Accentuate the Positive
What Weekly seeks to eliminate the negative and support local arts
Check out What Weekly.
Published: August 18, 2010
Any new entrepreneur can attest: Starting a business is tough. The paperwork, the planning, not to mention even coming up with that one brilliant idea, thought up at board meetings, over drinks at a fancy restaurant—or in bed, drinking your morning coffee.
At least, that was the case with Brooke Hall and Justin Allen, the couple responsible for What Weekly, a local multimedia web site dedicated to documenting Baltimore’s art scene. After a year of throwing around ideas and brainstorming, something clicked for Allen and Hall: to start an artsy web site combining elements such as photography, video, and news stories, forming a completely new kind of news outlet—a sort of “hybrid,” according to erstwhile City Paper contributor Hall. The site was officially launched in January.
“There didn’t seem to be any good news about what was happening in Baltimore,” Hall, 29, said in a phone interview. “People seem to have this perception that it’s a very negative place, but it’s really coming up. We’re hitting the brink of a really happening time in Baltimore.”
A new issue of What Weekly comes out every week online, chronicling the week’s concerts, art shows, and other events. Allen, 33, writes most of the blurbs and makes it a point only to report positively. “He comes from a musical background,” Hall says. “And knows musicians have bad nights. If a show is bad, we just won’t include it.”
“No bashing,” Allen says. “We’re not really critics.”
Hall and other contributing photographers light up the 10 or so articles per issue with their own photos—but don’t assume they’re your typical, posed news photo. Hall’s pictures are bright and dynamic, lending a modern feel to the web site.
The couple is no stranger to Baltimore’s arts community, hitting places such as the Metro Gallery, Windup Space, and the H&H building, even though they’re fairly new to the city. Each moved here in the first half of the aughts. Hall found a job at a music store in Fells Point and was introduced to Baltimore-area clubs and bands through the people she worked with.
Allen, a German-born musician, came to the city after traveling, living in places such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman. After arriving in Baltimore, he began to see the city as a hotbed for artists, a melting pot for creativity.
“The center of Baltimore has the densest amount of artists,” he says. “There’s an energy in the city that’s really infectious.”
The two met at Club Charles last year and quickly became close. “I really feel like there’s a strength between us I’ve never felt before,” Hall says. “We try to get past ourselves and do it for the city and the mission.”
And there is a defined mission, seven ground rules they outlined as the web site began. Listing goals such as “Document the Baltimore Renaissance,” and “Build a tribe, start a movement,” the purpose is glaring: to make people aware of Baltimore’s art landscape (mission item no. 6).
In addition to the site’s articles, a weekly calendar is compiled by Allen, who handpicks the events he thinks will appeal most to his readers. He finds the events through both his own research and reader submissions, and lists events from venues all over the city, including local favorites such as the American Visionary Art Museum and the Ottobar, to lesser-known spaces such as the Hexagon.
These events, Hall believes, are not easy to find, and she says it was hard for some Baltimoreans to access the city’s art scene before the web site was launched. “The city is made of little pockets,” she says. “People have the tendency to run in the same circles. If you’re not in a circle, how would you know?”
So why a web site as opposed to, say, a newspaper or magazine? Starting online is cheap, says Hall, and because she already knew how to create a web site, costs went down even more. In the eight months the web site has been up, the couple has spent less than $1,000 running it.
In an age of failing newspapers and struggling magazines, Hall sees a web site such as What Weekly as being on the cusp of what she calls “a huge shift in the media landscape.” She feels What Weekly is creating a new type of journalism that incorporates multimedia into its practice. Hall estimates the couple, along with a columnist, David Warfield, and contributing photographers, spend 40-60 hours per week on each new issue, which comes out every Thursday.
“It’s pretty disorganized, I’m not going to lie,” Hall laughs. “We’re scrambling, up all night before Thursday.”
While there are no advertisements just yet, Hall says that the web site is a business endeavor—its model is based on “advertising, events, and merchandising,” she writes in an e-mail. This is not the couple’s only job. Hall runs Brooke Hall Creative, LLC, a design company, and Allen works for a medical device company.
What’s next for What Weekly? A one-year bash for the web site (a sort of launch party, explained Allen, a year late), complete with live music, a fashion show, and other media next February, slated to coincide with the release of Hall’s first book, a photograph-heavy What Weekly retrospective. And for a web site that keeps growing—Hall says the site has, on average, 107 percent new viewers each month—the couple plans on continuing what has so far made the site successful: its dynamic, vibrant documentation of the Baltimore arts scene.