Monday 2 August 2021

What makes a local blog worth reading?

I got a message this morning on Twitter this morning from one of my regular readers, to congratulate me on the Tweets of the Week I published yesterday. They told me that it was the best selection for many a moon. I have to admit I was surprised to see this and quite flattered. It was a rather good week for Tweets from our local tweeters. Some weeks I have to hunt far and wide to find ten tweets locally that I think will interest my legion of readers, other weeks, the challenge is what to leave out. I like a nice mix of  informative tweets, people doing good things locally and a bit of local history. Probably 50% of the people I follow on Twitter, I've found researching the Tweets of the week. I also periodically get messages thanking me for 'finding new interesting twitter accounts'. It has been quite a week for it. 

On Friday night I had a couple of beers at the Mill Hill Services club. At least ten people stopped me to discuss the blog about the appalling state of Hendon Cemetery. I posted the blog on Thursday and it is already the most read blog on this site of 2021. People are truly appalled at the neglect. Councillors from Labour, the Conservatives and The Lib Dems have contacted me privately to say it is unacceptable. I have also been assurred that the situation is being resolved within the next ten days. On top of that something truly unprecedented in Barnet politics happened. Peter Zinkin, a senior member of the Barnet Conservatives (many say he is the man who really runs the council) responded to a tweet I posted, admitting that I was 'mainly right' about it being unacceptable.

This has never happened in all of the time I've been writing a blog. I must say I'm heartened by a grown up response to a real issue. When I started writing this blog, I had hoped that the administration would respond in such a sensible manner when genuine issues were raised. Although many Conservative councillors have regualrly contacted me privately, this has always been on the strict understanding that this was not raised publicly. Sadly in local politics, no one likes admitting they've got it wrong, even when it is glaringly obvious. I am not sure whether our local Conservatives are turning over a new leaf in grown up politics, where we sensibly discuss matters, or the cemetery scandal is just so awful that they have to hold their hands up. I hope it is the former. If in two weeks, the cemetery is looking spick amd span again and I get a thank you for raising it from the bosses, maybe we will know. Having said that, I don't really want thanks, I just want Barnet to be the best it can be (that is thanks enough) and I want some acknowledgement that the problems I've raised are recognised as real issues. Peter Zinkin's response is a good sign that perhaps, at long last, the adminstration wants to use social media to properly engage and fix things. 

I also had several people compliment me on the blog I wrote about Amy that I posted last week. I felt quite reticent about writing it. I've trod very warily about speaking on the subject, we always felt protective of Amy. I don't really like the cottage industry that has sprung up about Amy stories. I've been contacted a few times by people who want stories, want to film documentaries at the studios and want juicy snippets of dirt about her. One documentary maker came down and wanted to shoot footage in Studio 7. When I informed them that Amy always used studio 9, they said "Yes but that won't look as good in the film". I told them that I wasn't prepared to participate if they didn't get it right. I will only tell the truth about Amy and there's no dirt to dish, just stories of a talented artist who I am proud to be associated with. I've never written a blog to do anything other than tell the truth as best I can. With Amy I have a fairly unique insight into her early days as an artist, as we were her second home as she developed her act. We see a lot of artists come through and when you see someone special, you soon realise. Part of our job is discretion. Spilling the beans on customers is not part of our job as a studio. However, when you continually hear people misrepresent someone who is not around to defend themselves, at some point you have to put the record straight. Amy, the artist was a genius and she was always professional at our establishment. What she did behind closed doors was her business. 

This got me to thinking about what makes a good local blog. It is something that informs about your locality. It is something that signposts good things and raises awareness of things that need to be addressed. In the Borough of Barnet, we have been blessed with some excellent bloggers. Sadly most of these seem to have run out of steam and rarely post. I get that it is a huge effort to continually document the woes of our neighbourhood. Most of these blogs are fairly single issue and it is easy to get fed up and demoralised writing the same old stuff. There are also a examples of what I personally consider pretty second rate and shoddy blogging. These don't particularly bother me as we live in a free country and no one is forced to read them. I've always taken the view that you have to work very hard to build an audience and if these blogs are as bad as I suspect, then no one will bother to read them (despite some of their wild claims). If people do read them, then they are probably not as bad as I thought and good luck to them. This blog got over 40,000 views in the last month. I take that as vindication that I am doing something right. Every one of those views was someone making a positive decision to read it. I am, as ever, humbled by such a huge readership. My view has always been that if I find something interesting, then other people will as well. When I started blogging, I read a few articles on how to write a successful blog. There were three things that stuck in my mind.

1. Write abbout subjects that you know something about or have something interesting to say. If you have a unique insight or a specialist knowledge, this will be of interest to other people with similar interests and gain you an audience. 

2. Write honestly. People soon see through people who posture and are frauds.

3. Post regularly. If you post in manic bursts then post nothing for months, people will stop looking and lose interest.

The one rule I didn't follow was to try and stay 'on topic'. I try and cover a wide range of matters. This is because a wide range of subjects interest me. I'm sure that some readers skip over a whole swathe of the blogs I write, but every so often, I get someone who emails to tell me how much they enjoy some very off the wall subjects. So in answer what makes a local blog worth reading is the fact that the reader finds it interesting. We can only know that for definite if people still read it after a period of time. The one thing that I think this blog has done uniquely well in Barnet is to start conversations. Often others have more to say, a better insight, more value to add, but it is us who gets the ball rolling. That is usually enough.

As I've now been blogging for 13 years, I guess I must be doing something right. 

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