The Good, the Blog and the Ugly
I've always heard that bloggers are a self-absorbed, self-righteous and self-referential bunch. Then I became editor of the Houston Press's HouStoned and entered the blogosphere.
So, now that I've become self-absorbed, self-righteous and self-referential, I call to attention the much-anticipated 94-day anniversary of HouStoned -- and our recent naming by readers of the Houston Press as Best Local Blog. What the hell is HouStoned? It's our daily coverage of news, sports, politics and entertainment (and yes, a disproportionate amount of posts concern Playboy models).
July 6, 2006
It's one day before HouStoned's soft launch. There are technical issues to deal with: uploads, transfers and the stuff normally relegated to IT Guy lunchroom chatter. As a non-techie, I'm not even thinking about stories or posts yet. And then there's a phone call...
KHOU Channel 11 reporter Wendell Edwards wants to interview me about the blogger conspiracy theories surrounding Ken Lay's death. Sure, I've followed the stories. But a TV interview? Not only do I have 30 minutes to prep, but I look like complete crap, and, well, I seem to be missing a blog.
"I was thinking, 'There's gotta be somebody who can give this story credence.' I was looking for someone who had a perspective on edgy stuff -- on pop culture and conspiracy theories," says Edwards. "I knew I couldn't go to traditional, mainstream media outlets, and that you guys would take my story seriously." The interview goes smoothly, though I now feel like I need to keep TV makeup at my desk, should Edwards show up again.
July 10, 2006
HouStoned launches quietly, featuring postings such as an FAQ section, World Cup and horse racing coverage, and names for the blog that the staff didn't go with:
Fortunately, editor in chief Margaret Downing came up with HouStoned. It is only later that the Press staff learns that HouStoned is also the name of one of the city's "roughest, toughest prison gangs."
Other Houston bloggers laud the arrival. "We have to admit that we've quickly become fans of the Press's new HouStoned blog," writes Jim Parsons of the blog Houstonist, "not so much because the posts are well-written, not so much because it featured boobs...no, what really hooked us was something the HouStoned folks did the first day: They told us what happened to the mural on the side of Mary's bar." (The Mary's mural posting has become arguably the blog's most read item.)
The date also marks the first blog-specific tip. Press Hair Balls columnist Richard Connelly receives word from an anonymous source at Guitar Center that former Enron bigwig Andrew Fastow has been seen cashing in a coupon for free guitar strings. Minutes later, the posting, which helps usher in the "Puff, Puff, Pass" gossip section, becomes the first and only Fastow/free guitar strings news found online to this day.
July 12, 2006
Houston Press staff writer Craig Malisow submits his first posting. He quickly becomes HouStoned's Lewis Black -- an angry, spiteful voice against targets such as Quanell X and teen queen Hilary Duff, for whom Malisow saves his most vitriolic rants in the "No You Di'int!" section. "Hil, baby, let's talk," he says in one post, reacting to Duff's statement that if she had stayed in Houston, she would've ended up "fake" like her former friends. "I think I know what your life would be like if you hadn't moved," Malisow seethes. "For starters, you wouldn't have made either of the Cheaper By the Dozen installments, which are to film what Auschwitz was to Jews." Malisow's comments don't go unchecked, however. "Bitter bitter man," one reader and Duff fan responds, adding that Malisow "probably has a severe case of the PINKY PENIS. Or a very fat and ugly sex partner."
July 18, 2006
Another week, another TV interview. Fox 26 morning reporter/personality Lanny Griffith interviews me about the blog, albeit briefly. I don the first ever HouStoned T-shirt for the segment. Griffith and I trade some good-natured jabs during the piece, and I blog about the 6:30 a.m. shoot that afternoon, noting Griffith's serious Diet Coke addiction and linking the line describing Griffith's huge mug of the stuff -- which he lugs around to every story -- to a water tower.
It's on. Griffith gets back at me when I call to ask him about the blog for this column. "I found HouStoned contentious, attitudinal, difficult and unwilling to reason when it came to a live interview for the Fox interviewers at home," he says. "I've interviewed Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel, and found them much more amenable to a live TV interview than Steve at HouStoned." The Fox reporter says he has "warned other bloggers of the curveballs HouStoned can and often does throw at the backs of its subjects. As long as I live, I hope I never go against that blog again."
In fact, Griffith struggles even to find anything good to say about HouStoned's blog editor: "He was on time," says Griffith, in what seems to be a Diet Coke-induced rant. "I like Steve's first name. His last name was hard to pronounce on television."
August 22, 2006
Music editor John Nova Lomax submits a college football preview of the Big 12 conference, marking his evolution from music critic to sportswriter. Readers respond, lauding his takes on collegiate pigskin. "I can...tell that Mr. Lomax hasn't written about sports in this state very often," says Sportsradio 610 morning host Lance Zierlein, citing one snag in Lomax's preview. "If he had, he would know how sacrilegious it is to mention any name other than Vince Young in the same sentence with Major Applewhite." Zierlein says he enjoys the "legitimate sports opinions." He also appreciates that he doesn't have to "sift through a bunch of dominatrix ads and tattoo removal service ads" in order to get them.
September 28, 2006
The annual Best of Houston¨ issue is released, and readers name HouStoned Best Local Blog. "HouStoned is actually the coolest blog name ever," says Vix, a local blogger who runs the site OverEducatedNympho, which wins Best Local R-Rated Blog. Vix says the award and subsequent follow-up by HouStoned have been "a huge ego boost. My traffic has pretty much doubled in size, which is awesome," she says. "It was only a month ago that I hit the 200 hits per day. Now I'm at least 400 per day. I've been getting tons of e-mails -- a lot of people have been saying 'I've actually been reading you for ages.' A lot of other Houston bloggers have introduced themselves to me." Vix also says that the award and subsequent HouStoned attention helped convince a national sex toy company to sponsor and sell products on her site. (No word if HouStoned will receive a cut of the action.)
October 12, 2006
HouStoned celebrates its much-anticipated 94-day anniversary, its staff vowing to continue the 94-day tradition of cutting-edge, semi-regularly updated material. Fox 26's caffeinated Griffith perhaps best sums up the blog: "Of all the blogs out there in the Greater Houston area, HouStoned is one of them."