"A lot of functional small cities and large towns are actually comic operas with real estate taxes . . . I'm interested in a different kind of growth. It's sort of volunteer media in the way a volunteer fire department is . . . I have the same advice that The Ramones had: Don't wait until you're any good. Just dive in there, the water's fine."
Lisa Williams, proprietor of H20Town, a news weblog for Watertown, Mass., during an interview on Open Source Radio, Aug. 8, 2005.
Written by MGP student researcher Jennifer Heshion, April 2009.
A self-proclaimed "connoisseur of local blogs," Lisa Williams started blogging about her home town back in the winter of 2005 and was surprised to find a crowd of strangers in Watertown, Ma eager to talk town politics.
Often cast as a housewife with a hobby, Williams took inspiration for her website H2O Town from hyper localized blogs such as Baristanet in New Jersey and Universal Hub in Boston for what she dubbed "A very "Daily Show" approach to local news."
Though she lives miles away from the towns of subject in these local blogs, Williams said she found them so funny and informative that she was compelled to read them every day. Generally taking a comedic approach to the news, much like that of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, Williams said public forums like blogs can get more information out to the public when other mediums fail.
Since its launch four years ago, H2Otown has become a nationally recognized example of a citizen journalism community website. Though she has never made a dime off of H2Otown, she said that its ability to sustain in the industry as with other popular blogs, is because anyone could post their opinions or news online where people can see them and comment back and forth. While newsrooms can find themselves under attack for what they print, Williams said blogging can serve as a source for getting important stories out to the public when newspapers are not able.
"A blog can be part of the institutional memory of newspapers even though its not part of the paper," she said. "The powerful have gotten better at resisting journalism, they are better at spin. No one is going to resign in disgrace. If you have a website posting it would be there everyday and it would be difficult to ignore."
Williams, who is married with two children, has taken the past year off from her personal blogging on H2Otown to focus on her website Placeblogger (www.placeblogger.com), which was launched in January 2007. Placeblogger is the largest search engine and directory for independent local blogs. In addition to her consulting work with an array of media clients, Williams serves on the board of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.
Williams believes that over the next 10 to 15 years the journalism industry is likely to be exclusively entrepreneurial. Having said that, she added that if journalists do not want to embrace technology and not do start-ups, such as blogs, then they are probably going to be very frustrated with the new direction the industry is taking.
Embracing the evolution of technology, for Williams, is the only chance journalists have at impacting public policy. In today's economic crisis, she said, aspiring journalists are paying a lot of money for schools in order to get jobs that do not exist. Newspapers are struggling to stay afloat in current business markets, which roughly translated means massive lay-offs for its writers.
"A lot of serious work is not going to be done and people are going to suffer for it," she said. "I think a lot of people don't know if that statement is true or not and they don't care enough to find out."
"I'm more interested personally in saving journalists than in saving journalism," she added. "I'm more interested in the people. People want to be Woodward and Bernstein but where are they going to do this job and who is going to listen?"UPDATE:
Oct. 17, 2007 -- Williams updates the status of Placeblogger.
What's it like to have small children, and take on the responsibility of writing a community-news weblog for an aging suburb of 35,000 people -- working alone, as a volunteer? Lisa Williams has been doing that for her hometown of Watertown, Mass., a close-in Boston suburb, for more than two years (as of November 2005), and she's written about her blog, called H20Town.