Tag Archives: Andre Natta

Today's goal: let more folks know we exist

I got a message via Facebook this morning (around 1:15 a.m.) I fired off a response by 1:35 a.m. because I thought it was the right thing to do. That’s the weird thing about running this blog – you want to connect with people as soon as possible because you think it’s the right thing to do. If you don’t, you find that some folks think that you’ve slighted them or don’t want to talk with them.

If you have a blog you have friends who think that everyone knows who you are because of it. I know better and am quite happy when I meet someone who has no clue that the site existed before and who are happy that we’re here. That said, I’d like to spend some time connecting with all of you this morning because it’s the right thing to do.

We need your help to get the word out and to share the voices of Birmingham.

First, an introduction to new readers (and a more succinct version for long time readers) explaining what we are. We’re a blog – hyperlocal is the term that’s thrown around a lot (or citizen journalism) – about Birmingham, AL. The goal is to be a site that can reflect some of the personality and many of the voices of this fair Magic City and its surrounding area while covering news, arts, culture, opinion, a pending comic strip and maybe even sports (read: UAB, Miles College, Birmingham Southern & Samford – NOT Alabama or Auburn) if we can find the manpower to do it. I say we because we’ve had as many as twelve and as few as two folks contributing stories to this site since March 2007.

We are one of the oldest hyperlocal blogs in the Southeastern United States, coming into existence shortly before the launch of Consuming Louisville in Kentucky in 2007 (and I’d love to meet Michelle Jones one day soon). Every once in a while we hope that Stanley Holditch may get the feeling to write a Birmingham-centric article on the Fleabomb.com website, but we don’t think that’ll be happening soon.

We’ve averaged 9,000 unique visitors to these pages a month with very little advertising save for the occasional mention in the paper, a lucky tweet or two and our initial following on MySpace. The thought was simple: there are a lot of voices in this city, whether they be about music, politics or food. The hope was (and remains) that we can occasionally remind you that they’re here and waiting for you to explore. We’ve also started a weekly conversation on Twitter on Tuesday evenings called #bhamchat and we look forward to finding ways to get more folks that don’t use Twitter involved in the near future.

So why write to you this morning? I’d like to throw down a challenge to metro Birmingham. I need you. I need you to submit story ideas by either using our story submission page (as soon as it launches this evening) or via email. I need you to lend your voices to the conversations that happen on and offline. I need the help of those that read this site to tell others that we exist and we need their voices. If you’re a fan of The Terminal on Facebook or a follower on Twitter, let your friends know about it and let’s see where this conversation can take us.

If you have a few dollars that you can spare (or a coffee habit you’d like to kick or even an urge to fight a craving for a special dog from Pete’s), we’d love if you would consider becoming a voluntary supporter of  The Terminal or consider purchasing a shirt from our store on Spreadshirt.

Most of all, if you want to lend your voices in a more recurring way, our next contributors meeting will be this Thursday, August 6, starting at 5:30 p.m. at Shift WorkSpace. It’d be nice to get folks that can tell stories in the way they feel most comfortable.

I’m not one that particularly cares about tracking numbers, though I know it would demonstrate to others just what we’ve been able to do so far and help us reach more people. I have a selfish goal of seeing if we can get more than 1,000 people to follow us on Facebook and 2,000 to be following us on Twitter before the end of the day. I don’t have any prizes to provide; just the promise that if you help us spread the word, The Terminal will be able to do more for you. Maybe this exercise will lead to a couple of prizes coming our way…

The redesign of the site (which should be complete before 5 p.m. on Friday) should also help folks find what they’re looking for, complete with a few surprises.

Thanks in advance and enjoy the ride!

Where is the ethical line nowadays?

This post has nothing to do with the current state of our public officials here in Birmingham or the standards that we may be unrealistically attempting to hold them up to (at least, not yet).

It begins as a response to an ever growing debate on the blogosphere and the newsrooms, both physical and virtual, about what it is that the people want and if we as bloggers and mainstream media should give it to them.

The decision by TechCrunch to publish some of the documents that were stolen from Twitter has led some to want to cast stones about where “the line” is that should not be crossed.

Personally, I’m not quite sure that the line’s moved from where it was; I think we’ve just chosen to ignore it more often.

