Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Brief History of the NoMi Blogosphere (part 1)

 Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, photo from The Bad Penny Blog.

Several years ago, I was back in my grandparents' home town of Tapiola, Michigan and I met up with an old friend of mine at the Sportsmen's Club (It's a bar next to, and largely run by, the volunteer fireman's department, which is adjacent to the little league baseball diamond...let's just say things are different in rural Upper Michigan).  This friend's brother had just lost his eyesight in a tragic accident, so naturally the first topic of our conversation was his well-being.  My friend was surprisingly cheerful as he said, "We do all of the same things we used to do together.  We go to basketball games, we do archery, we go downhill skiing, we even eat spaghetti!"

Upon seeing my surprise that such a mundane task would be included in a list of accomplishments by a person with no sight, he said, "Well YOU try eating spaghetti with your eyes shut, and tell me how that works out for ya!"

Earlier, a commenter on The Deets said it was too hard to keep all the bloggers in NoMi straight, so a post that does so seemed appropriate.  Telling the story of the NoMi blogosphere will be like my friend's vignette; sometimes poignant, sometimes irreverent, and often more than a little messy.  I'm going to divide our bloggers into several categories:  "The Big Three," "Role Players," "Switzerland," "The Wild Card," and "The Adversaries."

While there were almost certainly bloggers of some kind before him, the tactic really took off when John Hoff came into the neighborhood under the name "Johnny Northside."  John got his start in an online tit-for-tat about mortgage fraud involving...

...TJ Waconia.

The Big Three - Johnny Northside, North by Northside, and Irving Inquisition

I first heard of John Hoff from a former HNC board member Peter Teachout (who later became the board chair, contributed as a writer to JNS, and started his own blog about his military service).  Peter asked if I had met this new guy who was looking at property on his block in the EcoVillage, and writing on a blog about north Minneapolis.  This Johnny Northside character was hard to pin down, Peter said.  "I don't know what to make of him.  He'll either wind up being my best friend or my worst enemy."  I think it's pretty clear how that turned out for folks in Hawthorne and the EcoVillage.

At the same time, I had been patrolling properties in and around the EcoVillage.  Break-ins were far more rampant back then, and it was infuriating to wait a week or more for the city to come along and board a property.  Then, suddenly, boards started appearing on properties that were once open to trespass.  Only these boards were inscribed with a red Sharpie, "This house boarded by a citizen, 4/22/08."  It was like the mark of Zorro!  Who IS that masked man?!

Johnny Northside eventually grew into something bigger than just blogging about a few random issues (and frankly, you can watch him gain a better understanding of the neighborhood as his blog posts progress), and he decided to "market and romanticize the struggle" in order to bring more people into NoMi.  Where I saw JNS really take off was during the turnover of the JACC board and the lawsuits that followed.  There was this huge..THING that everyone needed to talk about, but they were all afraid of getting sued.  John's dedication to publishing virtually any substantive comment in order to facilitate a dialogue was a crucial part of JACC's emergence from that crisis.

After a while, I decided it was time to emerge from the shadows, so to speak.  I had been using "The Mortgage Geek" as my blogger profile name, but also commenting anonymously because of the division over the JACC issue.  I made a decision to openly stand by anything I put out there, and hopefully others followed.  That move developed into me sending stories to John for publication.  The earliest example of that I could find was where I wrote about the Hawthorne Advantage down payment assistance program.  While that post was my first entry into the blogosphere, Megan Goodmundson had been contributing stories to JNS before then.

Several months later I confronted a landlord now known on the blogosphere as "Mr. Slummy," and in John's retelling of that tale, an anonymous commenter called me "the Hawthorne Hawkman" for the first time.  I liked the name so much it became my blogger moniker.  Eventually, I started writing for the JNS site as a regular contributor, click here for my first story written as an official guest author.  John's bombastic and irreverent style and my wonkish demeanor made an award-winning combination as we were named the best local blog of 2010 by the City Pages.

And then last year, I decided it was time to begin my own blog.  I'm always grateful that John is doing his thing on JNS, but felt it was time to chart my own course in terms of the writing style and dialogue I would like to foster.  North by Northside was born.  A special thanks goes out to fellow Hawthorne resident Bryan Thao Worra, who also blogs about literary and cultural issues, for coming up with the name for my blog.

Meanwhile, over on Irving Avenue, a new player burst onto the scene with a post about...well, just click on it.  The Irving Inquisition blog sure knew how to make an entrance, I'll say that much.  I.I.'s relentless, in-your-face writing style captured the frustration of what it's sometimes like to have to slog through neighborhood issues when change happens very slowly.  If Michael Douglas's character from the movie "Falling Down" were to start a blog about NoMi, this would be it.

The Role Players - Over North, Hillside Chronicles, NoMi Passenger

I'm putting these folks in the "role players" category only based on their output on their personal blogs.  Each of them contributes greatly to the community in their own way, but I'm calling them role players due to the quantity of their blog output.

