Net-worked

    How five alumni bloggers used the social media platform to launch careers

    By Omar Mouallem on August 9, 2012

    If your image of a blogger is someone who never leaves his housecoat, let alone his house, you need to upgrade your stereotype. Around the world, bloggers have helped topple regimes, launch movements and hold mainstream media accountable. 

    Yes, some bloggers still tell you what they had for breakfast. And, yes, many still begin a post with: “Sorry I haven’t blogged for awhile….” But, with so many millions of blogs out there that even the experts have lost count, such personal and careless monologues have lost out in the survival of the fittest. 

    The best blogs—the ones that have millions of readers, not just a handful of family and friends—educate, entertain and occasionally enrage. And as these five alumni will tell you, they can also launch careers. 

    The Media Maven 

    In 1990, 11-year-old “timevoyager” was connected to a protozoan Internet.

    “You’d dial directly into these text-based bulletin board systems, so it was all command lines: Y for ‘yes.’ N for ‘no,’” explains a taller, bearded timevoyager, who eventually made the online switch to his birth name: Adam Rozenhart, '03 BA. 

    Blogger Adam Rozenhart

    "I've gone from sitting in a room chatting with a few pals to chatting with the world as things happen," says Adam Rozenhart.(Photo by Aaron Pedersen/3TEN photo.)

    This blogger—and digital strategist for advertising and public relations powerhouse Calder Bateman—has already spent two-thirds of his life online, always staying ahead of the trends. 

    Rozenhart earned his reputation as a social media expert when he co-founded the rabble-rousing blog Oilers Nation in 2007, in response to the NHL team trading two star players. Upset fans, he recalls, “wanted to bring signs into Rexall Place and express themselves.” Rozenhart and “Wanye Gretz,” a friend who has yet to eschew his alias, took their complaints online and got such experts as radio host Jason Gregor to contribute. 

    After just five years, Oilers Nation was getting two million hits per month and had birthed a money-making empire, the Nation Network, which now has a blogging franchise for nearly every Canadian NHL team. 

    But Rozenhart’s wandering heart convinced him to sell his shares in 2011 in order to devote more time to his other online ventures, namely The Unknown Studio.

    This blog, with its monthly podcast to more than 3,000 subscribers, sees Rozenhart and co-host Scott Bourgeois share their unbridled enthusiasm for Edmonton’s culture as well as a more careful critique of local civic issues. The Unknown Studio is also where the self-confessed class clown writes the occasional humour article, a skill he honed as a staff writer at The Gateway for six years. 

    A favourite for readers is his Friday column, where he dedicates a post to skewering complainers, who, he says, take the Internet for granted. “We should be in awe of this thing—this thing that connects us with the world.” 

    Rozenhart resists the urge to spew thoughtless detritus in an online venue. “I’m happy to say I’ve never been totally ashamed of something I’ve published.” And then, pausing and raising a brow, he asks, “Why? Do you know something?” 

    The Fashionista

    Caroline Gault, '10 BA, knows all about taking risks—and about shooting the proverbial three-pointer from half-court. “I’ve had weird experiences of knowing when the moment was and saying, ‘Do it,’” explains the 25-year-old writer and former Panda’s basketball player. 

    Blogger Caroline Gault

    "Be yourself. That's the only way to set yourself apart from the millions of other blogs," says Caroline Gault. (Photo by Aaron Pedersen/3TEN photo. Makeup by Nickol Walkemeyer. Hair by Salon Montage.)

    After seeing an early issue of the Edmonton-based fashion magazine Parlour in 2008, she queried the editor. “I said I’d do anything—delivery, whatever,” she recalls. “And then my first interview was Lady Gaga.” Back then, Gaga was in town playing a West Edmonton Mall nightclub, but before the issue hit newsstands, she was a superstar selling out stadiums. And Gault was looking for her next big break. 

    She actually Googled “how to be a magazine editor” and found countless tips. “One of them said, ‘You have to start a blog—and get publishing.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll start a blog.’” 

    Her longtime boyfriend, Mike Vanden Ham, ’09 BSc(Eng), helped with the HTML, but nobody could have helped her with better timing. The day after her third post, a behind-the-scenes of the Gaga interview, Hollywood gossip blogger Perez Hilton posted a link to her Parlour profile, and Gault’s blog got a flurry of traffic. “I’m very aware that I’ve been in the right place at the right time, but also I think you have to be the right person.” 

    Gault certainly has been toiling these past three years to be that person: the person with an Edmonton Journal column, an editorial position at FASHION magazine and various other bylines. 

    Her blog, she says, acted as a portfolio to get her to where she is today, but she’s now so busy on paid writing gigs the blog has to take a back seat. 

    The funny thing is, she didn’t intend to become a fashion expert in the first place. She just wanted to write. But fashion journalism, it seems, fit her like a Gucci glove. 

