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Green Pages: What kind of cat is this?

“How do you know this isn’t just a dead-cat bounce?”

— SPEECH board member

The above question was asked shortly before we relaunched Green Pages a year ago. Those words hardly lifted morale but they did acknowledge that reviving Green Pages wouldn’t be easy. This was for four reasons:

  • Green Pages needed to adapt to the electronic revolution and the rise of a new generation of activists without alienating long-time supporters. That, in turn, required closing a strikingly large generation gap between older and younger greens.
  • We were re-opening shop during a moment when volunteer energy seemed to be flagging among local indie media and environmental activist groups. As a result, we had a dangerously low level of volunteer support at both the board and staff levels.
  • None of us involved in the relaunch had advanced skills in electronic technologies. We had to learn by doing, and as the reader can still see, we’ve got more learning to do.
  • By reviving Green Pages rather than starting from a clean sheet of paper, a closetful of ghosts from the past needed to be confronted, such as longstanding conflicts about the purpose of the publication and its parent organization, South Puget Environmental Clearinghouse (or SPEECH).

Of course, we threw care to the wind and proceeded with the relaunching of Green Pages. Today we are “celebrating” our first birthday as a web-only media platform. I put “celebrating” in quotes because the internal vibe is one of soul searching rather than high-fives.

What have we done?

The numbers look fairly decent for an all-volunteer start-up. Over a 12-month period the website has published 412 posts and 214 calendar items. Meanwhile, our Facebook page has posted roughly 350 “shares” since we began updating it on an almost daily basis last spring.

That’s considerably more content than would have been possible if we had instead decided to revive the quarterly printed magazine. Perhaps most importantly, for the first time we have had the technical ability to respond in real time to emerging issues.

The biggest challenge has been finding an adequate number of writers to tell the stories that need to be told. We’ve appreciated submissions from the likes of Harry Branch, Carolyn Chew, Zena Hartung, Jim Lazar and Krag Unsoeld. Alas, a continuously updated website and Facebook page have a much bigger appetite for content than this number of people can possibly provide.

How do our readership numbers look?

Reader response has been a fraction of another recent start-up, Oly Arts. Our website is about to hit an all-time total of 9,000 visitors and 20,000 views. Reader interest has gyrated from a high of 3,000 views for the month of April to just under 1,300 for October. This mostly reflects the amount of new content and the extensiveness of marketing. Our Facebook page has been crucial to extending our readership beyond what historically has been our core readership — the Envirotalk listserv.

Content that has gained the most traction on Facebook has often resided outside the boundaries of a classic environmental journal. That includes media criticism, elections analysis and — gasp! — questioning environmentalist assumptions about housing policy from a social-justice perspective. Here are the website’s 10 most-read posts:

  1. Edwards expose: Why KIRO rather than Olympian? (1,819 views)
  2. Dear Olympia: East Bay proposal should be rejected (868 views)
  3. Money hints at outcome of Olympia primary races (660 views)
  4. If The Olympian is dying, what do we do? (575 views)
  5. Why are environmentalists silent about Just Housing? (473 views)
  6. Moxlie Creek: Olympia review board refuses to see ‘big picture’ (391 views)
  7. Dept. of Ecology not doing its job on Moxlie Creek (236 views)
  8. Hey, Olympia: Let’s turn a mistake into a bigger one — and flood it! (219 views)
  9. ‘Progressive awakening rather groggy in primary (208 views)
  10. Bob Macleod: A remarkable legacy in media and politics (194 views)

The readership levels are not surprising. We assumed that one of the key reasons why Green Pages died a few years ago was that its content was too narrowly focused on environmentalism to appeal to a younger generation, which gravitates toward a sustainability perspective that connects environmental protection, social justice and economic viability.

This has been most starkly illustrated by our Facebook page, which has a much younger readership than Envirotalk. Content that receives significant attention on Envirotalk often generates few “likes” and “reaches” on Facebook.

Reaction to new approach has been mixed

A prominent housing activist recently lauded Green Pages’ coverage. I found that ironic, because the same housing-related posts generated a call for my resignation by an environmental activist.

More typical have been complaints that Green Pages has not done enough to cover the nuts and bolts of local environmental news. This inevitably leads to the awkward conversation about how this is “potluck journalism” — you only get to read what a volunteer is inspired to write.

The critic who called for my resignation blamed the lack of writers on my editorial vision. That may very well be true for those who want a return to a focus on environmentalism as a stand-alone issue. However, I suspect that the biggest factors are 1) I haven’t had much time to recruit writers and 2) the rise of social media appears to have reduced the pool of those motivated to write for an old-fashioned website.

What’s next?

All-volunteer publications are best looked at as endurance tests. As a point of comparison, electoral campaigns may require huge amounts of time but at least they end after a certain number of months. Not so with a continuously updated website and Facebook page. Readership drops off precipitously if the beast isn’t fed pretty close to daily. That’s a meaningful amount of work which never lets up.

I took the initiative to revive Green Pages because I believed that it has provided an important voice in our community since 1990. The need for that voice is becoming even more important as The Olympian’s local coverage shrinks.

The question of the moment is whether enough people are interested in supporting Green Pages’ continued survival. As a case in point, a recent Salon article by Damian Radcliffe offered hope that a small-scale media outlet like ours could succeed if it was creative in its use of technology, revenue generation and community outreach.

Radcliffe presents a compelling vision. However, if Green Pages were to embark down this road it would need more volunteers — at both the board and staff levels — with specific interest and skills in independent media.

Whatever the future holds, it has been a fascinating year. I have greatly enjoyed the creative challenges of editing Green Pages. Thank you for your readership as well as your feedback and contributions (literary, photographic and financial). Feel free to share where you think Green Pages should go next, either by submitting a comment or shooting us an email.

–S.Salmi


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