I do feel that we’ve become more accustomed to getting whatever we want whenever we want. This leads to voices becoming lost in the digital wilderness of finger pointing and innuendo. It is also not limited to the digitial world as we become frustrated with terrestrial radio stations and political representation – despite the fact that our choices have helped lead to what we’ve received, whether intentionally or not.

No one is immune from this, but it is possible to tone down the rhetoric just a little and see if we can’t get folks to think of solutions instead of dwelling on the doom and gloom.

Andrew Keen’s column in today’s Daily Telegraph about the situation, published while most of the metro Birmingham area was asleep in bed but just as our morning anchors started their days, said as much. According to a Tweet he sent out around 3 a.m., it cost him just a couple hundred followers. I’ll be interested in seeing what my comments cost me.

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A place to go offline: about our new space

We’ve been doing this online hub thing for Birmingham for more than two years now, hoping that we’ve done right by her in our attempt to shine a light all that it has to offer. We’ve hoped that it’s been good enough and from the words of encouragement that we often here, it has been. Many of us think that the best is still yet to come.

We did realize however that we needed to do a couple of things to move to the next level. The top priority (after making it easier to actually read the site, something that we’re still working on) was the need to have a physical home.

shift101_0611Despite the fact that we currently exist solely online as a resource for people in Birmingham, AL (and its many expatriates), I was becoming increasingly aware that a publication of any type in Birmingham must have a physical space in order to ease the fears of readers, contributors and (to survive for the long term) potential advertisers. There would always be a fear of us being here today and gone tomorrow unless we showed that we were here to stay.

We cannot make the guarantee that with this announcement those threats and fears will go away, but establishing an office in the heart of The Magic City and Jones Valley can only help our case. It doesn’t hurt that we get to help make Alabama’s first coworking space a reality either.

Using this space helps get at one of the best things about social media; the idea that it brings people together. To build a real community in Birmingham online also means figuring out how to bring them together face-to-face and offline.

Whether it’s setting up a last minute question and answer session about an issue affecting the region or inviting one of Birmingham’s 400+ bands to come on in for a Sessions on West 54th-style performance, the fact that we can organize and then share these opportunities with you both in person and virtually is very important to me. This space helps us do that.

It also helps us establish ourselves as more than just a roaming nomad of an entity. We’ll still venture outside of the walls of the Shift workspace, but it will allow us to do and support things that we feel extremely important.

We hope that you take a chance to come on downtown and visit with us when the doors open later this Spring. I also hope that you’ll take the chance to help us determine some of our programming by answering yesterday’s Magic City Question.

As always, Enjoy the ride!


André Natta, CMSM, is The Terminal’s stationmaster. If you want to contact him, catch him on Twitter – @acnatta – or shoot him an email at andre@bhamterminal.com.

Photo: Bob Farley/f8Photo

Thoughts from Election Day

There was in fact one other reason the site remained quiet since Tuesday afternoon. I was not going to share my vote with you. I agree with John Archibald that perhaps some things need to stay private or at least not mentioned at all. I did choose to vote, though I didn’t think it’s my place to let the world know who I voted for (or was planning to vote for).

Many still struggle with what this site is (friends included), but for The Terminal to be a true hub for Birmingham and the region, we need your thoughts added to the mix, not just me telling you what I think and you reacting to it all of the time. For those that think that the role of blogging can only be to stoke the proverbial fires that last sentence may be a shock to you.

Those that write these online journals do so to share what they wish with you. That choice may be photos, poems, stories or opinion. It’s up to us to provide the information and then you to determine if you’re going to read it. Perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to be told what to think and how that if someone asks you to do it on your own, you freak out.

That said, I’ve agreed to have my picture made for an article that asks people around the country to reflect on the question “Why did you vote for Barack Obama?” leading me to provide an extended explanation to you, the readers of Birmingham’s hub.

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So, why WordCamp Birmingham?

If you’ve been to the front page of the site today, you’ve learned that we’re serving as an organizing sponsor for WordCamp Birmingham on September 27 & 28. A simple explanation of the event is it’s an unconference for fans, users and folks just interested in blogging in general and WordPress in particular. I’ll wait for you to check out the program’s website to learn more if you want to.

