Richard Murphy is a recent graduate of the University’s College of Urban Planning. During his time at The University, he participated in a quickly expanding blog, ArborUpdate. “Arbor Update was founded by Rob Goodspeed – So it’s basically a group of volunteers that happened to be recruited by somebody else who was involved (in the blogging community), and happened to be geeky enough to read the newspaper every day and carry on discussion,” Murphy said. He describes the informational discussion site as “a blog that’s been around for a year and a half now, intended to be a forum for public discussion of local and campus news and events.”
The Michigan Daily: How do you get started as a contributor now?
Richard Murphy: You participate in the conversation – anybody can put in their two cents. And, we have never censored anyone. Basically, you have to get to the point where you can say to the lead contributors “Hey, I’m interested in joining the core group and posting stories, rather than just discussing.” And, they have to say yes. It has to be somebody who all the existing contributors feel has been an active and progressive (contributor).
TMD: Do you know why Arbor Update was started?
RM: It was started as a group project. Rob was the motivating factor. Over the previous year to year and a half it was just sort of this group of pretty active bloggers talking about local policy issues and urban planning issues. It kind of coalesced and (they) networked with each other. Rob was definitely the most active on campus issues. And, he wanted to set up something to be devoted to campus and local issues; rather than just something that people would talk about when they felt like it on their personal blogs. It was a bunch of blogs that were just general purpose, single-person pages that were selected out into a focused group project.
TMD: What do you think about the role of blogs and citizen journalism?
RM: I think that blogging is a pretty useful tool for getting community information. There is the concern with “what if the blog is wrong,” no one’s policing them, but – and one of the things I found most interesting about blogging – there are enough people who are knowledgeable out there that if you say something stupid, somebody will correct you.
Larry Kestenbaum, who’s the Washtenaw County Clerk and Register of Deeds, reads pretty frequently and has his own page. Leah Gun, who’s a county commissioner and the chair of the Downtown Development Authority, reads and comments. Some of the city council members read and they don’t comment much but they’ll e-mail occasionally and say, “Hey, you were wrong about this.” And we can talk about it with them and post the right information if it exists.
I think there’s always the chance that it will be wrong, and since it’s a bunch of amateurs doing it for fun rather than somebody doing it as any kind of job, it’s usually not really researched. But, it’s very interactive and very collaborative so you get a sort of emergent truth where the right information will bubble up to the surface if it’s discussed.
I don’t think (blogs) have really found their niche in the world. There’s still, “What are these things and how do we use them best?” and “Where do they fit into everything else?” But, it’s definitely something that’s worth watching and experimenting with.
TMD: How do you feel about blogs as opposed to newspapers?
RM: Newspapers feel nicer. Newspapers have the resources to go out and do real investigative journalism and generally cover a wider range of news, not necessarily a wider range of topics. Because that’s their purpose and it’s a business, so they’re devoted to trying to do it well. I think the advantage that a blog has over a newspaper is that it’s fast and response is quick. So, if there’s an error made in a newspaper, you trust it because it’s a newspaper and the correction shows up a week later. With a blog you take it wit a grain of salt because it’s just one person and if you think they’re wrong you can call them on it. I think they’re very complimentary forms of media. I don’t think that blogs are going to replace newspapers, it’s another piece of the information puzzle.
TMD: What are some of your favorite blogs?
RM: Arbor Update and Ann Arbor is Overrated. I sometimes read, very rarely, the national blogs. I sometimes read The Daily Kos. I used to read James Lilek’s before we invaded Iraq and he turned all conservative. But, I think I really enjoy blogs at the local level where it’s the community talking and discussing within itself. At the national level, I still prefer newspapers or online newspapers like Salon.com because of the resources they have and the thoroughness they can apply. For the most part, I feel that bloggers at the national scene are mostly taking the stuff that’s published in some mainstream media and remixing it. I think it’s at the local level that the blogs can be an original and new source and actually produce content well.
TMD: Do you consider yourself an Ann Arbor know-it-all?
RM: No, but lots of other people do. It’s amazing how much you learn from a couple of years of following the news and talking to people. I’ve only been active in the blog scene for three years total. I got into it in the year between undergraduate and grad school when I was away from Ann Arbor and homesick. I used that as my outlet to keep in touch.
Just in a year and a half of Arbor Update, it’s developed a huge community and has created a wealth of information. And, I see so many people who tell me, “I Googled for something about Ann Arbor and saw your name on Arbor Update or Ann Arbor is Overrated,” just because these have become repositories of knowledge. So, I don’t think I’m and Ann Arbor know-it-all, but I’m part of a collective Ann Arbor know-it-all.