    The Indie King

    Aaron Levin, '04 BSc, '08 MSc, comes within a second of confessing that his blog, Weird Canada, is “all I have…” Then he backpedals—perhaps taking into account his loved ones, his Toronto home, his three degrees, his job as a content analyst with Kobo eReader—and tries again: “Well, it’s this huge thing in my life.” 

    Blogger Aaron Levin

    "What is a blog? What isn't a blog? These are questions for the academics. But this is definitely more than something I just do in my spare time," says Aaron Levin. (Photo by Brent Goldsmith.)

    Weird Canada, which some may call an online magazine but which he prefers to describe as a “publisher,” is a daily dose of the nation’s best independent music. Even with volunteer writers and editors involved, Levin spends up to two hours a day on Weird Canada, which won CBC’s 2011 award for Best Indie Music Website just two years after it launched. 

    With up to 2,000 unique visitors a day, the blog can end up being an artist’s first exposure to wider audiences—as it was for Grimes (a.k.a. Claire Boucher), now an indie music superstar—or, for readers, the first bite of something beautifully unfamiliar. 

    But Levin asserts that it’s not about tastemaking. “It’s about sharing.” 

    And it’s not about money, either. Weird Canada doesn’t receive any grants (although Levin has tried) or advertising revenue (which he vehemently rejects), but it gets some funding from the Canada-wide concerts it hosts. The rest comes out of his wallet because, for Levin, it’s less a company than a destiny. 

    Growing up in Edmonton, he was a voracious listener even at age 12. “Any song that moved me, I wanted to know it. Where was it from? Who made it? What were the other bands they were into?” he says. “I hated not knowing.”

    At 17, he started collecting rare records and got so good at it that selling them helped pay his way through grad school. But after completing a master’s degree in mathematics, he wanted to develop his creative side, so he took a tailor-made job as CJSR’s music director, where a mountain of advanced music avalanched into Weird Canada

    Now at 30, he has spent half his life on a musical treasure hunt. “I’m always in this constant flux of excitement and creativity and ideas,” he says. “So I may have given up many things, but I could never be happier.” 

    The Community Crusader & The Foodie

    Where do blogging, gastronomy and civic affairs intersect? If you ask power bloggers and real-life partners Sharon Yeo, '05 BEd, and Mack Male, '07 BSc, the answer is: food trucks. 

    During a 2010 vacation in San Francisco, the sight of a mobile food festival simultaneously tapped into Yeo’s passion for culinary arts and Male’s for urban issues. A few months later, they brought the idea home to Edmonton with What the Truck?!, a regular event that brings hundreds of people downtown to sample dozens of dishes—all served out of food trucks. 

    Bloggers Mack Male and Sharon Yeo

    "I'd be lying if I didn't say that a small reason I blog is because I have an audience. At least, now I do," says Mack Male (left), with fellow-blogger and real-life partner, Sharon Yeo (right). (Photo by Aaron Pedersen/3TEN photo.)

    “I just like seeing people on the street, meeting their neighbours,” says Yeo, 29, a co-ordinator with Catholic Social Services, whose blog, Only Here For the Food, is mandatory reading for local foodies. But Male, who writes about technology and civic affairs, sees the event as the beginning of something broader. He calls what’s going on “small-scale revitalization.” 

    Although Yeo and Male keep his-and-hers blogs, they learn more about themselves and their passions by writing about them online. 

    “I’m a big believer that when you teach someone about something, you learn about it yourself,” says Male, a computer programmer. He also says he dedicates so much of his waking life to blogging (without pay) because it helps him organize his thoughts. 

    For Yeo, the transformation came after moving out of her childhood home and having to fend for herself—at least in the kitchen. She has been chronicling her self-education since 2005, when Male recognized his friend’s literary desires and encouraged her to start blogging. A few years later, they were a couple and Male was the benefactor of delicious home-cooked meals. 

    But there’s another reason Male loves blogging: “You can go back in time really, really quickly.” 

    For example, go to his site and click back to 2003. Find “My New Blog!” and you’ll read an eager 19-year-old’s pithy posts about the music he’s listening to, the technology he’s sampling, the birthdays he’s celebrating. Essentially, it was “blogging for my 20 closest friends.” 

    Now, click forward to 2009 and witness him mobilize a social media offensive against lobbyists trying to preserve the municipal airport—a controversial downtown expanse that he and like-minded Edmontonians would rather see converted to a mixed-use space. Or to 2012, when the Alberta election day scoreboard he programmed got 60,000 page views in a single day. 

    Yeo also started as a hobbyist but now, if she misses one of her regular columns—like Tuesday’s “Food Notes,” a distilled “what’s happening” in the Edmonton culinary scene—people tsk-tsk her. “It’s nice to know that people appreciate the effort,” she says. “If I was only blogging for myself, I don’t think I’d still be doing it consistently.” 

    Now, when there’s an announcement at City Hall or a grand opening for a restaurant, the suits and chefs want them there. It has made for some tricky scheduling as a couple, but not to worry: ever the technophile, Male has set up a shared online calendar so the two can still budget time for each other.