Revitalizing Canada’s Oldest Incorporated City.
Saint John is a city in need of media revolution.
I’m a lifelong west Saint Johner. I ventured up Route Seven three years ago to Fredericton, intent on pursuing a career in journalism. It wasn’t until I lived in a new city that I learned how different my home city is.
Saint John is home to some of the richest people in Canada, and the poorest. The Irving family, who own Irving Oil, J.D. Irving Limited, and all of the daily newspapers in the province, are in the top ten richest families in Canada. Saint John is also home to poverty, crime and urban sprawl. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for one of the Brunswick News papers in Saint John for the past two summers. The Irving family has drawn criticism for what has been referred to as a “media monopoly” on the province’s news. But for me, my summer internships have been an opportunity to get to know the city better and fall in love with Saint John.
The problem is, not everyone loves Saint John. It’s been described as Stinktown, and “the asshole of New Brunswick.” Not exactly complimentary. The people who dislike Saint John, dislike it. But the people who love it, love it A LOT.
I think the key to revitalizing the city is by harnessing these people for a multi-media project and newsletter. Saint John’s young population is dwindling, but the “hip and trendy” young city dwellers really make their presence known. These people have blogs, host parties, fashion shows, fundraisers, festivals and are the driving force behind some of the cities most successful small businesses.
Saint John’s Online Personalities.
Fusion Saint John is a network of “active, civic-minded Greater Saint John residents.” (http://www.fusionsj.com/index.php) They host several Parties with a Purpose throughout the year, usually pairing with local businesses to offer discounts to supporters and donate funds to Saint John-area causes. Fusion also has a number of committees dedicated to improving aspects of Saint John life, everything from urban planning and arts and culture, to government relations.
Saint John is also home to a number of bloggers who frequent the Uptown social scene, write about it and promote local arts and culture. These bloggers have a range of interests they write about, and come from diverse backgrounds.
Barb Crawford, the woman behind www.barbbarbbarb.com is a local fashion blogger. She also takes photos and does interviews with local artists. Barb’s blog is effective because she approaches it like a journalist would, offering readers a look into the lives of someone else. She also uses tools like Twitter and Facebook to offer giveaways to readers. She’s best at getting people interested in local, small businesses, and inspiring interest in the local culture scene.
Chelsea Mason, of www.maritimeshopaholic.com, and Kate, of www.o-my-heart.blogspot.com, are both fashion bloggers in the city. Mason also has a wedding blog. They mainly blog about clothing and what’s hot and not in the Port City. Mason also promotes city events and local businesses through her blog.
Dan Culberson, www.danculberson.com, a Saint John photographer and social media enthusiast blogs about technology. He’s a content specialist with Radian6 and also engineered a project called 52 in Saint John. Culberson profiled a different Saint Johner every week in 2009 and snapped a portrait photo. Culberson interviewed everyone from the executive chef of the Saint John Ale House, easily the most popular restaurant in the city, to Joyce Brideau, a woman in her sixties whose been delivering the morning paper for 45 years. www.52insaintjohn.com. Culberson’s project definitely opened my eyes to people in the city and helped me get to know Saint John better through it’s many characters.
Uptown Girl SJ, www.uptowngirlsj.wordpress.com, is on hiatus right now while it’s author is on an extended trip out of the city. But during it’s regular run, this blog is THE place to find out what’s going on in the city. Uptown Girl has a weekly calendar of every event going on in the city for families and adults.
Mel Norton, a city councillor, also keeps a blog on city issues, www.melnortonsj.ca. He updates on council issues, as well as hot topics in the city, like upgrades at Rockwood Park and the pension fund.
Uptown Saint John Inc. has a well-developed website, www.uptownsj.com, filled with information, calendars, videos, pictures and links. The site also has a directory of uptown businesses and offers interviews and profiles on new business owners. Uptown Saint John Inc. is the driving force behind the #livelifeuptown hashtag on Twitter, which people use to check out what their fellow city residents are up to.
Plan SJ, an initiative started in conjunction with Common Council, is an urban planning exercise to halt urban sprawl in the city. They have a website, a store front and meet to discuss issues related to urban planning, revitalization and creating more green space. http://www.saintjohn.ca/en/home/mayor-and-council/currentinitiativesprojects/plansj.aspx People involved with PlanSJ are educated and vocal about city issues and I think they could be an effective resource to spread their knowledge to other city residents.
Saint John is teeming with people who care about the city and are willing to write about it. They offer unique perspectives and get other people interested in a city with a dwindling population. These are the same people who buy local produce at the city market, frequent independently owned restaurants and spend their weekends at concerts and festivals. They’re invested in the city, and so are their readers. Some of these blogs get hundreds of hit daily, thousands monthly.
From a Port City, to a USB-Port City
I think what the city needs is a place for these creative minds, and others like them, to come together in a citizen-journalism, lifestyle-esque media project. Saint Johners need to get excited and interested in their city. The reason why the city is seen as a failing spot to some people is because they don’t take the time to get to know it. My plans for Saint John include a multi-level online media project.
