Category Archives: The Terminal

A constant search for rainbows five years later

Last week I was sitting in the taproom at Good People Brewing Company talking to Madison Underwood of Weld for Birmingham about the bingo trial and the new ballpark currently underway across the street.

Let that sink in for a moment. It took a while for me to fully appreciate it.

I was sitting in a taproom that didn’t exist a year ago run by a brewery that came into existence in September 2007. Madison’s now writing for a hybrid news publication that came into being less than a year ago. The site for the ballpark is across the street from Railroad Park, a much different looking piece of land than it was four years ago as folks attending our first anniversary party saw from the top of the former Commerce/Protective Life headquarters located at the northern edge of “the News Bridge.” The ballpark itself has been in the making in some form or another for at least ten years now.

A lot has changed in five years here in Birmingham. Every once in a while taking a step back helps you appreciate it and not miss it. And yes, I realize just how cheesy that sounds – almost as cheesy as this does to some folks nowadays (not us though).

The end of The Terminal’s launch party in 2007 saw a bunch of us heading out the door to take a look at a rainbow to our east. As Bob Farley snapped the photo (the one at the beginning of this post), I remembered him and others talking about the symbolism. I laughed it off back then, but I appreciate it a great deal today.

This evening a few of us will gather at Good People, hoist a couple of pints, enjoy some pie and some coffee (courtesy of Finer Grind Coffee Roasters) and talk. Nothing too fancy (that’s the plan at least), just a chance to see and thank a bunch of people who’ve stumbled across this site over the last five years. PieCamp Birmingham has become the quintessential event for a site focused on driving conversations about what’s happening in Alabama’s Magic City. It’s a great chance to learn about the city’s newest rainbows. It’s less about pretense and more about getting a bunch of folks together talking about what keeps them working through their storms.

We’re always chasing rainbows, despite our efforts to say it’s not true.  It’s amazing if you get a chance to see what’s on the other side and if you take the time and listen.

There are rainbows that still push Birminghamians to dream big dreams for their city. They give you hope that the citizens can recognize that they don’t have to always look down on themselves and their region.

There are also rainbows that have given this site more support that I thought possible at times. Businesses like The Bottletree, Urban Standard, and The Red Cat have made things easier. Folks who’ve chosen to contribute to the site in the past (and a few getting ready to start soon) are helpful as well.

So I’m hoping for some rain on Wednesday evening at #piecampbhm. A little sunshine too.

Why?

I’d like a reminder of what’s possible, what’s needed, and what it means to have started this digital space in the first place. That scene I described at the beginning of the post makes it worth while, as do all of you.

Cheers.

André Natta is the stationmaster for bhamterminal.com.

#piecampbhm – why?

Pi pieEvery year I hope to attend SXSW Interactive. Among other things, it’s the largest gathering of community news site publishers in the country. I never do, though my reason is a lot more understandable than most – especially this year. The Terminal’s anniversary date normally falls during the Austin event, on Pi Day no less.

Last night, a simple public conversation on Twitter about celebrating The Terminal’s fourth anniversary with pie became something with the potential to get larger.

It’s becoming the first ever PieCamp Birmingham.

Ted’s Restaurant on Southside has agreed to open their doors to us on Monday evening (3.14) and give us a chance to share our favorite pies with each other. We’re asking that you bring a pie if you can (or maybe even some milk).

Registration for Monday’s event is now open. It’s free and, of course, space is limited.

I’m grateful for the interest in pulling off an event like this at the last minute. I’m also grateful for Daniel Walters for his wanting to take the ball and run with it.

I do need to explain a few things though before this gets too crazy.

It isn’t the first time I’ve ever thought that pulling something off like this was possible. Whether it’s CupcakeCamp in San Francisco, PieLab in Greensboro, AL or Birmingham’s own Kitchen Table, the idea of gathering to share food and conversation seems to be a good idea. Our own Terminally Happy Hours – returning in April BTW – also hoped to just bring folks together.

It’s a chance to meet folks, catch up with others and maybe share some new ideas (that seems to be extremely popular in Birmingham right now too).

I’d also like to make sure that people can give a piece of the pie to a worthy cause.

It’d be nice to ask for financial support for the website, but there’s a time and place for that; I don’t think this is that kind of situation. Instead, if you can’t bring a pie with you on Monday evening (though I’d love for you to), I’d ask that you consider making a donation to the Birmingham Education Foundation (BEF). BEF grew out of Yes We Can, Birmingham is taking on what I believe to the major issue facing our metro area at this time – education. If you can’t give, I’d at least like to make sure that folks are aware of its existence and efforts.

