There was once a blogger meet-up in Nashville in early 2005. I had never been to a blogger meet-up before in my life, even though I had been blogging for around six years. It was at Jackson's in Hillsboro Village.
I remember sitting in my car, in the driver's seat in the parking lot of Jackson's, scared to death to get out. Strangers were in there. Strangers scared me. But I somehow managed to pop the handle, squeeze out of the car and walk inside.
Once my legs managed to make their way to the event, things were fine. Relaxed. I chatted with people I'd read before, and nibbled nachos and drank vodka tonics.
The event was hosted by WKRN, the ABC affiliate station. They bought those nachos.
I stood around talking to Tim Morgan and the Saucy Librarian when a suit from WKRN handed me his card. He seemed very, very interested in what I wrote about in a way that was different from everyone else. When we finished our chat and he told me to call him I assumed he was hitting on me. I stuck his card in my purse, and forgot about it.
The Saucy Librarian blogger wrote me not long later to say that WKRN has asked her if she was interested in blogging for the station. Since she liked her Saucy Librarian job she wasn't, but she suggested that I might like to. I was waiting tables and freelancing and looking for full-time work. I remember the TV man who handed me his card, and winced. He wasn't hitting on me...he was recruiting.
The next thing I knew I was in Mike Sechrist's office on Murfreesboro Road talking about how I "had my finger on the pulse of the internet" (oh my god) and how I didn't think the web was for making money. Hahaha. I'm surprised he didn't show me out right then, but instead he smiled, nodded and said, "Well, we're going to try to make some money."
I don't think we ever did. Nashville is Talking, the website I was hired to write after that meet-up at Jackson's, never did pay for itself to my knowledge. In fact, some would say that WKRN cost themselves a whole lot in terms of risk by running Nashville is Talking at all.
Why is that? Well, because while I had a journalism degree and published clips, I had never worked in a newsroom in my life. And Sechrist gave me free reign. I was allowed to use first person, be loudly opinionated and to stir shit up. Countless phone calls and letters and emails streamed into the station in the time that I was there, many of them calling for me to be fired. One person repeatedly came to the station seeking my termination.
The journalists who had spent years trying in earnest to remain neutral and without opinion were kind to me. They were obviously shocked, and many you could tell disagreed with much of what I wrote, but they were nice. That doesn't mean that there weren't plenty of overheard whispers, and to tell you the truth, I felt very isolated in that job, because while I had co-workers, I didn't have any colleagues to speak of.
It was exhilarating doing something so new and "cutting edge." I was happier than a pig in shit to be reading all day long the profound essays from locals that regularly made me cackle with glee or tear up in sympathy. I loved blogging, and then I got to get paid to do it. I think I let some of that go to my head, and I was more arrogant than I should have been.
Before the WKRN job I had no idea that Tennessee was so filled to the top with political blogs. Holy crap, is that state opinionated about politics. Suddenly I was reading right-wing blogs with some really extremist views, but I think I can safely say those people thought my views (not everyone at Gitmo is a guilty terrorist, pro-choice, etc.) were just as out there and abhorent. Suddenly I was communicating with conservative bloggers who weren't just guys with strong views, but some that were entrenched in the GOP. I had never blogged about politics prior to the NiT gig, and it showed. I was divisive in what I linked to, dismissive in my commentary and unwilling to change my mind very often. It was a product of being young and green and too often driven by emotion. But it brought the readers in in droves.
Turns out people liked the combat, to some extent. Controversy and adversarial comments make for great reading. Who knew? Well, I did. But there were costs associated with it, too.
I remember spending one Christmas unable to breathe because of threats to my job that came after a post had displeased some people. I remember being called fat. And stupid. And in bed with terrorists. Every time there was a new comment, I would hold my breath. Some of them got really vicious. But, I brought many of them on myself.
But when it wasn't awful, it was wonderful. I remember discovering Aunt B's blog, and I nearly passed out from the awesomeness. Then Kleinheider made me consider conservatism in a whole new way, with found facts and quotes from rappers making his stuff compelling and unique. I hesitate to start naming the bloggers who awed and inspired me, because they are too numerous to remember them all.
It was always about the bloggers. They were the reason why Nashville is Talking got the buzz that it did. Sure, Sechrist and Terry Heaton were ahead of the game in coming up with the NiT concept, but it is because they knew that there was so much talent around us going untapped that they were fools to ignore it. Astute observations, neighborhood reporting, hilarious essays, gripping tales of parenthood--it was a tapestry of all kinds of writing, but all of it came from one location. There was power in that. There were suddenly sparks being made and connections being forged that exist to this day, stronger than they have ever been.
I don't know how to talk about the end of NiT without talking about it from my perspective. I could do some bullet point post about how I think NiT changed the landscape of media in Nashville or round up links to all the coverage on Editor & Publisher or make grand proclamations about what is to come, but I think that is best left to the Social Media Gurus. For me it was a daily enterprise, an uncharted path that took some serious blazing, resulting in many cuts and bruises as I hacked away as best I could. I didn't know what I was doing--only a little--but Sechrist trusted my voice and the voice of the people in Nashville, and that hands-off approach birthed something strange and beautiful. And temporary, it turns out.
I didn't write Nashville is Talking from an arm's length away. I cared about these people's children's broken bones. I cried when their mothers died. I giggled along with their stories every morning and screamed at the monitor when I disagreed. I was into Nashville is Talking as deep as you could be in it. And maybe that was why the end of my tenure there ended in such a terrible way.
The comments mattered. The slings and arrows didn't bounce off, they were buried deep, and they added up to too much in the end. Perhaps had I kept my distance it would have ended for me differently, but I don't think the fire of NiT would have been stoked had I done that. And besides, I did it the only way I knew how.
I will always think of my opportunity to run Nashville as Talking as a little miracle in my life. It changed the course of it, for sure. I am now in a city I would have never lived in had I not taken that job. I wouldn't know half the people I do. I wouldn't have this special experience under my belt that changed things and people, more important than any headline it might have generated.
I am passionate about publishing on the web. News is secondary. To me, the magic lies in the ability of any person who can find access to a computer to have the opportunity to be heard like never before. That still blows my mind. And to be able to work to highlight and promote those people? I am a lucky girl.
I write this today, because Nashville is Talking is going dark. The current GM at WKRN, who is not Mike Sechrist, calls the site a "quaint reminder." Maybe for many people that is what it is.
For me it was a life changer.
Others on Nashville is Talking's finale:
random mublings - On Friday, the Talk stops
for lack of a better word - RIP NiT.
Pith in the Wind - Nashville Is Talking No Longer
Cup of Joe Powell - Farewell, Nashville Is Talking
Terry Heaton - “Nashville is Talking” to close
Newscoma - Nashville Is Talking R.I.P.