Category Archives: media mayhem

New Brahmin: a refreshing take on Boston fashion

When 27-year-old stylist and fashion journalist Liana Peterson moved to Boston from New York City five years ago, she spent the first six months hiding in her bedroom, reading the Internet and being depressed: it was 10 degrees outside and there was nothing online about Boston fashion.

“I mean I guess the Globe has their blog. And there’s the Bostonist,” Peterson says. “But everything that I was reading about that was regularly updated was police blotters, politics and sports. And none of those apply to me.”

Despite her occasional penchant for a gritty police blotter report, none of Peterson’s daily blog go-to’s – Fashionista, The Cut and Racked – were Boston natives. No blog offered a comprehensive guide to the fashion landscape of Boston.

So Peterson took it upon herself to change that, crafting a space on the Web to fill this gaping void. Her answer: New Brahmin, a part-newsletter part-style diary documenting Boston fashion.

CLICK HERE to check out the faces behind New Brahmin

“We want to be a go-to for Boston and for Greater Boston,” Peterson says. “Unless something directly affects Boston, we don’t comment on it. If we didn’t witness it, it didn’t happen.”

Their formula: maintain a balanced mixture of fashion news items and editorial opinion. They feature local designers, shops and personalities as well as items and trends they recommend. All non-Boston fashion headlines are relegated to a one-liner and link in the Daily D’s.

While other local blogs spend graphs upon graphs reflecting on runway shows and red carpet fashion, Peterson says: “Everyone does that, why would we? The only time there’s ever been a celebrity on our blog is the time I saw Beyonce at a Celtics game.”

Now two years old, the site is finally getting up and moving. Run by four staff members – executive editor, managing editor, beauty editor and Web editor – along with a smattering of contributing writers, the venture recently set up shop in a South Boston studio space leased by the Fort Point Artist Community.

Just over a month ago they re-launched their website after switching platforms from Typepad to Squarespace, and Web editor Jessica Sutton says she’s currently focusing on working out the kinks.

Her first objective: to create a social media presence.

“I sat them down and said ‘OK, there needs to be a fan page and there needs to be a Twitter,’” Sutton says. “But we’re contemplating now how much presence we want to have– we don’t want to be so in your face like follow us here, follow us there. From a blogger’s perspective that can get kind of annoying.”

Through tweeting out important news and linking to their blog posts on Facebook, they’re already building a substantial presence and a name that resonates with many fashion-lovers in Boston.

As for incorporating more innovative aspects of new media, particularly video, into their coverage, Peterson says it will simply come with time. Right now, creating a consistent and reliable stream of content is their utmost priority.

“We just re-launched, we’re still trying to get our momentum per se about posting,” she says. “We do five posts a day sometimes six, and that’s not easy to do. There’s not a lot going on in town to really write about every day when it comes to style and fashion and shopping. Some days are harder than others where we have to pull teeth to try and fill in the blanks, but we’re getting better at it.”

With the recent addition of managing editor Janine Stafford they’re getting closer to that goal. In January the middler communication studies major from Northeastern University decided to make the up-and-coming blog into a six-month co-op. Now, rather than constantly stressing about getting up enough posts before the end of the day, Stafford (also known as the ‘whip cracker’) works as an idea generator crafting weekly budgets to keep everything on a strict schedule. When generating content, Stafford looks at what is happening in fashion at large and cuts it down to an idea that is digestible to their Boston readership.

“You see gold all over the runway,” Stafford explains. “And then Jeannie [Vincent, their beauty editor] pops in and says ‘Here’s how to do it; here’s how to take thing that are crazy on the runway and should stay there and turn them into something that you can do yourself. But please, don’t have like blue eyebrows just because they’re on the runway.’”

With this service in mind, Peterson lovingly named their target reader Patty D. after a friend of hers.

“She works in a bank, in like community relations and works 8:30-4:30 in Downtown Crossing and wears uncomfortably ugly heels and suits to work and has that spark, that interest in shopping and fashion and style but doesn’t necessarily have the confidence for it.”

It’s taking things from the runway along with things that they like personally, and laying them out in a format for which the reader can digest.

“If you like it, cool. If you don’t, cool. We’re here to start a conversation. Tell us why you don’t like it,” Peterson says.

As for making money, the girls agree: after the re-launch they have to smoothe out the kinks before settling on any kind of advertising plan. But it’s definitely something they’re looking into as their out-of-pocket budget for rent, photoshoots and other production costs becomes somewhat draining.

“We don’t just want traditional ads either,” Peterson says. “People don’t pay attention to that. I have no problem with sponsored posts.”

