Had a blast tonight at the Second Annual Brooklyn Blogfest, meeting other borough bloggers in the ridiculously historic Old Stone House in Park Slope. The event, organized by Louise Crawford, a.k.a. SmartMom of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, featured the heavy hitters in the fight against the Atlantic Yards project, and an intriguing array of newer bloggers (including your StableMistress) got to introduce themselves at an "open mic" section afterwards. I greatly enjoyed meeting Chris Kreussling (XChris) of Flatbush Gardener, Anne Pope of Sustainable Flatbush, and Jonathan Butler of Brownstoner, the real-estate-obsession blog. I'm also looking forward to the debut of Bklynmama.com; Helen Zelon plans to focus on those of us with "Brooklyn kids who are broken in" (i.e., beyond the stroller years).
But the warp core driving the Brooklyn blogosphere remains the pushback movement against Bruce Ratner's bloated Atlantic Yards project--and, more broadly, the whole hive of issues that rise up buzzing when urban gentrification goes on a roll. I jotted down a few quotes (or paraphrases of them) on this grassroots civic action and DIY journalism from some of its practitioners. They reminded me of the tireless, smart-alecky urban muckrackers I met as a student journalist in the 1970s at places like The Village Voice (back when it stood for something besides futon and escort service ads) and MORE (way back, when it was a magazine about the news industry and not about female midlife crises).
"The zone of my experience that I care most about is served poorly by local and national media." -- Steven Johnson, founder of Outside.In, and coincidentally a honcho at NYU's J-school, my alma mater; his elegant bit of genius was to organize blogs in searchable geographic mode. (His site recently published the listing of "America's Top 10 Bloggiest Neighborhoods," which, he said, arose partly out of a desire to use the word "bloggiest.")
"The mainstream media have abrogated responsibility for local coverage except for crime, car crashes, and fires. We're having an impact on public discourse by providing information on local projects and development. It's about shining a light on things that would otherwise happen in the dark. The days when you could tear down a building without anyone noticing are over; within 45 minutes of taking down one brick, one of us will be writing about it." -- Robert Guskind, Gowanus Lounge.
"I practice stand-alone journalism, using a blog. Bill Keller of the New York Times said that they practice 'the journalism of verification' while bloggers just comment, and he's more right than wrong. But in some things, we're more right than wrong." --Norman Oder, Atlantic Yards Report. (Oder is a single-minded anti-Ratner crusader whose most recent coup was an analysis showing that anticipated tax revenue from the project had been overstated.)
"I was surprised by the power of a critical mass of community [of blog readers]. It takes a while to build, you can't rush it." And, on his well-chronicled decision to quit his day job and blog full-time: "There's that 4 a.m. panic when you look at the ceiling and wonder what's going to happen; plus now you're really living the blog, it's pretty intense. Be careful what you wish for." --Jonathan Butler, Brownstoner
"Authenticity, truthfulness, trust..nobody's paying us, our opinions can't be bought, and I think that's what people respond to." --Louise Crawford, Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn (who accepted the sponsorship of a tequila brand for the evening only because they use organic agave nectar--gotta love those Park Slopers!) (By the way, the free margaritas tasted fantastic; bring on the organic nectar!)
As I headed home, I glanced back at the Old Stone House, rebuilt from a rubble pile of masonry that was originally fitted together by a Dutch farmer in 1699. The house had seen an early and ghastly battle of the American Revolution (the "Gallipoli"-like charge of the outnumbered Marylanders' regiment against the Brits while Washington and his troops retreated across the East River), and had served as a 19th-century clubhouse for the team that evolved into the Brooklyn Dodgers. The original owner of the snug little dwelling on Fifth Street undoubtedly communicated with his neighbors by saddling up a draft horse and clip-clopping down a road between the fields for a chat. Now, on a warm spring night, it was bursting with happy, networking, margarita-swilling bloggers, exchanging business cards and refueling their determination to keep Brooklyn from being devoured by alien skyscrapers. I live in a place where almost anything is possible.
Graphic, top: Lisa di Liberto of Urban Seashell, another nice blogger I met. Wish there had been T-shirts with this poster on them, hint hint. Bottom: NYC Parks Department.