We live in an ever-shrinking world. As technology develops and improves, previously impossible gaps in communication and distance are easily spanned. Email and cell-phones have for years made instant connection with people who may be physically thousands of miles away possible; the rise of social networking sites have redefined the way many folks think of "community" to include those who they may never have even met face-to-face, and in some cases perhaps never will.
We also live in a time when local flavor is disappearing in favor of what one friend of mine calls the "generification" of America. Local mom-and-pop corner stores and family-run service businesses are going the way of the dinosaur, replaced by faceless national "superstores." The strip-mall in your town probably looks exactly like - and houses the exact same stores as - the one in my town. As more and more folks tune into 24-hour cable news networks to get their information, local news broadcasts are experiencing sharp ratings declines; as even more abandon traditional media to find out about the world on the Internet, newspapers across the country - especially local community papers - are literally stopping the presses, permanently. The concept of "local" is becoming obsolete.
Don't tell that to Jeff McCloud. In a time when it seems everyone else is only thinking globally, Jeff is acting locally: his blog, Chronicling Elizabethtown, is both a place to preserve the unique local flavor of his town and a hilltop from which to proudly wave its banner and invite others to come see and experience all it has to offer.
The borough of Elizabethtown, PA, sits between Harrisburg and Lancaster. In 1999 McCloud became one of the roughly 12,000 residents of the borough, and was elected to the Borough Council 8 years later. When Elizabethtown's beloved community weekly, The Elizabethtown Chronicle, closed its doors in early 2009, McCloud was determined to see to it that his community not lose its voice altogether. As McCloud wrote in his inaugural post,
"So, here we are, a fabulous community with tons of potential without a newspaper of record, and me, an elected official and a former newspaper reporter (and, for the record, one-time editor of The Elizabethtown Chronicle) and now a public relations professional, wanting to get the news out about my community."
Over the past two years, Chronicling Elizabethtown has become the borough's new voice. Jeff's conversational/journalistic style retains the feeling of a local newspaper without falling into the mundane recitation of facts that often plague such publications. It's as if Jeff were sitting down next to you at the lunch counter and talking about the local events of the day, from the ongoing restoration of the Elizabethtown Train Station to the openings of new businesses to the accomplishments of neighbors.
So, why would I recommend this blog to everyone, especially those who don't live anywhere near Elizabethtown, PA? For one, Chronicling Elizabethtown is a perfect example of how a locality can continue to maintain its integrity and individuality in the face of the world's generification. The more of that local uniqueness we can preserve in communities across the country, the better off we will be. Another reason is the buoyantly positive tone McCloud has given his blog. We are bombarded with so much news about disaster and death and crime, it's refreshing and invigorating to know that someone out there is finding things to celebrate, and demonstrating that one need go no further than his own backyard to find them. There needs to be more of that in this world as well. I would love to see Chronicling Elizabethtown become a template for others to chronicle their own towns.
Jeff was kind enough to answer the Five Questions posed in this series; here are his replies:
What or who inspired you to begin blogging?Do take the time to drop in on Jeff at Chronicling Elizabethtown. You'll find a neat little community celebrating their accomplishments, and perhaps you'll even be inspired to begin celebrating your own locality!
JM: It was a combination of being elected to Elizabethtown Borough Council and the demise of the local weekly paper The Elizabethtown Chronicle. I started my blog, Chronicling Elizabethtown, in an attempt to fill the void left by not having a paper there to cover the nitty-gritty details of the community. Having worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years, I write with a news style. Knowing that I am writing as an elected official, I also use my blog as a public relations tool and public information tool for Borough Council and the borough itself.
Is there a story or meaning behind your blog or its name?
JM: The name is a twist on The Elizabethtown Chronicle.
Which post would you choose from your archives if you had to provide only one that best represents what your blog is all about?
JM: I'd have to say that a series of posts from last August, when Elizabethtown had a boil-water advisory, meet this criteria. In the first five months of my blog, I averaged 131 visits; that August, the number shot up to 906. This was because information during that time was not communicated efficiently or effectively, and my blog was one of the few places to get credible information about the water situation.
When you first log on to your computer each day, what is the first site you go to? Why?
JM: I always head to my iGoogle page to check my RSS feeds from news organizations and monitor Twitter with TwitterGadget.
What one other blog would YOU recommend that you read regularly, and why?
JM: I haven't found one blog that I read regularly. I follow links on Twitter that look interesting.
My great thanks to Jeff McCloud for taking the time to participate in this series!