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Input requested for AU Graduate Class project on blogging


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Hey Don,

I'm a Master's candidate at American University in Film Production. I'm hoping you might have time over the next day or so answer a few questions to help with a group project that is part of a Mass Media Law class that is studying First Amendment law and issues such as freedom of speech/rights to privacy/defamation/rights of publicity, etc.

My group is presenting on how blogging intersects with the law, specifically. Before we examine specific cases, I'd like to show the variety of blogs, why people blog and what they blog about, and how blogging has become a legitimate media source that has informed news, nonfiction and fiction scripts and epitomizes a modern extension of First Amendment rights. There may also be some information on (if attainable) the collective psychology of bloggers.

I'm asking a variety of people who have active blogs to assist with this project by answering a few questions to help teach our class about this burgeoning media form that evolves by the key stroke!

Here are the questions that I'm hoping you may have time to answer.

Why did you start your blog, and when?

Who do you reach in your blog? Any surprises in how far reaching the audience has become? How would you describe your audience?

How often do you add content?

What makes you think, "I need to write about that on my blog?"

How long do you think you'll keep it up?

What blogs do you read and why?

Do you think that blogs are important from a mass media and/or consumer perspective? If so, why?

Has your blog created unforeseen successes or unforeseen problems for you/the blogging audience (including consumers and businesses)? Please share.

Thanks a bunch for helping our class learn more about a topic that it looks like you wrote the book on in the realm of DC food and wine! If you or any of your readers weigh in, it'd be great to see their feedback posted to their own blogs as well.

Andrea Koslow

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Why did you start your blog, and when?

Andrea,

This first question is by far the most difficult to answer, so I'll spend a good deal of time on it. I've always bristled about calling donrockwell.com a "blog," although I'm not sure why. I've always envisioned the website as more of a community - a meeting house, if you will - rather than just me expressing my thoughts about things.

There is a long, detailed, and impossibly complex history leading up to donrockwell.com - but let's skip forward to July of 2003. I was having dinner in the lounge of Citronelle, and their sommelier Mark Slater told me about this website called eGullet. It looked interesting enough, so I signed up, and even took a friendly whack at Mark with my very first post right here.

The weeks went by, and I started writing about restaurants. One of eGullet's managers, the great pastry chef Steve Klc, asked me if I would consider hosting the DC & DelMarVa forum, and I politely declined - it seemed like a responsibility I wasn't sure I could handle. A few months later, Steve asked again, a bit more persistently this time - I liked Steve very much, and decided, well, why not.

So in April of 2004, I became forum host. Through the strength of its members, the DC forum took off, becoming even more popular than the one in New York City. The virtual online dining world of eGullet spilled over into real life, turning into a lively, vibrant community. People were happy, having a good time, and everything was seemingly perfect.

But then, sometime around the beginning of 2005, the bureaucratic hammer of eGullet fell, and fell hard, landing squarely upon the DC community. Social gatherings became restricted, people were prohibited from meeting for dinner without permission (!), and the community that I poured my heart and soul into nurturing was in danger of being wiped out.

I complained loudly and was told I was being 'subversive.' One night, perhaps a week later, when I started to buckle under the pressure, I came home after a few drinks, and unleashed a furious invective to a poor, hapless eGullet manager who happened to be online, calling both him and the organization every known obscenity in the English language, including the ones with three and four syllables.

After weeks of denial, I accepted that my days at eGullet were coming to an end. HillValley sums up what happens next in this post.

I never wanted to call the website donrockwell.com, and in fact registered the domain name www.ventworm.com, but a prominent restaurant critic talked me out of it, saying nobody would take it seriously. At that point, I didn't really care about being "taken seriously," but his opinion carried a lot of weight with me, and now that I look back at the past three years, he was probably right, although I suspect Google is glad they didn't take the same advice.

Who do you reach in your blog? Any surprises in how far reaching the audience has become? How would you describe your audience?

The reach of the website extends broadly and deeply into the Washington DC restaurant community, but not very far beyond that. We have 2,294 active members, about 25% of whom (mktye, please correct me) are in the industry, and they are the most food-knowledgable group you could possibly imagine. Beyond the membership, we have an enormous number of lurkers ranging from four-star chefs to college students looking for a decent burger: The one common thread that links our readership is a love of food.

But beyond the sheer numbers are the influences exerted on the restaurant industry, both directly and indirectly. There are the obvious examples of individual restaurants profiting from the publicity they receive, but less obvious are the industry-wide changes that have occurred over the past few years. The (hundred-)million-dollar question is: How many of these changes have been influenced by the existence of blogs such as donrockwell.com? Are the blogs a force in changing the industry, or are they just along for the ride? Look at the articles, the columns, and the dining guides from just five years ago, and ask yourself this question: What would the restaurant industry be like in Washington, DC right now if there was no internet?

How often do you add content?

Every day.

What makes you think, "I need to write about that on my blog?"

I started off 2008 determined to review every restaurant meal, and I was good at keeping it up for awhile, but there are times when it becomes exhausting, and I'd rather not write anything at all than write poorly. When I'm not writing every day, it takes something that moves me emotionally to make me really, really want to just run home and write about it. Most recently, it was a mortadella at Palena.

How long do you think you'll keep it up?

Depends on whether or not the surgical implant fails! No, seriously, this question makes me consider the possibility of not having donrockwell.com, and I can't even think like that.

What blogs do you read and why?

A friend of mine got divorced, basically said, "to hell with everything," and decided to ride around the world on his motorcycle. He's been to the Arctic Circle, Tierra del Fuego, and is now in Nairobi Kenya. Along the way, he broke his leg and had to be air-transported back home, but now he's back at it again. In many ways, worldrider.com parallels the origins and raison d'etre of donrockwell.com - a blog as a healing outlet after taking a 180-degree turn in the course of life.

Has your blog created unforeseen successes or unforeseen problems for you/the blogging audience (including consumers and businesses)? Please share.

When I started donrockwell.com, there was a group of members who needed - really needed - this community, perhaps just as much as I did. For many months, the camaraderie was remarkable, with people getting together all the time to socialize - we had dinners, picnics, and happy hours. Ironically, I rarely attended these events, but I nonetheless found great happiness in bringing everyone together. However, things slowly began to change: Membership kept growing at a rapid pace, the community was becoming a force on the DC restaurant scene, I was offered positions at both Washingtonian and WETA, but the social aspect of donrockwell.com began a long, steady decline which continues to this very day. I spent many stressful months asking myself what was happening, what I needed to do differently to make it all work. Finally, I've come to accept the fact that three years have passed, lives have changed, and people have moved on.

Today, I look at the website and see more members than ever before - we have 340 new people this year alone. The other day, one of our members needed help and posed a question - within minutes, several others had chimed in, and the problem was solved. Right now I see donrockwell.com as an invaluable resource, full of friendly experts, willing to jump in and help others on a moment's notice. The website has gone from being a small, boisterous clubhouse to being a large, resourceful community; whereas before I took joy in helping a few, I now take joy in helping many. Fostering an environment where people can help other people - what could be more rewarding than this?

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