They map out this city more thoroughly than any street directory, leaving no stone unturned. Meet Melbourne’s bloggers...
Mel: Hot or Not
Daniel, what inspired you to start up your city guide, Milk Bar?
Daniel: My background was in film and production and I got sick of that so I moved overseas in the UK and Canada for a few years and got into publishing and writing. I moved back to Melbourne and wanted to tell Melbourne stories. I was working in Canada as the food editor of a pretty big blog over there and I wanted to bring that experience back to Melbourne.
At the time there were Three Thousand and Broadsheet, which are both great at what they do, but weren’t necessarily speaking exactly with my voice. So thought I’d start my own city site up, for better or worse.
Milk Bar’s a great name, it’s evocative of city childhoods.
Daniel: My friends and I ran through a lot of ideas to begin with, some horrible names like Melbourne Me and a lot of stuff on a chalkboard which should never be remembered or repeated. My grandparents ran a milk bar and they have that really nostalgic and communal feel for a lot of Australians. I like the iconography of milk bars and I like the fact that I want it the site to be a place where people go for their daily dose of music, or gossip, or food, and things like that.
How did Melbourne Gastronome get its beginnings, Claire?
Claire: I started Melbourne Gastronome in May of 2007 so just last month was my five-year blog-iversary. I’d always been interested in Melbourne restaurants and cafés and bars, and when I discovered food blogs I started my own. The two that really inspired me are no longer around. Tummy Rumbles has even had its archives removed off the web, while the other one, Totally Addicted to Taste, hasn’t been updated for about two years.
But after months of reading them I finally summoned up the courage to start leaving comments on them. Then my comments got longer and longer, and I decided that I should start my own blog. So I started it back then when the blogging landscape was a very different world – and I have continued blogging at least a couple of times every month ever since.
What are the comments like people leave on your own blog?
Claire: I moderate the comments. There have been times where I have written a review of a café and there’ll be a really horrible, quite vindictive troll comment, which sounds as though it’s either the jilted ex-lover of whoever runs the place, or a competitor of theirs. If something just smells bad or particularly vindictive and doesn’t appear to be valid criticism, then I completely retain my independence of ability to publish, or not publish whatever I like in my blog. I’m a risk averse lawyer, so I’m very careful about writing negative reviews.
Daniel: It’s on Facebook and Twitter that you’ll find Milk Bar’s conversations.
Leigh: My format of the blog is top 5 lists, so we often get people adding in items they think have been left off. And I’m sarcastic in my posts too, so we get more sarcastic with the comments, which is great.
Joyce: The nature of my blog is a little bit more decisive because it’s either hot or not so people see that headline ‘not’ of their favourite café and they immediately react. So I have had some very strongly worded negative comments, the same as Claire. If I think they have valid viewpoints that are different to mine then I’ll publish it. But I’ve had some racist comments, I’ve had some say that I’m an idiot, and that sort of stuff. I just don’t think that adds to the conversation at all so I’ll moderate those.
Leigh, your blog generates bizarre top 5s about Melbourne. How did it come to be?
Leigh: Some friends of mine and I, most lunch breaks we’d email around some top 5 lists, usually things to do about Melbourne and we started thinking that would be a funny idea for a blog. Not the kinds of things you normally see on city review sites, like cocktail bars, but more stupid things. One of my first posts was top 5 most badly disguised old Pizza Huts around Melbourne. I get a lot more enjoyment out of writing the rudest suburb names in Melbourne, and those kinds of things. But I try to have a balance between practical things and completely pointless. Quite a few people mention it on Twitter; we have quite a big following. I guess it really depends if I write something really stupid, which resonates, then it seems to do well that day.
I love guest posts, so I’ve been approaching a few organisations to write top 5 lists. The Melbourne Recycle Centre wrote one about 5 secrets about that building. I can’t possibly know everything about Melbourne.
Joyce, tell us about Melbourne: Hot or Not?
Joyce: I started blogging when I lived in London as a travel blog – a way to keep in touch with my friends and family and basically keep a diary of all the cool things I was doing overseas. When I returned to Melbourne I was going to stop because Melbourne was home and there was nothing new here to talk about. Then I was still in the habit of doing it. Even in my head I’d go somewhere and think about what I’d write and what I think about it. So I thought I’d continue and it’s been going for three years now. I try and keep a consistent way of blogging, which is that the premise behind it is that there is no lukewarm, there is no three and a half stars.
