A different type of blogging
What’s Up Montreal? is an online culture blog and TV show that airs on TV1 MTL. Baghdig Balyan, founder and director of the blog reveals to us how this project came to life and what makes it different from the rest of the urban blogs that are also present in Montreal.
Balyan studied Marketing and Urban Planning in Concordia University graduate, and during his tenure as a student he always had a passion for film making and the need to document what was going on in the city, so he started working in community television for Concordia and one day proposed the idea of creating a cultural blog to his colleagues. A small team was formed that went to go shoot different events and that was how What’s Up Montreal? came to life. At first the team consisted just of six people, and today that number has significantly grown to 40 volunteers that currently are collaborating on the project.
What’s Up Montreal? focuses on the idea of ‘Become a Tourist in Your Own City’, which is the main brand it intends to promote. “I want people to go out and appreciate the city, to have fun, get to know new places, and not feel ashamed of acting like a tourist. Many people want to travel and visit other places but as a local there are still many things to discover in your own city,” said Balyan.
What’s Up Montreal? uses videos as its primary source of content, “What mainly differentiates us is that we are doing mainly videos instead of writing, which is the case of the majority of the blogs that already exist. Our goal is to bring the audience live with us, through videos and social media, and make people discover the city by the instant rather than just making announcements of the events that will happen. We want to have that instantaneity factor and make people feel they are accompanying us on our journeys” said Balyan. Another factor that distinguishes this blog, is that it does not feature any paid content, the blog is centered exclusively around the community. This element has been perceived positively by their followers and members who feel identified with the idea of the blog being integrated with the community, and has also gained them the empathy of different organizations that today are contributing to make the brand grow.
The blog initially started as a YouTube channel, but it then expanded and made its transition from web to TV in 2014 after TV1 Montreal saw their content and became interested in collaborating with the project. The first TV episode of What’s Up Montreal? was launched in September of the same year. Today the show is halfway through its second season. And though their presence on the web prevails over TV, the show gradually keeps gaining the interest of viewers. “In terms of transitioning to working for TV, the work flow was completely different. In the web you have more freedom to explore and do anything, there are fewer restrictions. In TV you have to follow a certain format and work with people who are not familiar with the program. So it is basically transitioning from doing practically whatever you want to a standardized more formal setting. Not to say that TV format is not good, but we are trying to adapt it to the web format to make it more appealing to the audience, by featuring shorter more engaging and concise videos for the audience.”
Balyan considers Montreal a unique metropolis. “The community aspect is very strong here, people are very attached to the city, and what is interesting is that each neighborhood on the island has its own identity, you can walk block by block and see how everything changes. It’s not the classical Americanized style city, it is very heterogeneous but yet welcoming,” said Balyan. And Montreal is indeed very cosmopolitan and pluralistic, and due to the cultural abundance in the city is a challenge to keep up with the event schedule. “It’s hard to keep up with what’s going on in Montreal. There is an explosion of events happening daily, even more now that the summer has arrived. At least three take place every day. One thing we do is encourage our members to share any event that is happening, no matter what the scale is, and then we publish it on our website. But covering everything still remains a challenge because of the many things there are to do. It requires a lot of ‘man power’. You will never get bored during the summer here, not to say that the winter is boring, there is always something to do all year long in Montreal.”
What’s Up Montreal? keeps growing and gaining new followers, today many of their volunteers have already graduated and are looking forward to starting their careers, others have already found one, and nevertheless in terms of future plans Balyan hopes to continue with the project. “There is a lot of potential in What’s Up Montreal?, and we don’t want to lose what our concept is, which is primarily to feature the community. We want to keep helping people by announcing events so people know what to do, and even help the members themselves, What’s Up Montreal? serves as a stepping stone for them to gain exposure for anyone who seeks to work in the media, and we don’t want to lose that. We hope this project can continue to keep growing without deviating from its path, ending it would be a downfall because it has played an effect in many people’s lives. Right now we are heading into becoming a company, not for profit, but we want to continue to keep our operations in a sustainable way focusing always on featuring community and serving as a learning path for those who wish to step into the world of the media,” said Balyan.
Author: Jose Alberto Rodriguez Mellior, journalist intern for TV1