Doing Media Differently: Ryan McGreal builds public discourse with Raise the Hammer

This article was originally published in Hamilton Media Guild, February 11, 2014.

A passionate community, good discourse and a diverse media environment are what it takes to ‘raise the hammer.’ For Ryan McGreal, these are the ingredients of a livable and vibrant city.

But the editor and founder of Hamilton news website,Raise the Hammer, wasn’t always interested in urban revitalization. The epiphany came during the 2003 Road World Championship in Hamilton. The streets were closed for this bicycle road racing event.

“People were out there. Children just playing on street. People wheeled the TV out [the street] so that you can watch a helicopter footage,” says McGreal, who was raised in Ajax and moved to Hamilton 22 years ago.

“It felt so good. Why don’t we design our neighbourhoods to be more like this?”

McGreal wrote an op-ed piece for a creative writing course at Mohawk College, presenting a case for a more accessible and livable city. The Hamilton Spectator picked it up and published his piece.

He began getting calls from people who expressed a similar vision. From there, a loose network of urbanist thinkers began to form.

Channelling this energy and enthusiasm, they decided to launch the Raise the Hammer website to discuss urban issues. McGreal, who is a computer programmer, helped build the website and launched it in 2004.

Today, Raise the Hammer attracts thousands of views each day. Its volunteer writers have varied backgrounds: young professionals, expert urbanists, students, small business owners, activists and more. Aside from writing and editing, McGreal fact-checks submitted articles, formats and posts them on the website.

 

There is never shortage of content, says McGreal, who maintains that RTH has always been a non-profit venture.

“People who write for it are people who write because they have an itch to write something. They are doing it because they want that piece to be out in the world. For people to have access to it to read it and comment on it, and maybe be inspired to write something on their own,” he says.

A healthy public discourse is an inclusive and open one, with voices from both big and small media platforms, says McGreal.

McGreal advocates for open discourse coming from various people and organizations (Photo by: Alyssa Lai/Hamilton Media Guild)

Raise the Hammer is a good example of an open-source, collaborative media organization at a grassroots level.

“What drives us is trying to put good arguments and good information that everyone who encounters it will be better informed,” says McGreal.

“We managed to come up with a model that doesn’t require us to chase money.”