I was working at PBS. It was a very creative work environment and I was working with people who were artists in their free time. It wasn’t unusual to talk about our personal endeavors and hobbies. I must have mentioned that I wanted to create a roller coaster website.
One day I was talking to my boss when he had a suggestion for me.”I looked into it and there aren’t many theme park blogs. You should create one.” he said.
“A blog?” I thought.
It was early 2006. The term had just become familiar to me. And it had reached overused, buzzword status behind the scenes at PBS thanks to our newly created Media Shift blog. The surprising amount of attention and my misconception that a blog was no more than a public diary, made me initially scoff at the idea.
The Beginning of the Blog
I’m not sure what changed my mind. It was probably the ease of setting up a site at Blogger. Anyway, after picking a name that I thought was fitting (since I’ve always loved reviews and critiques of any kind), I dubbed my site “The Coaster Critic’s Blog”. As a side note, CoasterCritic.com was taken, by a dormant site. So I wasn’t technically the original Coaster Critic. I bought TheCoasterCritic.com and later bought CoasterCritic.com when it became available.
I opened the virtual doors back in April of 2006. I wrote for myself as an outlet, but also for friends and family who’d ask about the regional parks in my part of the country like Kings Dominion, Six Flags America, and Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I figured I could point them to my site when they asked if there were any good roller coasters at Busch Gardens, or if they should visit our local Six Flags.
Thanks to my day job, where I analyzed volumes of website traffic, I applied my analytic skills to my hobby and started noticing that there were actually people out there reading my posts. I still never thought the site would grow very much. Once I started to get responses to my posts via comments, I knew that I wasn’t really writing just for myself and my friends anymore. I was only one person, but I could actually contribute to the theme park world on the Web in some way.
What I Learned About Blogs
Blogs weren’t diaries or a one-way medium like I thought. Or at least they didn’t have to be. They’re superior to traditional websites from an engagement standpoint since they’re inherently built for discussion thanks to the comments section. So, I invited and encouraged readers to respond. I thought about the types of posts that readers might want to read and react to the most (like the 250+ comment post comparing Kingda Ka to Top Thrill Dragster).
What I Learned About Myself & Side Projects
I created several side projects. They were always secondary to the blog and quite often I either lost interest or they became too difficult to maintain. Over the years I’ve learned about what motivates me and why I always needed to have something else in development in the proverbial lab. Hopefully, it wasn’t too frustrating for visitors who saw some of those sites come and go. I’ll take all that I’ve learned about myself and balance my inability to wear 16 different hats at the same time with my innate need to dabble with something new. If you have questions or proposals about Theme Parker or Hype contact me. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them.
From the beginning, I wrote opinionated reviews (my first main calling), trip reports, and I tried a few park reviews, but then realized that I don’t typically experience enough of a park to write an accurate full park review. I wrote rants about bad coaster names and also started to write about theme park news. My posts on new roller coasters and big news stories was probably what attracted reporters looking for a subject matter expert. They had criminologists, lawyers, medical experts, but who do you call for a piece on Pennsylvania’s Good Old-fashioned Thrill Rides (woodies)? Predicting that Waldameer’s Ravine Flyer II might be the best new ride of 2008 resulted in my first quote in a major news outlet.
I tried to learn from each interview and really listen for the viewpoint of the non-coaster fan and the general public. I couldn’t see the World from my viewpoint, I had to consider how the other 99.9% of the public sees our beloved roller coasters. I also tried my hand at interviewing theme park owners, ride designers, and even other theme park website creators.
I did my best to carefully report the news. I always cited my sources by linking to them (professional blogging 101) and if something was a rumor, I made it clear. I’m sure I made a mistake or two along the way, but in some small way the site was a news outlet getting out the news of ride announcements, accidents, theme park and ride closures and acquisitions for years.
Keepin’ it Clean!
The Web can be a wild place. People think that since they have the ability to say anything that they want, that they should say anything. And now we have comments on YouTube and CNN (just for example) that are some of the most hateful and unproductive things I’ve ever read.
I felt that the best way to encourage and allow for healthy debate and discussion was to ban inappropriate language and personal attacks of any kind. This was not easy. I’ve done my best to moderate comments and do what I could to catch horrible stuff that you’ve thankfully never seen get posted. I knew that the site would be better for it and based on some of the comments by readers I see that it was worth it as the clean, level-headed discussions were generally the hallmark of the site.
In addition, the family-friendly content has led to the site being used as a resource by classes, individually by kids looking to do projects, and I’ve even heard from parents that enjoy checking it out with their kids. As a parent, I can appreciate a safe and fun site that I can visit without worrying. And regardless of the family-friendliness, I feel that there is a lot of value in creating a place where people can openly talk to each other with respect while using words you’d find in the dictionary. My next project will aim to do the same.
The Secret of The Blog’s Success: Talking to the Masses, Not Just the Geeks
As I mentioned above, I tried to view the theme park world that I knew and loved so well, from the viewpoint of those who barely knew much about it. Rather than laugh at the comments and thoughts of the general public because of their lack of theme park knowledge, as some of us do, I tried to inform and educate.
The Coasterology posts, the way I reference parks: “Six Flags Magic Mountain (near Los Angeles)” instead of just “SFMM”, and not assuming people knew the terminology and coaster jargon was all done to bring new fans and the general public into the discussion. As the site grew, I remembered who I was writing for. There’s nothing wrong with writing just for theme park geeks, but that just wasn’t my goal. And, I don’t think the site would have grown as much as it did if I hadn’t written this way.
A Final Thanks to My Biggest Supporters
I thanked the many friends and collaborators that have joined me on this journey, but I should also thank my biggest supporters, my family. Thanks to my parents for always being supportive of their son’s strange hobby. Thanks to my wife, Jenn, for holding down the fort while I was on some long distance trip riding coasters in another part of the country. And, thanks to my big brother for his much needed technical help over the years. I couldn’t have done this without you.
Time to Say Goodbye, For Now
While I’ve had a blast it’s time for me to move on. It’s been amazing to be able to travel the country experiencing great rides and parks and then sharing those experiences with you. I’ve literally rocketed to the top of the coaster World on Kingda Ka, sped through the subterranean masterpiece that is The Voyage, been tossed around like a rag doll on the extreme rides like X2 and Intimidator 305, and had unforgettable experiences like my night ride on The Beast. And I’ve had fun doing it all with you.
As I stated last December, I’ve lost my passion for writing about theme parks. I still love visiting them, but writing about them regularly has felt like more of a chore than a joy. My interest, as a writer, has shifted from the world of theme parks to a new frontier. I say “Goodbye, For Now”, because I hope that you’ll check out my future endeavors.
I will no longer update the site with new posts, but I’ll make sure that it’s still available for those who are researching opinions on roller coasters and theme parks. I’ll also occasionally add a post or two to chronicle my less frequent theme park adventures. Next month I’ll be visiting Hersheypark and I’ll have to check out the rumored coaster coming to Carowinds next year. If you subscribe here, you’ll automatically get all of my future posts by email. You can also follow me on Facebook as I’ll still post updates there occasionally too.
Thanks again! I’ll see you at the parks. I might be accompanied by a budding coaster fan (or two).