Vancouver bloggers have their say in cyberspace
Before Sean Orr began blogging at Beyond Robson, a Vancouver-focused group blog, he had been searching for a way to get his opinions on what's going on in this city heard by others.
"Mostly I was just writing letters to the Province and the Sun, and they were the sort of letters that that kind of media outlet doesn't really publish," Orr told the Georgia Straight in a Gastown café. "So this gives me a voice to just sound off."
Now, Orr writes Beyond Robson's daily Morning Brew, a biting, witty, and opinionated look at what's making news in Vancouver. A passionate advocate for issues facing the residents of the Downtown Eastside and the city's growing homeless population, Orr points out in his posts the hypocrisies and fallacies of Vancouver's mainstream-media coverage.
With CanWest Global Communications Corp. owning both newspapers to which he wrote in vain, Orr noted that blogging has given him an outlet he wouldn't otherwise have had.
It's difficult to imagine that blogs didn't exist a little more than a decade ago. While it's an exaggeration to say that today everybody blogs, these Web sites have become both commonplace and incredibly diverse.
Raul Pacheco (www.hummingbird604.com/) has only been active in Vancouver's blog scene since the start of this year, but his enthusiasm and outgoing nature have quickly gained him both a dedicated readership and a large role in the local blogging community. Pacheco could be the Kevin Bacon in any game of Six Degrees of Vancouver Bloggers, as he's quick to befriend people and eager to convert on-line connections into real-world friendships.
At a downtown coffee shop, Pacheco said he started blogging because, unlike other members of his family, he wasn't very good at writing short stories, and because he wanted an outlet for his creativity besides his work as a doctoral student in environmental studies at UBC.
"Before I blogged, I never wrote for myself," Pacheco said.
He hit upon starting a blog during a period in which he moved back and forth between Canada and Mexico. "My phone bills were enormous," Pacheco said. "I was calling my friends back in Vancouver all the time. I thought, ”˜This is stupid. I can't be spending this much money all the time. There must be some way to keep in touch with what my friends are doing.' "
In January, Pacheco got involved with the monthly Vancouver Blogger Meetup Group, and as organizer of its last few meetings, he has drawn an increasing number of bloggers to the get-togethers. By blogging for 24 hours straight in the 2007 and 2008 Blogathon charity events, he helped raise money for A Loving Spoonful, an organization that provides meals to people living with HIV and AIDS, and the B.C. Cancer Foundation.
When talking to bloggers, especially those as keen about what they do as Pacheco, it's easy to believe that this is something that's completely new. Yet while blogging has made self-expression easier, there were avenues in the past for those willing to put in a little effort.
Jeannette Ordas's food blog Everybody Likes Sandwiches brought her to the attention of food writers and food lovers around the world, and landed her a gig writing for the Food Network Canada's blogs, but it wasn't her first brush with writing.
"I used to publish my own zine," Ordas said. "After I worked at a record store, I wanted a way to get free tickets to shows and free CDs, and so I started up a zine, and it was pretty popular and I enjoyed writing."
While Ordas doesn't attend various blogger gatherings, she noted that one of the things she likes about blogging is the people she's met.
"I've stayed in people's homes when I've been travelling," she said, adding that, as a Web designer and illustrator, she's gotten a number of jobs from people who only know her through her blog.
What Ordas has become for her readers is what Kate Milberry, a doctoral student and instructor at SFU's school of communication, likens to a popular newspaper columnist.
"Bloggers become the cyberspatial version of newspaper columnists, where they have a personality, they have a certain topic or theme or ideological slant which they pursue, and people are drawn to that and follow them in much the same way," said Milberry, who studies and blogs about how activists use technology (www.geeksandglobaljustice.com/).
While not every blogger is as active in forging social links with readers and other bloggers as Pacheco is, Milberry argued that, by their very nature, blogs are a social medium. Milberry noted that the city has hosted the annual Northern Voice blogging conference, which draws bloggers from Canada and the northwestern U.S., since its start in 2005.
While many observers give much of the credit for the wealth of local blogs to Vancouver's technology industry, she said, "We're sort of on the edge of the country, and we're not in the thick of things, so in those cases really vibrant communities can thrive."
Whatever the reason, there's no doubt that the city offers a lively and diverse blog scene. For current or aspiring bloggers, Pacheco offered this advice: "Blogging should be fun."