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Getting NoticedBy Kim Humes | Jan 20, 2012
Halifax is a dot in a big ocean of blogs, but a few local writers are gathering fans for their clever, insightful creations.
When Ally and L-A were tweeting about Michelle Obama’s outfit two and a half years ago, they had no idea their sartorial discussion would give rise to one of the most well known websites in Halifax. “We were tweeting about an outfit she wore on a visit to France and I said ‘we should start a blog!’” says Lesley-Ann (AKA L-A) Steeleworthy. “I literally copied and pasted the Tweets into a post with a picture and boom—our fashion blog was born.”
Fashionable People, Questionable Things (fashionablethings.com) recently celebrated its second birthday with a party/collaboration with Dress for Success. “I honestly can’t believe it has lasted as long as it has,” Allison Garber (AKA Ally) adds.
In the last decade, blogs have become the medium of choice for anyone with an opinion on pretty well anything. There are so many out there, no one is sure exactly how many exist. (But the Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2010 report says the organization has indexed more than 3 million blogs since 2002. That’s the same as the entire population of Sydney starting a blog every day for nine years.) Where do Halifax bloggers fit into this picture? According to a 2010 report by Sysomos, Canadian bloggers account for less than 4 per cent of the world’s blog posts, and Haligonians for a small (never accurately tallied) fraction of that.
But for some of Halifax’s most influential bloggers, small is mighty. “A smaller community is more close-knit and supportive,” says Tracy Butcher, blogger at The Vegan Butcher (www.theveganbutcher.com). “It makes it a lot easier to connect with others. Take veganism—because there are limited choices in a smaller city, you are forced to do more research and be more conscious. If I lived in a bigger city, I would not have been as challenged.”
Butcher had never thought about starting a blog until friends suggested it would be a good way to document her vegan cooking adventures, which she was already sharing through Facebook photo albums. When she became a vegan in 2009, she wanted to show that they are not all “sticks and twigs” and that vegan food does not have to be “sticks and twigs” either. In fact, it can be downright fattening.
Having fun with food is the hallmark of this blog. One of her most popular features was the “From the Booth” series wherein she tested her outdoor cooking skills during her long (and boring) shifts working in the parking lot booth at the hospital. She made grilled cheese using a burner and a tin can, banana bread in a tin-foil box oven, and even hot chocolate, which didn’t end well. “It ended up exploding!” Butcher laughs.
However, the mishaps are what give this blog its charm: “It’s mostly about having fun,” Butcher says. “I have no culinary training; I’m just a girl from Cape Breton. I just try to ‘veganize’ things that I like to eat [vegan poutine is a recent example], and stuff goes wrong all the time, but it makes for better blog posts.”
Perhaps the size of the blogging community in Halifax makes for more authentic bloggers. They don’t have the pressure of big-name sponsors, so they’re free to write what they want. Ben Boudreau of No Ordinary Rollercoaster (www.noordinaryrollercoaster.com) has employed this strategy from the beginning. (He also guest blogs at Halifaxmag.com, sharing restaurant reviews from his day job with Yelp).
“After the first few months of trying to sound impossibly smart in every post, I got bored and decided to write what I wanted,” he says. “[It] turned into the self-deprecating memoirs of an unemployed twenty-something, navigating the world of day-drinking, fighting with a five-pound puppy, and the general crazies that bubble up when you spend all day hanging out with the Internet.”
Bourdreau’s posts are mini-memoirs: incidents in his life shaken vigorously into a cocktail of comical description and sassy sarcasm. Each one reads like a hilariously offbeat short story, which is ironic considering in 2007, a blog post of Boudreau’s landed him in the finalist roster for CBC Canada Writes. They flew him to Toronto to hang with Jian Ghomeshi and everything. “I was unceremoniously tossed out in the first round by Elvira Kurt and Terry O’Reilly. But it was a great first boost of exposure for my little baby blog.”
Despite changing his writing focus to the debauchery of unemployment, Boudreau actually ended up finding a job with a public relations agency because of a referral to his blog. Since then he has participated in a competition through War Child Canada that sent him on a 12-day tour of their programs in Ethiopia, spoken at various conferences and universities, and now works as the community manager for Yelp Halifax. In Bourdreau’s case, being “real” is what has made him a successful blogger.
Steeleworthy and Garber say their relatable writing style keeps readers coming back. “We’re ourselves, we’re not experts,” Steeleworthy says. “Sometimes, readers know more about fashion than we do, but that’s okay. We write because we’re having fun.”
“We support each other and we each have our own perspective,” Garber adds. “We don’t claim to know things we don’t, however if anyone claims to know more about celebrity gossip I’ll wipe the floor with that noise.” The FPQT girls have also had some interesting opportunities come their way thanks to their fashion blog. They are often invited to local industry events (including the openings of H&M and Geox), and have received calls and product from brands such as Rockport and Sephora.
Being part of a small community can also have its downsides, according to Tim Currie, professor of online journalism at the University of King’s College journalism school. “The community in Halifax is pretty locally focused,” he says. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But few people have a reputation outside the region. “There is a bigger-than-average pool of smart people with an interest in writing here. Halifax skews younger/more educated because of its large university population. But, there is no shortage of freelancers in the city, which keeps wages down… if you want to publish in Halifax you’re pretty much on your own.”
That is to say, it’s unlikely most people in Halifax will gain fame and riches from their blogs. So, why do it? “For me it’s about the connections I have made that I never would have found otherwise,” says Butcher. “When I started writing on the blog and Twitter, all these vegans came out of the woodwork. Now I have vegan groups I meet up with on a regular basis and we share recipes and ideas.”
Boudreau has similar reasons for blogging: “The biggest thing that has come my way has been the incredible community that I’ve become a part of online. I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by people doing big things on their own terms and that’s really given me the confidence to chase big things myself.”
For Steeleworthy and Garber, it is all about self-expression and developing skills they can use in their careers: “It’s a creative outlet,” says Steeleworthy. “Three days a week I have to write something entertaining. And I want the post to be there for our readers.” Garber adds, “Both of us are in communications and marketing, so when we talk to our clients about best practices and strategies with social media, we have the experience to back up what we’re saying.”
Steeleworthy points out one example of a group of Halifax bloggers who all write for a pop-culture website based in Chicago (youknowyoulovefashion.com). She says: “I think there are five of us who started in the [Halifax] blogging community. I don’t know what that says about us as bloggers, but I think it’s a sign that we’re some kind of awesome.”