It’s easy to be cranky about blogs. I recall the grand claims made for the form in the last decade—”a publishing revolution more profound than anything since the printing press,” Andrew Sullivan called it in 2002. And I notice that, by and large, those claims haven’t panned out.
For instance, blogs were supposed to invigorate journalism by replacing mainstream reporters—who Roger L. Simon predicted in 2005 were about to “go on the ‘endangered species’ list”—with “citizen journalists” who would at last tell us the Truth. To this day, we hear enthusiasts celebrating the imminent demise of the MSM.
Newspapers haven’t been killed, quite, though they are increasingly starved of ad dollars by free online competition—and are cutting back operations because of it. The Washington Post, for example, no longer maintains bureaus in any U.S. city except Washington. As the papers struggle to do their job with declining resources, blogs fill the gap—with a small amount of reporting and, as the Voice‘s weekly round-up of the right-wing blogosphere shows, an enormous amount of ranting, propaganda, and plain gibberish. If that’s a revolution, it’s the French kind, with heads rolling and power devolving to the loudest voices in the mob.
You also heard it said, back in the early ’00s, that blogging would democratize the written word to an unprecedented degree, providing, in the words of Berkman Center director John Palfrey, “a series of opportunities for more voices to be heard from more places in the world by more people.” That sounds, at first, like a good thing—vox populi and all that. Technorati estimates that there are 113 million blogs today, and the primary effect of them has been to prove true Sturgeon’s Law, which states that 90 percent of everything is crap. Go to a Blogspot site sometime and keep hitting the “next blog” button. If you are a lover of humanity, you may rejoice to be exposed to so many different “voices.” If you are a lover of good writing or careful analysis, you may quickly decide that Sturgeon was being over-generous.
And yet . . .
If Sturgeon’s Law obtains, and even if the crap percentage is much higher than he stipulated, that still leaves a small percentage (but a huge number) of blogs that aren’t crap. And out of the great, howling void of the blogosphere, some fine writers and worthwhile projects have emerged. Not a lot, but some.
And if you take the time to find them, you’ll also find that some of them actually live up to the claims made for blogs in general, but on a more modest, often local, scale. If blogs can’t replace The New York Times—at least, not competently—some of them can pick up neighborhood stories that the Times doesn’t cover or doesn’t understand. They can amplify the voices of writers who probably couldn’t get a job with the Times but do at least as good a job as the Times‘ regular critics and columnists do. And they can devote time and attention to subjects that are maybe too narrow, too personal, or too fringe for a big paper, but are nonetheless worthy of notice.
So maybe the blog boosters merely dreamed too big. Blogging wasn’t the second coming of the printing press; it was more like the introduction of a small press anyone could use, offering opportunities to bright people with something worth saying who previously had little hope of being heard. Once upon a time, they might have pasted together zines, as Emily Gordon of Emdashes did as a teenager, or just pestered their friends with their ruminations, as “Jeremiah” of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York admits he did. When the new tools came in, while the revolutionaries plotted big changes, these folks quietly set to work. Most of them have devoted fans, but few have very many, and most are pretty obscure.
New York is the capital of several publishing and broadcasting empires and the home of seven dailies, major television networks, and national magazines. It’s a media hot spot, no doubt, and also the home of several top online properties—big-boy bloggers, if you will, who replicate and sometimes improve on the efforts of the old print and broadcast titans. You know their names. You’re less likely to know the names of the smaller blogs we’re singling out here.
We wouldn’t presume to call them the best, because there are too many to choose from, but they give a good idea of what the best New York bloggers can do. They can take the time to cover subjects no one else bothers to look at, or share their personal experiences of the Mets, the movies, and more in ways that make readers care about them. And they do: These bloggers often draw massive amounts of comments, ignite ire, and sometimes get flamed and even threatened. They’ve attracted followers and fans—not always in large numbers, but people who are loyal and grateful to have this chance to see the world a different way, and on a regular basis. That’s what all writers, from the big leagues to the bush, strive to do, and these people do it without major funding or support (and usually without editors or proofreaders), just because they really love to do it.
It’s not a revolution, but it’ll do.
The Launch Box
Proprietor: Ben Heckscher
Ben Heckscher is a soft-spoken finance manager in his forties who happens to live near the Second Avenue Subway construction site. He started taking pictures of the work, first posting them at The Launch Box in April 2007.
Since then, he has updated the blog almost daily, adding hundreds of photos with very little commentary—mostly facts, dates, and links. Over two and a half years, he has compiled a massive, meticulous, and probably unique record of the big dig. Even if you don’t care about subways or construction, you have to admire this act of devotion to a single topic.
“It’s a lot of work,” Heckscher says. “Each posting takes four to six hours of work. It’s almost a job.” Yet he’s not interested in making money from it, doesn’t take ads, and says he doesn’t want a job with the MTA or any other career opportunity out of The Launch Box. “I’m just someone who lives in the neighborhood,” he says, “who’s interested in the project.”
