Thursday, June 05, 2014

Almost Famous; Now What?

Tuesday, I received a letter in the mail from the New Pittsburgh Courier, addressed to "Elwin Green, Publisher, Homewood Nation." It opens with this:

Dear Elwin,
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you have been chosen as one of the New Pittsburgh Courier's 2014 Men of Excellence.

That means that I will be featured, along with other Men of Excellence, in the Courier's July 23rd edition. It also means that I'm invited, along with the others, to a cocktail reception to receive an award on July 24.

Meanwhile, the June issue of Pittsburgh Magazine has a two-page spread about Elwin Green in their monthly feature, "You Should Know." So all this month, people who have never heard of Elwin Green will be reading about him, and next month some folks will read about Elwin Green some more.

All of which is seriously cool. Now the question is, can I turn it to a higher purpose?

As Homewood Nation's tagline suggests, I'm working to elevate the conversation in and about Homewood.

To put it another way, I want to facilitate transformative conversations.

Can I use this newfound fame somehow to do that?

The answer may depend on figuring out why that isn't happening already. Most of my posts receive 0 comments. They ignite no conversation.

Is that because I come across as being hard to talk to?

Are the design and layout of Homewood Nation so uninviting that they turn people off from commenting?

Or is it a matter of who is reading?

On Saturday, I met three Homewood Nation readers for the first time at the OpenPittsburgh Open House held at the Homewood Carnegie Library as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking.

I always love meeting readers; what made Saturday's encounters especially interesting was that one of the three has commented on Homewood Nation. I recognized her name, and gave her a hug (with her permission) and felt comfortable with her right away.

The other two have not commented, so I had no sense of them as people. I was more tentative with them, even while encouraging them to chime in online.

And I've just thought of something: the reader who has commented is 1) Black, and 2) a Homewood resident. The two who haven't are 1) White, and 2) non-residents. And both of them, when I encouraged them to comment, said they don't feel qualified to do so.

I find that deeply interesting. Maybe the majority of my readers are non-residents. Heck, maybe the majority of my readers are white. Maybe the ones I met Saturday are following a good instinct, and should keep quiet and learn.

But from whom? If those people should keep quiet, who should converse? Who is likely to engage in transformative conversations?

My bias says, "Begin with residents. The best use of your newfound fame would be to get more residents using Homewood Nation."

Is that a valid answer? If it is, how might I go about it? I would love to hear what other people think - especially you :)
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