One of the best things about Broowaha—aside from it giving you more hits than your blog—is that it’s got enough clout to get you on Google. And make it to the top of a somewhat common search, and interesting things can happen. My last article, The Unspoken Rules Of Group Conversation: Learn Them Or Bore, was a fun example.
While checking hits on the article, I noticed it’d been linked (my favorite Broo feature). The link turned out to be from a NYC Craigslist post. Wha? The post turned out to be from ‘The Brooklyn Conversational Soiree’, a group trying to organize in-person group conversations in the Brooklyn area. My article had been linked to give people an idea how to behave. What a compliment! Assuming they’d found me on Google, I googled ‘group conversation rules’. Sure enough, my article was #1!
My most interesting Broowaha connection however, came from a more obscure search.
Several weeks back, I got a message from Philip Sherwell, U.S. editor of the Sunday Telegraph (a major UK newspaper). He’d found my Broo article, ‘Another Drug To Be Scared Of: Salvia’, while googling Dr. Mendelson, the director of the salvia study I’d participated in and written about in my article. He was coming to San Francisco to interview Dr. Mendelson for a story on salvia, and wanted to interview me while he was here. Wow. Old media meets new, in the flesh! How could I say no?
I suggested we meet at Kilowatt, a Mission dive bar. Over several rounds of beer, we had a really interesting conversation. We talked about salvia. Then moved on to politics (he’d covered Obama since the beginning of his campaign), drug laws, the media. As you can imagine, the newspaper business had him pretty down. To an extent, I could sympathize. But as a “citizen journalist”, working for free, my sympathy had its limits. He was working right now! His job was to fly to San Francisco and research salvia. I just worked a ten hour day editing technical documentation in a cubicle. In San Jose.
“But the technology is amazing!”, I counter. “Once it comes together it will be so good for journalism!” Sure, 99% of it—“citizen journalism”, “user generated content”, or whatever, is crap. But that remaining 1% is huge. And the filters are there. Put up quality content, and Digg or YouTube, or some other site finds it. Creators aren’t getting paid yet, but the money is coming. It has to.
He waves the notion away. Can’t really blame him. If I’d spent years working to get where he was, I wouldn’t be excited about the technology threatening it all. And really, until people start getting paid, it is good for journalism?
Take salvia. Who’d write the better article? An Oxford educated journalist with chops honed over hundreds of articles, who flew to San Francisco to interview interesting people. Or an amateur who wrote the article in their spare time, whose research consisted mostly of smoking salvia. If the layoffs continue (and they will), you can guess which article you’ll get.
The next day, sitting in my cube, I got another call from Philip. He had one more night in town and had yet to see someone smoking salvia. Since I’d mentioned having some salvia laying around and curious roommates, he was wondering if I was game. Now that’s investigative journalism! One of my roommates was up for it, so I invited Philip over. He didn’t end up smoking, but I think we showed him a pretty representative salvia trip for his research. No hysterics like in the YouTube videos. Just a couple guys sitting on a futon, mildly tripping out for a few minutes.
All in all, a very interesting experience. I think that’s what citizen journalism’s really about for me. Aside from the slightly greater exposure (and the rare possibility of Digg glory), the main thing Broo and other sites do is connect you to people you’d not otherwise connect with. Mostly to the other hacks in your network, but sometimes beyond.