It hardly seems like mere interest, and we had to ask if people consider him single-minded or unusually focused. “I can be, when I find a project that I’m interested in,” he says. “Then I’ll dive in.” He has no other hobbies except photography. He’s educated as an electrical engineer, and though he has no experience in construction, as he watches the work slowly advance, “I can imagine what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.”
Heckscher says he strives not to express a point of view on the project, preferring to “let other people draw their own conclusions.” But he’s obviously proud of what he has accomplished. “What you see at the blog is different from what you’ll find at the MTA website or anywhere else,” he says. “The Times, for example, covers the Second Avenue Subway every couple of months, and then they move on. But if you’re interested in this topic and you come to this blog, you’ll find a lot of information without wandering around.”
So if you’re really interested in the project, Heckscher’s site is a good place to start. “If you go to Google and search for ‘Second Avenue Subway,’ ” he says, “you’ll probably get a million hits, but you can’t make sense of it because it’s just a long list of everything they could find ordered the way Google thinks it should be ordered—it’s like walking into a library without a card catalog.” —EDROSO
Art Fag City
Proprietor: Paddy Johnson
The New York art world is in major flux, the post–Deitch Projects local gallery scene is a big, fat question mark, and Paddy Johnson is perched at the edge of it all, perpetually wondering, “What is this shit?” That query has become a mantra for Johnson and her four-year-old blog, Art Fag City, ever since the native Canadian overheard a befuddled gallery-goer demanding the same thing back in December 2005 and posed the what-is-this-shit inquiry in an AFC headline. “It’s a question I ask myself continually,” she says. “What I’ve been trying to do here is make things clear for people who don’t spend every living moment in the art world, and give them a set of tools with which to look at contemporary art and engage with it.”
Sometimes, that means alerting readers to events like the Art Handling Olympics, inviting artists to pound out essays about a specific image (like, say, a photograph of a controversial Bruce Lee sculpture erected in Bosnia), or plotting a Google Map of Taco Bells near the gallery-choked environs of Chelsea and the Lower East Side. Other times, it means producing an Art Fag City–branded line of limited-edition temporary tattoos or, more importantly, simply maintaining the irreverent tone that a moniker like Art Fag City implies. “The name of the blog reflects the time that it was founded. In 2005, writing independently on the Internet seemed like an aggressive, bombastic thing. You could say what you wanted, finally.”
Johnson, 34, isn’t shy to admit that Art Fag City’s conception was a by-product of creative and professional failure. “I had been working in galleries, and was fired from the last four, and it got to the point where I wasn’t getting called back anymore,” she says. “At a certain point, you can’t explain why you get fired from so many jobs.” Simultaneously, Johnson, who has an M.F.A. in visual arts from Rutgers, was suffering from stage fright with her own painting and sound installation pieces. Her personal work was crippled, but musing about the culture of art on the Web felt both productive and freeing: “Blogging has its own self-imposed structure. You have to post every day; you can’t afford the luxury of worrying about what somebody’s going to think.”
For a few years, the Brooklyn resident maintained a full-time job while running Art Fag City at her own expense—for a period, General Electric hired her to install art in its corporate offices. But when the economy tanked, Johnson concurrently lost that source of revenue and landed a writing grant from the Warhol Foundation; Art Fag City, an increasingly essential identity that also inspired a weekly column in L Magazine, became her primary occupation. Still, going it alone with meager income from tricky conflict-of-interest advertising is a risky financial proposition, one that had her resort, at the end of 2009, to an online fundraiser that earned more than $5,000. Art Fag City’s future is both acutely bright and relatively blurry. “Either I’m unemployed, or I’m a full-time blogger,” Johnson concedes. “I’m not really sure which one it is yet.” —CAMILLE DODERO
Proprietor: Emily Gordon
Many New York blogs are about New Yorkers; Emdashes is about The New Yorker (mostly). Although it’s an online magazine about a magazine, it has a full life of its own. Along with analyses of each week’s New Yorker contents, it runs its own cartoons, columns, interviews, spot coverage, contests, and so on. Emdashes counts among its many devoted fans The New Yorker itself; the magazine’s head librarians, Jon Michaud and Erin Overbey, started answering reader questions in 2006 in a column on the Emdashes site. (Last year, The New Yorker took over “Ask the Librarians” at its own site.)
Emdashes is the love-labor of Emily Gordon—at 38, a longtime editorial pro and most recently editor-in-chief of Print magazine. (She was let go in January, but “it’s a good thing,” says Gordon. “I think it was probably time that we parted.”) She’s been mad to make publications since her teenage years, when she edited her high school newspaper (Tower Times, Madison East High School, Wisconsin) and “my friends and I laid it out on my living room floor, fueled by Rocky Rococo pizza.” She also worked on the zine Campain during a semester spent at Oxford.
From the moment online bulletin boards emerged, Gordon was writing on the Internet, and she says Emdashes “wasn’t even born explicitly out of love of The New Yorker, but of early adopting of blogging.”
