Students Combine Interests to Create Local Blog on Development
By Rachel Mauro
Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - David Daddio did not intend to become a blog co-founder when he wrote an op-ed piece for a University of Maryland student newspaper calling for smart growth in the region.
But out of the student’s piece - which called on city, county and university officials to strengthen communication - grew a blog dedicated to discussion of development plans for the area.
Since its launch in July 2006, Rethink College Park has published about 300 posts and a thousand comments and has attracted an average of 200 independent readers a day.
City officials -- including College Park Councilwoman Mary Cook -- call the site a tremendous service.
And it all came about because Rob Goodspeed read Daddio’s piece.
Goodspeed was an applicant for the University of Maryland’s master’s program in community planning in April 2006, when the op-ed piece was published.
He had founded a couple of blogs since his days as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. They included Arbor Update, which focuses on planning and politics in Ann Arbor, Mich., and DCist.com, a city news and culture blog now owned by Gothamist LLC.
“I reached out to [Daddio], having never met him. … And we met up and began brainstorming and planning,” said Goodspeed, 25.
Now they have a “revolving” volunteer staff of six to 10 writers with four at “the core,” Goodspeed said.
“Rob is the driving force behind this project,” said Daddio, 22, who graduated from the university in May with a major in environmental economics and now works for the Trust for Public Land in Washington, D.C.
The site, Goodspeed said, has “pretty good readership.”
“Like anything, some people aren’t quite sure what to think of it, or they’re skeptical of our motives, or whether it’s actually a good thing to discuss things openly,” he said.
But, he said, Rethink College Park’s mission is simple: to make College Park “a great college town through creative ideas and public access to information and a true public conversation.”
Laura Moore, graduate student government president, is a fan of the founders and the site. She said she relies on Rethink College Park for updates on development issues of concern to grad students.
Moore talks to Goodspeed or Daddio several times a week, she said.
“I rely on them as objective forces of information and people with a lot of expertise with the process,” she said. “Not just the technicalities, but how it affects people, how decisions made affect people in a real day-to-day kind of way.”
Jan Schaffer, executive director at the University of Maryland based J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, is impressed by the local interest in the site and the participation of “major players” like city council members and university administrators.
“That’s having impact,” she said.
But keeping the blog running does come at a cost of energy and money.
Buying the domain name RethinkCollegePark.net cost between $20 and $30, according to Daddio, and they must pay $20 a month to host the site, he said.
Daddio and Goodspeed are the unpaid top editors of the site, but they also write for it. Other writers are also unpaid, they said.
Daddio said he spends four to five hours a week working on the blog now that he's no longer a student, compared to 15 hours a week when he was.
Goodspeed said that his time spent on the blog varies from day to day, depending on other commitments, but the hours add up. “Even on a day when I spend relatively little time [on the blog,] I’m still thinking about it,” he said.
The two editors try to update the site several times a week.
Goodspeed said they receive $200 a year from the City Council to help with the monthly technology bill.
“We try to help out people who have good ideas and good projects that involve a lot of volunteer effort,” said College Park Councilman Robert Catlin. “This seemed to fit the bill.”
Another big concern for Goodspeed and Daddio is keeping the blog going after Goodspeed receives his degree in 2008. He is applying to Ph.D. programs in urban history at the University of Maryland and elsewhere.
Daddio, who now lives in Washington, D.C., said he wants to step down as an editor but said it takes time to find someone to replace him.
“It’s sort of been a concern since day one,” Daddio said. “We’re working every day to get people interested, people to pass it off to.”
Goodspeed is optimistic about the ability of the site to keep going after they both leave.
“The sites I was involved in formerly all continue to the present day,” he said. “They’ve had their ups and downs but have been quite successful.”
Eric Raasch, a contributor to Rethink College Park as well as a graduate student in real estate development, is impressed by Goodspeed and Daddio’s continuing motivation.
“I feel like Rob and David put so much work into this project and it is such a thankless job,” he said. “I think it should be noted that they are not being paid; they want to make College Park better.”
Maryland Newsline's Rachel Mauro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.