Media Monday Edmonton: the edmontonian goes out on top

As I mentioned last week, this Friday will be the final day for popular local blog the edmontonian. Editors Jeff Samsonow and Sally Poulsen have decided to move on to new things, and they assure us that “this is not a sad decision” for them. I think it’s safe to say that it has been a sad decision for the rest of us though, as the recent outpouring of support for the duo has shown! I had lots of questions about the decision so I’m glad Jeff & Sally agreed to an interview, which we conducted via email.

In the inaugural post back on June 15, 2009, Sally wrote: “Jeff and I have some pretty grand ambitions for this bad boy, and we couldn’t be more excited to get the ball rolling.” Looking back now, Jeff thinks they met those ambitions. “I know we wanted to have a conversation with people about Edmonton, we wanted to highlight interesting and fun people, businesses, and stories, to raise the level of discourse in a "news" site’s comments section, and create our own content.” Sally agreed, and expanded on his thoughts. “I do think we were both surprised that it grew legs as quickly as it did, and that because we’d never really had any goals beyond "make ourselves laugh," "initiate a conversation," and "make news easier to understand," I think we may have lost sight of where we were going once or twice.” They feel that the edmontonian achieved its goals however, and that’s part of the reason it is shutting down.

I wondered what surprised them most about the experience of creating and maintaining the edmontonian. “How seriously people took us as a news outlet was a bit of a shock,” Sally said, noting that people would call with stories and invite them to events. “That has always struck me as funny.” For Jeff, it was “the amount of stuff we’ve done.” With more than 1500 items posted to the site, they’ve certainly had a busy three years. “It reinforced for me that Edmonton is full of good stories,” Jeff said. “And it said that passion, from anyone, is what’s going to create content. A paycheck won’t crank out post after post about the city, it’s going to come from individuals who want to tell stories and explore their community.”

One of the things I have always loved about the edmontonian is the humorous side of the blog. Sure I love reading Jeff’s more serious commentaries, but the funny stuff really made it unique, in my opinion. I asked them if there was anything that they tried that bombed, and Sally wrote: “There was that time we tried to keep the municipal airport open. That didn’t really work out like we’d hoped.” Thinking about posts that made me laugh, I asked who will write about abandoned couches now? Jeff says to tweet him if you have couch photos to share! “Seriously, make sure you @ me on your couch photos.”

I asked Jeff & Sally to offer some advice to other Edmontonians who might want to start a blog. “Life is incredibly short,” Sally said. “Just go for it.” She also suggested that you “be for something instead of against.” Jeff noted that it’s really simple to get started. “The great thing about the Internet, and all of its many blogging, video, audio, and photo tools is that no story has to go untold.” He too says to just get started. “Buy your domain, install WordPress, and start documenting your version of Edmonton.” Jeff would welcome new voices to the local blogosphere and beyond. “There are so many great stories in a city Edmonton’s size, and so many different takes on everything, that there’s plenty of room for more media presence.”

Not that what Jeff & Sally have accomplished is easy. It takes a lot of time and effort. I wondered what the hardest part of creating and maintaining the site was. “I would say finding the time to get to events and talk to people for full stories, so it wasn’t always daily Headlines posts,” Jeff replied. With full-time jobs, doing interviews during the traditional 9-5 schedule wasn’t always possible. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated about the fact that we’d be writing this stuff on off hours, putting in all this time and energy, and then see people who made their living as reporters "borrow" our ideas,” Sally added.

Given my interest in digital archiving, I wanted to know if the site would just disappear on Friday or if it would remain online. “It will live where it is,” Sally assured me. “We can’t promise forever and ever, because it costs money to keep it there, but for the foreseeable future.” Jeff says they’ve just renewed the hosting for another year, so you’ve got time to take screenshots if you want!

There have been lots of sad tweets, comments, and messages about the decision to shut the site down, and I wondered what Jeff & Sally thought about that. “I had expected some reaction,” Jeff said, “but I wasn’t ready for the amount of conversation, the number of people that seemed to genuinely be sad to see us go. It was way more than I was ready for, and I choked up a couple of times.” Sally agreed. “I think we knew how passionate we were about the edmontonian, but it was the first time that I ever thought, wow, maybe people do know how much we care.”

Sally and Jeff - the edmontonian arrives!
Photo by Brittney Le Blanc

So what’s next for the duo? They’ve always struck me as the kind of people who are happiest when they are creating something. Like the TV show. “It was a stupid amount of work, and very much our love letter to the city,” Sally said. While confirming that they have “a couple of half-baked ideas” in the works, Sally wouldn’t share any clues. “I plan on taking many naps, and also we’re buying a couch. So that’s pretty exciting.” Perhaps thinking ahead, Jeff said that “choosing the next project out of our hat of ideas will actually be the next big step.” He was also careful to set the right expectations, however. “I’d hate to say "we’re building Edmonton’s largest pancake" and disappoint folks if that wasn’t the next project we actually undertook.” Sally chimed in with her trademark wit: “So, to review, we’re building Edmonton’s largest pancake. And buying a couch.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to take a bite while sitting on that couch. Best wishes to Jeff & Sally in whatever they decide to pursue, and thank you for three wonderful years of Edmonton stories!