Peterson says she sees such sponsored content as a win/win situation – New Brahmin can afford to pay its rent, and the featured product (only ones that merge with the website’s message, of course) are seen by their recently measured readership of 4,500 unique views per month.

Stafford admits, the numbers aren’t sky high, but since their relaunch less than a month ago the figures have already doubled. To keep with that increase, they’re focusing on features and editorials that will reel in more interest around town. And for a blog with such a niche audience, Stafford says she’s not upset by the numbers.

“We’re not a general interest blog,” she says. “We are pretty niche and although 150+ unique a day isn’t huge we certainly aren’t unhappy with that number.”

Ideally, at some point,  New Brahmin will pay for itself. But for now their focus is the product: a site that can act as an effective reference point for the fashion scene of Boston.

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Dan Gregory: Serial Entrepreneur

Dan Gregory, a faculty member of Northeastern’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship calls himself a “serial entrepreneur.”

His mission: to turn free-ranging ideas and talent into something that can, fundamentally, make money; to make talented individuals into entrepreneurs.

Gregory recently founded The Launch Group, a consulting practice that advises clients on starting new entrepreneurial ventures as well as IDEA, a student group at Northeastern that works to instill the same fundamentals within a younger crowd. Through IDEA, his goal is to unite individuals with different, yet complimentary skill sets into a unit with a purpose.

One particular purpose Gregory reflects on, is combatting the effects of disruptive technologies– things like iPods, smartphones or even simply the Internet that, upon introduction, unquestionably interfere with the way society had previously functioned. By crafting new ways of existing and working in response to these disruptive technologies, entrepreneurs can create something innovative that is also very much in need. Thus, there will be a market for their service.

Accomplished journalists have a battery of relevant skills– writing, researching, questioning and storytelling– all of which, Gregory would argue, can have a very practical entrepreneurial applications for individuals who are adaptable, flexible and open to the idea of reinvention.

Look at GlobalPost, CentralMassNews.com and the New Haven Independent– all entrepreneurial journalistic ventures where individuals found what they were good at, found others skilled in what they weren’t and bound themselves into an entity that addressed a specific need created by new media innovations.

While Gregory’s points initially registered with me as just settling; as abandoning the dream. With a second look, it seems it’s quite the opposite: it’s saying ‘this is what I’m good at, where can my skill be applied?’ And if there is no answer, it’s making one for yourself. That, is hardly settling.

As for how I’ll apply my skills? Hopefully by discovering a business mind who can conceptualize a reinvention of my words on art and fashion in a way that is innovative, serving the people in a new and interesting way. Perhaps  by meeting a computer genius who can bring it into fruition. Undoubtedly, for any entrepreneurial venture, I would need to assemble the perfect team.

For years it’s been the arts reporter + the business reporter + the news reporter + the columnist= the paper. Now, it’s the journalist + the businessman + the graphic designer = the business. The service is the same, the makeup is revolutionized.

Photo from Dan Kennedy’s Pix. Some Rights Reserved.

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Anonymous or not?

When I got my first AOL screen name in the sixth grade I can vividly remember my parents words: Nothing you write on the internet is private.

Of course I didn’t listen. I proceeded to IM my heart out about the boys I liked, the girls I didn’t, and every single thing I’d prefer my parents rather not know. But then again, I was in the sixth grade.

Apparently judge Shirley Strickland Saffold disregarded the memo as well. Though she’s using one of my favored escape routes:  blaming someone else. Her scapegoat? The daughter.

When the Plain Dealer of Cleveland discovered strangely well-informed anonymous comments from user “lawmiss” on their site defaming a local lawyer and commenting on high-profile cases, they decided to do a little digging. Though their site claims anonymity, the actual privacy policy reports the right to access identifying information.

By accessing the user’s e-mail address The Plain Dealer concluded that the comments were, in fact, coming from Staffold. So they printed this article.

The issue brings up a heated debate:  was The Plain Dealer justified in accessing and reporting on this information? Or should their promise of anonymity guard her identity at all costs?

My argument would quite bluntly be that she is an idiot and should be forced to fess up to her hardly-appropriate comments. She was communicating on the Internet– an outwardly public forum– did she really think she could hide behind a silly screen name when she had given the site her e-mail and other personal information?

But the debate brings up a deeper issue: If The Plain Dealer had insisted upon real names as screen names would the situation have presented itself as such a huge issue?

According to this article in the New York Times, The Washington Post, the New York Post, the Huffington Post and the New York Times are all making moves towards real name comments in order to prevent vile commenters from simply hiding behind a phony name.

