Monday, December 8, 2008

Adam Gaffin and Universal Hub (final)

Universal Hub has been around since 2005, and not even the creators realized the attention their Boston-oriented site would get.

Universal Hub was created by Adam Gaffin and Steve Garfield, who both wanted to collect the "best" stories from Boston-area blogs and collect them all at one site. Using advertising on the website, Gaffin says he pulls in an extra $15,000 per year from the website. But he's definitely not in it for the money. He's in it to show the best blogs Boston has to offer.

An executive editor at Network World, Gaffin said there were a couple of different things that happened that got him into blogging.

"I was blogging at work and I was starting to read some interesting Boston-area blogs. I thought it might be interesting to do a digest of what local folks were talking about."

Enter: the Boston Common. According to Universal Hub's "About Us" page, Boston Common started as "a Weblog that tried to capture the best writing from the hundreds of bloggers in the Boston area." They then changed the name from Boston Common to Universal Hub. Gaffin follows hundreds of Boston blogs looking for great blog entries that he believes others would enjoy reading.

One of those blogs is Undercover Blonde, which chronicles the going-ons of Kirsten Amann, a writer and waitress in Boston. Her blog entries are often posted on the Universal Hub front page, and Amann says she enjoys it.

"I think it's a great site and enjoy scrolling through it for news, interesting stories, and Boston-centric anecdotes. I'm happy to be a part of the Universal Hub community," Amann said in an e-mail interview.

However, Amann said since her blog is about her personal life, she often gets a mean comment, but says Gaffin has helped her out.

One post that Adam excerpted last winter elicited an abusive, threatening response on both the site AND on my personal blog, which was really offensive. Adam was quick to come to diffuse the situation in a fair, neutral way and made it very clear that such commenting would not be tolerated on the site, which led to a broader discussion there about good commenting behavior and Internet decorum in general. The way he handled it really made me trust him and feel loyal to his initiative and the site. That said, I was happy to see that he didn't link to Undercover Blonde for a few weeks thereafter. I know I should expect to be contacted by at least some crazy-folk this being the Internet and all, but that person's comment was so nasty it left me feeling a bit unsafe.

Universal Hub has recently changed the commenting procedure - one who wants to comment on the entry must sign up for a free account and provide a legitimate e-mail address, so there is no more completely anonymous commenting.

Amann said she can see traffic to her site go up around five to six times as much after being linked to on Universal Hub, and said, "I'm sure I have more regular readers today thanks to his [Gaffin's] cross-linking."

It is becoming more common nowadays for bloggers to "break" or "uncover" stories that newspapers find and then study further. Gaffin said, "When people see something firsthand, they usually do a pretty good job at telling the story. It's more when you get into the 'why' and second-day-story phase that professionals gain the edge." Bloggers usually do not have the capability to follow-up on their stories, whether it may be because they don't have the experience or the capabilities to do so.

That being said, Gaffin has had experience, as a former reporter for the Middlesex News, now known as the MetroWest Daily News. Gaffin said he helped start the newspapers' online ventures while he was a reporter there. He's also had the opportunity to post some of his own stories about living in Boston on Universal Hub, including this story on a car crash at 2 a.m. that occured on his street.

"Fortunately, there are a lot of people out there with stories to tell. I will post about unusual and odd stuff I run across on those rare occasions I do get out," Gaffin said.

Amy Derjue, who blogged on Boston Magazine's website, says she really likes Universal Hub. In an e-mail, Derjue wrote, "I think Adam Gaffin does a good job of pulling quality quips/observations/stories from local blogs and putting them out there for others to read. When I was blogging for BoMag, I learned just how hard it is to keep up with all the sources he monitors and make sense of it, so I admire his tenacity."

Tish Grier, a community developer at Place Blogger, said she has Universal Hub listed in their blog database. Place Blogger is another aggregating website that lets people submit their blogs and they organize the links by where they are from.

"I think it's a really great site," Grier said. " Adam does a wonderful job with it, it's clearly a lot of work."

She also spoke about the importance of blogs in a hyperlocal sense.

"These aggregators [like Universal Hub] are necessary. You find out about local things by hyperlocal blogs," Grier said.

She added, "It [picking out stories to post] is like being an editor. You can just do so much in the digital realm, but you have to have a human context as well."

Marie DeFer, a Northeastern student majoring in political science, says she turns to Universal Hub for the latest news in Boston while she has been on co-op in South Carolina.

I check Universal Hub at least once a day Monday through Friday; however, I read it more often when I'm at work for several reasons. First, it connects me to random, funny, and interesting stories in Boston. Second, I absolutely love that posts are added throughout the day. Third, it is all about Boston. As a wanna-be Bostonian not living in Boston, it makes me feel more connected and on the inside of developing news. Fourth, it posts news about Boston that I really can't find anywhere else. More specifically, I read Digg often but it is not Boston based.

