Meet Metrospokane

At press time, there were 55 comments appended to the final post on the MetroSpokane blog, lamenting its demise and eulogizing that it was the “best local blog ever,” “top of the Spokane web scene” and “a step in the right direction towards making Spokane a better place.” One regular reader wrote, “I am not exactly sure how I am going to fill my … mornings with knowledge. I check MetroSpokane before I read the Spokesman, finding that the dialogue is more engaging and frequently more informative.”

That reader wasn’t alone. Even writers at the Spokesman (and The Inlander) hit up MetroSpokane for their news and conversation. Over its four-year life span, the site became required reading for anyone who wanted to be conversant on downtown issues and progressive urban philosophy.

The principal author behind MetroSpokane was not publicly known until shortly after penning that ultimate post two weeks ago. Brian Jennings, 39, is the director of the Community Development Department in Cheney. Before that he was a project manager for the City of Spokane, working on brownfields and the University District.

The Spokane native and Eastern Washington University graduate used to post as many as 10 stories a week, but, he says, the blog was taking too much time away from other priorities.

We pulled ourselves together just enough to sit down with Jennings and talk blogging, development and the future of Spokane.

Joel Smith: How did the blog start?

Brian Jennings: It started during grad school. There’s an organization in San Francisco called SPUR, which is San Francisco Planning and Urban Research. Its purpose is to advance discussion on urban issues and topics related specifically to urban areas. So after reading up on that and talking to some of the students I was going to school with at the time, I thought a similar thing here would be useful. I think [there were] four or five students who would contribute, [but] the majority of the stuff was posted by me.

The concept was to start writing little posts on urban-related things. The earlier posts started out fairly rant-related, not very constructive. But the intent was to further discussion and expose people to the quirky things about Spokane that were out there [but] that you normally wouldn’t see. Walking to work, I’d see things and snap a photo. Those Expo ’74 trash cans — that was one. Or the ‘best vacant lots.’ In the granite curbs [downtown] they have those little iron rings where they used to tie their horses up. I think people were, like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s interesting.’ So you start to pay attention to your surroundings a little bit more.

[You] take a camera with you and snap a photo of something, and you write a few sentences and there’s your post for the day. Pretty soon people start responding and you have a dialogue going, and it’s a pretty interesting exchange.

JS: When did you first realize the blog had started to take off?

BJ: About two years ago. Once you start seeing other people referencing it. I know The Inlander referenced it a few times, and that always helps readership. The Spokesman referenced it on occasion. There were a lot of media people reading the site and I think probably coming up with [story] ideas. At first I kind of felt like, ‘Aw, they’re harvesting.’ But then I thought, ‘Well, it’s getting the dialogue out there and broadening the discussion,’ which is healthy. It became less about who got the story first, or who discovered it.

JS: So why the anonymity?

BJ: It was anonymous because there was more than one person [posting] and because I wasn’t too familiar with the software and wasn’t certain if letting a bunch of people write and be able to [edit] would work or not.

I don’t know if [anonymity] helped the blog at all, or helped the discussion more, because it de-personalized the posts or the story. I knew media people were reading it and it seemed that it was working pretty well as an anonymous blog. After a while I started to realize that anonymity was creating buzz in itself. But when I would go out in the past year, I would introduce myself, so [sources] knew who I was.

JS: What do you think of the blog scene these days? It’s grown, but there have also been fatalities.

BJ: It’s evolving. There are a lot of blogs out there. I know John Speare, and I enjoy his. I know Jon Snyder from Out There, and I read his. Spokane Owns You. Those are the big ones. There’s a scene. But I just don’t think people have seen the ability of blogs to be really good resources for information. I think there’s always demand for people to want to know more about what’s happening around them. I think that’s part of the reason we were so successful — it wasn’t all doom and gloom. It was, ‘Hey’s here’s what’s happening. We saw this.’

[But] some nights when I just couldn’t think of anything, YouTube was a pretty good resource. I found some really good things. Anything that really showed the city in a different perspective than what you’d normally see was fair game. That one guy that went around — I think he was a high schooler — and put to a Moby song all these photos and imagery of downtown Spokane. During that time I started reading about that concept of psycho-geography, which is getting out and actively exploring cities. Which was pretty popular in Paris in the turn of the 19th century. Here’s this high schooler who probably doesn’t even know that that’s what he’s doing. And there’s a long tradition of it.

Those are the kinds of things that people really look to. I mean, I look at the local TV news, and you see something from Grand Junction, Colorado, as news. I just think… there’s gotta be something else happening in Spokane. We don’t have to show stuff from Grand Junction, Colorado! I mean, what is the connection there? Seriously.

JS: What do you think of the progress Spokane has made in the time you’ve been blogging?

BJ: I remember walking around downtown when there really wasn’t much of a downtown. But downtown has had a pretty dramatic turnaround. And I think now, if you look at that new downtown plan, it’s about infill and trying to fill in the gaps that exist. And if they can achieve that, I think that would be great.

I think things are starting to click. I think we have a really good Comprehensive Plan. I think people are starting to care more about the amenities. Look at Spokefest, and the success there. I couldn’t have seen something like that happening 10 years ago.

JS: Your final post created quite an outpouring.

BJ: I was frankly pretty stunned by the comments and e-mails that I received. I knew there were a lot of readers, but I just thought it was sort of casual. I’m flattered by what some of the people had said. I didn’t know that it had meant that much. More people were tuning in more regularly and making it a part of their daily routine. It’s kind of like when they cancel a sitcom, I guess. You’d kind of grown accustomed to tuning in, and when that’s no longer there…

JS: So why quit now?

BJ: I know! [Laughs] Just other priorities, other things going on. It really became a pretty big time hog. I guess there are other things I’d like to spend my time on doing.

JS: But you left your last post somewhat open-ended.

BJ: If there was a group of people who wanted to use [the blog] as a vehicle to nurture the conversation in the future, I would be open to helping them do that. That was more just to reserve the right to rant at any point in the future.

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