When a blog beats a NYT story

by Mathew on November 11, 2009 · 38 comments

It may have gotten lost amid the back-and-forth in the comments on her piece at the Columbia Journalism Review — many of which take her to task for criticizing “crowdfunding” startup Spot.us and its role in the Garbage Patch story the New York Times published recently — but I thought Megan Garber made an excellent point in her critique of the piece: namely, that freelance reporter Lindsey Hoshaw’s personal blog was a far better presentation of the trip and the fascinating story behind it than the New York Times story was.

Whose fault is that? Probably the Times, for forcing the story into the standard format rather than trying something different, but assigning blame is hardly the point. And in any case, the NYT should be given all kinds of credit for experimenting with the Spot.us partnership, and for being so flexible that Spot.us founder and all-around smart guy David “Digidave” Cohn — whom I respect and I admire — said the Grey Old Lady “interfaced with Spot.Us as if they were a lean and mean startup.” High praise indeed.

But to get back to my main point, if you look at the NYT story you see (or at least I saw) exactly what Megan describes in her post at CJR: a story that repeats a lot of known information about the Great Garbage Patch, with very little of the human side of Lindsay’s story. I found her personal blog far more interesting, and I bet I’m not the only one. She talks about — and shows photos of — the Mahi Mahi the crew ate so much of, the cramped quarters that the crew inhabited, the gourmet meals whipped up by the ship’s cook, and the garbage the ship came across along the way.

Obviously, not every news story deserves the blog treatment, but I think this one certainly did. I got far more out of it, was far more engaged with it, cared more about it and identified more with the reporter at the centre of it. A great job by Lindsay, and despite the criticisms of the outcome, a great effort by Spot.us as well. Dave Cohn describes the genesis of the project and the process it went through, as well as some of the lessons learned.

  • Daniel Kaszor

    Did it deserve the “blog” treatment or just the good, old fashioned “feature” treatment.

  • andyrevkin

    There's too much either-or thinking in some of these critiques, to my mind. I think the ideal format for such coverage has both — the “journey” through blogging and particularly multi-media, and then the synthesis for print readers and anyone online who may not be interested in tracking a string of reports. We're sometimes discouraged from doing this, but sometimes it all works out. An early prototype was my “Postcards from the Arctic” dispatches, transmitted to The Times while I was running around Greenland reporting a long conventional feature story: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/science/sciencereport

  • http://twitter.com/mathewi Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for the comment, Andy — you are quite right that either/or is not the only choice. I think both could have worked well together, as they did in your feature. Nice job, by the way.

  • http://twitter.com/mathewi/statuses/5638346200 mathewi (Mathew Ingram)

    Twitter Comment


    my take on the Spot.us/NYT “Garbage Patch” story — “When a blog beats a NYT story”: [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/Chanders/statuses/5638705628 Chanders (Chanders)

    Twitter Comment


    (also, enjoyed @mathewi piece on this as well) [link to post]. Time to go look at wedding photo proofs! More fun than this :-).

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/mathewi/statuses/5638933752 mathewi (Mathew Ingram)

    Twitter Comment


    @Hermida @jayrosen_nyu: wrote a post on the @megangarber CJR piece here: [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/julie_posetti/statuses/5639397725 julie_posetti (julieposetti)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @jayrosen_nyu: assessment of @thegarbagegirl’s garbage patch article: When a blog beats a NYT story [link to post] via @Mathewi

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/mathewi/statuses/5638577384 mathewi (Mathew Ingram)

    Twitter Comment


    @Chanders @j2ny: wrote a short post about the @megangarber piece here: [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/davewiner/statuses/5639844982 davewiner (Dave Winer)

    Twitter Comment


    When a blog beats a NYT story. [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://www.spot.us digidave

    Hey Mat

    Great post. In truth one of the comments below answers this for me: It shouldn't be an “either/or” situation.

    And …. it isn't.

    The blog that Lindsey kept was a part of her Spot.Us pitch. We said from the beginning that we were going to offer it – and we did.

    The NYT story let us put a feather in our hat – but it's a mistake to judge it by itself – and that is what the CJR article did. If the NYT had simply linked to her blog – the CJR piece would have discredited itself.

    One link and the whole thing changes…. hmmmmm

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks for the comment, Dave. I agree that it shouldn't have been either/or
    – why would the NYT not package the two together as a feature, or at the
    very least include a link to the blog? I just don't understand that. In
    any case, congrats to you and to Lindsay on a job well done.

  • http://www.spot.us digidave

    Ya know: That's not really a question for me. I know the Times folks knew of the blog. Some of them followed it as well. But it's not Spot.Us' place to tell them what and what not to publish. It seems that Megan's piece makes the assumption that somehow Spot.Us was in a place to do that.

