When a blog beats a NYT story

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.

Newspapers: more creativity, please

As many people probably know by now, Google came out with another of its Google Labs features on Monday: a Google News timeline view, which gives users the ability to see and scroll through headlines, photos and news excerpts by day/week/month/year. The sources of this data can also be customized to include not just traditional news sources but also Wikipedia, sports scores, blogs, etc. It’s a fascinating way of interpreting the news — not something that is likely going to replace a regular old Google News headline view, but an additional way of looking at things.

One question kept nagging at me as I was looking at this latest Google effort at delivering the news, and that was: Why couldn’t a news organization have done this? Why not a newspaper, or even a collective like Associated Press (which seems to prefer threats to creativity)? Isn’t delivering the news in creative and interesting ways that appeal to readers what we are supposed to be doing? Apparently not. Even the most progressive of newspaper sites still looks very much like a traditional newspaper — not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But is it too much to ask for a little variety? Why not have some alternative display possibilities available? Who knows, it might even con some people into reading more.

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Anonymity in reader comments has value

Doug Feaver, the former executive editor of the Washington Post, has a great column up about comments and the value of allowing them to not only be anonymous but unmoderated (other than by fellow commenters). This is a case I have tried — and continue to try — to make at the Globe and Mail, where I am the communities editor.

When I first took the job (and since) one of the first things people said was that our comments were unrelentingly bad and that we should require people to use their real names. I try to point out that while we are working on a number of ways to improve the tone of our comments, it’s virtually impossible to actually guarantee that someone has provided their real name, unless we ask them for their driver’s licence or credit card or SIN number, in which case we would dramatically reduce the number of people who would be willing to comment (I think in many cases what people want are real-*sounding* names, as opposed to obvious pseudonyms).

But in addition to that, I think the anonymity issue is largely a red herring, and that in fact there are many virtues to offering it, some of which I tried to outline in this post. Here’s a great excerpt from the Feaver piece:

I believe that it is useful to be reminded bluntly that the dark forces are out there and that it is too easy to forget that truth by imposing rules that obscure it. As Oscar Wilde wrote in a different context, “Man is least in himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

The future of eyewitness journalism

The photo that captured the incredible survival of the passengers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, a shot of passengers standing on the wing in the middle of the Hudson River and sitting in an inflatable life raft, was taken by a guy named Janis Krums, who was on the ferry that was going to pick up the stranded passengers and snapped the pic with his iPhone. Within seconds, it was on Twitter, and within a matter of hours it had been viewed by almost a hundred thousand people (I reloaded the Flickr page several times, waiting about two seconds between clicks, and the number of views went up by 50 or 60 each time).

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iTunes concessions a double-edged sword

Apple’s announcements at Macworld may have lacked some of the flair and sizzle that CEO Steve Jobs usually brought to his keynote, but there was one announcement that, arguably, will wind up changing the playing field considerably. That announcement is the news of DRM-free sales from all of the major music labels through iTunes, and the addition of variable pricing. As rumored during the run up to Macworld, the world’s largest online music store will soon start selling songs for 69 cents, 99 cents or $1.29 each. The only question now, as Peter Kafka notes in a post at MediaMemo, is whether anyone will care or not — and whether it will help to fix any of the music industry’s systemic problems.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)