by Rachel Swan
Nearly a year to the day after receiving an award from the League of Women Voters for "making democracy work," local news blog A Better Oakland has apparently ceased to exist. Citizen journalist Echa Schneider, who made a name for herself by indefatigably reporting on local news, business, redevelopment, and politics under the handle VSmoothe, quietly stopped blogging in the fall — her last entry, dated November 7, 2011, was written by a guest commentator. The site stayed up for several months after that, allowing readers to continue using the comment boards. Now anyone who clicks on the url will get an error page.
Though Schneider hasn't answered requests for comment, it's clear that her blog was a demanding and time-consuming enterprise. Moreover, she never tried to monetize it, which means she was essentially doing the work of of a professional journalist for free. Hers is only one in a spate of blog-deaths that have occurred over the past year, both in the East Bay and in the nation at large.
It's hard to pinpoint a single killer of citizen journalism — more likely, it's a whole concatenation of factors. As it's become increasingly clear that the costs of launching and maintaining a blog outweigh the benefits, many erstwhile bloggers have shifted operations over to Twitter, or attempted to parlay their skills into a full-time job for a mainstream media outlet. (Such was the case with Alex Gronke, who founded The Oakbook, and eventually became a regional editor for Patch.)
But neither explanation fits VSmoothe, who tweets only sporadically. Perhaps the end of A Better Oakland is just another grim harbinger of doom for the local blogosphere. Once considered an auxiliary — in some instances, a substitute — for an ever-shrinking pool of newspapers and media outlets, it's become largely moribund.