    It seems she says that the NYT piece was bad but the blog posts Lindsey did was good – but that because the NYT piece was bad Spot.Us somehow came up short. That logic doesn't really compute for me……

  • http://twitter.com/BoraZ/statuses/5640493499 BoraZ (Bora Zivkovic)

    Twitter Comment


    Garbage Patch Story: @mathewi wrote a post on the @megangarber CJR piece here: [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/jayrosen_nyu/statuses/5639096716 jayrosen_nyu (Jay Rosen)

    Twitter Comment


    More on Megan Garber’s assessment of @thegarbagegirl’s garbage patch article: When a blog beats a NYT story [link to post] from @Mathewi

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  • http://twitter.com/dailytwitter/statuses/5639468179 dailytwitter (Ande)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @julie_posetti assessment of @thegarbagegirl’s garbage patch article: When a blog beats a NYT story [link to post] via @jayrosen_nyu

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/stevebuttry/statuses/5639765228 stevebuttry (Steve Buttry)

    Twitter Comment


    .@Mathewi finds valid point in CJR take on @thegarbagegirl NYT story: Blog was better. [link to post] via @julie_posetti & @jayrosen_nyu

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  • http://twitter.com/nlawhead/statuses/5639911645 nlawhead (Nick Lawhead)

    Twitter Comment


    Interesting read RT @davewiner: When a blog beats a NYT story. [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/ctonk144/statuses/5640022171 ctonk144 (chris martin)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @davewiner: When a blog beats a NYT story. [link to post]

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  • http://twitter.com/skyhawke/statuses/5640187187 skyhawke (John Gilbert)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @davewiner When a blog beats a NYT story. [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://www.wordyard.com Scott Rosenberg

    Good points, Mathew. I suspect that the Times didn't place the blog under its institutional umbrella for reasons of traditional practice. In other words, “If we link to the blog or put our logo on it then we have to edit it the way we edit all of our other stuff.” There's a set, understood set of practices for buying a piece from a freelancer, editing to fit institutional voice, and publishing it. There's no similar set of practices for buying a freelance blog. So the Times ends up with the just-fine-but sort-of-conventional-and-a-little-less-exciting article, and the blog, which has more life and juice, remains beyond its penumbra. Silly and ironic. Someday they will look back on this and wonder, “What were we thinking?”

  • http://twitter.com/WaldeckS/statuses/5642904169 WaldeckS (Stefan Waldeck)

    Twitter Comment


    Spot.us is an Interesting blog concept – RT @davewiner – When a blog beats a NYT story. [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Yes that's a good point, Scott. I find it hard to understand why there
    wasn't even a simple pointer to the blog though.

  • http://changingnewsroom.wordpress.com/ Carrie Brown

    Completely agree, Matthew. I just left a comment on the piece too noting that it worries me if we create new media “sacred cows” that can't be criticized – doesn't that make us the same as “old media,” which we make fun of because it fears change. I think think SpotUs is a brilliant, interesting, and exciting experiment, but it seems a valid question to me to consider what kind of treatment the story should get.

  • http://twitter.com/thegarbagegirl/statuses/5654845690 thegarbagegirl (Lindsey Hoshaw)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @Mathewi The point was that the blog was more interesting + added more value than the story… [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/thegarbagegirl/statuses/5655160312 thegarbagegirl (Lindsey Hoshaw)

    Twitter Comment


    @revkin “Too much either-or thinking; ideal format: both journey through blog & synthesis 4 print readers” [link to post] (comment sect)

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  • http://twitter.com/journatweets/statuses/5656531230 journatweets (Natalia Veronica Mar)

    Twitter Comment


    Great post: “When a blog beats a NYT story” [link to post] Also, interesting points in comment thread (via @mthomps and @Journerdism)

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/lavrusik/statuses/5639806579 lavrusik (Vadim Lavrusik)

    Twitter Comment


    When a blog beats a @nytimes story: [link to post] @mathewi says garbage patch was much better presented in reporter’s personal blog.

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  • http://twitter.com/Journerdism/statuses/5654657371 Journerdism (Will Sullivan)

    Twitter Comment


    I’m just catching up on all this Spot.Us/CJR/NYT drama. Good intro: “When a blog beats a NYT story” [link to post] (via @mthomps)

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  • http://twitter.com/mancini/statuses/5655474606 mancini (Pablo Mancini)

    Twitter Comment


    When a blog beats a NYT story [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/KenzDawn/statuses/5656590692 KenzDawn (Makenzie Marineau)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @journatweets Great “When a blog beats a NYT story” [link to post] Interesting points in comment thread via @mthomps & @Journerdism

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://www.homelandstupidity.us/ Michael Hampton

    The <cite>Times</cite> is very late to the whole hyperlinks-in-articles concept which Web users have taken for granted for the last 15 years. They've only just begun to do it in a noticeable way with some of their news stories in the last few weeks. I'm not surprised, given how recently the Times has started linking out to other sites in a major way, that it isn't yet common across all sections.

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