Howard Owens agrees in this [albeit lengthy] blogpost on the issue, comparing anonymous comments to anonymous letters to the editor– a phenomenon banned long ago. It’s quite simple, he says “readers have a right to know who is saying what.”

For those who say there will always be impostors– fake names that sound real– you’re right. But I think this is a step in the right direction. If Saffold had been asked to give her real name and not had the option of an identity disguising screen name, she might have thought twice about posting what she did. With a screen name, and the idea that’s it’s anonymous, everything just looks so easy. But when people are asked to be honest, when disguising your identity takes a little more craft, I would venture to say the vile comments will decrease.

Furthermore, those comments with real names at the bottom will bring more credit to the comments section as a whole. Allowing it to move beyond a string of banter among pseudonyms and perhaps work like a list of sources whose opinions can be judged by their title or lack thereof. People will be held accountable for their opinions; and their opinions will bring accountability and demension to the story.

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Trustworthy News.

Mike LaBonte, editor and reviewer for NewsTrust, gets what people are saying: people don’t trust the news anymore. Sure there are reliable outlets, but even the big boys put out a less-than-perfect piece from time to time.

NewsTrust’s plan for filtering the news: let the readers be the judge.

It’s really quite simple. NewsTrust provides stories from a variety of news outlets, and readers are invited to rate them journalistic quality– facts, bias, sourcing, writing style, etc.– they can then comment specifically on the story. As a result, every pice of news gets an average rating, along with a strand of comments which can help other readers sift through the expanse of options to scrounge up the news that other readers have deemed ‘reliable.’

Sounds pretty simple, so this morning I gave it a whirl. I kept things simple, selecting three of today’s headline stories: Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash, from the BBC; George W. Bush ‘knew Guantanamo prisoners were innocent, from The Times and CIA Assigned to Kill US Citizen from consortiumnews.com. Each of which I reviewed.

What I liked about the reviewing experience was it forced me to really analyze my news on its journalistic value, which, as bad as it sounds, is often something that slips my mind. I browse the headlines of nyt.com, read what looks important, and accept it as fact, rarely stopping to count sources or assess context. The process of reviewing though, forced me to think through all the elements of each piece, and consider what, as a journalist, should ultimately be there.

However, I do find a few flaws with this model. First off, when I go to read the news, I generally don’t have the time to heavily analyze each article and think through each article analytically and post a review of it. I simply want to skim through headlines to gather a sense of what’s going on. And I imagine that many others approach the news with a similar mentality– they’re not reading the news to do a service to others, they’re simply looking to find the quickest way to gather a sense of what’s happening in the world.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I imagine most people go to a news source for the most up-to-the minute headlines. And what I noticed by reviewing the front-page headlines, was that they had very few reviews. To me, this defeats the whole purpose of the site– if a story is only rated by three people, that hardly gives a sense of its journalistic integrity.

It’s certainly a fresh take on a current problem, but without adequate participation, NewsTrust can’t ultimately function in an effective way.

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Matt Carroll: The Numbers Man

Boston Globe employee and Northeastern alum Matt Carroll preaches what he calls “the gospel of data.”

Since entering the world of numbers about 15 years back, with little background in math or statistics, Carroll has worked to revolutionize the way readers receive news. For the Mass.Facts section of Boston.com, Carroll pillages through public records and databases for information that can can be repackaged into easy-to-grasp charts and graphs. Rather than just serving up hard facts with a side of puzzling numbers, here, readers can access diagrams and charts that make the whole picture much more digestible.

Look, for instance, at the work Carroll has done for the “Your town” segment of the site. Here, readers can select a topic– anything from the number of inmates to the number of Dunkin’ Donuts– and then compare their town’s stats with other Massachusetts locations.

Carroll said the stats on gun licenses per 1,000 residents are often of particular interest. So, those interested, can simply click the link to this item from the Mass.Facts homepage, and find a comprehensible chart representing the distribution of gun licenses across the state– the bolder the orange, the more gun licenses. Also, for those who crave the real figures, the actual stats for each community are listed below.

Carroll said that getting comfortable with calculations has changed the way he looks at the world. And with the nature of journalism today, having skills in number crunching and chart crafting are key. But, he said, the tools of today’s technology make that relatively easy. Through data visualization sites like Many Eyes, numbers can be effortlessly converted into charts of all shapes and sizes.

While I’m certainly no mathematician, I’d say Carroll’s insistence on making sense out of numbers is necessary to keeping good journalism alive and well. And perhaps that’s just it– as pathetic as it may sound– with so many of us who cringe at the sight of a large figure, we almost NEED someone like Carroll in order to hold on to the data and facts in their rawest form. We NEED that person breaking everything up into nice little molds for those of us who would simply disregard the numbers otherwise. With everything so digestible; so easy-access and at-a-glance these days, the numbers too must keep up the pace.