Over North is blog run by Connie Nompelis, who has used the handle "Ranty" as a Google profile name.  The blog was on a hiatus for a while, but we welcome Connie back.  Overnorth tends to focus on issues and advice related to buying or refurbishing homes.  But like most NoMi blogs, it delves into other neighborhood issues as well.

The Hillside Chronicles tends to keep his name out of his blog, but most folks know who he is.  HC lives, obviously, on Hillside Avenue, and his blog focuses primarily on that stretch of land.  While I consider HC a good friend, and we geek out over Star Wars and guitar quite often, we have strongly differing views on the demolition/preservation issue.  It just goes to show that there's really not much of an ideological litmus test among the NoMi bloggers.

The NoMi Passenger Blog is run by "super citizen" Megan Goodmundson.  It started out focusing on the Light Rail development that will hopefully come down Penn and Broadway.  NMP has also written about housing issues and feel-good stories in north Minneapolis.  Those slice of life stories shouldn't be dismissed as fluff either.  A common theme among NoMi bloggers is to write about things like backyard barbecues, art parties, good neighbors, and topics of that nature, because we want to get the word out that NoMi is a great and welcoming community.

And with that, this post comes to a close.  Who are "Switzerland," "The Wild Card," and "The Adversaries"?  Those will be fleshed out in an upcoming post.  If there are other bloggers out there I've failed to mention, go ahead and put in a shameless plug for yourselves in the comment section.


  1. I will be writing my own account at some point, but thanks for this, Jeff.

  2. OK, here are my comments.

    1.) Anybody reading a history is, almost by definition, unfamiliar with that history or at least SOME of that history. (If you knew the whole history already, why would you read it? Well, maybe for typos) So I want to make this clear: Peter Teachout became one of my best friends.

    2.) Numerous live links are needed to put this history in context and reference the various online sources and examples. This is a history that will stand for the ages. So cite sources.

    3.) It was Jordan Super Citizen Megan Goodmundson who alerted me about what was happening at the JACC board, knowing it needed to be put out in the public. Megan--who so often fills key roles behind the scenes, making things happen while others take credit or get credit--deserves her due in that regard. (Full historical disclosure: Megan is my girlfriend)

    4.) The first guest author on this blog was Megan, not Jeff. In fact, I was away trucking and Megan had administrative controls and was the one who actually approved Jeff as an author. At the time of the award by City Pages, guest authors included Megan, Jeff, and I believe maybe we had a few others at that time, too, actually.

    5. Jeff, I didn't know Bryan Thoa Worra came up with the name for your blog. I thought it was your own brilliance. I sure am glad you confessed.

    6. Keep up the great work. I expect the history will include the outcome of the current trial.

  3. In response to John:

    1. Not sure where you're going with the need to make it clear that Peter and you became best friends if the readers, as you claim, are already familiar with this history. And this post (plus the upcoming one) was written in response to a "Secrets of the City" comment about wanting some of the basics of the NoMi blogosphere.

    2. Seeing as how my intended audience was looking for something perhaps rather general, I didn't see the need to put in "numerous links." That process is rather time-consuming as well. If you (or other readers) have links you'd like inserted, feel free to send me or post suggestions. I may indeed go back and add more links, but I clicked the publish button because I was satisfied with what I had written.

    3. Thanks Megan, for bringing John into the fray regarding JACC issues.

    4. I'm looking for where I said I was the first guest contributor to JNS, and I don't see that statement. However, it's implied enough that I have altered the post to include your point about Megan.

    5. Oh, my brilliance came up with all sorts of excellent blog names, all based off of Bob Dylan lyrics or Star Wars characters. In short, the kind of name that would be far to limited. I remember the Facebook chat brainstorming session where Bryan (or BTW as we often call him due to the dearth of Brian's and Bryan's in NoMi) came up with the name and I just about fell out of my chair.

    6. Thanks, and I do hope you write something like this from your perspective. Everyone catches little details that others miss, and I'm curious to see what those are in your case.

  4. You're welcome, Jeff. I'm really glad I got the chance to introduce John (and you) to so many wonderful people you had not yet had the pleasure of meeting. I heart Nomi.

  5. i am seeing something in your twitter feed that i am wondering where you are getting that from "reporters lurking about" it looks like a retweet but how come i can find it on twitter i am confused. thanks!

  6. "Reporters lurking about" quote was from the Twin Cities Daily Planet twitter feed.

  7. No, I said anybody reading a history would be UNFAMILIAR with that history. I just felt there was a clarifying sentence needed for somebody who may come along years from now and not know the back story.

    Keep up the good work with this history.

  8. On another note: Jeff, you need to sit down and show me how you got (stuff) to appear on the LEFT side of your blog.

  9. Hmm, maybe I should write one of these histories as well...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.