For those of you that write about food, is it a desperate race with other food bloggers to review somewhere new first?
Claire: I saw one blog the other day refer to itself as a ‘Broadsheet ambulance chaser’ and there are certain blogs that race to be the first to get to a place, but the most interesting blogs are ones that aren’t trying to be clones of each other.
Daniel: It’s more rewarding for me to tell those Melbourne stories, those cafés that have been there for a long time and have a narrative behind them. Trying to keep up with the ambulance chasers is exhausting!
What about keeping yourself up-to-date with Melbourne goings on in general?
Joyce: I rely on Three Thousand as my first port of call. For me, they are often the first to break something. I’m a little bit out of their target market these days, but they’re really fast.
Leigh: I find the Melbourne section of Reddit really handy. It’s like an internet bulletin board and you tend to see the crazier things going on in Melbourne there. It’s quite geeky but it gives you good ideas and I find it useful when researching a post, like there’s a question I put up recently: “Where are the steepest streets in Melbourne?” Without knowing it, people help me write a post.
Claire: You’re crowdsourcing your content! I read a lot of blogs, plus I’ve got quite a few friends who work in the hospitality industry and my housemate is a specialty coffee roaster….
He’s like your office water cooler.
Claire: He is. For the last six months I’ve been doing these fortnightly round-ups, where in addition to putting up links to other interesting blogs, I do little snippets of gossip called Posts in Brief.
Daniel: Milk Bar has a team of about 15 writers, so everyone has their eyes open for new openings and stories.
None of you have mentioned magazines or newspapers when it comes to having your finger on the city’s pulse.
Leigh: Nobody seems to know what the next step is. Whoever makes that out will probably make a lot of money. What we’re all doing here is probably on the right track and will eventually lead to print’s decline.
Daniel: The way forward for magazines is lush, gorgeous quarterlies and boutique magazines – niche publishing, rather than disposable magazines, the way vinyl records have become collectable items.
Claire: You only need to look at Lucky Peach, to use a food magazine as an example, to see there’s certainly a place for that sort of niche magazine.
Do any of you write for magazines or newspapers as paid gigs?
Claire: I dabble with freelancing, but only when I have time.
Leigh: I do enough corporate writing at work, so Melbology is an outlet where I can write about whatever stupid stuff I want.
Joyce: I don’t have the time. I prefer to maintain my blogs than be paid to be a writer and write to a deadline. I have three blogs, I’m a mum, and I run my own business, Cycle Style.
Daniel: Other than occasionally contributing to Time Out, I work a few days a week as the editor of Social Media Knowledge – a digital training agency. We advise brands on social media strategies. I maintain the blog, talking about social media landscapes in Melbourne. If someone’s looking a monetising their blog, we might look at a case study of how to do that. If Google+ or Facebook or Twitter unveiled something new, we’d report on that.
Do any of you go to social networking meet-ups?
Claire: I’ve definitely made some great friends through blogging. One event which really brought a lot of us food bloggers together in 2010 was the first annual Eat. Drink. Blog.conference. Which was set up by bloggers, for bloggers. There were a whole lot of us through a Google mailing list, but I think Ed Charles from Tomato, Nelly from Tummy Rumble and Tammi from Tammi Tasting Terroir were some of the main instigators. That was a fantastic opportunity to get to know a whole lot of people and there are other events too like the Fringe Food Festival, which was set up by two bloggers, Suzanne Farrell and Ed Charles.
Joyce: I’ve met Claire through blogging, the same with Dan, so there’s definitely that social aspect of it. But also because I run a business which relies heavily on social media as its publicity, I try and go to things such as Social Media Breakfast on Friday mornings, and Social Melbourne, which have seminars and drinks, and things like that.
Leigh: My blog’s probably too new to go beyond these bizarre conversations on Twitter from people who find some of the stranger posts and get really excited about it. This one I wrote about the bleakest water slide locations in Melbourne attracted all these weird goths who were really excited about it.