I do hope that you’ll consider joining us on Monday evening.

Photo: Pi Pie. pauladamsmith/Flickr.

Introducing Dear Birmingham (and the beauty within)

You Are Beautiful, too. acnatta/Flickr.Birmingham has been bombarded with positive messaging about itself in recent months. The Birmingham Business Alliance tells us that we’re open for business while Mayor Bell promotes a message of a united city. For years we’ve even said how nice it is to have you in Birmingham and look forward to restarting that campaign again on Monday.

I for one am quite excited as it gets old just hearing about the problems facing the region without offering solutions or shining a light on the good things going on. It was the original founding principal of this site and one that will continue to be as we move forward.

The latest additions to this push for an attitude adjustment have been the two “You Are Beautiful” signs that have been painted in prominent locations in greater downtown – and they are prominent locations. There is no questioning the impact that the original statement painted onto the Highland Avenue Bridge has on the thousands of cars that enter the heart of Jones Valley via the cut through Red Mountain every day. The same can be said of the subtler results that the one located along First Avenue South near Railroad Park’s 14th and 15th Street entrances has on those visiting the city’s newest green space.

A quick perusal of you-are-beautiful.com, the site that provides the most likely back story for these signs, lets you know that the interpretation of the signage is up to you.

The part I love about what should really be called a manifesto is the idea of creating activism instead of consumerism. This sentence captures it beautifully:

“Projects like these make a difference in the world by catching us in the midst of daily life and creating moments of positive self realization.”

These signs can be read in hundreds if not thousands of ways, hopefully leading to thousand of ways to help make those other messages mean more to Birmingham first and foremost than the others have so far…

Folks driving in from over the mountain may now be driven to look up information about Sloss Furnaces and the beautiful artwork that is created there nowadays. Visitors to Railroad Park have an opportunity to enjoy a gorgeous view of the city that they probably wouldn’t have stopped for just a year ago while imagining just what else is possible.

The idea is for the individual to determine just what they’ll do to reach out to the community and get them to dream – and then take action.

That’s just my opinion though.

Yesterday I spoke of this site’s effort to secure a Knight News Challenge grant and said it was the first step in changing the approach that The Terminal takes in serving as a source of information for the city of Birmingham. Now it’s time to draw your attention to changes that will hopefully be implemented on this section of the site in the next few weeks.

When this site launched in 2007, this section was called My Birmingham – playing off the excitement of MySpace (yes, I know…). The idea was if folks saw it as writing about the city as their own, it would elicit a great deal of opinions that would lead to interesting conversations. Well, you may have noticed that the header for this section has read Dear Birmingham for two months now.

Nobody’s really noticed, though there hasn’t been much reason to visit either. Hopefully they will have a reason to notice soon.

I’m a little behind on contacting the folks I wanted to via email yesterday, but a few of them will see something land in their inbox late this afternoon and early tomorrow morning.

It will still serve as a “letters to the editor” section. The hope though will be to focus on folks offering solutions to issues and inviting people to use whatever medium they feel appropriate to share their story about or message to Birmingham.

It’s my hope that people will agree to help us create additional content about the story behind the words they’ve chosen (perhaps receiving a copy of those thoughts as a benefit of supporting the site).

As the tagline says up above, we hope to serve as a hub for the voices of the Magic City – in their own words. It’s also our intent to make it a little easier for people to see those words even when they’re not sitting in front of their computers. That initiative will hopefully be unveiled in early 2011.

Right now, all I can ask is for you to check back on the site Monday morning to see how to take part in sharing your voice with your city – and to think about just how you’d do it and what you’d say.

Cheers.

André Natta is the stationmaster of bhamterminal.com.

Yes, roving digital newsroom/classrooms…

Birmingham's Railroad Skyline. acnatta/FlickrI’d intended to write an editorial yesterday about the You Are Beautiful markings currently appearing around downtown. I still intend to share those thoughts tomorrow.

That post was to serve as a lead in to this one – the first of a few that will start to spell out the direction this site will be taking over the next few months.

The Terminal has just submitted its second ever Knight News Challenge grant proposal just after 12:20 p.m. this afternoon.

Here’s a link to the proposal.