DeFer added, "I really like its user friendly format and lack of obnoxious ads, I feel comfortable reading it at work and not worrying about co-workers assuming I'm up to no good on the WWW."

On a personal note, I have been featured on Universal Hub several times, including a post on a ringing phone on the Blue Line and the riot police outside my apartment when the Red Sox were playing Game 7 in the ALCS down in Florida. The times when Universal Hub links to my stories, I see the traffic on my website go up exponentially. Usually, there is an extra 100-150 hits to my blog, linked from Universal Hub. It's great to see my traffic go up after having just one entry featured on Universal Hub.

If you're a blogger who wants to be featured on Universal Hub, Gaffin suggests an interesting blog entry title because of the way his aggregator is set up.

"My aggregator shows RSS headlines like a wire feed, so it's fairly easy to browse them. It also provides a sort of serendipity factor - since I don't organize them by topic, I never know what I'm going to run across," Gaffin says.

Additionally, he's a fan of any stories about the MBTA, and says he will post "almost every interesting T-story I come across."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Adam Gaffin and Universal Hub

First of all I must note that I have been looking forward to Adam speaking to our Reinventing the News class for awhile. As I have mentioned many times before, it is always great to have blog entries posted on Universal Hub, because it brings up the traffic to my blog and it's also fun to know that other people were also interested in reading what I wrote, and following the link to read the rest of the story.

Adam talked to us about the website and how it came to be what it is today. One of the things that he noted is that he will almost always post stories on Universal Hub that are about the MBTA, or put in a better way, the ongoing problems and stories that arise with the MBTA. He also talked about how maintaining the website is a hobby, and he makes a small amount of money from advertising on the website. Adam mentioned if he were to ever hire people to help build the website more, he would hire people who could help with advertising. One thing that he noted during my interview with him afterwards, that he forgot to mention in class, is the French Toast Alert System. Found here, when there is a chance of measurable snow on the way, a little alert box comes up in the right hand corner of the top of the Universal Hub front page. It is described as such:
The French Toast Alert System has been developed in consultation with local and federal emergency officials to help you determine when to panic and rush to the store to buy milk, eggs and bread.

Currently, the French Toast Alert System is blue, which means guarded. The description for blue is "Guarded: Light snow predicted. Subtle grin appears on Harvey Leonard's face. Check car fuel gauge, memorize quickest route to emergency supermarket should conditions change." Adam often posts a link to go to a local weather page for the actual amounts we are going to expect. I pointed out to him in class Wednesday that snow was in the forecast for Sunday, and he changed the alert that night and thanked me in a post. No problem!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Let me say it first and foremost in 5 short words: I do not like Twitter.

Why, you may ask?

Twitter, to me, is just a version of Facebook's "status" updates, except people are more obsessed with it. And apparently, after scouring the website, people seem to use it to describe every moment of their day. Not exactly something I would consider newsworthy. However, some news organizations believe that this could be newsworthy.

@Bostonupdate, the twitter account for news updates, is basically a complete failure. First of all, it's the same thing you get in the RSS feed except without a few sentences saying what the headline is all about. I'd rather just go to the webpage, or go to Google reader, rather than "follow" them on twitter and end up on their webpage reading the rest of the story.

I briefly (read: for less than a day) followed @mumbai, to see what updates were coming out from Mumbai during the terrorist attacks. I'd consider this newsworthy, although I couldn't tell you who or what runs this account.

Some guy named @joethunk continues to post every hour or so a bunch of #googlenews links through his account. I don't really see the point, and if he's trying to be newsworthy and helpful, because I don't think he's doing that much.

Twitter altogether is just too confusing to figure out in itself with all the @ and the # and after awhile, it just gives me a headache. It says from Twitter's about us page that "In countries all around the world, people follow the sources most relevant to them and access information via Twitter as it happens—from breaking world news to updates from friends." Twitter, clearly, wants to be a newsworthy source. But the whole play-by-play of events can be taken a bit too far, like the example from the Rocky Mountain News funeral coverage that was covered in class. I feel that Twitter is more of a weapon for journalists than a tool, because I don't think it is helpful enough or relevant enough for journalists to use on a regular basis.

New America Media

New America Media is the website that I decided to research further and present to the class last week. The website claims to be the first and largest collaboration of ethnic news organizations. According to their about me page, New America Media says:

New America Media is the country's first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. Over 51 million ethnic adults connect to each other, to home countries and to America through 3000+ ethnic media, the fastest growing sector of American journalism.

Founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996, NAM is headquartered in California with offices in New York and Washington D.C., and partnerships with journalism schools to grow local associations of ethnic media.