Love at first site: “I just loved the combination of community and publishing,” she says. “I wanted to use this software, get intimate with it, get into the guts of it.”
In 2005, Gordon debuted Emdashes, picking her subject because “there was a need,” she says. “There wasn’t really a place on the Web to discuss The New Yorker. And in my life, it’s such a commonplace unifying force. Why couldn’t the Internet be a place where people who love words and writing and politics come together to discuss them?”
Although she says, “I love print and want it to live forever,” Gordon knows the Internet is coming after print hard and fast, and thinks that’s OK. The Internet “is like a magical figure in an old fairy tale,” she says. “It arrived and immediately changed the direction of the wind. It reversed the tides and turned everything upside-down. I love my own destructor, in a way!”
We doubt she’ll be destroyed; while the ex-editor-in-chief is working on a book proposal and scouting offers, she’s also looking at ways to monetize the currently ad-free Emdashes. —EDROSO
[The Neighborhood Reporter]
Proprietor: Daniel Cavanagh
Daniel Cavanagh is Gerritsen Beach–born-and-bred, and he knows his deep-Brooklyn neighborhood is a mystery to most of us. Before he started blogging about it at GerritsenBeach.net in 2006, he says, “You’d only know it from its hate crimes, like maybe someone got killed somewhere else, and they’d say they’re from Gerritsen Beach.” He wanted to put out a more well-rounded picture, and show that Gerritsen Beach—and the surrounding south Brooklyn area, in general—is “a nice place with stupid problems, like any other part of the city.”
This he does: If there’s a Lundy’s being refurbished in Sheepshead Bay, or a big tree falls on Noel Avenue, he’s on it. Cavanagh also goes to precinct and community board meetings, and reports on and sometimes posts videos of them, which is a big deal around his way. “Community board meetings suck,” he says. “They’re three or four hours long. People come up to me and say, ‘I can’t go to these meetings—viewing your website and getting the breakdown is easier for me.’ ”
Cavanagh breaks stories: His 2008 coverage of black kids getting hassled on Manhattan Beach during a senior “cut day” at local high schools was followed days later by a story in the Post. He got no credit, though. “It’s their policy,” he shrugs. “I don’t complain a lot. I’m more interested in getting stories that the other papers don’t get.” And sometimes, Cavanagh is the story, as when Nobody Beats the Wiz founder Stephen Jemal came after him for publicizing problems with Jemal’s land development business—and an associate of Jemal’s hacked Cavanagh’s site. The Daily News picked that one up and interviewed Cavanagh.
Cavanagh says he’s “more a photo guy” and is thinking of taking writing courses to hone his journalism skills. We think he’s pretty well honed already. —EDROSO
[Community Vent Coordinator]
Proprietor: Jeremy Sapienza
We have all suffered the injustices of a bad bartender—the dude who’s more interested in bumming smokes outside than filling your mug, the incompetent asshole who’s too stoned to remember who showed up first, last, or at all. These days, disgruntled customers tend to air their grievances on citizen-review site Yelp. But as one with a score to settle, whining there feels like screaming into a void—as a reader, the Yelp comments sections just seem like a peanut gallery of unreliable narrators. Enter the species of the anthropologically aware community blog, a special place where calling out “The Bartender Who Must Be Destroyed,” as BushwickBK columnist Barrett Brown recently did, is like commiserating with neighbors. You are sharing with people who care.
BushwickBK describes itself as “your online resource for everything about Bushwick, some Ridgewood, and maybe a slice of East Williamsburg.” Which is to say that labeling the site a “blog” rankles editor-in-chief Jeremy Sapienza—it’s far more like a culturally astute community newspaper with apartment ads, event listings, forums for venting, and all that. “A blog is where usually a single contributor just vomits random anythings, with no distinction between types of content or importance—it all just scrolls mindlessly from top to bottom, new to old,” Sapienza explains. “We have actual reporters who go out and dig up original stories and cover local events”—original stories like the mysterious disappearance of a beloved, year-round Santa statue, and the unsightly defacement of an Obama mural by battling graffiti crews; local events like community board meetings, art openings, and updates on a Melrose Street condo complex that has been nicknamed “The Hep of Poop.”
Sapienza, who characterizes himself as “shy and private by nature,” first started BBK in April 2007, when he was moving there and couldn’t find any current information on the neighborhood. Nearly three years later, he’s the only uncompensated affiliate—he pays contributors from modest revenue earned by advertising—but has never used the site to gain favor with locals. Quite the opposite. “I forbid my local friends from introducing me as connected to BushwickBK,” he says. “I do not want anyone I do not know to recognize me or know who I am on the street, and so far, I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it that way.” That said, he’s mindful that the area is rapidly changing and that the subjects he covers skew toward younger Life Café–hanging “creative class types” rather than old-timers, though he’s always struggling to bridge that gap. Certainly no one else is. “Unless someone is killed,” he says, “there isn’t much major media presence here.” —DODERO
Bronx News Network
Proprietor: Jordan Moss
The nonprofit BNN is a portal for a series of community newspapers, with a mix of paid staffers and guest bloggers. You can get to the papers’ sites from there (and to choice Bronx blogs like BoogieDowner), but BNN has its own blog and provides a quick daily skim of local news, most of which you’re not going to get in the dailies. For example, when State Senator Rubén Díaz was yelling, “They are murderers!” outside an abortion clinic in University Heights recently, the big papers stayed away; only BNN attended and got the story.