It’s one that would allow us to acquire and maintain two buses that would be used for both physical crowdsourcing during major news events and as a mobile classroom from which we could help more people learn about online tools for communications and news gathering. It could also serve as a method to share news stories with the public in a new way – can we say digital display boards…

The way I see it, the only way that you can truly ask people to engage fully is to provide them the tools and information necessary to do so. This proposal is one step in doing just that as we work to raise the voices of the city that we serve digitally (and in other ways) in the coming months.

It’s one that still needs some fine tuning in the coming days and weeks ahead.  We’d invite folks to add their comments and suggestions here (or on the News Challenge site if you’re one of my fellow online publishers). I have until December 1 to make changes to it and welcome any assistance on that front.

The proposal submitted today to the Knight Foundation is the first of several approaches that we’ll be taking to attempt to launch the effort in the next six months. It also speaks to a shift towards being more deliberate about covering primarily the city of Birmingham and providing a digital voice to its citizens.

There are a couple of other initiatives that I’m hoping to be able to share with you in the coming days (including one tomorrow), especially since the holiday season provides a great chance to look back while looking forward. The best way that this site can look forward is by identifying ways that we can expand the conversations that are and should be happening in our city and move people towards action and tangible results.

Tomorrow’s announcement should coincide with several people in Birmingham receiving an email from me between now and then. I do hope you’ll consider the message it contains and what’s being asked of you tomorrow during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Cheers.

André Natta has served as The Terminal’s stationmaster since its launch in 2007.

The plan for The Terminal 2.0

Perhaps it’s fitting that my grandiose plan for making this announcement this morning on the site has taken this more subdued form anyway. I’d intended to roll out the redesign of The Terminal this morning while making this pitch to all of you about the direction and vision I’ve long hoped the site would take. One canceled flight and a night-long scramble to set up Plan B kind of slowed the effort down considerably. Luckily, I can still share the highlights with you this morning and flesh out the details for you some more as the weekend unfolds.

By the way, you’ll probably see that redesign reveal itself over the next few days. Anyway…

The flight in question will take me to Chicago, IL and CityCamp. The best way to describe this conference is one that may lay some groundwork for the future of collecting information and encouraging engagement. That’s why this topic has been on my mind for some time…

The Terminal at its core is still about having a conversation about Birmingham, AL and its metropolitan area with the hope that it would help change the way things are done in Alabama’s Magic City as well as the amount of people that are engaged in that conversation for change.

To stay true to my self-imposed deadline of having this up no later than 7:45 a.m. this morning, I can’t go into too many details except to say that the best way to achieve this goal of truly engaging Birmingham in a meaningful conversation is by being as transparent as possible about the process. So on Monday morning expect to have access to The Terminal’s business plan for the next 12 months. I hesitate to call it a business plan instead of a work plan – something that implies that progress must be made and tasks completed.

Here’s a simplified version of that vision:

  • One where a true staff is developed – one that has both people who have a moment or two to share how they see Birmingham as well as those who are able to dig a little deeper into the issues and the fun that we’re interested in learning more about that makes Birmingham unique. A staff of five or six would be ideal.
  • One where we can serve as a testing ground for journalism using all of these new media tools, allowing college students from area universities to have a chance to have some extended real world experience thinking of interesting ways to use whatever else comes down the pipeline.
  • One where The Terminal occupies a physical space that expands on what we’d hoped to accomplish during our stay at Shift Workspace. My hope would be to one day have a facility facing or around the corner from Railroad Park giving folks using our city’s proposed “living room” a chance to engage for fun and for serious discussion. The staff mentioned previously would be able to use a portion of the space not just to prepare stories for the website but to work on outside projects as well.
  • A website that becomes one of the first L3C corporations in the state of Alabama, enabling us to truly serve the city as our primary mission.

I’ll need the help of everyone that is able in order to move this vision for the future of The Terminal forward in the next 11 months. It may be a lot to ask, but all I’ll say is I want this to be much more than my site since that was my hope for it when it started.

A special section will appear on Monday morning that provides much more detail about how I hope this will be accomplished. I’ll hope that you stop on over when it does launch and add your thoughts.

Right now I’d ask for you to think about how you want this site to serve you as a reader. Then I’d ask for you to add your thoughts to the comments section below. I won’t be able to see them until after I figure out where I’m staying in Chicago anyway…

Thanks in advance for your comments and for the time that you take to check out this site from time to time. I sincerely appreciate it.

André Natta is the stationmaster of bhamterminal.com.

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!

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