Q and A with Avi Adelman

Question and answer done for the MGP by Michael Rosenhouse, student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, May 2009


Giraffe Prospect:

Avi S. Adelman
Editor / Publisher BarkingDogs.org
Focusing on the Lowest Greenville area of Dallas TX


Where did you grow up? Where did you go to college? Where else have you worked or studied?

I grew up in Philadelphia, PA and attended Temple University and the C. M. Price School of Journalism/Public Relations (1977). I went to Israel in 1977 for a one-year study/work/language program, then made ‘aliyah’ (started the process to live in Israel permanently). I returned to the United States in March 1980, and moved to Dallas TX in May 1980.


Who owns BarkingDogs.org? How long has it been in existence?

I am the owner, creator and editor for the website The site started as a neighborhood email service in 1998, then went online in late 1998.


What is its purpose? Who is it for?

The purpose was to focus attention on the issues created by nearly 50 bars all located in one area of the neighborhood (Greenville Avenue) and the problems they caused in the surrounding residential area. Issues such as parking, noise, fights, trash, and whether these bars are in fact legally operating in an area designated as Community Retail zoning.


How many people use it?

There are 1,200 email addies in the ‘subscriber’ database. They have asked to be sent updates as breaking news occurs or we have posted new stories. The average visitor count is 5,000 per week.


Is this an all web operation or is there also use of print, broadcast and other media components?

The site is strictly all web, but we insert materials like flyers, PDFs of relevant docs, etc. I have been experimenting with video materials – I go out on weekends and walk with the police officers, documenting some of the problems and arrests in the area (which turns out to be fascinating entertainment for many).

Is the project mostly about doing something directly (a direct service for the public) or about helping others to do something or about teaching or lobbying in an educational or political sense?

It’s an information site – local news (very local) on the issues that impact the 35,000 residents in the area. I do have a point of view and have no problem using the site to push it out. Many of our readers are at City Hall and the media, and they act/react according to their niche issues.


Why did you choose to work on this website? What was your motivation? How do you convey your mission to others around them?

I have always been a community activist – crimewatch, politics, etc. When I started walking the streets in 1998 and saw how bad things were (this was right after a local resident was assaulted by bar drinks on his porch after he caught them urinating on his house), I realized the old methods of passing information - flyers, neighborhood meetings, etc – weren’t going to work. So I started an email list which eventually became a very basic website and forum.


What is the business model for BarkingDogs.org? Is this your main source of income? How much does the project rely on volunteers? Is this business model sustainable long term?

There is no business model since there is no income. I do it out of pocket, though many people have slipped me a few bucks to cover some expenses (like domain names way in the beginning). But I use my own software, computers, DSL line, etc. I have a few little businesses on the side which cover those expenses or use the same services.

How long can I go on?? There are days… but then I realize someone else is going to come along and try another way to mess up this area.


Are there any similar websites like this on the web?

I know there are other placeblogs out there, and even trade email with them, but we really don’t have a formal network. Some sites, like PlaceBlogger, have aggregated us but nothing formalized. Many neighborhoods have websites, but they are usually not as proactive as mine (and some tax laws prohibit outright lobbying on issues by neighborhood associations with IRS non-profit designations.


How is what you are doing replicable, or usable by the general public? How can others contribute?

Yes, it is replicable. Each neighborhood has unique issues that will impact the residents. Some are long term (like here) and some are short term (eg another WalMart??). It’s up to the residents in each area to make a stand and use the internet to organize and promote their point of view. Can you explain the personal, professional or financial risk of what you are doing?


I have been threatened more times than I can count. That will never go away.

A local newspaper wanted to sue me for ‘deeplinking’ several years ago (seems like such a quaint idea now). That went away fast after the national tech media picked up the story.

My livelihood has been negatively impacted by the number of appearances I have made on TV newscasts. If I get into a blog chat, or if a story about my involvement in an issue is posted with comments on, the viciousness of the comments is just frightening.

Most of them are written by people who do not live in this area, feel that I am denying them a chance in the playbox (the bars), and usually do not care that people live in this area who do not like their behavior.


How do you think a website like this can help foster participatory democracy and community? Is there a specific type of service to democracy or community the site achieves? If so, what?

There are communities of all sizes where a small group controls the homeowners association, the community association, the city council (and on and on). If there are opponents to their policies, they were limited to having to print newspapers or flyers.

The web levels the information playing field – all the documents from a council can be posted (thank god for Open Records), all the statements can be YouTubed, all the information and spreadsheets that the local media won’t (or more likely can’t) publish is available. I like to use the phrase ‘paper on glass’ to describe this method of getting out information. It’s the printing press sitting on your desk, with not much technical information needed to get things started.


What would you say is right or wrong with the current media, our democracy and journalism? How should we preserve the best and fix the worst?

The current media – for better or worse – simply cannot push out super-localized information like this. It’s not affordable and sometimes goes against entrenched interests that pay for advertising and other expenses. We need a free press, we just need to make sure it includes non-traditional media – websites, youtube, etc. – if the people who care about an issue are going to find the information and points of view they need to make decisions that impact their quality of life.