Bill Dusty had hit a wall.
For months, Dusty had been pouring his time and energy into his blog, The Springfield Intruder, which focuses on local news and politics. But after building a core audience, Dusty was having trouble expanding his readership. "I was working all the time, but I couldn't get readers to my site," explains Dusty, who was squeezing in his blog work around a full-time job. "I was maxed out."
He figured he wasn't alone; most of the other local bloggers he knew were also trying to make a go of their sites while juggling work, families and other pursuits. An informal network had already sprung up around many of these bloggers; now, Dusty began to wonder, could they find a more formal way to support each other?
Dusty broached the idea over beers with Mike Dobbs, managing editor of the Reminder newspapers, who writes his own blog, Out of the Inkwell. Next they reached out to other local bloggers to discuss possible collaborations. The result is Pioneer Valley Central (http://www.pvcentral.net), a clearinghouse of writing by local bloggers, all of whom also maintain their own sites.
Dusty hopes the centralized site will help contributors increase readership on their own blogs. It should also relieve the pressure on individual bloggers to come up with fresh material every day; ideally, readers of Pioneer Valley Central will find at least one fresh post every day, from at least one contributor. The site plans to expand its unique content, including videos and audio netcasts, in which contributors gather to discuss issues in the news or interview public figures, and might begin producing monthly print supplements, Dusty says.
In seeking out contributors, Dusty looked for bloggers with a strong local focus; while they might write about national issues or personal matters on their own blogs, the work they contribute to PVC should focus on the Valley. In addition to Dusty and Dobbs, PVC's contributors include Michaelann Bewsee of Springfield, whose blog, MichaelannLand, focuses on homelessness, economic inequities and other social justice matters, and Tony Mateus, a self-described "outdoor enthusiast," whose blog, In the Valley, is rich with photo essays and videos.
PVC's core group also includes Rambling Van Dog, a Holyoke blog written by an anonymous author. (Even Dusty says he knows "Van Dog" by a first name only.) While Dusty doesn't want to get into the habit of including bloggers who won't reveal their identities—he counts among his pet peeves the anonymous posters who populate the forums at MassLive.com—he was willing to make an exception in this case, due to the quality of the blog and his desire to have Holyoke represented on PVC. Dusty also hopes to include more blogs from the upper Valley in the future.
While PVC's initial group of contributors is largely based in Hampden County, it's a diverse group nonetheless. Bewsee, a founder of Arise for Social Justice, for instance, sits to the political left of Dusty, who describes himself as "right-leaning," with a centrist position on social issues. "It was fascinating to be invited into this core group," says Bewsee.
Before they began meeting about PVC, she knew Dusty through the comments he sometimes posted on her blog, usually in disagreement with her opinions. "But he always did it with good humor, and it was never a personal attack," notes Bewsee, who adds that she and Dusty agree on some issues, such as the environment. "That gives us some overlap."
PVC's founders hope to make some money from the project through paid advertising on the site. Dusty acknowledges, though, that the idea of a blogger making a living off his work is "far-fetched," with the exception of those lucky few who were well known before they got into blogging, such as Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post.
PVC's initial group of contributors included Tom Devine, the acknowledged pioneer of Valley bloggers; after years of publishing a political 'zine called The Baystate Objectivist, Devine started a website in 1998 and now blogs at tommydevine.blogspot.com. In an email to the Advocate, Devine said he's skeptical of PVC's chances of success. While he hasn't formally quit the group, he hasn't posted to the site in months.
"I've become convinced that blogging doesn't lend itself to that kind of cooperative effort—you get a much higher return if the same amount of effort is devoted to your own site," Devine wrote. "Why do things for PV Central and have to split the take all those ways when you can do it on your own site and take 100 percent?"
There already are national sites that provide links to local blogs, added Devine, pointing, for example, to BlogNetNews.com. "Notice that they already have—without paying any of us a cent—all of our blogs plus every other blog in the Valley! The wide open nature of the Internet?makes it impossible to control access to our sites or who aggregates them….
"It's become apparent to me that the whole financial model [of PVC] is wrong," Devine continued. "Income is divided up by the number of posts per participant, but what about the quality of the posts? So if I post something based on years of experience covering Springfield, and someone else posts about how much they like the ham sandwich they bought at Friendly's, each us gets one post's credit even though there may be wide variances in quality. It's a form of blogging socialism (everybody paid the same, good or bad) and it's doomed to fail as bad bloggers crowd out the good ones."
Dobbs considers PVC "sort of a non-corporate answer" to MassLive, the Big Foot of the Valley Web scene, which includes news stories from the Springfield Republican and numerous local forums. "The strength of [PVC], I think, is that everybody is a very independent voice," Dobbs says. "I think what blogging can do is help revitalize interest in local news and local events. Good local blogging can allow people to rediscover stuff."