Smile Politely

The man behind the handle: Who is Champaign Showers?

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter in Champaign-Urbana, you’ve likely come across a faceless account called Champaign Showers. The account is a microblog for the town that consistently turns out news and opinions about all things C-U.

Champaign Showers responds to News-Gazette articles and radio shows, shares stories from local media, and shares some homegrown podcast and blog content. In many ways, Champaign Showers provides a pulse on the twin cities. The person behind that handle is Boswell Hutson.

Screenshot from Twitter.

Boswell Hutson was raised in Monticello, attended the University of Illinois, then worked in media and PR at a couple of offices in the University. Hutson has been in and around Champaign for the entirety of his life. He says the town means a lot to him, which is one of the reasons he felt compelled to put work into the Twitter account.

Hutson said he can’t claim to be a real townie though. He referred to Monticello as a “borderline suburb” of Champaign-Urbana. To him, C-U was always the big city.

“You can walk down Green Street and hear five different languages on almost any afternoon,” said Hutson. “There just aren’t places like that around, you can’t even go to Indianapolis and hear that.”

Boswell Hutson is no stranger to this magazine either. He spent some time working as an editor with Smile Politely and helping with Pygmalion at venues around town. He attributed those experiences with giving him his unique read and perspective on the city.

(Editor’s note: Dave’s Dogs reopened the same week this was tweeted.)

Follow Hutson’s content on Twitter and the connection couldn’t be clearer. He’s an avid media consumer, holds a high respect for journalism, has a heart for music, and knows where to look to find C-U’s hidden gems. Hutson always seems to know the thing that’s happening around town, and though Hutson’s target audience is not large, his influence on them is strong.

Hutson said that about the time he left Smile Politely, he was looking for a hobby to hone his creative side outside of his work managing social media. Hutson used the account to bring up local topics he had grievances with just to create something and to express his opinions. Though he didn’t try, that content is what brought on the success of the account.

“If someone put something out that I disagreed with, it was like instant, quote, tweet or response,” said Hutson. “But that’s what generates the engagement. And that gets you on the timelines of the audience that you want to be on.”

Surely enough, Hutson wasn’t the only one who thought the way he did. He quickly amassed a following on Twitter of locals who resonated with the issues he brought up. He said he knew where he had ideological differences with some people, but he already knew what to say.

But to Hutson, Champaign Showers is also a place to combat the established legacy media of the town. He says he blames the talent flight from the University to bigger cities on the coasts and in Chicago, for the state of C-U’s local media. He’s critical of the environment, saying it often runs amok without any kind of competition or journalistic checks and balances.

To Hutson, Champaign Showers can hold that media environment accountable from the people’s perspective. In many ways, Champaign Showers is a proxy for the opinions of townies (or at least liberal millennial ones).

“I think Champaign Urbana is more interested in having alternative media, but it just hasn’t been through those digital heavy, social heavy means before, which is I think why I’ve seen it grow over three years,” said Hutson. 

Hutson said he strongly believes in community media and that Champaign Showers was his chance to express his thoughts to the people who would listen and care the most. He described Champaign Showers as alternative media, independent and crowd-sourced in a way. He says people can tweet at him and he’ll respond, which is often much easier than putting a letter to the editor in the paper.

Hutson says Champaign Showers is a great hobby that might turn into something more one day. He currently manages a blog, a newsletter, and a series of podcasts connected to the Twitter account, creating a media environment. For right now he’s happy with the reach and the fun that he can still have with the account while people are listening.

Top photo provided by Boswell Hutson. 

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