I chose this website to present because I consider it to be new and interesting. I haven't found any website that aggregates news by ethnicity. New America Media has partnered with UMass-Boston, among other journalism schools, and the UMass-Boston project is called New England Ethnic News. Their website is updated regularly with stories about different ethnicities in New England places. One of the headlines that is on the "front page" right now is "Mumbai Terrorism Touches New Haven’s Hasidic Jews".

Both New America Media and New England Ethnic News have blog posts on their website. On New America Media, there are blog posts that are posted every few days - which I would hope to be more frequent, but whatever. One of the things I really like on the website is how you can search by ethnicity and by special "beats" such as education, immigration, health, etc. I also like how they live-blogged the Mumbai attacks. One of the things I don't like about the site is the fact that the "photo of the day" hasn't been updated since May 28, 2008. As a fan of's Big Picture and the Wall Street Journal's photos from the day, it would have been nice to add another one onto my google reader.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


For Wednesday's class, one of the editors over at NewsTrust, Mike LaBonte, came to speak to our class and we all participated in reviewing a news story in groups. We had all signed up during Monday's class so we were prepared to read stories and then judge them. This was probably one of my favorite classes all semester because I really enjoy the website. My newest short-term and long-term ambition is to become a featured reviewer or have a story I submitted be a feature story on the "front page" of the web site.

NewsTrust is also organized really well. There are a number of tabs on the top where you can look for stories you specifically want to review that you may have an interest in, such as world news or United States news. You can also look by more specific categories, and submit stories for a NewsHunt of the week - this week was the global economy, and at the end of this entry you can see the stories that I submitted and rated on the topic of the global economy. Also, besides rating stories, you can also rate other users' reviews on stories. The reviewing process is practically neverending on this web site.

NewsTrust is definitely a valuable tool. At the very least, you can see how others view the credibility of your favorite newspapers, since that is one of the options that people can rate. I like how you can rate basically ANYTHING about the article, from the way it was written to the number of sources that were (or weren't) quoted. The site is very user friendly and I wouldn't consider changing much. It helps that you can look at all the articles that were published online that very day, so you can read what others users believe to be credible news, but I still think I'd go to BBC and CNN, and maybe Yahoo news (for their AP reports) to read the top stories over there before going to NewsTrust.

Stories I submitted and rated over the weekend:
1. Bush spurs economic action, but Obama sets agenda
2. James Watkins: Labour would profit by embracing Islamic finance
3. Recessions grip forces U.S. to flood world with more dollars

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Espresso Royale Cafe Review

I have to admit, although I live right down the street from Espresso Royale Cafe, I've never been inside to get a cup of... anything. So when our Reinventing the News class was offered a list of coffee places to go to and review, I jumped at the chance of finally going to Espresso Royale. There are a number of tables where students and professionals alike were sitting and doing work on laptops. I put two and two together and realized that Wi-Fi must be available at Espresso Royale. Clearly this is a place where you could get together with a friend or two, or do work, or both at the same time.

A cup of medium coffee costs $1.85, but I opted for the hot chocolate, because I consider myself a hot chocolate connoisseur. It was okay, nothing special to write home about. It was actually really bitter - a stark contrast from the hot chocolate that Dunkin Donuts serves. Espresso Royale hot chocolate could be labeled as bitter and watery. This would be a place I'd love to sit and do my homework in - it's very cozy - and perhaps enjoy a different drink and maybe a baked good that they offer, but with the whirring of the machines and the number of people talking loudly, I don't think I'd be able to concentrate all that well. Maybe if I went to Espresso Royale an hour or two before closing, I'd find a quieter environment.

For the Google map our class made of coffee shops around Northeastern's campus, please click here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mapping the Parkersburg Tornado

On the Des Moines Register's webpage, they have a special interactive feature about the Parkersburg Tornado. After doing a little bit of research, I learned that this tornado was an EF-5 tornado: The strongest tornado category, with winds over 200 MPH. This tornado was over a mile wide, and had a 43-mile trek through Iowa on Sunday, May 25 2008.

The map is quite interesting. It definitely shows how far along the town is in rebuilding - the map is created in sections that you can click on for each lot. For nearly each lot, you can see before and after pictures, and sometimes even "latest pictures". For some of the properties, you can see absolutely nothing except plywood and debris instead of the house. It really is remarkable. For some of the properties, there is a story from the people who live/lived in the home talking about the ordeal of rebuilding, and how they survived the tornado. There are also video clips interviewing people who live in Parkersburg telling their stories. The after images, which should be noted, are pictures taken of each property 3 days after the tornado hit. It is definitely worth taking a look at - which I've been doing for the past 20 minutes. I'm pretty amazed that residents were able to survive this tornado in their basement, and watched as their house was lifted off its foundation above their heads. Unfortunately, it's also sad to note that a number of people did not survive this tornado - 7 people lost their life.