Blogging in Baltimore in 2013

So today is Halloween and all. Happy Halloween Baltimore. But today is significant for a couple other reasons as well, which is what we want to talk about today.

Today is also the fourth anniversary of the Baltimore Chop. Okay, that’s not strictly true because our anniversary was actually 3 days ago on the 28th. But sitting around and patting ourselves on the back has never been the Chop’s style. Instead we decided to use Monday’s post to pay a little respect to the underreported fact of California Tortilla closing its store near Oriole Park, robbing the city of its premiere pregame place for beers. You know: news you can use and all.

Anyway, four years is an absolute eternity in ye olde Blogosphere. This site has officially matriculated from a tiny little free site to a full on catalog of life in the city and one of the very few independent sites in Baltimore that can be counted on to publish regularly with consistent quality year in and year out, even garnering a nod recently from the likes of New York Magazine.

The local Blogosphere has changed a lot in a year.

A scene from the 2012 Mobbies party. The local Blogosphere has changed a lot in a year.

Today is also the final day (5 pm deadline) to nominate local blogs for the Baltimore Sun’s Mobbies Awards. If there’s a blog or social media account you enjoy, you should certainly go and nominate it right now. While you’re there you should look up and down the page closely and see if anything grabs your attention or if you can discover something new, which is what we do every year when the nomination page goes up.

And over the years we’ve noticed something: The contest is getting a little smaller, because the Baltimore blogging community has gotten a lot smaller. Some of the most robust categories this year are Twitter handles, Instagram accounts and Facebook pages, not actual blogs. There were only two blogs that really caught our attention this year: Strangers With Style and Charm City Bike, which is a Tumblr from Tumblr extraordinaire Pat Gavin. There are also a handful of blogs we’re going to nominate ourselves after writing this post, but it’s a shame that no one else has so far.

Of course, there are some old favorites there too: perennial powerhouses like the City that Breeds, I Hate JJ Reddick, Baltimore Sports and Life, Camden Chat, and the Baltimore Diner. All have been around longer than this blog and all continue to be consistently high quality.

But to be honest we’re a little disappointed with the state of things today. The first Mobbies was largely responsible for inspiring us to start this site, and the nominees that year made for an RSS stream that was by turns funny, informative, exciting, and addictive. Today our RSS languishes, and if we’re being brutally honest the only local sites we read with much frequency are the City that Breeds, the Brew and Splice Today.

But it goes beyond our own transition from reading an RSS to reading Twitter. The entire Internet has changed in the last four years. RSS Is practically dead, if it was ever really alive after Google Reader was nixed from the G-lineup and RSS readers were overshadowed by read-it-later apps for phones and tablets. Paywalls are a fact of life now. Instead of a lively commment section under a blog post, people would near-universally rather discuss articles on Facebook and Twitter. (Our own comments section disappeared entirely some months ago.) Buzzfeed and Gawker and the Huffington Post have got bullshit clickbait content down to a science and are effectively dumbing down the entire Internet. Tumblr has reduced blogging to re-blogging.

All of this and more has contributed to the demise of some of our favorite local blogs. We still miss the voice of Owl Meat Gravy, both on his own blog and others’. Not one but two Beer in Baltimore’s have come and gone. Gutter Magazine lives on but has become untethered from Baltimore. A Charmed City got married off and barely posts anymore. Some favorite personal blogs have languished months or years without an update. Even a professional site like Urbanite has folded. But what hurt most of all was seeing some favorite blogs we’ve contributed to, namely Car Free Baltimore and the Loss Column, officially call it quits in the same week.

This is not just a local phenomenon either. The World Wide Web covers the whole world, and out-of-state blogs we used to follow have declined in a similar fashion while finding new ones to replace them has become increasingly difficult. The most talented writers online today would rather chase checks which may or may not materialize by writing for large corporate sites as opposed to building collections, communities and an audience on their own sites.

From our point of view it feels increasingly like we’re writing in a vacuum. Inspiration is harder to come by now, and at the same time after four years and a total of 461 posts it’s becoming harder and harder not to repeat ourselves here. We’re also finding that by the daily nature of this site we’re often in direct competition for readers’ attention with actual publications with paid staffs and ambitious freelancers.

Occasionally, as with our recent post about Santoni’s among others, we as an amateur blogger are in a great position to do a thing that the real media can’t do, and which needs more than a Facebook post to accomplish- namely calling bullshit. More often though we’re scrapping post ideas because we’re being beaten to the punch by an actual media outlet, or several (cough Atlantic Cities and Slate, cough) as with our recent post about the Apex Auction. We don’t have the luxury of picking up the newsroom phone and calling John Waters for a quote.

So we’re thinking a lot lately about the future of the Internet, and specifically the future of this site.

Rest assured: we’re not going anywhere aside from our typical seagoing hiatuses. Another reason we wanted to host our own site is because we knew from the beginning that social networks come and go. We foresaw a day when we would want to quit Facebook and lo and behold we did. Even the best things on the Internet can be bought up and ruined overnight, and for proof we need look no further than Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram or Yahoo buying Tumblr. (That’s not to say those things are ‘ruined’ just yet, but their future isn’t bright from a user experience perspective.)

After signing up for Medium in late 2011, we’ve recently been invited to write on that site. You can read our first post at this link. It’s about the disingenuousness of the MLB’s charity efforts and how compassion fatigue and hype have made the World Series unwatchable. It’s something that would fit on this blog, but in the future we may write about things there that would not fit neatly into any of our existing categories.

Medium was made by the creators of Blogger and Twitter, so we’re very hopeful that it will in time become something we can enjoy in a similar way. It’s still in beta after more than two years, and will likely remain in beta for a good long time, content to grow slowly. Although similar in appearance to other blogging platforms, Medium does contain new features and key differences, some of which may in time prove to be radical. A look around the site will show you more.

As for our own site, we are thinking carefully about what the future will look like. We’re considering a new posting schedule that will allow us to break free of the daily nature of this site but which could potentially result in about the same number of posts per month. It will also enable us to write more not about what’s going on today, but what’s coming up or what just happened which is something we’ve never done. (Don’t worry, these aren’t going to be a bunch of shitty Monday “recap” posts. There’s too many clickbait paginated photo gallery “recaps” online as it is.)

This change and some other small changes will allow us to re-focus on quality content and not post for posting’s sake, which though we hate to admit it we occasionally do. To complete the change we’re going to remake the site with a new look that better fits our vision going forward.

So vote for the Chop in the Mobbies. We’d like to win because winning is nice. But this is probably the only time we’ll ask you. To be honest we think we’ve reached perennial favorite status, so we won’t bother you daily about it as we have in the past. We’ll just say thanks. But if we don’t win that’s okay too. The only thing that’s certain is that when Mobbies time rolls around next year, more will have changed than has stayed the same.