One of my favourite panels at last week’s West by West Midlands (WXWM) event was Nicky Getgood’s talk about the Digbeth is Good blog. Nicky’s presentation itself was a gentle journey through the history of her blog, complete with anecdotes about some of her Digbeth centred projects such as the week of breakfasts. The talk was interesting, but it was the Q&A session at the end that really got me thinking.
As a group, the audience were clearly big fans of Digbeth is Good and very supportive of Nicky. Here’s a summary of some of the questions, issues and themes that the room threw at Nicky:
- Why is Digbeth a good place to demonstrate hyperlocal blogging?
- How are you engaging with the local community in Digbeth?
- Do you have a duty of care to represent the people of Digbeth?
- How do you make this blog sustainable and make sure that it lasts?
- Are you training people in the community so that they can contribute to the blog?
- How can you monetise this blog?
- If you monetise this blog how will this change your editorial voice?
- Digbeth is Good is seen by the cabinet office as an example of best practice for local blogging.
- Digbeth is Good is held up as a case study for “the future of news”.
Nicky held up well under this barrage of questions and pressure, but I did feel that we put her on the spot (it didn’t stop me from being one of her interrogators). I couldn’t work out what it was that was bothering me so much until Michael Grimes made the sharpest contribution of the day:
(Digbeth is Good) started as a personal blog… I worry that we get to this point where what we’ve built as our own thing – suddenly there is an expectation that now you have to take that to a more expert or more professional level. We could just let it go, if no one wants it. You shouldn’t feel as though you have to make sure that it continues.
What Michael has spotted is that when blogs start to matter, communities feel that they own them. The Birmingham blogging community, the cabinet office, the people of Digbeth, and Nicky: who owns her blog? It seems that in some ways Nicky has become the last person that gets a say in what she does next. In their rush to be supportive and encouraging, people have started to worry about Nicky’s blog. It has started to matter to people on a level that the author may not have signed up for. We’re used to seeing this in mainstream media. There are movements such as fan fiction, examples of fan power and countless fan communities in places like Facebook where people come together to take ownership of media products for themselves.
What happens when a blog gets a fan club? What happens when a community starts to take ownership of the blog away from the author? Does that suck some of the fun out of it? In some ways there are a parrallels here with some of the recent debate around Created in Birmingham but there is a key difference: no one’s getting paid to write Digbeth is Good. It’s not a public service, it’s Nicky’s space to tell stories about her world.
I hope Nicky does what she wants to do and keeps enjoying it. If we’re all lucky it’ll be the things we think she should do too. Digbeth is good and Nicky’s doing a great job having fun.
The lovely people at Rhubarb Radio have published all the talks from WxWM on their website.