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The Blogerati Files: paved.ca

This week in the Blogerati Files - "paved.ca"

Describe your blog in ten words or less.
Distilling news, arts and events from the Greater Toronto Area.

Why did you start your blog? Blogiversary?
This blog started because it's a job - commissioned by the electronic publishing squadron at The Toronto Star, who wanted to support an all-encompassing local site that would play the broadest possible part in the online conversation, and gradually introduce Star readers to a type of journalism that can't really be reflected in a broadsheet.

Many newspapers are now doing columns quoting blogs, the likes of CNN review them on the air, but this will vanish and shrink. The spirit of the sites don't translate, and that exposure does nothing for blogger traffic. Also, humour is vital online, and those bits tend to make blogs sound grim.

Paved is not a personal site - the writing isn't ever in the first person - though I'm entirely responsible for the content in these early days. I draw from Star stories, or stuff from other Torstar papers, only when I am motivated to link to or quote from those articles in a suitable context.

I tried out a guerilla version of the concept last fall (it was called Better Living Centre) and approached The Star a few months later, because it seemed like it was time to make it more than a hobby.

It took a while for things to fall into place, as they first had to establish their enhanced online agenda over at One Yonge St. - which began its roll-out in May with Antonia Zerbisias' media blog - in recognition of the fact that a good newspaper website is no longer limited to posting stories from the newspaper. Paved was the name settled on for the site, which launched October 6, 2005.

Has blogging changed you or enhanced a personality trait?
Not really, I've always been obsessed with information and trends - even if the specific fixations have evolved with age - it's the platforms that have changed. The personality trait that's been impaired, more than it already was to begin with, is my ability to connect with people who don't comprehend this kind of fervour, the so-called need to know. Need to know what exactly, I'm not sure ... that's what makes it fun.

The flipside is that all this online connectivity breeds a different degree of alienation, which may cancel out any benefits. At least the weblog format has made me a more concise writer, and much faster at cutting to the chase with an idea. (Which I may or may not be demonsrating in this response.)

Do you have a favourite post from your blog?
Looking back, I'm somewhat impressed that I was able to compile a year-end blog roundup in each of the past three winters:

The worst blogs of 2002 (there were few enough high-profile objectionable ones that I was confident in my ability to keep track); the worst online writing for 2003 (a bit more ambitious and hardly authoritative); and a review of the dubious Toronto-centric online moments in 2004.

This year may not end up providing that type of focus, which is a good sign - those three lists cover a period of about 30 months where blogging nurtured its mainstream profie, yet was still in a novelty phase. (And sometimes I think we're still about 30 months behind that curve in this country.) So, 2005 has been a transition to "Web 2.0", meaning the next wave of ludicrous content begging for infamy is coming ... or maybe the new tools will weed out the lunacy ... but I hope not.

Fav bloggers?
Since I'm fixated on Toronto content for Paved, and rotating different picks in the blogroll, take five I dig from elsewhere:

Emdashes: A fan blog about The New Yorker magazine and the personalities associated with it. There could be a blog like this for every periodical on the planet, although maybe The New Yorker is the only one deserving. I did a blog on The National Enquirer for about 17 days in 2002 (and, worse still, deleting the evidence), but I just wasn't rabid enough. These things are harder than they look.

Gaping Void: The business card cartoons done by this guy, Hugh MacLeod, have been fairly well circulated. But, along with that, he outlines how obsolete the advertising business has become, in spite of agencies with no choice but to sustain their status quo delusions. He's now doing a blog contest campaign for Budget Car Rental - so, his perspectives are dripping into the mainstream.

Low Culture: For a while, there was a lively NYC blog bubble with Gawker as the holy grail, but that's settled into pockets of conventionality and/or annoyance, just like the offline NYC media. The three guys of Low Culture seemed to be scornful of it all at its peak, although lauding them for having that attitude is exactly what turned the whole "snark" business into a 21st century clichĂŠ.

Steve Gilliard's News Blog: American politics have played a huge role in blogging, of course, but I can't possibly follow all the layers of activity out there. Gilliard must be one of the finest at melting down the discourse and discord, because he's supporting himself through his site. Definitely a liberal slant on news, but he'll also post questions from advice columns and offer his own answers.

WFMU's Beware of the Blog: It took me about five years of online listening to comprehend everything this New Jersey radio station had to offer, its great history, and how all the on-air personalities connect to each other. Soon as I was confident I had it all sorted out on my own, they started this blog to promote what they do on the air, and doing their part to add to the online detritus each day.

I've also become something of a podcasting enthusiast, like anyone even passively interested in the evolution of radio should be, even if the hype and reality remain out of whack. But, I don't want to worry about following 10,000 shows any more than I want to filter through 10,000 blogs. I keep tabs on the few made in Toronto, subscribe to several from non-commercial stations, and listen to Adam Curry's Daily Source Code and Keith and the Girl, killing time until someone comes up with the definitive GTAcast.

Best blogger hangout in TO?
In front of your screen and mine, ideally. Personally, I'm fine with loafing in Starbucks - it's important to soak up the zeitgeist that I read about daily on the Starbucks Gossip blog. More free wi-fi is welcome, but I leave my hovel specifically to avoid the computer.

Ever met a stranger who already knew you through your blog? How was that?
Pretty much everyone I've become acquainted with in the past five years were first encountered online, but those relationships don't stick unless the reverence is mutual. Meeting on the level where they know about me, yet I don't know about them, can be a disaster. I'm really not too comfortable with that kind of attention, although I'm too inclined to assuming that everyone else craves it.

Lose any friends or muck something up because of a post?
I mucked up any real motivation to pursue a career that could've been focused on print journalism, due to my blog ambition. But any such disparities have sorted themselves out now ... for now.

What's happening in Toronto right now that the rest of us should be watching?
Maybe it's too convenient to claim, given how it coincided with my formative years (and then some), but I believe Toronto is lifting itself up from a 15, or even 20, year paralysis, during which time the city wished it would magically transform into some idealized version of New York City circa 1987. There are enough indicators that we'll finally get beyond that within the next two or three years. And the coverage of that renaissance will unfold online, naturally.

Choose someone, living or dead, to write your biography. Why did you make that choice?
Jonathan Whatley, a pal who wrote my Wikipedia entry without even asking him to, seems like he knows what he's talking about.

You wake up and discover you're a flesh eating zombie. Now that you're undead, who are you gonna mange first?
The aformentioned locals who've wasted a chunk of my life trying to fulfill their imaginary NYC fantasies while in the 416 area code. They're the ones sporting the shoulder pads and parachute pants.

If your blog were a food, what food would it be?
Do coffee beans count as food? So long as they're in bean form?

If you could gather all of the bloggers of the world together into one room and tell them one thing, what would it be?
Please stop, you're making a fool of yourself. (But the few who aren't won't listen to me, and the many who are won't listen either.)

Anything else you'd like to add...
Yeah, I see comments on blogTO and elsewhere lamenting that the potential of weblogs isn't being reflected in this city. At the same time, I see a disproportionate amount of online gripes about the obsolescence of old media ideas - especially during the CBC lockout. Well, ranting against the establishment is a time-honoured tradition, but it shouldn't be at the expense of something original.

Many people who start blogs still approach it like theirs is the only site out there - when the concept only works when there's a give and take with all the other sites, too. Plus, the Global Village isn't going to start sinking into the ocean, so the Canadian inferiority complex shouldn't be an excuse for not trying new ideas online, or corporate infrastructures not taking risks in supporting them. I'm thrilled to be something of a pioneer in this regard, but the idea works best with a steady flow of other fresh and different voices.


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