David Bernabo and I made “Moundsville” (now on PBS) to tell a new kind of story about America. But in our dozen trips to the town and all our research, we collected way more material than we had room for in a 74-minute movie. So I started throwing stuff on this blog.
And, to my surprise, people read it. We passed 100,000 total views this week. To be clear, that’s not a lot of views for a story about politics or the NFL, or anything in the New York Times. But, for a little WordPress blog about and around a tiny West Virginia town of eight thousand people, written by one person, with no corporate backing or advertising, that is a surprising number. I’ve written stories for mainstream media outlets that were read by only a few hundred people. In early 2019, I spent a hundred bucks or so on Facebook and Twitter ads, but quickly realized that was a dark hole of endless spending with unclear returns. We were still having trouble cracking four digits on any individual post. But then the movie got rolling, with good reviews, screenings around the region, and a PBS deal.
Our most popular blog post was a profile of Lady Gaga, whose mom Cynthia Germanotta grew up in the Moundsville area, followed by posts on Charles Manson (from nearby), Brad Paisley (from Glen Dale/Moundsville) and Quality Bakery’s famous donuts. We’ve published all kinds of stuff, from entrants to a poetry contest and a historical essay about the so-called Mother of the Civil War, to, in the spirit of free and open dialogue, a mostly negative review of our film by an academic from Moundsville who wrote to me, and a letter to residents about why viewers love their town. I wrote my first-ever obituary for a dog, reported on how the town was preparing for Covid, and documented how people used to go watch baseball at the old prison.
Here are the top most 10 popular pages on our blog.
- “Pick Yourself Up” – Lady Gaga’s West Virginia Roots and Her Grandma’s Inspiring Words That Helped Make a Star (35,247)
- Home Page (10,675)
- When Serial Murderer Charles Manson Tried to Move to Moundsville, WV (4,883)
- Brad Paisley is the Proudest West Virginian — Country Star Shares State, Small Town Roots With Lady Gaga — Putting WV On Everything: “Pitt Fans Aren’t Happy” (2,994)
- Donut Heroes: Quality Bakery Shoppe Bakes All Night for Moundsville — 1,200 Donuts a Day — Owners Are Drum-Playing Baptist Preacher and Baker Wife — All 4 Kids Help Out — “People Are Supporting Local Businesses During Covid” (2,910)
- Before The Star Was Born: The Legend of Lady Gaga’s Singing West Virginia Grandpa (2,606)
- The Inspiring Story of the Stubborn West Virginia Glassmaker Who Lost His Job at Fostoria and Kept On Making Glass (2,449)
- Moundsville Named as West Virginia’s Entry in USA Today Contest for “Best Historic Small Town” — Vote Here (Once Per Day) Before May 6 (1,899)
- Bracing for Covid-19 in Moundsville — U.S. Rust Belt Towns Face Big Risks With Aging Populations, Hospital Bed Shortages — ‘I Know I’m Vulnerable’ (1,879)
- ‘Taj Mahal of Appalachia’ — West Virginia’s Hare Krishna Temple Named To National Register of Historic Places Has Crazy, Fascinating History– Known for Drugs and Murder in 1980s (1,805)
The most common source of links was Facebook, with 68,111, followed by search engines, with 12,824, and Twitter, with 2,484. The number of views from search engines is increasing, which, encouragingly, means that more people are hearing about the movie and reading up at their own volition.
We’re going to keep the conversation going. If you’d like to submit something for publication or write in with comments or suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John W. Miller