I think one of the best ways for people, both inside and outside of the city, to get interested is to see the diverse personalities we have here, as well as the attractions they can’t get in any other city. Saint John could use tools like,
Personalized USB keys, or Apps.
An online, interactive site.
And multi-media, like photos, videos, stories and interviews.
USB keys would be placed strategically around the city, mostly in small businesses or hubs like Market Square, Brunswick Square and the Saint John City Market. They would sell for around $20. Upon inserting the key into a computer, buyers could get a high-resolution, high-quality PDF “guide” to the city. This guide would include a history of the city, profiles on interesting people and places, as well as profiles on businesses. The PDF will also be a spot for ads. Though it’s not the place for even-handed, hard-hitting journalism, it’s a great starting point and a way to generate revenue for the online project. Purchasing a USB key grants access to the online website and downloadable Apps for both smart phones and tablets.
To inspire more interest in the USB key, it will also include coupons and special offers at some of the businesses featured in the PDF guide.
The USB key will include a link to the site, as well as an initial password and username needed to log in. After logging in, users can change their password and username.
If someone doesn’t wish to purchase the USB key and declines the PDF “Insiders Guide” to the city, they can sign up for an account on the site. It will cost money, though slightly less than the full USB-included package. Paid access to the site will also guarantee access to a mobile version.
The site will play host to a blog reel of Saint Johners, like those mentioned above and others like them, who choose to have their links posted on the site. This way, readers and website users will get the opportunity to see into the daily lives of Saint Johners.
I think the city would also benefit by having an interactive map of the city. The map could be broken up into neighbourhoods and have a multi-media based page for each neighbourhood. The idea for an interactive map came to me after visiting a page on CBC.ca featuring information about women in politics across the country. http://www.cbc.ca/news/interactives/map-cda-womenpolitics/
People can click on different neighbourhoods and be redirected to a page with a directory of local businesses, video interviews with residents of that neighbourhood and a list of facts and figures. Facts could include, average age, number of heritage buildings, interesting sites, population, median income. This will help people get to know areas of the city and inspire them to visit. This project is similar in a lot of ways to the Shelbyville project, designed to help people get to know a place they don’t always understand.
Each neighbourhood page can also include a list of upcoming events.
The interactive map would serve as a way to help people within the city get to know other parts of it. Saint John is a sprawling city, and most people can survive within their neighbourhood only, venturing outside only to visit the mall, or movie theatre or an uptown hotspot every so often.
I’d also like the site to include a Streeter Podcast every week, asking Saint Johner’s about what they think the big issues are in the city, that way people will be more attracted to reading and hearing themselves online.
The news element.
Saint John is also a city in need of in-depth features writing. There is a fair amount of writing at the provincial level that looks deep into communities and provincial issues, but it is very slim at the local level. I believe my Saint John multi-media project would be best served as not only a directory and look into Saint John life, but a look into issues that affect Saint Johners the most.
The site will have a forum, and format reminiscent of OpenFile.ca, a news organization fueled by citizen story ideas. Regular people pitch ideas to OpenFile, and OpenFile assigns a reporter in that city to look into the issue and write a story about it. In Saint John, people will be able to pitch their ideas to the site and a reporter will be assigned to write an in-depth feature on the issue, if it turns out to be a viable news story.
Issues that impact Saint Johners the most are: poverty, preservation of heritage buildings, development in rundown neighbourhoods, urban sprawl, health and wellness, water quality, population growth, and air quality.
Because the site is independent, operating only on advertising revenue from it’s online component, ad sales in the PDF and the paywall, it will have to use freelancers for content. Because stories will be in-depth and more investigative, they can’t be produced every day, or even every week. I anticipate two in-depth features a month becoming available on the site. Users will receive notification, either by email or mobile, to let them know when a story is published.
The stories themselves will include audio and video, as well as text. Stories won’t just skim the surface, in a daily, churn-it-out, manner. They’ll give Saint Johners a deeper look into local issues that affect them.
Tying it all together.
This project isn’t a simple one to execute. It requires coding and peoplepower to stand behind it and make it work. But, I think there are Saint Johners out there who are so desperate to see improvements in the city, they’d be willing to get invested and involved in the project, whether by offering coding services or offering to put their blog on the local blog reel.
This product needs to be executed with style and needs to bring our city into the new age of journalism. Flat, text-based stories are no longer enough. People need to look deeper into the city, understand it, and investigate it for themselves.
By keeping the product primarily online, but still offering a tangible part like the USB key and specials it comes with, this is an attractive product for Saint Johners. And, it’s not expensive. People living below the poverty line in the city are those who care the most about issues like poverty, housing and development. I want this project to be accessible to them.
I want this project to be accessible to everyone in my city, and I want them to learn to love it and get to know it better.
This is something I’d love to put into action, I just need the resources.