We held our first Community Media Lab at The Mercury two years ago, inviting people to come out, call, email, or write to join a new blogging venture we called "Town Square."
The first meeting was an introduction to blogging for The Mercury with me and online editor Eileen Faust doing most of the talking.
In the months following, we had forums about online commenting, monetizing blogs, growing traffic, getting out of writing slumps, and using social media to promote your blog. We did more listening than talking.
Last June, Town Square blogger Sue Repko held a Positively Pottstown Happy Hour in our Community Media Lab, turning our Lab into a lively networking event. (In some circles, they call that a party.)
Town Square and our Community Media Lab are examples of ways in which our industry -- and particularly our company -- are changing, throwing open doors to the community and sharing the joys and concerns of writing about the towns we cover with a whole new group of folks.
The blogging network has grown to nearly 50 bloggers on community or individual interests. Some, like Joe Zlomek's "Sanatoga Post" report similarly to The Mercury with news coverage of the region, sometimes complimenting our stories, sometimes scooping us, sometimes sitting side by side at a school board meeting and just taking a different tack in reporting the news.
Others like Sue Repko's "Positively Pottstown" or "Roots of Revitalization" by Teri Jensen Sellers and friends are true community blogs that celebrate and advocate for the neighborhoods.
We have foodies, Moms' blogs, coupon savers, pet lovers, and several Dads like "Troutrageous," "Founding a Father" and "Dad in the Kitchen." One especially popular blog at this time in the TV cycle of "American Idol" is "Eddie's Idol," with all the gossip and predictions that Idol lovers crave.
We have a bicycling blog, yoga blog and Mercury columnist Laura Catalano's slices of life in "52 Ways to Wake Up a Week." Mercury staffers Evan Brandt, Diane Hoffman, John Strickler and Tony Phyrillas are represented in Town Square with "Digital Notebook," "Lessons in Triathlon," "Strick's Pics" and "Film Fanatic."
The bloggers in our Community Media Lab and on Town Square offer a wealth of variety to our reporting in the Pottstown tri-county area.
We'd like to add even more.
We're looking for churches to write about the events in their congregations and the outreach on which they're embarking.
We want to hear from clubs and civic groups -- Kiwanis, Rotary, Relay for Life teams -- about the activities and fundraisers you're planning.
We would love to see more blogs from the towns and townships in the region: What's happening in Phoenixville, Boyertown, Spring-Ford, Daniel Boone schools?
We would like student blogs from area high schools: Why not put what used to be a student newspaper or the school yearbook online?
Blogging has the reward of saying what you want to say in your own way. Blogging on Town Square has the reward of being featured and highlighted on our website.
We can offer you help to get started, ideas along the way. All we ask is that blogs are identified with some transparency and that you link back to The Mercury website in exchange for us linking to you.
This Thursday we will host another open Community Media Lab for current and future bloggers. The theme is "Inspiration." We hope to inspire some new bloggers to join Town Square and infuse some new ideas into current blogs.
You can come to the Lab on Thursday evening, Feb. 23, between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. for this informal get-together. The entrance is on the Hanover Street side of The Mercury building at King and Hanover streets in Pottstown, alongside the main entrance.
Come out to learn about blogging or just to share some ideas with us.