Lowell Politics: January 5, 2014

It’s been nearly a month since there’s been a city council meeting, we’ve just emerged from a major blizzard and arctic temperatures, and a new council gets sworn in on Monday morning and meets for the first time on Tuesday night. Depending on one’s perspective, Monday will be the birth of a glorious new era or the calm before the storm. We’ll plunge into the daily grind of local politics with Tuesday night’s post on the city council meeting. Today, I thought we’d take a spin around the Lowell blogosphere in 2013.

New communications technologies, be it the printing press or the telephone, always become available long before we figure out how best to utilize them. The past two decades have seen an amazing evolution of the ability of people to create and consume news and information. People will always have an insatiable thirst for news about the place in which they live but how they get that news is evolving in revolutionary ways. One of our goals here at richardhowe.com besides delivering a steady stream of local content is to experiment with how people consume that content. Right now, my money is on smart phones. Everyone above the age of ten has one. Whether it’s on the train, the coffee shop, at work, or even walking down the street, the smart phone has become our hi tech worry beads.

Our smart phones help us relax, pass time, and find amusement. Photos, short video and efficient narrative work best. That’s one reason I’m so high on Twitter as a delivery system for local information. Speaking of Twitter, if you haven’t done so yet, please sign up for a free account. Once you’ve done that follow me and then click on Followers or Following to see other Twitter users you might find interesting. Scroll through the lists and click “follow” next to the people who are of interest to you. Then start scrolling through all the Tweets. If something is happening in the world (or more importantly, in the city of Lowell) you’ll learn of it here first. Once you’ve accomplished these Twitter basics, find the free Twitter app on your smart phone and your tablet and activate them. You’re in business.

Facebook plays a similar role although I think it has less utility as a community news source than does Twitter, mostly because the audience on Facebook is more limited and self-selected. Don’t get me wrong: Facebook is a fantastic application with many, many uses but I still think Twitter is the superior tool for this task.

What about blogs? This one was born in March of 2007 and will celebrate its seventh birthday right after St. Patrick’s Day. Thanks to the team approach, Marie, Paul, Tony and I have kept up a steady pace of posts. Because habits change so quickly, we’re always trying new things. In 2014 we want to do more with pictures, video and guest contributors. I have a standing offer to everyone: send me your pictures or commentary about any aspect of Lowell and I’ll post them here. The address is DickHoweJr@gmail.com.

As for the rest of the Lowell blogosphere, here’s a quick survey of some of the politically tinged blogs that are listed on our blogroll which can be found in the lower left sidebar column.

Art is the Handmaid of Human Good is written by Marianne who is also one of the city’s most active Twitter users. Her blog always has great photos and gives readers a glimpse of life in Lowell with some travel and cooking posts/photos mixed in.

Captains Log is written by Paul Belley. When it comes to local politics, Paul makes no secret of his support for City Manager Bernie Lynch and, as he has written, he has his “ear to the ground and hears the coffee shop talk.” Paul is also a vocal advocate of those who have struggle in life and has much compassion for the less fortunate among us.

The subheading of Corey Sciuto’s blog is “History, Urbanism, Photography, and Technobabble from the capital of the Merrimack Valley” which describes the site pretty accurately. Corey lives downtown and inhabits the intersection of technology, land use and history. His posts are always thoughtful, well researched and well reasoned.

What can I say about Gerry Nutter? The Lowell blogosphere took a major hit when he shut down his site to become a city election commissioner. Gerry not only offered interesting and pointed commentary, he did a lot of original political reporting. His site went dark with his appointment so there’s no link. He leaves a void that’s yet to be filled.

Another creator of pointed local commentary has gone dark. That’s Kad Barma. When I go to his site now I’m greeted by: “It doesn’t look like you have been invited to read this blog. If you think this is a mistake, you might want to contact the blog author and request an invitation.” I’m not sure what prompted to switch from public to private but in any case, Kad’s commentary, particularly on issues that affected downtown, is also missed.

Learning Lowell burst into the blogosphere not long before the city election. The subheading of the site is “Two newcomers to Lowell, MA exploring the City”. The “two” are Chris and Aurora, a young couple who moved into Lowell during the year and live downtown. Both are civic minded and plunged right into politics and public affairs. Fortunately for us they chose to share their impressions on a blog. Their posts have been insightful and relevant to the major issues facing the city. After a short break for the holidays they will hopefully resume writing soon in the new year.

