RICHMOND, Va. -- A dozen years ago, when John Murden started the Church Hill People's News community blog, he was the main scribe roaming the area and writing about the good things happening in the once crime -- and vacancy -- plagued neighborhood.
Now . . .
"The things we do in our neighborhoods, people are writing about in the New York Times," Murden said.
It's true. Richmond's transformation from a murder capital to a sweet cool town has put us in the national eye repeatedly in the past several years, and Murden has been a very real player in that.
His Church Hill People's News was the first Richmond community blog - by a long shot - and is certainly the best. Many reporters (like myself), politicians and city leaders scan it for the news and flavor it delivers.
It truly is the bulletin and sounding boards for Church Hill and the bordering East End communities that sit outside the historic boundaries.
Lost and found. Cool old buildings. New businesses. Demolitions. Crime news and trends, events, cleanups, cool scenes, calls to action, history. Lots of community chatting and talk back.
Murden's eye and passion for the area has been relentless. His blog has spotlighted crimes and criminals as well as those who are doing all the right things to lift the community.
Everybody in the area knows him, either through the blog or his hands-on community work, said Mary White Thompson, the outgoing president of the New Visions Civic League of East End.
"He is involved in anything we are trying to do as far as bringing back the community," she said. "Rehabbing, whatever, John is there."
Murden is known for leading cleanups. He is hosting a city candidate forum at the Robinson theater.
And he just become the new president of the New Visions Civic League of East End, blessed by Mrs. Thompson, 79. "I love him like a son," she said.
Murden's homicide and shooting reporting, charts and analysis are among the best in the city.
"When I first got up here, for the first time in my life I lived in a neighborhood where people getting shot," said Murden, who grew up in suburban Chesterfield. "I had to put some numbers to it, put a map to it, to kind of make sense of it, you know."
"It was a record of, like, a changing Richmond," he added. "It just caught the cusp of, hey, things are becoming different in the city - here's one number. And it was a number that couldn't really be fudged."
Just like new businesses, renovations, new apartments and a steady stream of cool new restaurants in old buildings that really began making Church Hill a destination, all carefully chronicled on chpn.net.
Murden says he first started coming to RVA in "the late '80s for the punk rock shows on Grace Street. And I keep finding things to love about it."
He said the first East End neighborhood he moved into (Fairmont and N. 23rd) wasn't majority white or majority black. "It was majority vacant."
Now, he and his wife and their young son live in a sweet apartment above the traffic circle at M and N. 25th streets.
Why call it Church Hill People's News?
"It's kind of a Howard Zinn thing," he said. (Zinn was an inspirational historian, author of "A People's History of the United States." Murden has also taught history at nearby MLK Elementary.)
"It was a callback, the idea of being small and feisty and beholden to no one."
Remember, Chpn started well before Facebook and Twitter, when the world of blogging was fresh and full of promise.
The site and Murden have lived up to that promise. His success, I believe, is based on a deep-down love for the community and everyone in it. There are few in Richmond as dedicated, which has also made him one of the area's top journalists, in my opinion.
Mrs. Thompson agrees.
"And I won't anyone take him from us in Church Hill," she said, "because he's wonderful."