“We think of it more as a blog than a portal,” says executive editor Jordan Moss. “We want people to be aware of our papers, but we want BNN to be the place where you get your Bronx news and information every day. We all blog on our free time when we’re not busy with the print thing.”
Moss is happy to see BNN’s stories get picked up by the big papers, and by politicians. “Our goal has always been to push important things up the media food chain,” he says, “so that people here and beyond the Bronx, who make decisions that affect us, can see it.” BNN constantly get calls on its stories from government officials and their staffers. “There’s a lot about them,” he says, “so they want to see it.”
Moss is convinced this has an impact—for example, on the Kingsbridge Armory shopping center plan, recently rejected by the City Council in defiance of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s wishes: “The day before the vote,” says Moss, who’s written dozens of stories on the Armory over the years, “I wrote this long retrospective piece, and posted it at 10 the night before. I get there and the Council folks had seen it. They had all read that. I’m not saying it had a huge impact—but it’s part of the mix.” —EDROSO
Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York
Proprietor: “Jeremiah Moss”
Anyone who’s lived in New York for more than a few months will start grumbling that things have changed and the good places are going away. “Jeremiah Moss,” as he calls himself, is a longtime East Villager and marketing writer who, as he says, “wasn’t content to grumble, in that all my grumbling was making me miserable. And the people around me were sick of hearing it.” So, starting in 2007, he started blogging. The result is Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, which notes the passing of just about everything, in the EV and surrounding locales, that fades away—an old sign, a great bar, a good friend.
“Times Square just about kills me,” Moss says, as he ticks off the most hurtful departures. “Most recently, Skyline Books . . . the Amato Opera House on Bowery . . .” Among the people he misses is Eddie Boros, the East Village eccentric who built the once-famous Tower of Toys at the 6th Street and Avenue B Community Garden, “which the city destroyed after his death—the typical ‘New York character’ is an endangered species today.”
JVNY’s valedictory tone, a continuing homage to things that pass, has attracted a sturdy, like-minded readership and got the Daily News to publish a Moss op-ed in which he suggested that “many of us welcome” the recession because it might break open the “gated community” that Manhattan has become and bring back a city where “rents are reasonable, small businesses can thrive, artists can flourish . . .”
But he doesn’t really expect to halt progress with his blog. “It has no impact on the Bloomberg administration,” he says, “on the decisions made by real estate developers, or the people who drunkenly flood the streets of the East Village to scream and yell and watch football games in sports bars. It doesn’t stop Sex and the City tourists from coming, and it can’t bring Howard Johnson’s back to Times Square.”
Then why bother? “I don’t want to downplay the importance of making people feel less alone in their emotions,” he says. “The feelings of sadness and powerlessness that hyper-gentrification evokes can be overwhelming. And knowing that there are others out there, that you’re not the crazy person ranting on the street corner alone, is significant.” —EDROSO
[The Good Neighbor]
Proprietors: Ed Litvak and Traven Rice
What does a big-time network news producer do when his job starts to lose its allure? Ed Litvak confronted that very question last year and opted to start a blog—not on national news, or even TV gossip, but on a more intimate and real subject: the Lower East Side, where he lives with his wife, Traven Rice.
Litvak, 43, was previously the executive producer of CNN’s American Morning, the network’s major a.m. show. Before that, he helped the network win a Peabody Award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Rice, 36, is a filmmaker.
What they do now couldn’t be any more local. The Lo-Down is a multimedia compendium of news and cultural info about the diverse, historic Lower East Side. It wasn’t a bad idea, when you consider that well over 100,000 people live in the LES and surrounding area. The couple runs the website out of their one-bedroom apartment, which has come, since their April 2009 launch, to increasingly resemble a newsroom.
“We found information on the neighborhood to be extremely thin,” Litvak says. “In a town where every neighborhood has 1,000 stories, the newspapers can’t do much more than graze the surface. There’s so much here you wonder about. It’s a bit like peeling away the layers of an onion.”
The couple’s other goal, Litvak says, was “to be able to help define what community news online will become.” He already knew what network news had become: He covered many of the big stories of the past decade for NBC and CNN, but by 2008, the job had begun to wear thin. “I had been in TV news for a long time, and increasingly, I didn’t find it very fulfilling,” he says. “I was a manager, and I didn’t find that I was able to do the things that motivated me: being a journalist, doing stories and writing.”
He adds, “In between the big stories, there were a lot of missing blonde girls and Britney Spears. It’s not very interesting, and I think that it did get me down after a while.”
