A few years ago, a colleague in Mobile sent an email describing an annexation debate there. Before the Mobile City Council, the annexation proponents put a slide on the screen. It was a map — a map of a broken city. The fissures looked like someone had taken a rock and slammed it down on a glass table top. Of course, the map was of Birmingham and the 30-plus surrounding cities and towns in Jefferson County. The annexation proponents there pointed to the map and said to Mobile, “Don’t let this happen to you.”
But Birmingham’s divisions can’t all be drawn on a map. There are so many fissures here that the city seems always to have struggled with multiple identities. It’s a problem that has plagued us for generations. The city has long needed a force to bind its disparate pieces together — when needed, with heat and pressure.
We call it Weld for Birmingham.
What is Weld?
When it launches later this summer, Weld will be one part local blogging network, one part social network and one part newspaper. Its mission is to democratize media in Birmingham, to create a virtual public square for the city’s citizens and to give Birmingham a progressive, unifying civic voice.
The tools we will use will be familiar to most bloggers. Open-source software, including WordPress and BuddyPress, will be the backbone of a Birmingham-centric blogging network. Weld staff will write and edit several in-house blogs, each with a particular focus.
One of those blogs, The Second Front, has been up and running for about a year. It will continue under the Weld flag, although with more contributors, more frequent updates and more varied content. In addition to The Second Front, Weld’s cornerstone blogs will pay particular attention to public affairs and cultural coverage in Birmingham. With online calendars and online shopping opportunities, Weld will be a premier online destination for Birmingham.
But our content alone will not be enough to make Weld successful. In addition to our staff, we will recruit Birmingham bloggers to network their sites with Weld. Rather than standing alone as lonely islands of content, Birmingham bloggers will be able to showcase their offerings on Weld’s network and draw traffic to their own sites. Like a shopping mall for bloggers, Weld will be a place where many different vendors can benefit from one audience.
And Weld will be a common space where readers can find the content that is important to them. On Weld, users will be able to “follow” particular writers or blogs, just as they can “follow” or “friend” content providers on Facebook and Twitter. The result will be a customized news experience, with a news feed of fresh, relevant content waiting for users on each visit.
On Weld, local businesses will find new ways to market themselves to local audiences. Banner ads and online coupons found elsewhere have given merchants and business owners little return on their advertising dollar. At Weld, we are excited about the innovative advertising and digital marketing opportunities we will offer — products not yet available in the Birmingham market or much of anywhere else.
Weld won’t be lost or cloistered online. In addition to its innovative online presence, it will also have a superb print product — a free, tabloid-sized newspaper distributed throughout the Birmingham metro area. While the role of print is changing, at Weld we believe there is still a strong future for print. Print will still be a major part of what we do.
Our print product will feature the best of our online content. Weld will have a physical presence, not merely a virtual one. It will give readers the aesthetic they expect from a modern publication, and it will have a quality of content expected by people who love to read.
At Weld we have two missions and a singular purpose. We will create the kind of content — no matter the platform — we love to read, watch and hear. And we will help forge the kind of community in which everyone would love to live.
Are you ready to Weld?