James lives in Brooksville and is retired from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. Jill is a bartender from New York, who lives in Hernando Beach now.
Joanna owns a hair salon in Trinity. Ali is a realtor and lives in Wesley Chapel.
What do the four have in common? They've all joined one of the community Facebook groups we started in mid-March to serve up local Tampa Bay Times news and host conversations for our neighbors. James and Jill joined the Hernando page. Joanna and Ali joined the Pasco page.
As I write this on Tuesday, the two Facebook groups have a combined membership of 1,700. That's astoundingly fast growth for this sort of thing, and has downtown editors wondering what's in the water up here.
We think the answer is a simple: People on the North Suncoast want news about their hometowns and stories about people they know. That can be hard to find when you're wading through coverage of the entire Tampa Bay area.
It's good to know how your county commission spends your tax dollars and what events are happening close to you this weekend. You'll find that on these Facebook pages.
In recent years, Facebook has played a bigger role in helping us deliver news to readers. Printed newspapers still appeal to many people, and others visit our website at tampabay.com for the latest breaking news.
But not everyone subscribes to the paper or goes to the website.
Starting two weeks ago, we began posting stories as we finish them to these local Facebook groups — hours or days before the stories appear in print. Group members comment on the stories and share them with others. They also post items of their own, like one this week calling for volunteers at the animal shelter and another about a local theater presentation.
We've posted house rules for the groups, encouraging people to discuss and debate, but to be respectful. We've asked them not to post commercial or campaign items. We are individually approving every person who wants to join and every post they want to put up. That helps us ensure the conversation stays civil and on point.
We are pleasantly surprised at how quickly the groups are growing and how active the members are. I sat at breakfast with my husband the first Sunday after we launched, thrilled to learn about each new member as I checked them in, one-by-one.
They are a diverse group, by gender, job and geography. About 70 percent are women, and 30 percent are men. About 30 percent are 45 to 54 years old, and 25 percent are 35 to 44. Younger and older members are joining, as well.
Of those I checked in, more than half are not Tampa Bay Times subscribers. Oddly, we see that as a good thing.
Our community Facebook groups are reaching people who may not otherwise see our stories. We can share news with a new audience this way and get valuable feedback on our work.
So come join us. Go to Facebook, search for "Pasco County Community News from the Tampa Bay Times," or "Hernando County Community News from the Tampa Bay Times." Click "Join." It's that simple.
Then read our stories, let us know what you think and share some news of your own.
Oh, and say hi to your neighbors.
Contact Karen Peterson at (727)893-8082 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow @TimesKPeterson.