The site costs them very little to maintain; friends did the technical stuff, designed the logo, and help with photos and other material. The couple live off their savings, plus what they say is very modest ad income. Over the next few months, they hope to attract advertisers who want a media outlet but don’t want to pay the high rates charged by the major dailies.
In the meantime, Litvak says, he has been impressed with the resourcefulness of bloggers. “These people who have blogs go out with their cameras and find stuff,” he says. “I think they prove that you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to be a journalist.” —GRAHAM RAYMAN
Proprietor: “Queens Crapper”
The proprietor of Queens Crap wouldn’t send us a picture, saying, “That kind of defeats the purpose of having an anonymous blog, doesn’t it?” If you read the blog, you’ll understand why the author wants to keep a low profile.
QC slashes hard at borough (and city) politicians, some of whom earn the name “Tweeder,” a reference to the rapacious ward-heelers of Tammany Hall days. QC sometimes runs—along with selected, damning news bites—brief commentary, like this message to Mike Bloomberg: “Term limits were good enough to remove Giuliani after 9/11 (what got your ass in office in the first place), and it’s good enough to get rid of you now.” Mostly, these days, QC is content to run satirical headlines (“JFK Clusterfuck Coming”) or pictures, like Congressman Gary Ackerman with his hand in a cookie jar. The blog’s commenters are lively, and sometimes borderline racist, obscene, or unkind (one on former Beep Claire Shulman: “Shulman is a backstabbing pig who puts on kneepads for the Mayor”). Vox populi!
And that’s just what you see on the site. Though mum about it, the Queens Crapper is a public-spirited citizen who goes to the meetings and has learned how to work the system. “The website is only about half of what the Queens Crapper does,” QC tells us. “I get private e-mails asking for advice about how to tackle certain issues, and I respond privately.”
That was a surprise to us—from the tone of the blog, we said, it seemed like QC doesn’t expect things to change at all. “Oh, that’s where you’re wrong,” QC says. “I do expect things to change. I think the era of complacency is about to come to an abrupt end, and I hope to document it.” In fact, the blogger adds, “there are many talented unsung mid-level city employees that go out of their way to help their fellow citizens on a daily basis and are not just there to collect a paycheck. I would give them kudos on my site, but it might get them fired.”
Why not run for office? “Because attending meetings all day is boring, and this is so much more enjoyable.” —edroso
First things first: The notoriously anonymous blogger—well, mostly anonymous; he signs his e-mails “Dave”—who runs Brooklyn Vegan is not secretly a viral-marketing stooge or a Viacom employee or Lloyd Blankfein. He’s just a little retiring. “I started blogging from a day job,” Dave says about his long-standing refusal to disclose much about his real-life identity. “It is/was a mix of not wanting them to know, and because I’m shy.”
That day job is a thing of the past, now. The stridently indie, maniacally updated local music website, founded around the 2004 peak of New York’s outer-borough rock revival, went full-time two years ago. “It was too much work to do at another job, and the ad money, though modest, was enough to justify it,” he explains. “I still haven’t figured out how to take a vacation.” Sleeping seems like an issue, too—Brooklyn Vegan updates upward of 20 times a day, and its posts routinely bear 3:04 a.m.–type timestamps.
Veteran readers come for the circus as much as they do for the endless show photos and tour dates that are the site’s daily bread; though BV is an invaluable information source about music in the city, it’s also where people tend to come together online in the comments section and speak, uh, candidly, about bands both local and national. Which is to say, woe to those setting foot for the first time on a site that’s often held up as a symbol of the supposed intolerance and casual misogyny of indie-rock fans.
“It’s a tough subject that I haven’t fully figured out,” Dave says. “Racism and personal attacks aren’t welcome, and I’ve had to monitor comments in certain posts to try to get rid of people whose only point seemed to be to insult someone’s looks or reputation based on potentially false accusations.” For example: “I’d hit it,” the standard commenter greeting for the various femme darlings of the indie scene. “A lot of comments are meant sarcastically, and memes get created that some people might find offensive,” Dave explains. “Most people take it with a grain of salt.”
Or even enjoy it. At this point, baptism by Brooklyn Vegan is practically a local music ritual. Says Dave, about one particularly beloved Brooklyn-based music duo: “Matt & Kim once said something about getting disappointed if they don’t get a lot of negative comments in a BV post.” —ZACH BARON
Forgotten New York
Proprietor: Kevin Walsh
While Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York focuses on things that are fading away, Forgotten New York focuses on things that are still here, but overlooked—either vestiges of what’s (usually long) gone, or places in what are known as the “outer boroughs” to which media pay little attention because not much happens there: Bronxwood Park, an abandoned diner in Ozone Park, the Staten Island Railway.
If Jeremiah is nostalgic, copywriter Kevin Walsh, who runs Forgotten New York from his home in Little Neck, is forensic: When he tackles an address or district, he’ll learn and tell you all he can find about it—which is considerable. (He can’t always be definitive, though; as to where Houston Street got its name, for example, he can give you only the best theories.)
