All it takes to start a blog is a computer, an Internet connection and some free software. But unless you want your digital diary or online soapbox to languish unread, you also need to have something to say.
That is clearly not a problem for Asheville’s bloggers: The area’s bustling blogosphere accommodates a dizzying range of ideologies, interests and motivations.
And with new voices wading into the online fray seemingly every week, no report on local blogs could hope to be comprehensive. Instead, Xpress polled our editorial staffers about which ones they consult the most. The resulting “top 10” list provides a snapshot of this brave new virtual world. Of course, cultural criticism, parenting, beer drinking and politics have always been part of the life of this city. But thanks to the rise of blog culture, taking Asheville’s pulse has never been so easy.
Asheville Beer Blog
Author: James Raiford
How long blogging: Raiford took over the 1-year-old blog in August.
The gist: The name says it all: beer events, beer styles, featured beers and lists of brewers, stores and related local sites.
Why blog? “I am not a writer by nature, but the blog is a way for me to share both my love of beer and my love of Asheville with others. It’s also a great way to hopefully convince people to try new things. The continued growth of craft beer will give me plenty of material to write about.”
Sample: “The beer could be labeled a quadrupel, which is a strong Belgian ale brewed with dark candied sugar, spices and Belgian yeast. There is definitely an element of dark fruit to go along with the sweet sugar, and a subtle but nice alcohol burn that is often associated with this style.”
Of interest: Frequent references to Michael Jackson are talking about the internationally renowned beer writer, not the singer.
Author: Jason Sandford
How long blogging: Two years
The gist: Seemingly everywhere at once, Sandford peppers Ashvegas with photos of goings-on around town and turns a sometimes scathingly critical eye on WLOS-TV’s local-news broadcasts.
Why blog? Sandford started out with personal entries, but found his groove with the TV-news reviews. “Viewers wanted a way to comment or talk back [to WLOS], and there’s no way to do that,” he says.
Sample: “The top stories were pretty bland: Identity theft is bad, there’s a dangerous road in these here mountains, and there’s been another toy recall. Holly and Frank tried to set themselves apart by standing up through the first few minutes of the newscast. Edgy.”
Of interest: Sandford, who is multimedia director at the Asheville Citizen-Times, recently ditched his anonymity, speaking to Xpress about his role as the man behind Ashvegas and revealing his identity on his own site.
Author: A host of local contributors.
How long blogging: Two years
The gist: A sort of clubhouse for the blog community that posts announcements, events and selections from other Web sites and blogs.
Why blog? “BlogAsheville was born out of the first bloggers meet-up a few years ago,” says “Uptown Ruler,” the moderator. “We decided to create a blog portal for local bloggers. … I do not believe that such community coordination could exist without the Internet.”
Sample: “I think we try to leave our political and religious views on our individual blogs,” Uptown Ruler told Xpress. “We have tried, not always successfully, to maintain a neutral balance as a blog for all things Asheville.”
Of interest: In order to meet with local bloggers face to face, BlogAsheville organizes the annual Extravablogiversapaloozathon; this year’s edition will be held Saturday, Sept. 29 (check the site for details).
Author: Paul Van Heden
How long blogging: Four years
The gist: Keeps an eye—and a running commentary—on national and local politics while challenging the opinions and theories of other bloggers and pundits.
Why blog? “The complete freedom and creative agency you have as a blogger is much more than you can get in a mainstream medium.”
Sample: “Judging from the state of the blogosphere this past week, when it comes to claiming the U.S. is going to attack Iran—clearly, you don’t need facts to write an inflammatory headline.”
Of interest: Van Heden, who says he recently canceled his home Internet connection to force himself to spend more time offline, is trying to make Brainshrub the central blog site for the local Green Party.
Author: Anne Fitten Glenn
How long blogging: Two-and-a-half years
The gist: Humorous and insightful takes on motherhood, childhood and personhood. Says Glenn: “The Edgy Mama person I created is me, but a little saucier, a little sassier and probably a lot more opinionated.”
Why blog?: “It started as a way to market my freelance writing.” And now? “Having an audience that can respond instantly is really fun. It’s a little addictive.
