A popular downtown Raleigh blog stopped publishing this week. New Raleigh Editor-in-Chief Jedidiah Gant spoke with the Record in a phone interview a day after announcing he and co-founder David Millsaps are moving on to other projects. During the past five years, New Raleigh focused on downtown arts, culture and restaurants.
Raleigh Public Record: Why have you decided to shut down now?
Jedidiah Gant: We've talked about it for a long time, like a year or more. Just in general, where's the site going? When would be a good time to move it forward or stop it? We've met a few times in the past. We've always considered it, not a hobby, but more like an art project. We were thinking about how to reinvent the site and how to make it as progressive and as forward-thinking as possible, not only with content but also with the infrastructure and design. We came up with some ideas, but we didn't see it going to places we really wanted it to.
We saw its life span as coming to a place where we were satisfied with where the site was. We considered our family and things we wanted to do professionally and we decided to keep it going and, in the new year, to say goodbye.
The new year seemed like a good time for new beginnings. David [Millsaps, the publisher] is getting married; I'm having another kid. David has his professional projects; I have my professional projects, so we decided to let it stop.
You know the British Office? You know it was two seasons and it was really awesome and then they decided to stop it. Then they decided to produce the American Office and it's like eight seasons and it's like, will you please end this show? I compare it to that. We had a good run and I never wanted it to just fizzle out. It might not be at its peak right now. It's still pretty good, still credible. I just want it to end there instead of just peter out.
Record: How did you see New Raleigh's place in Raleigh's media ecosystem?
JG: It started just before Fayetteville Street was renovated. With its name, New Raleigh, all we wanted to do was talk about what was fresh or unique or new. Not breaking news, but things we thought were progressive about the city. And by the city, obviously, we didn't go very far out of downtown. That was what we thought was the 21st century aspect of our city, how it was growing downtown.
We were web only and we tried to build a brand that could stand with social media. Any social media that came out we would try to test it with our brand. Because we were on the ground we could do things that were independent that the bigger organizations couldn't do. Because we were just a couple guys and girls taking a risk. I don't want to say we were cutting edge, but some would say we were irreverent.
Because we had this independent, it gave us the liberty to do what we wanted anytime we wanted to and not seriously worry about the consequences. But we got our facts straight as much as possible and just did what we wanted versus having to layer it through a bunch of different tiers of authority before publishing something. Something came out and we would run it by one or two sources and we'd run with it, or put something out there that would spark conversation versus just really reporting something.
Record: How do you think journalism has changed in Raleigh?
JG: Now people have asked us on Twitter, where do I get my news? One, we've published about those organizations like Raleigh Public Record, like Raleigh Connoisseur, like the Indy, like Raleigh Runoff, Southwest Raleigh, all these sites and blogs now. Before us was Raleighing and then GoGoRaleigh and us came out at the same time.
Fortunately and unfortunately, in terms of grassroots blogs, there are tons of places. There are tons of Twitter feeds, there are tons of Instagram feeds, there are tons of blogs. In the bottom tier there are tons of things and all of those are doing a little bit of good. Then there are you guys [the Record] and the Indy. I think that the tiers—the bottom seems to be more dense than it used to be. There's more grassroot because of Instagram and Twitter and WordPress and all these things. In the higher tiers, I think the Indy is probably going to do a much better job now that they've combined with Willamet [a weekly newspaper in Portland] and that Hopscotch [Music Festival] is pulling off of that.
The sphere is bigger and there's more there. Maybe Raleigh will miss us, but I think others will pick it up.
Record: Do you think organizations like New Raleigh or Raleigh Connoisseur have forced change up in the traditional newsrooms of the News & Observer or WRAL?
JG: I think so. I think there is this tiered difference though. I haven't seen any proof of it yet, because there's still not any arts, culture, music. The restaurant reviews are still more formal and they do a little bit more photo. The North Raleigh and Midtown News came out a couple years ago after New Raleigh was part of the scene, so I think things have changed. But I don't think it's because of us; I think it's a bigger trend. We just happen to be part of that. I always wonder, I don't think they're “scared” of small blogs, but I think they always watch just in case.
The Independent is maybe the biggest that really cared about us. I think others do, but they don't say it publicly. I think they just go back into their newsrooms and say, OK, this thing is doing this and what should we do. But you don't see that on a Twitter feed or Facebook. Whereas the Indy and you and all of us will talk about these things as a community. The News & Observer and WRAL and ABC, I don't see them as part of the community, I see them as corporations. They don't involve themselves in that conversation. They talk about how to change themselves whereas we grassroots folks talk together and share information and talk about how to change things.
Record: What's next for the New Raleigh team? I know you're about to have a baby and David's about to get married.
JG: David has a lot of professional projects that he does. He's a web developer. I do a lot of freelance. For us New Raleigh was never about the money. It's one of those things we never saw as a money making venture and we never really tried. We always had things on the side to make the money so we could fund this hobby or this art project. We are going to continue doing those things.
The baby's coming this month, so we're going to take some family time. I took a year off from school. I'm in grad school for my master's in digital media. So when I go back to school in the fall I'm going to concentrate on digital media as a part of design culture and eventually I hope to teach in a collegiate level. The things we've learned at New Raleigh are working into what we will do next.
We plan to keep the brand open in case we decide to do anything with it and keep the site open as an archive. We see it as a piece of art on the wall.
I will miss the day to day of New Raleigh, but I also won't. It's a nervous energy. It's tough to breathe and be in the journalistic day-to-day 24-hour news cycle of hurry up and post. But that's what you've got to do.