“[Lamppost documentarian] Bob Mulero remarked that he and I are probably the only people who have cared enough to collect such comprehensive info, outside the records of the Department of Transportation,” says Walsh. “When we go, it all goes, unless we find a way to perpetuate it.”
Walsh had been compiling photos, books, and “manila envelopes full of newspaper clippings” of this kind for years when the Internet showed up, and “it was as if my chance had finally come.” He did some small sites to start, then in 1998, he used Adobe Page Mill—”state-of-the-art” at the time, he recalls—to make Forgotten New York. Over the years, he has acquired fans, publication in print (including the book Forgotten New York: Views of a Lost Metropolis), correspondents of a similarly historical bent who help with the site, and many, many, many more pictures and nuggets of New York life.
The site is huge, exhaustive, and, you’d think, exhausting. Does he ever regret the time he’s spent on it? “Not for a second,” he says. In fact, he plans a revamp this year to add comments and daily postings.
Forgotten New York has a feature unusual in the normally reclusive blog world: guided tours. Jeremiah regularly takes groups of his followers out to some choice spots. “It gets me out of the house,” he says, adding, “I get $5 a head, and I get to meet the fans, which is always fun.” —EDROSO
Faith and Fear in Flushing
Proprietors: Jason Fry and Greg Prince
There are tons of Mets blogs. Faith and Fear in Flushing is one of the more effusive, not to say literary, of the bunch. They watch the games and the trades, but are also given to exegeses on the Mets mythos and ethos, with essays on the deeper meaning of Tug McGraw (“We can do it, said Tug—I’ll pitch, you persevere and together we’ll figure this thing out”), the Mets’ lack of no-hitters, and the upside of Jeff Francoeur’s hitting into an unassisted triple play.
It’s the extended busman’s holiday of two pro writers, Jason Fry and Greg Prince. They’d been “talking idly” about doing something together when Fry was assigned to write about blogs for The Wall Street Journal in 2005. “But I’d never actually done it,” Fry recalls. “I was a bit too young to be a columnist who habitually doesn’t know what he’s talking about, so I decided to actually write a blog for a little while.”
Fry and Prince loved the Mets, so there was the hook. “Being a Mets fan means expressing yourself constantly,” says Prince, “and we’ve found an ideal venue for it.”
They’ve been at it for five “nonprofit years,” though Fry says they’ve recently decided “to accept advertising that isn’t for off-shore gambling.” Doing the blog, day after day, doesn’t gain them the access regular sportswriters get—”It won’t get you a quote from Jerry Manuel or David Wright,” says Prince, though he did get to interview sportscaster Gary Cohen for his book version of Faith and Fear in Flushing. “We still rely on those who cover the team for that stuff—but we don’t rely on them for a whole lot else. After a particularly compelling game, I’m going to want to read what my partner writes and what a whole bunch of our counterparts are going to write. The newspaper guys don’t take precedence anymore—at least, not in my eyes.”
“I know it sounds corny,” says Fry, “but when I go to Citi Field now in my Faith and Fear shirt, I often run into friends I made through the blog, or people who see the shirt and ask, ‘Faith and Fear in Flushing?’ I wouldn’t mind a little money on top of that—or even a lot of money—but it’s a pretty excellent reward in its own right.” —edroso
[The Downtown Translator]
Proprietor: Bucky Turco
Let us consider the cityscape of prominent “underground culture” sites that surround Animal New York, and, in this context, we suppose “underground culture” (Animal’s words) means locally based bloggers and photo uploaders whose Internet personas suggest they intimately understand the difference between throw-ups (the graffiti kind) and throwing up (the puke kind) and could cop drugs at a text’s notice (weed doesn’t count). There’s Vice, but in reach, that’s like comparing Duane Reade to King’s Pharmacy. There’s the Street Boners and TV Carnage, but that’s basically self-proclaimed “asshole” Gavin McInnes personified: crass, acerbic, not for the weak at heart or stomach. To single out a third, there’s aNYthing’s GLOB, but that reads like a bad inside joke among dudes who’ve had too many skateboard injuries, addictions, and piss hard-ons at the Mars Bar.
That’s why we’re telling you about Animal New York, a professional weekday enterprise that’s international in scope, New York in tone, but something even your little brother could appreciate. Animal is run by Bucky Turco, someone the Voice recently named “Best Downtown-Minded Internet Savant”—he was the first person to interview Hipster Grifter tattootard Kari Ferrell. But Turco’s also the guy who recently co-produced the first Manhattan show of fiercely anonymous sticker slapper/spraycan wielder B.N.E. this past December. And in an era in which every assclown on the block has a street-art photo blog, Animal sets itself apart by not only capitalizing on Turco’s access, but also providing context—like clarifying that Mr. Brainwash, an opportunist Andy Warhol cribber who recently designed an album cover for Madonna, is “universally despised.” In any given week, Animal’s four-person cast of characters will describe Jersey Shore Guidette Snooki as a Mrs. Potato Head who “makes my penis recoil in horror,” post Facebook photos of Republican Senator/pimp daddy Scott Brown posed creepily with his bikini-clad daughters, and excavate spoilers to a Sundance documentary from anonymous art-juggernaut Banksy. Animal’s also really good at engaging with its audience, say, here, like this: “Here’s a word of advice for all of you whore-mongers out there . . .” —DODERO
The House Next Door
Proprietor: Keith Uhlich
Being mostly about film and TV, The House Next Door isn’t, at first glance, an obvious New York blog. But “there is something of a New York centrality to the House,” says blog runner Keith Uhlich, and he and founder Matt Zoller Seitz live in Brooklyn. Also, it makes sense that one of the pre-eminent culture blogs emanates from the cultural capital of America. If there’s a meaningful movie event in the city, like an early Carl Dreyer retrospective at BAM, they’re on it.