Daniel: Michael from My Aching Head, following the success of the Eat. Drink. Blog. conference, organised catch-ups called mEatDrinkBlog, where we’d get together in a more informal setting. One time someone gave a presentation about search engine optimisation. They’re pretty random, maybe once every few months. I’ve been to Social Melbourne a couple of times and I pretty much got my job through contacts that I’ve met there. It’s been really valuable.
Last Appetite manages to stand out among the jostling crowd of food blogs through wit, an appreciation for bizarre foodstuffs, and knowledge that feels grounded in experience.
Sample post: 'Korea: French fry-coated hot dog' – in which Phil Lees describes, in gory detail, the experience of tracking down and then consuming (you guessed it) a French fry-coated hot dog.
Ed Charles is a Melbourne freelance journalist whose work appears in a number of print and online publications. On his Tomato blog, he gives informed opinions about everything from the best eat streets in Melbourne to the proper way to conduct kitchen renovations.
Sample post: 'Homemade dog biscuits for a recovering dog' – Ed makes cinnamon and allspice biscuits for his dog Tskui, the convalescing victim of a hit and run.
Lauren Wambach loves the western suburbs, and particularly its food. Her blog provides an alternative perspective to the general focus on inner-city food spots, and highlights and celebrates the diverse culinary delights of Footscray.
Sample post: 'Pho Ta' – Lauren visits Pho Ta, a new Vietnamese place in Footscray. She strongly approves of its pho and recommends it as an excellent first date spot.
This food and drink blog is professionally presented, knowledgeable and well-written. The two anonymous bloggers who write it are drawn to stylish places that pay attention to the little details. Their enthusiasm is contagious.
Sample post: 'Fresh Beer: Don't Get Fresh With Me, Unless You're Pouring My Pint' – a revealing examination of the freshness of the beer we drink from Melbourne's taps.
Hilariously outrageous diatribes and observations about Melbourne’s hospitality industry. Like Vice with food.
Sample post: ' 'Fitzroyalties' – in which Jess gets philosophical about the hospitality industry and the dysfunctional types that are its beating heart.
Brian Ward's 'hyperlocal' blog largely revolves around the joys and sorrows of daily life in Fitzroy; it is also combative and snarky, but often compelling. Openly political, Fitzroyalty mixes local news and anti-corporate tirades with reviews of delightful brunch spots.
Sample post: 'Correspondence with a moron' – in which Ward berates an unwary community organiser who tried to use some of his photos without attribution.
Geoff Lemon, the editor of the literary journal Going Down Swinging, has the ability to write entertainingly about whatever interests him. Erudite but unpretentious, his blog muses on poetry, sport, politics, the media and tennis shoes.
Sample post: ‘As a poet, Rinehart makes a great billionaire’ – in which Lemon analyses the iambic pentameter of mining magnate Gina Rinehart's public statements.
Self-described 'media slut' Richard Watts is a prolific reviewer and denizen of Melbourne's many arts scenes. His blog gives an online home to his succinct, entertaining reviews, as well as more personal posts that contain numerous 'moments of angst about being single'.
Sample post: 'The only good thing about summer…' – which, according to Watts, is that attractive men generally wear fewer clothes when it's warm.
An appealing collection of written and photographic odds and ends, Julie Shiels' blog has a particular fascination with stencil art, unexpectedly beautiful city scenes, and hard rubbish collection.
Sample post: Close-up photo of a sidewalk curb with the words 'DIE YUPPEE DIE' carved into the concrete.
Cheryl Lin believes in looking the part while you work, and celebrates those Melburnians who are able to do so even in the face of restrictive corporate dress codes.
Sample post: 'Businesswomen in blue' – a photographic cavalcade of stylish professional women in various shades of blue.
On his blog, Michael Blamey posts poetic photos of a place he clearly loves: grimy, glamorous St Kilda. His photos show the many different faces of the iconic beachside suburb.
Sample post: 'Sunday morning on Fitzroy St' – an evocative shot of three twenty-somethings, in blurry black and white, stumbling home after Saturday night.
This site repurposes gifs to make them relate to the vicissitudes of life in Melbourne. It's a great spot for a daily chuckle; happily, many of the gifs feature Jason Segel.
Sample post: 'When I discover I'm flying out of Avalon and not Tullamarine' – above a gif of an animated Daria telling her friend, 'I hate everybody.'