We know one question that may be running through your minds is “Why do this?”

This is my attempt to answer that question for you.

Some look at blogging as our new public access channels or a new form of talk radio. Blogging allows individuals to share of themselves (whether it’s their opinions, their photographs, or their favorite recipes) with anyone who cares to pay attention. Blogging is also social media, to me in its most visible form and tangible form. It is the sharing of ideas coupled with the ability to get feedback from those that either support or disagree with them. You can do it for the love of sharing your thoughts, a longing to change the world and to earn a living.

Selfishly, we here at The Terminal want more voices out there online. We want more people to share their thoughts and opinions about what’s going on in Birmingham and its metropolitan area in all of the ways available through social media. We want there to be a more complete virtual picture for folks who wonder just what’s going on in The Magic City. We want more folks comfortable with how blogging actually works. There’s no better way to do so than to bring together people from all over the region and potentially the world to learn from and share with each other. WordCamp Birmingham is a forum we believe that will allow us to do just that. It will give folks a peek into the world of social media in all of its forms, including ways to integrate many of these tools into a WordPress blog and finally answer that nagging question for many, regardless of what software you choose to use, “Why blog in the first place?”.

There have already been more than 20 of the unconferences held throughout the world, including San Francisco, CA (WordPress parent company Automattic‘s hometown); Birmingham, England; Cape Town, South Africa; and Dallas, Texas. All of these locations allowed for conversations to be held and collaboration and cooperation to be fostered. For those that may need to look at this more competitively, the week following our event, Raleigh-Durham, NC is scheduled to host one. We’ll also be slightly ahead of my hometown as New York’s first WordCamp will be held the day after RDU’s.

It is also a great weekend to showcase Birmingham to its visitors. The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary while the Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival enjoys its fifth year of providing a musical interlude to jazz aficionados of the region. Folks that want to enjoy more music on Sunday can make their way up to Vulcan Park and enjoy the Vulcan After Tunes series in addition to breathtaking views of the city. This is not to forget that two incredible exhibits will be opening at the Birmingham Museum of Art that weekend, including the one featuring Leonardo Da Vinci.

For others we plan to give our visitors a chance to wander the city via a scavenger hunt and invite folks to talk about other ways that Birmingham in particular and the South in general can continue to connect and share their voices with each other and the rest of the world.

Registration is scheduled to open on Wednesday Thursday morning and space will be limited.

What can you do? We hope a few things – that you’ll join us for what we hope is the first of many ways that we can contribute to our community’s technological goals; that some of you will consider contacting me about sponsorship opportunities; that you’ll consider volunteering and help us publicize the conference. That you’ll consider presenting at the conference.

Have I at least made you interested in what’s going on? Good…

Send me a message with “wordcampbham” as the title to acnatta@gmail.com or andre@bhamterminal.com and we’ll go from there.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal and one of the organizers for WordCamp Birmingham.

Birmingham's largest block party?

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There are always several ways to look at a situation, and there is no question that City Stages 20 will be second-guessed by every Monday morning events planning quarterback in the region for at least the next 2-3 months as we await the public release of the organization’s financials.

I’ll freely admit that I only attended the festival for about four hours on Saturday – time I desperately needed away from this computer to remind myself of what the real world might be like. I heard nothing but praise from folks I knew that had actually attended Friday night and danced along to Diana Ross, The Roots, Galactic and probably the biggest surprise of the evening to many, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Later on I got to watch as Buddy Guy decided to come on down and play among the thousands that showed up to watch him after catching the end of the Hill Country Revue set.

I’ve come to think that perhaps the purpose of the festival needs to change, at least mentally. I’m not sure that one can say that it’s an event that represents the cultural heritage of metro Birmingham anymore (though getting Ross to play this year was a coup). I would say that it is a great collection of acts that many feel should be coming to our fair city anyway (and some of them do), available to us for a reasonable price.

I heard a television reporter call it Birmingham’s largest block party. That may be a better way to describe what it’s become.

It’s become an excuse for people to come together and hear great music; to see folks that you don’t run into as much anymore and catch up. In the near future it will also be an excuse for those that still think it’s not safe to come downtown to poke around between acts and see the progress that continues to take place.