Aesthetically speaking, they get around. The several contributors at The House, as they call it, put keen critical focus on art both high and low; they discourse elegantly on Rohmer and Ophüls, and also The Dark Knight and Looney Tunes (” ‘I Love to Singa’ is about stalwart determination, not to mention the simultaneous insanity and importance of artistic pursuit”).
They also seek outside perspectives; The House employs a large staff, including a Turkish correspondent, Ali Arikan, and this summer, took a dispatch from the deadCENTER Film Festival in Oklahoma City. “I always have, and always will, continue to pursue writers and subjects and readers from other areas of the world,” says Uhlich.
Uhlich is aware that most people who read about popular culture are looking for star gossip and snark. “But it’s my belief,” he says, “that, recognizing what disturbs you about the culture, you need to put something into it that will help right the balance. I think we’ve been able to maintain a good discourse overall.” Although sometimes, as when Uhlich panned The Dark Knight, they get a barrage of fanboy abuse. “My approach,” he says, “is that we should be as unpredictable as possible, though we should always maintain basic human decency in our work and how we respond to it and to others.”
“I like the bigness of the site,” says Seitz (who now describes himself as “mainly a film editor who sometimes writes criticism”), “and the multiplicity of voices and the fact that you don’t know what you’re going to get every day when you visit. When he handed over management of the site, he told Uhlich, “This is your kid now, and the only request I’m going to make is, keep throwing curveballs.” And Uhlich has. After more than four years and hundreds of essays, the House is well-settled, but what goes on inside is often a surprise. —edroso
[The Transit Authority]
Second Avenue Sagas
Proprietor: Benjamin Kabak
As a kid growing up on the Upper West Side, says Ben Kabak, “I was always fascinated by the subway.” He started Second Avenue Sagas, as the name implies, to follow the progress of the Second Avenue Subway project in 2006, but “I quickly learned that there wasn’t enough news on a daily basis to sustain a site that looked only at that project.” So he turned his attention to other transit stories.
Often, these are quotidian—the introduction of new buses, management changes, ticket blitzes, the inevitable service advisories—but in covering them, he’s learned enough to make intelligent commentary on the subject and to leaven the blog with more fanciful entries, such as an examination of the subway system in Grand Theft Auto‘s Liberty City.
Now 26 and quartered in Park Slope, he has become the go-to source for city news blogs when transit comes up. Does he think his work has an impact on our transit universe? “In an ideal world, it would,” he says. “But I’ve gotten my pieces in front of the right people. I know that officials at the MTA read my work, and I know that transit policy experts and transit advocates in the city listen to what I have to say as well. They view those who blog about transit as providing another window into the mindset of its passengers. People are listening, but I personally feel I have a long way to go as well.”
Mostly, he sees the public service of Second Avenue Sagas as pertaining to the ridership: “I can help educate the public on the policies and politics behind transit,” he says, “and I can highlight stories that otherwise get little coverage in the city’s major news outlets.”
He does all this while attending NYU Law School and working part-time at a legal internship. (He also contributes to the Yankee blog River Avenue Blues.) “I like to tell people that I sleep sometimes,” he laughs, “but it’s really about efficiency. I’ll write some pieces at night and try to plan some of the less news-oriented and more feature-like entries in advance.” —edroso
[The Local Girl]
New York Shitty
Proprietor: “Miss Heather”
The accounts of Greenpoint life that make up most of New York Shitty aren’t all as negative as the name implies. “It was initially premised on the dog-shit problem in my community,” Miss Heather tells us. “I reached my breaking point one day when I was coming home from the Franklin Corner Store laden with bags of groceries. I was literally dodging dog bombs every two or three feet.”
Her first public service when she started New York Shitty in 2006 was a series of “Crap Maps” of the Brooklyn neighborhood where she’s lived for 10 years. Then, she says, “something happened I could never have anticipated: People started paying attention.”
This encouraged Miss Heather to broaden her purview. Now, New York Shitty features photos, spot reports, and interviews of a charmingly random sort of northernmost Brooklyn’s people, incidents, and places: the old methadone clinic that became a noisy hostel, the ever-increasing number of “nondos” that came with the recession, citizens she finds in community meetings or just hanging out on a corner, like Kenneth, who likes to “knock back 40s and hand out roses to female passers-by.”
