5 Questions for the Creators: Mr. Crappy  

Posted by Will Rutherford

As the dust settles on the Yinz team season, the world keeps turning. We find ourselves staring down the barrel of another Thursday and another 5 Questions for the Creators. Today we talk with the man known only as Uncle Crappy. A fellow Yinz team member, winner of the Golden Quill, a good blogger and a good friend. Ladies and gentlemen, Uncle Crappy.

1. Tell us about who you are and what it is you do.

I have a name in real life, but in the social media world, I'm probably most recognizable as Uncle Crappy, a name I picked from a bathroom wall in college. What do I do? In the real world, I'm a newspaper reporter, covering cities, towns, school districts, businesses, people and, uh, beer. My work is most written, but as my newspaper ­-- along with most others -- scrambles to find ways to make itself relevant I've been helping to produce video content for our website. The blog, which you'll find at unclecrappy.wordpress.com, is a nearly perfect reflection of my short attention span -- it can be about nearly anything, although posts about music, food, beer and college football seem to show up a little more frequently than others. I love using my own photography when it's applicable, and I'm hoping to find some semi-regular audio and video features to add as well.

One other thing -- every editor I've ever worked with has told me I write way too long. That will become painfully apparent to everyone here by about Question 3.

2. Why did you get into social media?

I got into social media before I knew it was called social media. Uncle Crappy started in 2003, when I was looking for someplace to write for myself. Much of what I write at work is formulaic -- which is fine, because It serves a purpose -- and with the exception of an occasional feature story, the subject matter isn't stuff I would pursue outside the newsroom. The stuff I do for work is satisfying, but found I needed an outlet for everything else, and at the beginning that's all Uncle Crappy was -- a place to put that writing.

It wouldn't have been right to refer to Uncle Crappy as "social" media until about a year-and-a-half later. I got an occasional comment, but there were no regular readers until a friend I've known since junior high school accidentally found the blog and, a day or two later, figured out who its author was. I hadn't ever really considered letting anyone know about the blog, and for some reason my friend's discovery was terrifying. But after I stopped hyperventilating, it occurred to me that blogging would become a lot more fun if my friends were involved -- so I outed myself in an email, and the "social" part of my social-media efforts really picked up.

I kind of outed myself again after PodCamp Pittsburgh 2, when I finally got to meet a lot of the people I had been reading for a while. Ostensibly I attended as part of my real job -- I wrote a story about the Pittsburgh new media scene that week -- and I introduced myself as my real self, not as Uncle Crappy, I guess to maintain that last bit of anonymity. But once I met and talked with the people who make up this community, I realized that I was missing out on. For instance -- I had been casually reading Cynthia Closkey's blog for a few months leading up to PodCamp; when I met Cindy there and talked for a bit, we realized that we live about five blocks from each other. So -- I gingerly pulled back the curtain, even though it's meant modifying the content on Uncle Crappy a bit. I can say now that sacrifice has been worth it.

Another unintended result: I now play for a softball team that may not win a single game all season. And that's OK, because we have more fun than the rest of the league combined.

3. What is it that you love about social media?

Hot chicks and cheap beer.

Oh. Wait. That was college.

At a broad level, the blog has been a vehicle for new friendships, finding other creators and absorbing the staggering variety of ideas and passions they pursue. In that sense, the Internet is an almost limitless source; there's a lot of crap out there -- a statement that may or may not include my own blog -- but there's also a wealth of smart, opinionated people doing amazing things. Finding a great blog or podcast is as good as discovering a new band or a good book -- it opens your life to thoughts, experiences and people you might not have found otherwise. Through Uncle Crappy and my other social media pursuits, I have friends around the country that I've never met and may or may not have to opportunity to. I think interacting with people -- in person, on a computer screen or on my cell phone -- is the key to becoming a better, more complete person.

One other thing -- I love the immediacy that social media offers. I got into the news business because I liked being part of that flow of information, and while it's still a rush to return from an event and get a story turned around in 20 minutes, there's still a disconnect -- it's not on the paper's site for an hour or two and no one will see it in their newspaper until the next morning at the earliest. My profession hasn't been especially good at adapting to the tools social media offers but my newsroom has at least been willing to try a few things here and there. As I learn more about the tools, I hope I can help expand what the paper is doing already.

4. What keeps you coming back? Why do you keep creating content?

Blogging can be a drag sometimes. I feel spent from work, I have no fresh ideas, I feel pressured. I can come up with dozens of excuses why I'm not gong to sit down and post something. But the reality is this: it's not that hard. And if you can take a little time to think about what you're doing, you can almost always come up with something fresh and surprising -- even to yourself. And besides -- I still need Uncle Crappy for the original reason I started Uncle Crappy. I write a lot, but nearly all of that output is for someone else. Uncle Crappy is for me.

The other exciting part is learning. I've figured out several blogging platforms on my own. I've started learning about recording and editing audio and assembling all those pieces into something that sounds ... well, professional probably isn't the right word ... but it doesn't sound horrible. I'm starting to play with video as well. It's aggravating and frustrating; it's also fun. And it's teaching me to relax a little bit; I'm coming to understand that my first crack at building a podcast isn't going to sparkle, so I need to find satisfaction in the process as much as I do the result. In other words -- finish the damn thing and then try again.

In the areas of audio and video alone, I have a couple things that could occupy my time and interest -- as well as perhaps helping me with my real-life career -- for years. And that's better than watching reruns of "The Golden Girls" over and over.

Come to think of it, nearly anything is better than watching reruns of "The Golden Girls" over and over...

5. What is it that you want to accomplish with your media?

The word "accomplish" can mean you've finished something -- you've reached a conclusion. And I'm not certain there's a definite stopping point when it comes to this stuff. There will always be something new to try. There will always be a new tool or toy -- and I'd like to get around to trying most of them at some point. I have some definite goals in mind -- developing skills that will help me continue to be employable in an industry that is trying to figure out where it fits is first among those. But in general, I see my participation in social media as an open-ended project. And if I keep meeting and talking with new people, I'll continue to believe this project is successful.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 10:08 AM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



Great Post! I learned a lot about Uncle Crappy.

August 7, 2008 at 3:45 PM

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