Sample:The short-lived but lively local blog “Not Thomas Wolfe” called me ‘mundane Mama.’ After I got over the initial five minutes of hurt, I found the moniker pretty funny. He/she was right, dammit!”
Of interest: Glenn’s self-promotion on her blog panned out. Beginning with this issue, she’s writing a regular parenting column for Xpress.
Et In Arcadia Ego
Author: Tim Peck
How long blogging: Six years
The gist: Neo-libertarian Peck uses the blog to air his thoughts and feelings, which are often, but not always, political in nature.
Why blog? “I keep blogging because it keeps my thinking and writing skills sharp. I love language and the drama of human affairs, and blogging helps me express my appreciation of both.”
Sample: “The neo-cons and theo-cons have mismanaged the affairs of the corporation in their charge. They have weakened the body politic of a once-healthy party and have forfeited any legitimate claims on future stewardship of a major public policy-making institution. In doing so, they have turned back the ‘clock of progress’ for all Americans.”
Of interest: Unlike many blogs, Peck’s does not allow outside comment by readers. “It’s the one place in cyberspace where I don’t have to listen to the noise and crosstalk,” he says.
The Hangover Journals
Author: Felicity Green
How long blogging?: Three years
The gist: A candid and humorous diary of a woman and her dogs that’s both observational and self-deprecating. As the site’s subtitle puts it: “Taking Self Pity to a Professional Level.”
Why blog? Even though it’s not a political site, Green started blogging after George W. Bush’s re-election as a way to vent, distract herself and have some reason to go on. “Remember how depressing it was in November 2004?” she says.
Sample: “I have a mild crush on Anthony Bourdain and I was hung-over on Monday, and the couch was folded out into a bed since A spent the night the night before and, well, yeah, OK, I confess: I lay down and watched five straight hours of Anthony Bourdain making his cosmopolitan way around the world. And ate.”
Of interest: Green says she probably posts too much about her dogs—a hard thing for pet-owning bloggers to admit.
Author: Multiple contibutors
How long blogging: Six months
The gist: Late-breaking news and arts information, with lots of community contributions.
Why blog? “What we do with our online news posts is not exactly ‘blogging,’ per say,” notes Managing Editor Jon Elliston. “Instead, it’s a cornucopia of fresh news and arts information that we deliver on a daily basis to augment our weekly print edition. We let our readers weigh in with their opinions and passions—which they’ve proven quite prolific at providing.”
Sample: Within the course of a recent week, posts at mountainx.com covered everything from The Ellington to the unisex-bathroom movement to Carl Mumpower’s congressional candidacy to Asheville’s music scene.
Of interest: Anyone can join the discussion, either as a registered user or an anonymous visitor.
Author: Gordon Smith (with some help)
How long blogging: Three years
The gist: The front lines of liberal blogging in Asheville.
Why blog? “I like having a place to voice my opinion, especially if decision-makers take that opinion into account in their decision-making. The community that’s sprung up [around local blogs] is also a motivator.”
Sample: “NC-11 Republicans, so long held together by Charles Taylor’s lumpy glue, have spun apart in recent months. With the prospect of facing a popular one-term incumbent, the Republicans have fractured into Stompers, Takeoverers, Taylor acolytes and anti-Taylor rank and file. There’s so much sniping going on in public and private that it can be hard to keep up.”
Of interest: The site gets regular hits from higher-ups in the regional and national Democratic Party, says Smith. “I’ve often said that while our readership isn’t spectacular as far as sheer numbers go, the ‘right’ people are reading.”
Author: Robert Coggins Jr.
How long blogging?: Two-and-a-half years
The gist: Under the slogan “Blogging the Conservative Revolution in West Carolina,” the site connects to a large catalog of conservative blogs, Web sites and radio and television shows.
Why blog? “I do hope to provide the spark that will allow the flame of conservatism to land in more capable hands. Then I can spend more time reading and watching the stars at night.”
Sample: “The antiwar movement has become as insane, and completely devoid of reason, as the 9/11 Truther Movement. I believe the root cause of these phenomena is spiritual in nature.”
Of interest: Coggins blogs from his home in Macon County, 60 miles away from Asheville, but he says most of his readership comes from Buncombe County—“and a little bit of Chicago; I’m still trying to figure that out.”