Richmond: Community Blogging Center of the Universe?

We all know my home town of Richmond is a pretty conservative place — perhaps even a stodgy one. It’s an old story how we lost our status as the leading city of the South to Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh. But things are changing. The economy continues to reinvent itself at a furious pace — a phenomenon that I’m able to observe at close quarters now that I’m publishing R’Biz, the business channel.

As a sign of the times, the Richmond business community has given rise to two Initial Public Offerings in the past week. The first, Colfax Corp., is a $500 million-a-year company launched about a decade ago that is rolling up the global pipes and valves industry. Not sexy, but very, very profitable. On the sexy side, the second company, SouthPeak Interactive, is a global distributor and publisher of video games.

It wasn’t long ago, that the greatest claim to fame Richmond could boast of as a center of cultural influence was festival flags. The practice of hanging those colorful festival flags over your front door originated right here in River City. Yeah, I know…. big whoop.

Here’s something a little more cutting edge. It appears that the Richmond region is a hotbed of community blogging. Stephanie Brummell at quotes Jeff South, associate Professor in the School of Mass Communication at Virginia Commonwealth University as an authority:

South was in the midst of listening to a presentation on participatory media during “Media Re:Public” a conference convened by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society when he learned that Richmond “by far and away … ranked No. 1 for citizen journalism Web sites.”

Sixteen citizen journalism Web sites exist in Richmond, including Rea’s Fan District Hub, Richmond community blog pioneer John Murden’s Church Hill People’s News, Hills & Heights¸ RiverCityRapids¸ Petersburg People’s News, River District News and that of the Richmond community site aggregator, RVANews, headed up by Ross

Richmond a center of community blogging? How did that happen? It’s a combination of two phenomenon, I would argue. First, the region is more tech-savvy than people commonly realize. We may not be creating new technology on a large scale, but successful Richmond businesses have gained competitive advantage by applying technology to traditional industries. (Capital One, which originated in Richmond before moving its H.Q. to NoVa, used technology to introduce disruptive change to the credit card industry.) Secondly, Richmonders truly are passionate about their community. They care what’s happening.

Combine technology and community passion, and you get blogs.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    You miss a big reason why Richmond may be becoming a blog capital or you are too polite to mention it.

    The Richmond Times-Dispatch under the new management led by Publisher Silvestri has become such a dumbed down, short-changed God-awful mess that it is leaving a huge void for community-centered communication. Luckily, with the Net, people don’t need Silvestri to tell them what’s going on. They skim on their website, cut staff, cut pages and even they give you comics now in stupid little “wrap” that you immediately throw away.

    That is why blogs are flourishing in Richmond.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    As someone who currently writes for the RTD, I couldn’t agree more with the comment above.

    The RTD is causing its own demise by dumbing things down and doing the opposite of what they claim to be upgrading: a focus on community news. tell me all I want to know about the world. tells me all I want to know about Richmond.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m not going to beat up on anyone other than to say the value of any local paper to me IS the local news.

    and with all due respect – bloggers generally won’t sit through a 3 hour BOS meeting or spend the time necessary to dig into a story….

    most bloggers scan content generated by others… and then discuss it…

    Some bloggers actually do go to where the story is and report back but it’s often a lick and a wish according to what interests them and if it doesn’t interest them then they don’t do the story even if it is local…

    The other thing is that many papers now have a blog-like format appended to their stories asking for readers views.

    I see this as a very powerful thing that we did not have before – which is a conversation with the reporter.

    I have see interchanges where the reporter gleaned more info from a reader and went back out to dig deeper into the story.

    but don’t whack on the papers too much.. somehow they’ve got to find a way to pay for good reporters and they can’t sell the content the way they used to….

    but I do reject the idea that bloggers are committed to local news.

    they are committed to the local news that interests them and that’s different.

  4. john m Avatar

    Larry — The article isn’t about bloggers per se, but the community blogs in Richmond. The focus isn’t “most bloggers”, but the focus of a few that are indeed covering local issues.

