cat spit

Last night’s meeting of The Spitting Cats went extremely well, and, given the enthusiastic response of the dozen or so people in attendance, I’d say that there’s a good chance that we’ll actually get some kind of Ypsi-centric citizen reporting site up and running by Heritage Festival (August 19-21). (I don’t want to jump too far ahead, but I’m thinking that if we did have something live by then, we could market the hell out of it during HF, while we’ve got a captive townie audience, maybe even having an information booth set up in the park… We could also issue a press release coinciding with the event.)

The meeting, I don’t think, could have gone much better than it did. Not only were about half dozen local bloggers there, highly engaged, and enthusiastic about the idea, but we were joined by others who had a hell of a lot to contribute, like Ypsi City Council member Brian Filipiak, my friend Theresa, a web architect, my wife Linette, who, if I haven’t mentioned it before, is a graphic designer, George Hotelling, the man who runs Arbor Blogs, Scott Trudeau, one of the men behind Arbor Update, and three interested community members by the names of Kate, Ingrid and Clementine. I think I speak for the rest of my Ypsi blogging buddies when I say that their presence was very much appreciated. Not only did they each provide invaluable feedback, but all of them offered to continue helping in some capacity, whether it be with regard to laying out the site, getting it designed, or getting it up and running.

As for the Ypsi bloggers present, in addition to me we had Brett from Maproom Systems, Laura from the Ypsi-Dixit, Lynne from The Lynne Show, Jan from Dirtgrain, and Brian from East Cross. (There was one other blogger there as well, but he asked not to be identified just yet.)

If you’re interested in the details of what we discussed, etc, you can find posts from Laura, Lynne, and Brett on-line already… And, if you follow that “Brett” link, you’ll find nifty photos like this one.

note: The above photo was taken about three hours into our meeting, after several beers had been swilled. At some point, mid-conversation, I saw a sudden, bright flash of light eminating from beneath our table. I peeked down and, much to my surprise, saw Brett. He was under the table, smiling up at me, with a camera in his hand. I didn’t know what to expect when I went to his site this morning, maybe a shot of me scratching myself in an undignified manner, maybe a gratuitous shot of a lady-blogger’s legs… I was pleased to see that there was no such cause for worry. He’d just been photographing my feet… Nothing odd about that, right?

I will post my thoughts on the meeting later, but, for now, I wanted to share the questions that I’d prepared befroe going into it, as I think they provide somr necessary context. Here they are:

1. Would it make sense for us, the local Ypsi bloggers, to coordinate our efforts, especially as they relate to our coverage of local politics? (Should we, for instance, sit down every so often and tell each other what meetings we plan to attend/cover, so that we could perhaps then spread out and cover more ground?)

2. Would there be an advantage to pooling our Ypsi-specific coverage into one communal blog which we could then widely publicize. (By working together, could we increase readership and community participation? Is it conceivable that we could even take donations to run ads in papers, buy stickers, etc?)

3. Would it be worth considering to create a monthly or quarterly newsletter that would pull together several of our stories, and then having it available for download and distribution? (Could we, in this way, both convert our readers to active participants, and also reach an audience that doesn’t know about our on-line presence?)

4. Is there presently a niche that isn’t being filled with regard to local reporting?

5. Could we get the community engaged (i.e. though linked discussion areas) in a way that our local papers cannot, even if they are covering the same material?

6. What would the site look like and what would people want from it? (Start small and grow, perhaps adding some of these following areas every so often.)

-City Council coverage
-School Board coverage
-Historic District Committee coverage, etc
-Local calendar (entertainment, events, etc)
-Local News (EMU activities, police, retail, etc)
-Archived interviews with local politicians
-In-depth looks at local issues (Water Street, Michigan Ave retail, etc)
-Point by point comparisons of candidates on issues
-Reviews of local businesses and local shopping guides
(We could also host real, non-cyber events, like annual debates)

7. How, if we decide to proceed, do we address the political differences of contributors, or do we even try? If we have a bio of each contributor (say we start with six) that includes their particular biases, and that is linked to from each post, would that be sufficient? Or, should we just accept contributors of a particular voice (i.e. progressive Democrats)?

8. Do we need a Declaration of Principles? If so, what do we, as a group, believe in? Here are some ideas to facilitate our discussion:

-Transparency in local government
-The accountability of local politicians and government workers
-The support and growth of local retail
-The growth of our Michigan Avenue entertainment district
-Code enforcement
-Fiscal responsibility
-Neighborhood rehabilitation
-Strong public schools
-Support of community groups and neighborhood associations
-Increased Ypsi/EMU interaction
-Taxes (they’re insanely high, aren’t they?)
-Encouraging owner occupancy
-Holding landlords and property owners to task (especially the absentee owners of vacant buildings)
-The protection of civil rights for all citizens
-Separation of church and state
-Free speech
-A dedication to the democratic process (making voting accessible, etc)
-Public transportation
What else?

