In the Brownhills area of Walsall in the West Midlands 13,000 people live. As traditional media recedes an anonymous blog written by someone who cares about his community now gets up to 75,000 page views a month.
by Brownhills Bob
My name's Bob, and I'm in the wrong room.
I built a monster. I built it without plans, from stuff I found lying around. The monster grew, gained sentience, developed a life and personality of its own, then came to rule my life. I had no idea what I was doing. I still don't.
I created, by accident, BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog in May, 2009. BrownhillsBob had existed in an online form since 2007, as an account on Panoramio - but inspired by a local politician's social media and egged on by a local news aggregator, I published a few posts to a cobbled http://Wordpress.com site.
I quite enjoyed it. I thought I could handle it. I seemed to get a small but interested reception. I could stop any time I wanted. The die was cast.
The Brownhills Blog is not hyperlocal - I hate that term; for it implies online newspaper substitute - anodyne press release guff - no opinion. Bland.
BrownhillsBob has an opinion. More than one. Lots of them. Too many. It has stuff to say, sometimes coherently. Often, I don't agree with what it's saying.
BrownhillsBob is made from components of me, of all the things I love and hate, and of my life; the blog itself is about my community, it's curiosities and life. I write about the history, selected local news, politics and the hatched and dispatched, the lost and gained.
I sometimes rant about music, enthuse about cycling, or cartoons or science. I've written odd, left field pieces about planning, local authorities, hauntology and social media 'historians'.
It's an unconscious stream of consciousness. I can't write. I can't type. My punctuation, grammar and spelling are atrocious. I can't do concise. But I think a certain humour works to help carry it off.
There are people who like what I do. Far more are bored by it, or indifferent. A few, a fascinating few, hate it with a passion and intensity I find grimly captivating. I'd like to meet those people someday, for a drink. But they'd probably put weedkiller in it.
What I think maybe makes the whole rickety contraption float is through these presences, I show a human behind the blog. One that rants about politics or flytipping, enthuses about samosas or cygnets, curses punctures, swears copiously and adores tea and cake.
I go for bike rides with a small friend, which we share. I rail against management and PR culture, commuting and the weather. Facebook is a huge source of traffic, but I loathe it and the fact that many users don't understand what a hyperlink is, or why we have image rights. Facebook is both the biggest source of horror and greatest source of traffic. It's like an abusive, but regretful uncle. You can't read your own stuff. I find it painfully embarrassing.
But I think what maybe people see is human, fallible and flawed. I love my community, my place within it and the Black Country with all my heart. I think that shows. I get stuff wrong, and admit it freely when I do. I care about the truth, about corroborating or countering rumour.
The blog has it's own little community with some astoundingly knowledgable contributors. They make it what it is and I'll always be thankful; to them. I don't know what this thing that feels like it mugged me 7 years ago is, or why people seem to find it worthy of discussion.
But it is about passion, about being opinionated, and being painfully self-ware. That's all I can say.
Five posts chosen by comms2point0 that give a flavour of the Brownhills Bob blog.
Great news - missing Aldridge lady found safe and well. - a straight forward police missing person post with a happy ending.
How to do local history - a post about online content theft in the name of local history.
You can never go back - part local history and part planning row.
Under the influence - a look back at a long lost music fanzine from the 1980s.
Grassfires on Brownhills Common yesterday - a post on local news.
Brownhills Bob is an anonymous blogger who writes about the Brownhills area of Walsall.
Picture credit: US Natioonal Archives / Flickr.