    I publish CHPN ( A vast majority of the articles that I post are original material. I have been to *many* public meetings over the past few years, most of which in turned out were of interest to the neighborhood but which were not covered by the other local media. I’ve also put up more than a few stories that were later picked up by the big boys.

  5. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    How big is your “community?”

    Is it the size of a Dooryard?

    A Cluster?

    A Neighborhood?

    A Village?

    An Alpha Community?

    What about the whole New Urban Region?

    Perhaps the “area of interest to my friends?”

    Is it a “community of interest that has no geographic boundaries?”

    Those interested

    in AAU basketball,

    model railroading,

    cooking with recycled peanut oil,


    What we need is Citizen Media.



  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    John is right too. Some local bloggers do cover issues that perhaps even paid reporters don’t cover.

    So they can fill a slot and I apologize if I besmirched any blogger that does generate original content.

    but I do think it would take an extraordinarily dutiful person to take it upon themselves to week in and week out.. month, year cover on a regular basis meetings.. gleaning the minutes, asking questions, even filing a FOIA … etc…

    What I mostly see in most blogs is a potpourri of issues which I admit if they are community issues and the net result is a more informed and more connected community and community that can act effectively in situations that affect their community.

    Newspapers do have a community section and perhaps it can be said that the blogs can complement or supplement it but I’m trying to imagine a place like Richmond with out a paper that reports local stuff and instead people get all of their local news via blogs.

    Is there value in a local paper that reports local news?

  7. If, as HL Mencken said, “journalism is the life of kings,” then blogging is the life of Robin Hood!

  8. john m Avatar

    Is there value in a local paper that reports local news?

    We don’t aim to replace the newspaper’s Metro section, but to go even further. I walk the streets of of my neighborhood everyday every day and have a sense of what is of interest in our neighborhood to our neighborhood. For example, folks really care that a house might get demolished, though the people in the West End or Southside could probably give a rat’s ass.

    I’m not sure why the RTD reports on anything other than local news; I wish that they would scrap the AP-fed national/international news and go 100% local. That would be truly engaging and they would freakin’ own it.

    E M Risse — An interesting facet of the Richmond community blogs is that they are locally geographically based. This gives them each a focus, and also keeps things kind of wide open. We have all of the issues of the city, only writ smaller and more accessible.

  9. J. Tyler Ballance Avatar
    J. Tyler Ballance

    Blogs are worthless…unless those contributing to the discussion with well researched information.

    This blog sometimes has good information, but just a few posts back a guy said that the five cent gas tax increase would only produce a small amount, not enough to make a dent in our transportation needs.

    Here’s a brief report that estimates that just one cent would bring in an additional $53 million, so a five cent increase should bring in in excess of $250 million annually. That is big money, even in VDOT’s world.

    Just FYI, in 2006 Virginia’s gas tax produced a total of $919 million. This does not include the 18.5 cents per gallon that goes to the Feds.

    Currently, Virginia has the eleventh lowest gas taxes in the nation.

    If the typical Virginia driver paid his annual five cents per gallon increase at one time, he would only pay fifteen dollars.

    Thus, the gas tax increase is the most affordable, most easily audited manner of raising our needed transportation funds.

    I still support targeted cuts to other projects, with the addition of bonds and perhaps some modest fee increases, especially those that encourage more fuel efficient cars.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: worthless blog info

    agree. it’s always helpful to back up what one is saying with one or more references.

    re: gas tax, one cent, five cents

    250 million dollars from a 5 cent increase sounds like big money until you realize this is statewide and a single interchange can cost 50 million and one mile of urban interstate can cost 100 million.

    When VDOT has a backlog of 100 Billion – yes that is a ‘B’, 250 million a year won’t touch it.

    What we have to decide is how much we can afford and then prioritize that 100 Billion list using objective criteria for need and then see how many we can build for 250 million new dollars (or whatever the number is) a year.

    250 million, by the way, is almost exactly how much we are currently in the hole on maintenance so 250 million is needed just to preserve the few projects that are slated by construction. Otherwise, they get added to the 100 billion list.

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