WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — For the Prince of Petworth, a good stroll is the preferred way to travel. In his pre-blogging days, Dan Silverman would take long walks through the streets of Washington, D.C. and observe intriguing urban phenomena: a compelling bit of graffiti, a notable piece of architecture, a curious new business. Soon, however, merely observing such spectacles proved to be insufficient; so Silverman began to take the things he saw and channel them into his blog.
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What began as a hobby and passion project centered around the neighborhoods of Petworth and nearby Columbia Heights has since become a citywide, full-time endeavor. When speaking to the Prince himself, he seems almost surprised that his observations and interests have garnered such a large audience for his site, which boasts over 300,000 monthly visits and 600,000 page views. Those numbers are steadily rising. “It just so happened that what was interesting to me was actually interesting to other people as well,” he says humbly.
Subject matter is as varied as the interests of Silverman himself: an interesting note in a car window designed to ward off potential car thieves; the redesigning of a local bar into a craft beer establishment; a montage of interesting street art. Mostly, Silverman reports on the pedestrian goings-on around town, whether reviewing a restaurant known for its presidential patronage, marking the closing of a local business, or writing a short take on a recently available piece of real estate. He believes in following his instincts: “if you’re not genuinely interested in [what you’re writing], than it’s unlikely going to be of interest to anyone else. That’s been my sort of threshold of what to write about—my main factor in editorial vision is based solely on whether or not it’s of interest to me.”
In addition to Silverman’s observations and musings, a key aspect of the site is reader involvement. Readers will often write in with questions that Silverman will post to the site for his readers to field. Silverman explains, “My readership has gotten to a size where somebody will have the answer [to a reader’s question]. Not only that, but a lot of the D.C. government agencies read the site, so they’ll often have answers, as well.”
Silverman makes the decisions on what reader inquiries are worth further investigation, explaining, “it’s not like a traditional message board where [readers] are posting questions themselves. Everything is written to me and I sort of pick what I think is most interesting and quite frankly what I think people might be able to answer.” Although the bulk of the site’s content consists of Silverman’s observations, reader contributions have become increasingly important. As Silverman notes: “The reader component cannot be underestimated”.
Prince of Petworth officially became Silverman’s full-time gig in September of 2010. “I saw how rapidly it was growing and thought, ‘wait a minute, this is actually sustainable,’” he explains. This success seems less the result of business savvy, and more the results of good grace and fortune. As Silverman says, “I don’t have a business plan, I don’t solicit ads, the site spread through word of mouth organically. And fortunately (knock on wood), the reputation it has is pretty good.”
“A lot of the things I cover, like restaurants, and real estate, is all of interest to the sweet spot of advertisers, given that the majority of my readers are in the age twenty-five to forty-five demographic,” he says. Silverman is the site’s sole employee, so overhead is low.
In the face of dark economic times and an uncertain future for the world of journalism, Silverman’s story is inspiring. He started his own site out of pure creative impulses, only to find that there were a good number of people in his community that appreciated what he had to offer. Of course, it was also a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
“I think I got really lucky on the timing,” Silverman says. “A lot of it, in addition to the genuine interest and the passion for the subject matter, is the timing. If I had started something like this when there were like eight thousand sites focusing on the minutia of cities, it wouldn’t have taken off like it did. But when you’re one of the first ones to do it, you have a huge head start.”
Prince of Petworth Data
Name: Prince of Petworth
City: Washington, D.C.
Principal Staff: Dan Silverman, founding editor.