Blogging sites designed to inspire, encourage, engage
By JIM McGUINNESS
Lewis Loflin is an Internet blogger.
But his home page isn't filled with details about his personal life.
As owner of the domain at www.sullivan-county.com, Loflin has made it his mission to be a watchdog over local government. He also posts educational material about Christianity and other related belief systems.
Working on mostly second-hand computer equipment out of his Bristol, Va., home, Loflin has four computers together, creating most of his pages on a laptop. Those pages now total more than 1,400.
"I like to think of it as an alternative news and information site," Loflin says. "It's also educational."
That places Loflin among the new breed of bloggers (short for Web loggers): People who believe they have something worthwhile to say, and who understand the World Wide Web's potential in making their message available to a larger audience.
From politics and current events to entertainment and sports, people are logging onto their computers and speaking their minds. All that's needed is a simple Web page. Interested in starting your own blog site? You can be up and running in five minutes.
"The point of blogging is to participate in human discourse," said blogger Brook Hines, co-founder of the Johnson City Forum site. "It's an added bonus that it's an interesting time in history."
Johnson City Forum is a team blog that sprung from denizens of the Johnson City music scene of the mid-'80s. With many of those people scattered throughout the country - and some still in Johnson City - the blog provides a meeting place for people with a shared experience in their past. But the site is hardly nostalgic. Rather, it's a way for members to share their thoughts and feelings about the modern world.
The site was started after Hines reunited with some of her old friends from Johnson City.
"I found out that people hadn't aged in a bad way but a good way," said Hines, a Nashville resident who moved away from Johnson City in 1995. "So in the back of mind I was thinking ‘Let's not lose touch with each other.' Now and then I'll get e-mails from someone who's in New York or California. This is sort of their way to touch base."
The medium also gives bloggers a chance to communicate with family, friends and acquaintances on a more personal level.
"Remember having to read the Puritans' diaries in American lit? It's like that," Hines says. "It's family pictures and illness updates. It's what that crazy aunt has to say about the news. It's pictures of my dog!"
Another part of blogging's appeal is the immediacy with which posters can interact with the site's host.
"It used to be that you'd pick up a newspaper and consume it," Hines says. "With a blog, you interact with it. You've got the little comments section.
Nicole Sikora Heschong is the administrator of another Johnson City-oriented blogging site at www.downtownjc.org. The site relays information and encourages dialogue about the inner-workings of the city's downtown district. Heschong also has a personal site called "Frustrated Writer" that she began in response to a Charlotte, N.C., co-worker who had a site called "The North Carolina Experiment."
"It was a great way to not stand around the water cooler and gossip," Heschong said. "We just did it that way and nobody knew we were doing it."
Heschong hardly fits the mold of a frustrated writer, having made her living as a freelancer writer for the better part of 15 years. But her paid assignments don't always give her the opportunity to write about what she wants to write about. So she blogs.
"There's a lot of stuff on that site that's very personal," Heschong said. "I also vent about political stuff from time to time. It's a great way to blow off steam about my own life as a 30-something female and a Southerner, and other things I don't always get the chance to write about."
Like Hines, Heschong sees blogging as a way of communicating with family and friends on a consistent basis.
"I've moved around a lot and have a lot of close friends in Southwest Virginia and Atlanta," said Heschong, who maintains a dual residency in Johnson City and Charlotte. "It's a really great way to keep up with friends and family without forcing it on them. It's a little more detailed than your average e-mail or weekly phone call."
Many Tennessee-based bloggers are part of an online community known as the Rocky Top Brigade.
"We're not united in terms of politics or faith or topics that we blog," said Candi Henry of Knoxville, a member of the group. "It just happens to be a Tennessee connection."
Henry hosts a site called "Baseball Widow." Playing upon the idea of a wife widowed by her husband's love of a sport, the site is actually filled with commentaries by Henry herself.
"My husband had become very interested in reading baseball blogs and just wouldn't shut up about them," said Henry, who originated the site last February. "I tried to encourage him to start one. Then as a lark I decided to start one myself."
Subject matter ranges from controversial issues such as competitive balance and performance-enhancing drugs to more frivolous topics (one of Henry's most popular features was "Eye-Candies," where she spoofed her husband's fantasy baseball obsession by drafting a team based on looks).
Baseball Widow received a major bump early on when former ESPN employee Dave Pinto stumbled upon it and began plugging it on his popular "Baseball Musings" site. Soon, Henry had a readership. Many other Baseball Widow regulars have found the site through Rocky Top Brigade or their computer's search engine. And many keep coming back.
"I'm always surprised by the regular readers that I have," Henry said. "I don't write to generate commentary, but what I've found is that there are people who just enjoy the Internet and blogs specifically."
Heschong has also gained a steady readership.
Prior to a server crash that claimed her statistics counter a few months ago, she was getting more than a thousand hits a day on Frustrated Writer, including visitors from the Czech Republic, Australia, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. A recent Google search of the word "frustrated" found Heschong's site ranked number two.
"That's something my husband and his friends find funny," she says. "Seeing how my ‘frustration' ranks against all other frustration on the Web."
With so many pages covering a wide range of topics, Loflin gets between 7,000 to 8,000 hits per day.
All of his topics are crosslinked, driving the searcher to Loflin's main page. A recent Google search found the site ranked in the top five for the terms "Bristol Virginia," "Bristol Tennessee," "Bristol Virginia Utilities," "Deism," "Apostle Paul" and "Sullivan County Tennessee." For "Sullivan County Tennessee school board" he was ranked first.
"I'm constantly amazed," Loflin says. "I never thought a blog site would get these kinds of ratings."
A notorious newspaper letter-writer, Loflin initiated his site in 1998 following a controversy over the Ten Commandments being displayed at the Sullivan County Courthouse in Blountville.
Seeing an inequity in one religious group having its beliefs posted in a public place but not others, he felt the need to express himself.
"It was the cheapest way I could think of to get the message out," he said.
A tireless fact-checker who lists local politics as one of his hobbies, Loflin frequently attends local meetings. He spends between 20 to 30 hours a week updating his Web site. And while he doesn't answer to an editor, he does adhere to an "editorial policy" - there are no profanities or blatantly offensive material on his pages. And he also gives full credit to the print media articles he references on his pages. He also sees a responsibility to his readers.
"Be consistent and do good work," he says. "Check your facts."
As her readership climbs, Henry also feels she has a certain responsibility.
"It hasn't changed the way that I write," Henry said, "but it gives me an incredible guilt complex when I haven't posted in a while. Most of the bloggers out there are much more proficient than I. Sometimes I take a long time between blogs."
Published: January 29, 2005
Copyright Kingsport Times-News.
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