Last week, after nearly five years, a Nashville web institution was shuttered. Nashville is Talking, WKRN’s pioneering blog project, is no more.
The site debuted in May 2005 and quickly became a virtual meeting place for the burgeoning local blogosphere. WKRN’s then-general manager Mike Sechrist and consultant Terry Heaton had a unique idea to incorporate blogging into the station’s evolving newsroom.
But instead of thrusting a journalist upon the blogosphere as had been the custom within the MSM, WKRN instead recruited a blogger.
Brittney Gilbert, a waitress and freelance writer, was hired to blog full time from the newsroom. She scoured the blogosphere every day looking for posts from local Nashvillians, highlighting and aggregating the best of what she found. What she created was something truly unique — an authentic and organic virtual community. Not a community based on subject matter or a singular political viewpoint. The only common thread was its sense of place: Nashville.
A year after launching Nashville is Talking, WKRN also hired this humble correspondent to run a sister site of sorts called Volunteer Voters. So while my view of Nashville is Talking may not be objective, it is certainly intimate. Not only was I among NiT’s biggest fans since its inception, I was one of its guest bloggers and, eventually, a deskmate of its talented matriarch.
But in June of 2007, Gilbert resigned amid both controversy stirred on her blog and regime change at the station. To many of its readers, NiT died that day. While her successor, Christian Grantham, certainly did some interesting things with the site, his focus was divided among other WKRN duties. Without Gilbert, who lived and breathed NiT, it was simply soulless.
So when Grantham announced last week that he was leaving the station and that the show wouldn’t go on, I got nostalgic. The words of current WKRN GM Gwen Kinsey helped.
“[I]f digital technology is teaching us anything, it is that specific platforms, unique technologies and the next cool thing all are born, reach maturity, and fade or evolve in what feels like a nanosecond of time,” Kinsey wrote in the blog’s final post. “NIT is a quaint reminder of how we all got started. Now, we find ourselves using Twitter, Facebook and live streaming to enhance our connections with our viewers in ways that blogs do less and less. It’s time to move on.”
Her wording was thought-provoking. The implication is that the blog format itself is on the way out, not just NiT.
Frankly, there’s plenty of evidence to support that view. Some of the more colorful bloggers that gave WKRN’s blog its flavor have decamped. Blake Wylie, Rex L. Camino and Thursday Night Fever’s Mr. Roboto are all “retired.” Even Bill Hobbs shuttered his popular political blog after finishing his tenure at the Tennessee Republican Party. Instead, he’s embraced Twitter. Many former bloggers now spend more time on Twitter and Facebook sharing links and writing pithy text-message-style status updates than sitting down and composing thoughts any longer than 100 words.
It’s like blogs are going the way of literary novels.
But there can be middle ground. Not every old platform is on its way out, and not every new one will usher in the next media revolution. Maybe television stations don’t need blogs. Perhaps other social media tools can help crowd-source and disseminate stories just as well or better than blogs.
But still, WKRN had something very special. In a new media world where the natural gravity is toward niches, where news and entertainment consumers have the ability and the freedom to consume only what they choose, Gilbert created a place where readers were engaged and challenged.
Whether liberal or conservative, soccer moms or biker dads, whether they blogged about cooking or crocheting, Nashville is Talking was a must-visit destination for blog practitioners and readers alike. People didn’t return to have their pre-existing worldview validated. They came back because they wanted to see what their neighbors were thinking about.
While the days of consumers getting their news and entertainment from a few shared sources are gone, there is something to be said for sharing a common experience.
Nashville is Talking was the place for that, a central location where a diverse group of people sharing the same bit of virtual ground could come together to be pissed off and amused, enlightened and infuriated, touched and disturbed.
Some might call it quaint. Powerful is a better word for it. And Nashville, whether it was last week or almost three years ago, is worse off for its passing.
Visit Kleinheider at http://postpolitics.net