In the midst of Seattle’s biggest snowstorm in a decade, and what she called “an incredibly sleep-deprived week,” Tracy Record, editor and co-publisher of West Seattle Blog was somehow able to carve time to answer a few questions so that you, the readers of this blog could benefit from her knowledge.

I’ve long been a fan of West Seattle Blog and asked Tracy a few weeks back via twitter if she wouldn’t mind a little Q&A about her passion. (She’s both @westseattlenews and @westseattleblog)

Lucky for me, she didn’t mind at all. Here she shares her thoughts on everything from why her blog isn’t really a blog to why it takes a 24/7 commitment to succeed.

Angela: What made you start a neighborhood blog?

Tracy Record: It’s not a neighborhood blog. West Seattle Blog is a commercial, journalist-run neighborhood-news service. “Blog” is just a publishing format; it wouldn’t be in our name except for the fact that three years ago, we started the site as a more classic “blog”-format site, with personal opinion and observations. And “Blog” isn’t even our only format – we also send out content via Twitter, Facebook, Blip, and are always watching for any other way that a fair amount of people are starting to procure news/information.

Angela: Why do you think it’s so popular?

Tracy: We are providing accurate, reliable, timely (often real-time), thorough neighborhood news and information 24/7, as well as facilitating community discussion of what’s happening, and thousands of people in West Seattle clearly are interested in that. We also keep our opinion out of it as much as possible – and our personalities – the site’s not about us; it’s about
West Seattle.

Angela: Is the local media threatened by your existence?

Tracy Record: Again, a matter of words – we ARE part of the media. Credentialed, even.
But if you mean is the “conventional media” threatened, kind of mixed. There is a weekly newspaper that has served this community capably for 85 years but has been very slow to do much on the Web. Its former editor had said he considered our site “competition.” He lost his job recently in what the newspaper-owning family called a cost-savings move … days later
he contacted us, and so far we have run one well-received editorial he wrote (and we are paying him, of course, as we do for all freelance assignments). But the citywide media doesn’t quite seem to know what to think – they deal with us in a variety of ways, from suggesting
partnerships to requesting story leads.

Angela: How difficult is it to build community around a blog, where everyone invested has their physical community in common?

Tracy: Funny thing is that we didn’t TRY to build community, though now that we have it, we spend time making sure that the community has what it needs (on a tech level too, such as adding forum features that members request). It naturally grew around the neighborhood coverage we offered that could not be found anywhere else. Our greatest evidence of that has come in the week-plus snow/ice semi-crisis that has gripped our neighborhood and much
of the rest of the region — the comment sections of our weather posts have turned into incredible neighbor-helping-neighbor discussions with people sharing information on everything from whether the bus is running to where to buy/borrow a snow shovel.

Angela: How long does it take to create a substantial online community?

Tracy: If you start out with a vision, which we didn’t, it can be done within a half-year or so, as Cory Bergman has shown with in another Seattle neighborhood, launching it in late 2007 and gaining decent traction by summer. He is one of the few others around here that is operating an editorially overseen, journalist-run site, as opposed to multiple contributors who can publish directly to a site.

Angela: Why haven’t news organizations figured out how to own hyperlocal?

Tracy: The question for some is really, SHOULD they? I think that newspapers, which even with their much-lamented cuts still have comparatively HUGE content staffs – I spent most of my old-media career in TV news, where you might have a dozen reporters/editorial managers spread across seven days and three dayparts, while big dailies still have dozens – should focus on context and perspective. Until and unless we add more staff, I can’t do that in a major way, though we do longer-form articles and enterprised stories/features when we can, and look for alternate ways of offering context and empowering people to find it themselves. Aside from that, some companies still think all they have to do is aggregate their content that mentions or targets a given neighborhood and voila! it’s “hyperlocal.” Doesn’t work. There’s no “there” there, and if ever you need a “there,” it’s when covering a “here.” You need a trusted guide, a sense of
neighborhood, even if that person/team (like us) doesn’t give opinions.

Angela: You’ve gotten lots of mainstream press. Was that unexpected?

Tracy: To some degree, yes – but we don’t kid ourselves that it’s because we’re brilliant or innovative – it’s mostly because unlike many neighborhood-news site operators (so far – certainly this will change), we are doing this as a business, and making a living. And we’re pretty hardcore about it, with the 24/7 commitment and a high volume of production, which some find fascinating – I was always the workaholic type anyway, so there was no question of doing anything less.

Angela: Do you have a five year or even 10 year plan or do you pretty much go with the flow.

Tracy: Given that even two years ago I couldn’t have foreseen this becoming a business, a 5-year plan is hard to imagine but when asked this recently, I said it’s pretty simple … we would like to have a few employees, both editorial and sales, to do a better job of covering the community and a better job of working with local businesses.

(…To be continued)

In my next post, find out how West Seattle Blog got its very first advertiser and just how long it took to make it happen. Also, Tracy’s entrepreneurial advice for laid-off journalists and what she’d do differently if starting West Seattle blog today.

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