

The paper lends blogging credibility with traditionally-minded readers, both by participating in the phenomenon, and by drawing ideas and content from local bloggers. It should attract more readers to blogs by virtue of its brand and promotional muscle, along with its extensive content. And it may help create a local ad market for blogs, supported by its own infrastructure.

Q — What is a "mentioner," and why is that important in local communities?

Chris Lydon taught me this term, referring to old-media powers who brought attention to subjects by mentioning them in their columns. He used it in reference to Glenn Reynolds, who wields such power among blogs. On the local level, a few well-read blogs may attain this status in their communities, becoming another type of portal into local content.

Q — How are the local governments responding?

We have one elected official, Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen, who is blogging in office. The City is sending press releases to bloggers who request them. So far, though, we haven't had the kind of breakthrough in government that we have with the press. But we will.

Q — Do you think the blogging community in Greensboro will bring about any lasting change? If so, what'll be the first?

The lasting change will come in terms of depth and breadth of information available to the community -- micro-focus stuff like youth soccer coverage, and big news stories pushed forward by bloggers, and direct communication from government officials and others in power. It's already happening -- I think Jeff Thigpen, our blogging Register of Deeds, is really onto something powerful and important.

Q — What are the signs of a healthy local blogging community?

Lots of blogs (there are about four dozen already on the aggregator I've thrown together); diversity of opinion and subject matter; respectful disagreement; humor; new blogs; lots of comments; just to name a few.

Q — What is your crystal ball showing regarding local and hyperlocal blogging? Where are we headed with this stuff?

My crystal ball is pretty cloudy, but I do think a vibrant local blogging community will emerge in Greensboro and elsewhere, and that it will cover every imaginable facet of life -- politics, sports, religion, business, neighborhoods, nightlife, etc. Some blogs will do this successfully with tiny audiences, others may garner thousands of daily readers. Businesses may emerge in local blogging.

Q — Will success spoil Greensboro?

Success, or the mere thought of financial success, is already threatening the harmony of the local blog community, as some people scramble for revenue that does not yet exist, and may never exist. But that's OK. Blogging is about individual expression. The paper can't own it. The community can't define itself to the exclusion of any blogger. We'll be fine.

Q — A lot of people in the local television news world are terrified about tomorrow and losing their jobs. What kind of advice can you give those who work in this and any other form of mainstream media to lessen that fear?

Understand that change is coming -- TV is losing its monopoly on video, for example -- newspapers and individuals will start posting footage, too. There will be high-quality content of all kinds made available for free on the web. Your job as a professional is to use this content to inform your audience -- crediting the source, of course -- and to learn from the insurgents about the web as a medium for local info. As a business, local media has a chance to establish itself at the head of the Long Tail model described by Wired's Chris Anderson -- the huge audience for content that is not on the best-seller list. Some local media firms will figure this out. The rest will suffer.

Visit Ed Cone's blog
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