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Julia Robey Christian knows Capitol Hill.
No, she isn’t an intern-turned-legislative-aide-turned-legislative-director-turned-chief-of-staff.
Rather, Christian is that rare breed, the native Washingtonian, and even rarer, the native Hill resident. She grew up in Southeast, long before trendy restaurants started opening on Barracks Row.
With such a history comes a devotion to the neighborhood that is manifest on her blog, “What the Hill.”
Unlike the many Hill blogs that focus on politics and policy, “What the Hill” is a neighborhood blog, a growing media type that focuses on the hyperlocal, the “What’s going on in your area?” news that so many larger outlets have struggled to provide in recent years.
It’s one of many blogs covering the Hill neighborhood to pop up in recent years, from “The Hill Is Home,” which features posts by locals that range from photo contests to history bits, to “JDLand,” a blog that covers development in the neighborhood near the Anacostia River waterfront.
It’s a natural fit for Robey Christian, whose professional life revolves around the happenings of the Hill. She’s the executive director of the Hill’s chamber of commerce, the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals. Her days are filled with working with Hill businesses, meeting with board members and organizing events such as H Street’s Halloween festival and the annual Hilly Awards.
But “What the Hill” is a different kind of undertaking for the Hill resident. Robey Christian doesn’t consider the site to be a traditional blog. The idea for “What the Hill” came about while Robey Christian was managing CapitolHill.org, the CHAMPS website.
She struggled with figuring out how to deal with her two distinct audiences: the business owners, who want resources, and the people, who want to know what’s going on this weekend.
“How do you mix those two things in one site?” she said. “Well, I decided you can’t.”
Robey Christian got a grant from the Community Foundation and used the money to launch “What the Hill” in 2010. The website features an event calendar, short features on Hill businesses and other bits of news.
For Robey Christian, this love of the neighborhood is a family legacy. Her father, Bruce Robey, was the founder of the Voice of the Hill, a defunct neighborhood newspaper. A former CHAMPS board president himself, Robey wanted an outlet that would cover neighborhood news in a more time-sensitive fashion, something the monthly Hill Rag just couldn’t do and something the Washington Post wasn’t doing within its local coverage.
In a new-media twist, Voice of the Hill got started as a website before Robey could afford to publish a printed edition.