The limitations of part-time neighborhood blogging
By Bryan Tagas
Madison Park Blogger
This week marks the fourth anniversary of Madison Park Blogger, which provides me with a decent rationale for a short essay on the constraints faced by a hyper-local blogger who also has a day job. Though predisposed by background and temperament to spend a significant portion of my time writing about and sharing the news of Madison Park, I've learned over the years that my limitations include time, resources, and the fact that I live in the community I cover.
Let's start with that last constraint: living within "the beat." While it's probably a pre-requisite for any worthwhile neighborhood blogger to actually inhabit the community about which he writes, doing so presents difficulties for someone who wants to follow his journalistic bent but still worries about the reaction of his neighbors to stories which may not present them in the most favorable light. And then there's the issue of privacy. Even if the story is not negative and even if the names of parties involved are on the public record, is it always appropriate for the blogger to report those names?
A couple of years ago an Eastside author wrote a book entitled "Lake Washington 130 Homes: A Guided Tour of the Lake's Most Magnificent Homes." However, when the book went on sale at a shop in Madison Park, some patrons of the store objected due to the fact that the book disclosed who the owners were of various shoreline properties here in Madison Park. That property information, of course, was a matter of public record through the Office of the King County Assessor and available to anyone online. Even so, many in the neighborhood clearly regard trumpeting such details as an invasion of privacy. The shop owner, according to the book's author, promptly returned the unsold books once the complaints began.
The evident sensitivity of more than a few Madison Parkers, coupled with my desire to live on good terms with everyone in the neighborhood, has caused me to pull my punches when covering certain stories. For example, the Madison Park Blogger often does not name names. One instance of withholding what was public information is the infamous case of the pit bull owner whose dog attacked three women in Washington Park on a summer afternoon three years ago. In that case, the various family members requested that I not give their names so that they would not be subjected to the condemnation of neighbors or have their professional reputations negatively impacted. Although pictures were available on the record of what the police found when they entered the dog owners' home, I chose not to post them online or to provide specific information of the family involved. A more recent example of my not disclosing everything is the case of the young-and-apparently-drunk Broadmoor driver who was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run earlier this year.
I used discretion for a different reason in the case of a jewel heist from the very high-end home of a well-known neighborhood resident. Although the blog provided what information was available in the police report, I did not disclose the identity of the victims, the extent of their loss (which was considerable), or the speculation that the burglary may well have been an inside job. Although that information was available to me, that happened only because I was a neighbor--and it would not have been shared with me if the family had thought it would be published.
That brings us to the issue of resources, or rather the lack thereof. Here's a potentially great story that I did not do because of lack of bandwidth: "Serial Rent Scofflaw Victimizes Madison Park Landlords." Last year I was contacted by a landlord who told an incredible story of a man and wife who had leased at least three houses in succession in Madison Park without paying anything more than the first and last months' rent, plus a damage deposit. Under Washington's strict Landlord/Tenant Law, it is very difficult to remove a renter for failure to pay. This landlord, while going through the tortuous legal process of evicting his renters, had discovered that they had stiffed prior landlords in the same way and that there were previous court judgments against them. The total damages for the three cases was several hundred thousand dollars. Embarrassing as the situation was, my informant wanted me to do a story on what had happened to him so that other landlords would be put on notice not to rent to this couple, who he named.
To have covered this story objectively, I would have had to access, pay for, and evaluate lengthly court records (not available online) and track down the other landlords and their former tenants to get their sides of the story, which was rich in detail (the no-rent-paying couple apparently had kids in high-end private schools, drove expensive cars, and held regular jobs). That's the kind of legwork that would normally be handled by an editorial assistant. Unfortunately, I don't have one. Also, my personal liability insurance, I determined, was possibility not sufficient to cover the costs of any libel suit brought by the alleged deadbeats.
Here's my final point: there's only one of me and only so much time. Several readers have recently commented on the fact that the number of postings here is rapidly diminishing. In the first couple of years of Madison Park Blogger I was averaging 3.5 postings per week or so, many of them major in-depth stories. By this point I feel lucky if I am able to manage two postings in any given week. The difference is that I have a much more involved and time-consuming set of responsibilities today than I did in 2009, when I began the blog. While my employer, Sterling Bank, has been generous in letting me perform this community service, my blogging activities have to be a secondary priority.
I apologize to those who look forward to getting multiple Madison Park Blogger postings every week. Perhaps I can return to a more robust blogging schedule in the not-too-distant future. I appreciate the support of the blog's readers and I invite and will appreciate your feedback.
|The blogger takes his shot|
Madison Park Blogger Stats as of April 2013:
Monthly Readers: 993
Friends on Facebook: 194
[Photo of Madison Park Blogger by Dick Lehman.]