Bob Stepno's Other Journalism Weblog
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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The question mark at the end of that title was for optimism, and it paid off:
2006 update -- SKB is back photoblogging as "r.neal," hosting and contributing regularly to Facing South and to the first issue of Red State Reader. Meanwhile, the Rocky Top Brigade he started has been revived in good hands.
More 2005 background here and here.

In the boating world, "local knowledge" is the common term for sources of essential information about tides, currents, shoals, hidden rocks and necessities like grocery stores and nightlife within walking distance of the marina.

South Knox Bubba, a Knoxville-area weblogger, was my best source of local knowledge when I moved to town last year, and when I was making the decision to move. He let me know that East Tennessee had great places to live, folks who were trying to make it better, and local bloggers of many political shades who actually appeared to have fun keeping an eye on things (including the news media, and each other). I hoped that someday I'd enlist a graduate student to write a thesis about SKB as "a catalyst for public discourse." But now SKB says he's calling it quits, and he leaves a big hole in the Web.

Here's a list of some of the things I liked:
  • SKB built a comprehensive database of links to local bloggers as "The Rocky Top Brigade," complete with a constitution and descriptions of individual blogs, and posted highlights from them in the margin of his own blog. (I'm sure some technical whiz in the brigade will come up with a new database-backed site allowing people to join, or see the latest list of members. For now, I've grabbed a copy of yesterday's version of SKB's RTB constitution and the most recent member list and posted them here so that clicking on my RTB banner on my homepage would have somewhere to go.)
  • SKB's essays about growing up in South Knoxville and other topics were at once proud, funny, nostalgic, charming, articulate and inviting.
  • His daily blog entries alerted me to local issues, some covered by the local papers, and some not.
  • He read the papers, including weeklies I never saw on the newsstands, summarized their stories and linked to them.
  • He sometimes "covered" public meetings and events in more detail than most local papers, most recently the plans for development of the South Knox waterfront, and for redevelopment of the World's Fair Park area.
  • He usually provided links to background information that professional news websites rarely offer, out of fear that "customers" will follow the links and not come back to read the ads that pay the bills.
  • His blog invited "comments" on each post -- and attracted them, including candid comments from local journalists and public officials. Some days the comments on a single item went on for 50 pages.
  • When the local "alternative weekly" abandoned its online bulletin board last year, SKB created his own, and "Bubba Blab" attracted scores of regular contributors and spirited discussions. (Refugees quickly built and contributed to a substitute blab yesterday using the same software, after a transitional day with a Yahoo group called xblab.)
  • And on Fridays, his weekly "bird blogging" showed that he was also an excellent nature photographer. (He didn't stop with once-a-week picture taking, though -- as anyone who followed the wonderful shots from his summer vacation trip to the West Coast will remember.)
Like most of the folks on the substitute Blabs, I don't want to believe SKB is gone, but yesterday he posted a black "game over" flag on his website, and later added a note today saying, "It was fun,but lately it has become too much like work and not so much fun. Contrary to wild speculation around the internets, that's pretty much all there is to it. It's a personal decision, and that's all."

There's blog and Blab speculation that SKB's decision was related to the sometimes heated discussions on Bubba Blab and/or his recent conflict with the publisher of the MetroPulse, which had prompted him to (only once) mention the real name behind his blog persona. If that was the problem, I suspect he could have simply closed the Blab and kept his weblog and its archives online. Whatever the reason, I hope he comes back -- or at the very least finds a way to keep his three years of contributions to Knoxville's local knowledgebase available. If he decides the best thing to do is combine his photos and essays into a "Best of Bubba" coffeetable book, I'll buy as many copies as I can afford.

Meanwhile, Michael Silence at the News Sentinel is keeping an up-to-the-minute account headed "A Sad Day," with plenty of comments from Bubba's fans and links to other blogs.

Katie Allison Granju at WBIR summed up Bubba's role nicely last month:
"SKB," as he is known, has been a catalyst for smart, literate, often hilarious discourse on East Tennessee politics and culture since he started his blog in 2002. He has also played a big role in encouraging other East Tennesseans to get involved in citizen journalism online via the Rocky Top Brigade blogging community.

11:01:49 AM    

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