Left in Lowell, the granddaddy of political blogs in Lowell, seems to be going through a reset at the end of 2013. Lynne continues to post as does Mimi occasionally but Jack will be venturing out on his own (see below). Speaking from experience, blogging as a voluntary community service as opposed to as a paying job must often take a backseat to other aspects of life. Hopefully the stars will align for Left in Lowell in 2014.

Eileen Loucraft shares amazing stories of Lowell residents who have served in our country’s armed forces on “Lowell Doughboys and more…” which has as a subheading: “Many men and women in the Greater Lowell area served our country. Most came home but some did not. This blog remembers those that served in all wars from Greater Lowell.”

What Lowell Doughboys does for veterans, Lowell Irish does for the Irish community in the city. Written by Dave McKean, Lowell Irish brings us stories and news about current events in the local Irish community with plenty of history and culture mixed in.

Lowell City Manager which is the “blog from the office of the City Manager” is the go-to-site for official city announcements such as board vacancies, parking bans, and upcoming events. It succeeds in staying noncontroversial although for some the mere existence of a City Manager’s blog is controversial enough.

Greg Page started the New Englander back in 2008 when he first moved to Lowell. His initial motive was much like Chris and Aurora on Learning Lowell; to share a new comer’s impressions of the city. Well Greg’s not a newcomer anymore and his blog has evolved. Much of what he writes is complementary to Merrimack Analysis Group, his start-up company that focuses on “online security and identity optimization”, but Greg also wades into Lowell politics and current events with some frequency.

On Right Side of Lowell, Cliff Krieger shares links and analysis about national security and national politics with a conservative bent. Since becoming a member of the Lowell License Commission, Cliff has understandably throttled down his posts on local political issues, especially controversial ones.

When Jen Myers became Secretary to Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy she launched Room 50 described as “A Blog Chronicling the 2012-2013 Mayoral Term of Patrick O. Murphy of Lowell, Massachusetts.” Well Mayor Murphy’s term ends on Monday. I wonder if Room 50 will also. It’s certainly been a great source of news and events in Lowell as seen from the mayor’s office. Jen’s “Room 50 Year in Pictures” was a wonderful reminder of many of the positive things that happened in Lowell during 2013.

Sons of Franky Cabot continues to be Lowell’s version of the Daily Show with frequent comic relief and incisive social commentary, occasionally about city politics but always entertaining.

I do read two of the Lowell Sun’s many blogs: Police Line by Rob Mills and The Column by Chris Scott. My path to these two blogs isn’t the Sun’s website; it’s Twitter. I just follow Mills, Scott and a number of other Sun reporters. They often post interesting Tweets that stand alone but regularly tweet links to new blog posts or stories. Clicking on the Twitter link takes you right to the blog post or the story, freeing you from the challenge of navigating the Sun’s website.

So what will the New Year bring? I hope more short-form video. That’s an incredibly powerful tool that’s been underutilized in Lowell.

There will also be at least one new blog. Like Bea Arthur leaving All in the Family to launch Maude, Jack Mitchell, formerly writing on Left in Lowell, will launch his brand new Lowell Live Feed blog on Monday to coincide with the inauguration of the new city council. Jack’s roots in the blogosphere extend back to the 2008 presidential primary in New Hampshire so he’s no neophyte when it comes to online commentary and as a former combat infantryman he’s not one to shy away from confrontation and controversy. I’ll add a link on the blog roll to Lowell Live Feed as soon as it’s active.

While social media will still play a decisive role in the local political discussion, I suspect its use will be curtailed from within the walls of City Hall during the next two years. In my weekly political post last Sunday, I described the outcome of this past city election as a “counter revolution” that put the more conservative elements of Lowell in the ascendancy over those more progressively-minded. I wrote that in the past election, things like backyard chickens and bike lanes became negative code words that helped unite the conservatives. You can add “blogs” to that list. Most speaking from the floor of the city council during the coming term will extol the virtues of “the paper”, the radio, and telephone calls but blogs, bloggers and blogging will be spoken of only with disdain (and Twitter and Facebook mentioned hardly at all). We’ve seen this before; several years ago with the controversy about texting during council meetings and just a few months ago with the dispute about email as a way of communicating with councilors.

Local politics is a very dynamic enterprise so nothing stays the same for very long. When it comes to politics in 2014 on the local blogosphere, in the words of Lowell-native Bette Davis, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”