9. Are there national groups, like the citizen reporting one that Dan Gillmore is establishing, that could help us if we decide to do this? Should we start by benchmarking other organizations and what they’re doing? What can we learn from the experiences of others, like Arbor Update?

10. OK, let’s say we go forward, what do we call this damned thing? The Ypsi Sentinel? The Spitting Cat? We have a long history of local publications to draw on… Should we have a competition that’s publicized through the local blogging network?

11. Do we have what it takes (technically and creatively) to pull this off?

12. How do we interface with and/or include Ann Arbor and other local municipalities? I’m inclined to suggest that we launch local, but it has been suggested by others that it might be beneficial to launch as, for instance, the Huron Sentinel. That would certainly bring more infrastructure resources (on both the technical and content sides), but would it distract us from what we’re trying to accomplish? (I think that it’s conceivable that if we create a good model here, and it could be replicatable elsewhere, that perhaps a day could come when a parent site (whether it’s for the Huron Valley, or Michigan as a whole) could tie us all together, but I think that the individual units should remain smaller entities.)

13. Who wants onboard? Who else do we need to bring in? (People names, certain skill-sets, etc)

So, that’s how it started… Stay tuned for more.

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  1. Posted April 16, 2005 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    I am really excited about this. My vote for a name is Spitting Cats but I can think of half a dozen more that would be just as good.

    The real question I have is: What’s the next step?

  2. Posted April 16, 2005 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    mark, i’m sorry if i frightened you with my photography. Fortunately it’s all been cleared up now, and as anyone can see it was just an innocent picture of your shoe.

    your sweet, precious, lovely, beautiful, sexy shoe.

  3. mark
    Posted April 16, 2005 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t mention it in my post, but George Hotelling has offered a significant amount of his time to do the back-end work, and I believe he’s in the process of setting up a wiki site right now where we can begin the process of scoping the project/site out together… So, we’ve got that going…

    I need to touch base with Theresa, but I think one of the really big things that we need to deal with up front is the classification system. I think that’s going to be the hardest part, and I think we need to start it ASAP. If I get a chance, I’ll get a post up about it tonight or tomorrow so we can start kicking around ideas…

    And, we’ve also had an offer from Laura (which I haven’t had a chance to respond to yet) to run our community calendar. So, that

  4. mark
    Posted April 16, 2005 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    And I’ll also start a thread on the name… While I love the spitting cat as a logo, I think that it might serve us best to use an Ypsi name. (We could always add “The Home of the Spitting Cat” or something like that as a tag-line.) I think whatever we do we should aim at a really broad audience. I’m not sure, but maybe “spitting” might keep some of our elderly citizens away… Time for a focus group?

  5. Posted April 17, 2005 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    A focus group sounds like a great idea. I think you might have a point that the word “spitting” could turn off some people. But maybe not. It would sure be interesting to find out.

    It is very generous of George Hotelling to do so much with the backend and setting up a wiki for us. We need a wiki or some such central place for online discussion.

  6. Posted April 17, 2005 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve set up the wiki at

  7. mark
    Posted April 17, 2005 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Very cool. Thank you, George. I’ll get a link up on the front page.

  8. Posted April 17, 2005 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Wow!–how nice of George. Thanks for the update Mark. I dunno if “spitting” would off-put older people. It is attention-getting and unusual, not to mention a nod to the Ypsi Sentinel of yore in whose footsteps we’re more or less following. Anyways, I’ll check out the wiki.

  9. Posted April 18, 2005 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Oh gawd, I wanted so damn much to be there at Frenchies. Our taxes and my wife’s migraine meant that I was needed at home. When’s the next meeting? BTW, Bombadill’s has free wi-fi but no beer. I’ll bring a flask if anyone wants it. How’s that for priorities? :-)

    I’d be pleased to start the school board beat if no one else has volunteered to cover it. I’ll be a lot freer after election day (vote Amy Doyle on May 3!) I can give it a shot. Uploading to a local wiki will be a new experience for me.

    I’m still looking forward to meeting you Mark, Laura and Brian. And if you need an Amy Doyle sign in your yard, please let me know. I’m in the phone book or reachable by email. :-)

    Warm Regards,

    Eric 2.0

  10. mark
    Posted April 19, 2005 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I’ll make sure your name is on the e-mail list, Brian, and I look forward to meeting you as well… Best of luck with the election.

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