Through news articles, community notices, tweets and Facebook posts, writer Drew Schneider tells his neighborhood about itself. He does so on Petworth News, a website and e-newsletter designed to provide Petworth residents with what they need to stay informed about news and events taking place in their backyards (literally).
Schneider began Petworth News as a political strategy. When he took a break from his job as director of interactive media at Stars and Stripes to run his campaign for a seat on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in 2014, the D.C. transplant launched the site as a Facebook page with updates about both his campaign and the neighborhood. Today, however, it is difficult to separate him from his work.
“I’ve always been active in my community,” Schneider explained. “When a local ANC commissioner vacancy opened up, I thought, ‘hey, you know, [the Facebook page]’s a good idea’”.
Now, as Petworth News enters its third year on the web, its Facebook following has grown from 100 to more than 2,300 and its most popular articles receive up to 25,000 hits each day.
“[The reputation of the site] is all about what resonates with readers,” said Schneider. “I don’t want it to be about me. I want it to be about the neighborhood.”
Though he may not be at the center or even the outskirts of most of the stories he tells, Schneider has set the news agenda for his neighborhood by putting forth nearly all stories related to the area as they happen. It has served as a fairly big help to the area’s residents, who are split nearly evenly among black, white, and Latino and come from mostly middle-class households.
And as Petworth News continues to grow at the same pace as the neighborhood it covers, outlets have taken notice of what that means in the context of the importance of grassroots reporting. Some, like Washington Post reporter Lori McCue, agree, hailing Schneider as the “Prince of Petworth”.
Community members, too, believe Schneider’s work is important on several levels. Paul Ruppert, owner of several popular Petworth restaurants including Petworth Citizen and Slim’s Diner, said Schneider is a source of good information and publicity.
“Drew and Petworth News does a great job of covering the news,” Ruppert says. “Petworth has so many good things that knit the community together. I believe Drew and Petworth News are one of those things.”
In the midst of the site’s popularity, however, Schneider has continued to work his day job.
“Petworth news was more of a hobby,” he said. “But now I call it the beast—the beast I have to feed—because readers have expectations.”
Meeting those expectations has required him to share his workload with a group of contributing writers. Among them is Darrell Chambers, an attorney and new Washingtonian who responded to Drew’s call for diverse voices via a listserv.
“As an attorney, 75% of my job is writing. However, I don’t get to do a lot of creative writing,” Chambers explained. Petworth news is that community-specific outlet that I can trust will cover the stories that matter to residents of Petworth and surrounding communities.”
Drew Schneider’s commitment to telling stories and exercising his civic responsibility has manifested itself in an award-winning hobby. When he is not setting up media strategies at his day job with Stars and Stripes, chances are he is writing news stories for his fellow Petworth residents. And he has no plans to stop doing both.
“I see myself continuing this because I’m a writer by nature,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing a service to my community.”