Her devotion has been reciprocated in comments and e-mails. “To some degree,” she says, “New York Shitty has become an online forum for people to exchange information, air their feelings about local events, or simply blow off steam. I didn’t anticipate this happening, but am very grateful it has.”
She has also gained the attention of mainstream reporters and, unlike GerritsenBeach.net‘s Daniel Cavanagh, she gets pissed when they don’t give her credit, as she believes happened when she broke a story about an illegal gym in Williamsburg last year. “It takes a special kind of arrogance,” she says, “to do something like [the Post did]—that is, basically lift the entire content from one of my posts, make a few phone calls, and claim it as an ‘exclusive.’ ”
She thinks that’s a little rich, as she does the slighting attitude toward blogs expressed by print veteran Pete Hamill in a 2007 radio interview (“When I teach at NYU, I try to tell these young potential journalists: Don’t waste your time with blogs . . .”). ” ‘Beat reporters,’ as the Pete Hamills of the world knew them, no longer exist,” says Miss Heather. “In some ways, blogs have filled this void, whether the print establishment cares to admit it or not. They are certainly using them for news leads.” —edroso
Food in Mouth
A Food in Mouth post begins with a discovered item of street food or a recently consumed meal, then zooms off on thought-provoking tangents, touching on pop-culture topics unrelated to food before ending in an existential yelp. The prose is fresh and lean, and not marred by the occasional syntactic inconsistency, while the level of sincerity hovers up near 100 percent. Posts are often witty as hell.
The blog is the work of Danny, a 28-year-old Brooklynite who describes himself as an “Asian dude” born in Taiwan but raised in the American Midwest. He won’t go any further than that: “I work at a very stiff type of place . . . so I try to keep on the DL, as they say.” He started the site in 2007, he says, “because I needed a way to channel free time toward something productive.” You might suspect that Danny works in a Web job of some sort, because the layout of his blog is gorgeous and the pictures much better than they need to be.
A recent rumination on the cable show The Wire and the Milk Bar’s crack pie led to an elaborate allegory featuring chef Chang: “So the ‘high-rises’ in this case would be the Momofuku Empire. They rule in the East Village area. The guy playing Avon Barksdale is David Chang.”
But it’s Danny’s very alienation from the food blogosphere that makes Food in Mouth most memorable. Of the recent FTC rules concerning the acceptance of free food by blog writers (he doesn’t do it), he writes: “It’s just fun to note that yes, the government thinks that when you want to gush about something, your experience probably was affected by whether you paid for all, some, or none of the food you just ate.” Jeez, that guy can write! —Robert Sietsema
Proprietor: Magda Pecsenye
If the Internet does not need another music geek’s poorly written take on Vampire Weekend or a self-proclaimed foodie’s poorly lit photos from Momofuku, the Internet most certainly does not need another mommy blog.
These blogs (and, yes, they are almost always gender-specific—even The New York Times‘ parenting blog is called Motherlode) take on many forms: There are the “attachment parenting” bloggers (co-sleeping, babywearing, extended breastfeeding acolytes of Dr. Sears, whose own wife was such a super-mom that she breastfed her adopted children) and the “underparenting” bloggers (who often refer to their child as “the kid,” confess negative feelings toward said kid as if this was somehow breaking a taboo, and feign detachment, even though they are blogging about parenting). There are hipster mom blogs, sexy mom blogs, blogs by moms who believe strongly in bringing babies to bars, and blogs by moms who believe strongly in not bringing babies to bars. There are the crafty mom bloggers and the really crafty mom bloggers who get a ton of free baby gear, we bet. There are the Park Slope moms—somehow the villains of New York—and the obviously much better Prospect-Lefferts Gardens moms. And maybe some moms who don’t live in Brooklyn?
And you can roll your eyes at all of them—the mostly bad reputation of mommy blogs is mostly earned—until, a few days after pushing a human being out of that area that used to be for something else, you find yourself desperately Googling “low milk supply,” “plugged duct,” and “fix my baby” at 3 a.m.
And here is where we arrive at Ask Moxie—a beacon of non-judgmental, un-dogmatic parenting advice, neutral territory in an exhausting and endless cycle of online mommy war violence. The blog belongs to Magda Pecsenye, a divorced NYC mother of two boys who introduces herself online with a radical sentiment: “I don’t know where my parenting bent lies. I think you know your own kids best.” Pecsenye launched her site in 2005, and it consists largely of readers’ questions, which she posts almost daily, her considered but by no means expert responses (comforting but not too touchy-feely, personal but not grossly confessional, challenging but not intentionally provocative), and then a ton of comments, often equally as helpful as her own. Whereas most parenting blogs (and their old-school counterparts: the parenting books) actually sap a parent’s confidence, Ask Moxie can make you feel like a decent parent (which you might be) by encouraging you to trust your instincts—instincts that often get drowned in the sea of bullshit that doubles as parenting advice. —Allison Benedikt