I also think that it can claim that something that should be a major goal of the festival’s – exposing the City of Birmingham and the surrounding region to acts that you normally wouldn’t see or be exposed to (e.g., the Carolina Chocolate Drops).

It will never be Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo and honestly, I’m glad. If I want those types of events, I’ll find a way to go there instead. The thing is, no matter what you hear said positively about our festival, and on a larger scale this city, there will always be someone that says that you’re not being realistic or serious – that it’s bad and it will always stay that way, no matter what’s done.

I’d argue that it’s that attitude that needs to change, though some more interaction with those that could make City Stages more successful in the coming years would help. The conversations about the future of the festival have been held all over the place, including the blogosphere, forever. Harnessing it in one place, presumably a revamped version of their site, may give residents more perceived ownership of the festival, including enabling the festival to engage its fans in the selection process and allowing organizers to expose the fans to the music that will be coming. It could be a microcosm of what could be done to truly move the city forward as well, but It’s just one suggestion and it probably won’t be the last one either party hears.

That said, I am looking forward to next year, just to see what can happen…

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.

Well, at least we're talking about it

“Nobody is trying to deny the seriousness of getting this under control, but does it have to be on a billboard?”

– Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford

Yes, as a matter of fact Larry, it does.

But apparently making Jefferson County residents aware of a syphilis outbreak is more of a detriment to our efforts for attracting new businesses into the region than a necessity to make sure that it does not become worse than it already is. In case you didn’t see Saturday’s Birmingham News story, two of our elected leaders feel as though bus advertisements calling attention to the fact that we have the #1 concentration of syphilis cases in the United States were portraying a bad image for the region (among other things).

While they are only removing ads announcing the outbreak off of the sides of buses, it takes away a valuable tool available to the Jefferson County Department of Health in this battle of educating the public, one that they should be commended for. It was doing what it was supposed to do – catching the attention of those that saw the signs even if only for a few seconds at a time.

If there is anyone that understands the importance of catching the attention of people in short, simple sound bites, it is the current mayor of the city of Birmingham. Mayor Langford provides just enough information to pique our interest and then he moves on to the next 6 or 7 things on his agenda. We stay just confused and bombarded long enough for the next idea to be planted and then the questions that need to be raised never are. It’s a shame, since some conversation may actually make some of these ideas better. In this case it’s a real shame that he doesn’t realize that the Department of Heath is simply taking a page out of his play book.

He’s done something again, only this time it’s something that could become a bigger issue if not handled properly. I’d like to know if he and Commissioner Fine-Collins plan to have the health department remove the billboards and television ads as well? If so, we’re going to use taxpayer dollars to remove ads that were partially paid for by taxpayer dollars trying to educate the taxpayers about a serious issue — like the logic?

Maybe he has a secret plan to use that bully pulpit that mayors possess to make sure that more people are aware…


Maybe spending taxpayer dollars to sweep one of our regions issues under the rug could be better spent making sure that we dealt with the outbreak appropriately, making sure that everyone was aware of the issue.

The problem with both of those solutions is that they sound too logical.

As a city recognized as a national leader in medical research, maybe the idea of making people aware of the issue constitutes our area hospitals and medical leaders doing the job that they are best known for. And it’s not like the ads haven’t had an effect, it has encouraged more people to go in and be tested for symptoms.

We can’t call the kettle black without making sure that we air all of our dirty laundry as well. We’d actually had a story prepared about the outbreak more than a month ago; however we were waiting for a list of current solutions that were being undertaken to be completed before putting it up on the site. We felt as though that was most important – making sure that solutions were presented. Unfortunately, most of us are only now writing about the issue because Mr. Langford and Ms. Fine-Collins finally gave us a reason to do so.

So we decided to run the story this morning (if you didn’t come here directly from the post, head on over to the Newsstand to take a look). Even if you feel as though this issue cannot hit you personally, it is important enough to the overall health of our region to take a good, hard look at it and what can be done to assist with handling it.

So maybe recent stories about Birmingham’s potential are just not powerful enough to overcome this outbreak as selling points, at least in the eyes of our city’s chief executive. But I think I’d rather have folks coming in to join this transplant in a movement to make the city a better place than have them wonder why we hadn’t accepted the situation and admitted to it up front — completely.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.