The buzz on our block?

Time to get back on the horse after a Christmas break.

I first heard from Sara Marie Brenner about a year ago when my friend Jackie Wellfonder became a contributor at her website, The Brenner Brief. Later our paths crossed when she was the Strategic Outreach Manager for the Franklin Center, the group who sponsored the “blogger’s row” at Turning the Tides 2013. That led to a subsequent edition of Ten Question Tuesday, and since I’ve tracked her accomplishments from time to time. (It helps when you’re on her very active e-mail list.)

I would describe Sara Marie as a serial entrepreneur; as she said in her TQT interview, “I’m always creating new things.” Sometimes her enterprises succeed, such as her writing career, which now extends to a gig for the Washington Times community page of bloggers, or her radio show, which left BlogTalkRadio and became a new network called Heartland Talk Radio. So far, however, it appears hers is the only show. That’s not so bad, though – there’s this guy named Rush Limbaugh who built a radio network on just one show.

Yet there have been some misses, too. The Brenner Brief now struggles to get more than one or two posts a day out of its stable of writers, and the PolitiGal Network alluded to in the interview no longer has a website, just a Facebook page with fewer than 200 likes. Her tenure on the city council in Powell, Ohio ended this year as she was defeated for re-election after just a single term.

Needless to say, Sara’s irons have been in a number of fires, so when an item announcing the formation of an entity called Buzz On My Block Media crossed my path I was interested to see which category it would fall under. Upon reading its description, I immediately thought of the failing network of hyper-local websites called Patch, which turned out to be a money pit for AOL. But I wanted her side of the story, so I reached out and asked her the question.

In the series of e-mails which followed, I found out she’d been working on the site for months – which helped to explain the paucity of Brenner Brief items – and that many of my questions were indeed covered on the site’s FAQ page. She also explained that selling local ads is a “completely different sales tactic” than selling national ads. “Local businesses want to see community, foot traffic, and be next to stories people are reading about,” Brenner explained.

One difference between her concept and Patch is that there will be fewer restrictions on geographic location. The Patch websites tended to cluster in the suburban areas their big-city papers stopped covering when times became tight, but Brenner’s concept is intended for most areas, except places “in the middle of the frozen tundra.” Starting next Friday, hers will be the first example, covering the city of Powell and surrounding townships. Each subsequent edition will require an editor and/or director to hire writers, solicit advertisers, and set up connections to cover its territory.

When reading her words and relating it to the possibility of making this succeed in our area, my mind thought back to the much-ballyhooed Delmarva Crossroads newspaper and website. The excitement of its opening petered out quickly and the enterprise barely lasted a couple months from start to finish. (The last update on the site, which is still in existence, was September 24, 2012.)

The site and paper had everything Sara Marie could ask for – a backer who is a local businessman, an editor who had previously worked as a reporter for the local Gannett-owned daily, and a small staff of professionals augmented by various local writers – and it went belly-up in a matter of weeks. Perhaps that was a function of insisting on a print edition of the newspaper, which was a local weekly.

On the other hand, Salisbury has a couple websites which purport to supplement the local newspaper, but have devolved to the point where much of the content is regurgitated press releases and the occasional on-the-spot or correspondent report. Editing at times seems to be a secondary concern; however, both these sites have shown far more staying power than Delmarva Crossroads did, let alone a fair number of their onetime peers.

Meanwhile, in Sara Marie’s description of articles about local businesses, the market here has that cornered, too. Metropolitan Magazine is very successful in its niche and has been for a quarter-century.

So it’s truly difficult to tell whether this venture will succeed as others have not. Obviously there are several ingredients necessary for success, chief among them sources of revenue. Someone has to pay for space on the site, and as I’ve found over the years it’s not easy to get local businesses to support a venture, particularly in the face of other rising costs and the assurance more established local outlets presents to would-be advertisers. That’s not to say a Buzz On My Block outlet couldn’t succeed here – perhaps as a refurbished web-only Delmarva Crossroads – but there’s a reason Patch failed and there’s generally not enough of a market locally to support both the struggling local paper and their outlet. It would take someone willing to lose money for the first year or two to make a go of this, and I can’t think of anyone willing to take the risk.

Maybe Sara Marie can make her local paper work, but I think the hard part will be finding writers willing to work for very little pay. Blogging is an inexpensive hobby, but few can make a living at it. It may explain why she has so many gigs.

Third Friday August in pictures and text

It certainly is the dog days of summer, and for the first time in over a year I found myself at a 3rd Friday celebration downtown. Here are the artists preparing for the event beforehand.

I’ll admit there was a specific reason I came downtown for this particular event, and I didn’t stay for the whole thing as I generally try to do. I also had Shorebirds seats for tonight.

Thus, the crowd pictures I took around 5:30 or so up and down the Plaza may be deceptively small. I know in a couple cases I let people pass to move them out of the foreground.

I’m not saying there was a crush of people on the Plaza, but my (admittedly limited) experience with 3F is that the crowds peak around 6:30 – 7:00 and I was at the stadium by then.

I did have some time to poke around and find out some interesting things, though. For one, the groups you can find at the event are constantly changing. Gone were the roller derby ladies of last year and in were those who want a bike route, dubbed the Orange Route.

If it doesn’t cost me as a taxpayer, knock yourselves out.

Still gone was the Escape Restaurant, which I remarked last year was set up like a ghost eatery with everything still in place at the time.

But the good news might be that a change is on the horizon, an Italian restaurant which may replace the late lamented Flavors of Italy in the hearts and minds of downtown denizens.

It’s worth noting, though, that the best laid plans of mice and men seldom last long – even if they are etched in stone.

Perhaps that’s not the segue John Robinson would be looking for, but as a means of supporting one of my loyal advertisers I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony at his newest venture, Delmarva Crossroads.

As you can see, John had quite a few well-wishers. Most prominent among them were Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton and Council member Laura Mitchell.

Finally the time was near to officially christen the new business venture.

In the front row from the left are Delmarva Crossroads Editor Sarah Lake, Mayor Ireton, Councilwoman Mitchell, Delmarva Crossroads owner John Robinson wielding the scissors, and his wife Tracy.

Inside there were finger foods and drinks, and outside Flannery’s was giving away hotdogs and pop.

Now this isn’t Robinson’s first foray into media, as a few years ago he hosted an hour-long afternoon radio talk show where I occasionally found myself as a guest or a caller. And having read the first edition of Delmarva Crossroads, it seems to be a promising entrant in the local media. I wouldn’t see it wiping out the Daily Times (for one thing, the print edition is currently a weekly) but it can fill a void in Salisbury.

I found this among the most interesting items inside, as opposed to the artwork peppered throughout the first-floor suite. This is in Lake’s office.

I think I do pretty well by that myself with this little old website.

Since there was only one band I saw at the event, it’s not going to get its own Weekend of Local Rock post. But the Muddy Hole Band was playing in the Plaza and I have to say they have a unique instrumental take on some classic rock songs. Imagine Journey’s ‘Faithfully’ with an acoustic guitar, acoustic bass guitar (not a stand-up bass, but a four-string acoustic) and a mandolin – the band from the western fringes of Wicomico County played it.

They had a bluegrassy feel to the music but they kept the crowd entertained from what I could hear.

I have to close with this picture, which is a private joke of sorts. Those who follow Salisbury blogging would understand.

For the rest of you: this has been a public service announcement from the Mayor, who is perhaps Third Friday’s biggest cheerleader. Coming in second place may be John Robinson, whose newsroom will have a front-row seat to the festivities for the foreseeable future.