Santa Barbara lost one of its most passionate champions on Sunday.
Peter Sklar, founder of Edhat.com, a tireless advocate for citizen-driven online news and an innovator who pushed to change the way his community consumed information, passed away at age 50. He is survived by his wife, Sue Foley, and sons Nick and Zack Sklar.
I had the honor of working with Peter at Edhat from September 2008 to September 2011. It was a three year time period when Edhat, founded by Peter in 2003 as an offshoot of his tech company Coolmaps.com, came roaring into its own as a shining community resource for Santa Barbara and the South Coast. In 2010 Edhat expanded to include four other community sites, three in California and one in New Haven, CT.
Peter was one of the smartest and most interesting guys I have ever met. He was detail oriented, but spent hours obsessing over the big picture. He had a vision for community news that was evolved far beyond the pace of the journalism industry. Ever hear of Patch, that nationwide effort by AOL to get communities covered by the people who live in them? Well, Peter got to that idea about five years early, and he created that community for Santa Barbara. He built Edhat (it might stand for Every Day Happenings Around Town, Doc Searls gives us another insight about the name’s duality in his spot-on post about Peter) with the help of his wife, Sue, and a team of staffers.
Sue used to joke about how he’d ask her if she wanted to go for a walk downtown, but their activity on their date would be counting people wearing sandals or planks on the pier. Ideas were the bread and butter of Peter’s existence, and Edhat thrived because he always wanted to try new things. I wasn’t there at the beginning, but I was ecstatic to work for the website during the time that I did.
Peter was personally involved in every single aspect of Edhat. He counted palm trees, he wrote stories and took photos, he read every single comment. He worked with columnists, sold advertising, put together Groupon-style deals for his users to benefit from. He always admitted that he “wasn’t a journalist,” but he knew a heck of a lot more about journalism than a lot of news professionals I’ve worked with.
As a publisher, he responded personally to every complaint that came into his inbox with kindness, no matter how nasty the writer’s tone. He took criticism personally and used every complaint as an opportunity to improve the site. He worked all hours when there were fires in the hills and people were dependent on Edhat for news updates. He pushed the county of Santa Barbara to offer better public information services as a result of the Zaca Fire and Gap Fires – and they responded. When the Jesusita and Tea fires happened, we were better informed – and tens of thousands of readers came to Edhat because it was the best source of up-to-the-minute, organic information about what was really happening. Peter and his family were evacuated during the Jesusita fire, so he helped me update the site from his mother-in-law’s retirement community. He was the epitome of the “dedicated staff.”
It was an honor and a privilege to work for him. We didn’t always agree, in fact, sometimes we downright argued. But he always treated me with respect, and after spending hundreds of hours working on the website with him I learned more about technology, community and the wild world of online media than I’ll ever be able to remember.
Sue, Nick, Zack, Molly, the dedicated staff – my thoughts are with all of you during this awful time. I will be telling people about Peter for the rest of my life – his legacy of creativity and fearlessness deserves to never be forgotten. Oh, and he had a darn good sense of humor, too.