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.

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