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Mapping things out.

It’s no secret: Web journalism is all about the visuals. Whether it’s a photograph, a video or just a silly graphic, we humans don’t seem to like the read-and-interpret approach too much these days. We prefer our information packaged up tightly into the perfect visual.

Thus is born: the map as a journalistic tool. These maps are hardly restricted to the geographic, but are constructed in a way that departs some statistical information in a way that is intended to be simply grasped and easily understood.

Specimen A:

This map is quite simple. Red states voted for John McCain in 2008. Blue states voted for Barak Obama. However, there’s a fatal flaw to this illustration: in looking at this map it appears that John McCain won the election, when in fact, Obama won by a significant margin. This map doesn’t account for population distribution (like the fact that New York is home to almost 20 million, while Montana, almost triple in size, only has a population of roughly 1 million)

So the mapmakers get a little crafty. Bringing us Specimen B:

Here, states are stretched and squashed in an attempt to make their size proportional to their population (while still making a minimal effort to keep the basic U.S. shape in tact. Blue is now, the visible majority.

I would argue that these two variations of the election map are quite informative. They make their point simply, in an easy-to-grasp way. I think they could be made even more so with the addition of a few features:  Say if you held your mouse over the state it would reveal some further facts like the actual population as well as race, gender and income distribution. And even perhaps how many counties voted red vs. blue.

However, I don’t think incorporating these more detailed variables into the map itself is very effective, take Specimen C, for example, which is a cartogram of votes by county with different shades of red, blue and purple representing varying percentages of votes:

To me, interpreting a map of this nature is simply not intuitive. I think a more effective route to expressing more complex statistic would be spelling them out in a box to the side or that pops up with a click on any individual state. I would argue that only the most simple concepts should be represented in the actual physical map.

In other news: I can’t wait for this patriotic tie-dye pattern to hit the runway. I think it’s going to be huge for Spring 2011.

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Going global.

Finally– some online journalism pioneers who seem to be truly succeeding. And even, quite possibly, making some money.

Meet Global Post, a group of web journalists who got started just over a year ago in Boston’s North End. With 70 correspondents in 50 countries they work to provide a comprehensive, multi-demensional look into the world at large and currently report readers in over 223 different countries.

Their philosophy, according to Charles Sennott, the executive editor and veteran Boston Globe reporter: “You have to be there– great journalism is about being on the ground.”

And that is precisely how the site works– with only 15 employees in Boston, the vast majority of Global Post’s content comes from reporters across the world, who tell the news as they see it.

The site is divided roughly into regions of the world– Europe, Asia, Americas, Africa, and the Middle East– you can select the area of interest or even a specific country to read stories from that region. However, for those who aren’t seeking out one thing in particular, the front page provides a skillfully selected cross-section, teasing a couple different stories from varying regions, without cramming too much onto the page.

Perhaps what I find the most appealing about the site though, is the way it seems truly global. I generally gather my worldly news from US-centric sites like nytimes.com or boston.com where global news is provided, but from an obviously American perspective. Perhaps the stories aren’t blatantly biased, but the sources cited are American, they’re told with American interests in mind and are most likely written from a reporter sitting at a computer in America. With Global Post stories however, I truly feel I am getting a realistic cross section of world news. By utilizing reporters who write about the region that is their home, who utilize global resources and global opinions, the site is able to paint a much more accurate image of a worldly trend or event.

True to the nature of online journalism, Global Post stories are told through a variety of mediums: there are video stories, photo stories and written stories that capitalize on the visual nature of the internet. However, I would like to see more stories told with all three of these components working together, as in Life, Death and the Taliban where Sennott and photographer Seamus Murphy piece together a truly multi-dimensional story of Taliban history in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Video stories like One Family, One Street provides a human element to the story of the Taliban, while traditional, written pieces like Funding the Afghan Taliban go further into the intricacies of the issue. This approach provides different angles to a story with so many facets, allowing their readership to become informed on an issue at a broader level than usual.

What I found most refreshing about Sennott’s philosophy, was his insistence on developing a specialty. So often we are told to be good at everything. To carry every skill in hand. But to me that seems a little dishonest and ultimately, a little stupid– like forcing yourself to abandon or ignore a real passion in order to get good at all the rest. Rather, this is Sennott’s advice to aspiring journalists:

Global Post allows the exploration and development that specialty through their Study Abroad segment which allows students across the world to report on interesting stories they are witnessing in their abroad environment.  I plan to study abroad before I graduate, and would definitely be interested in such an outlet as a way to report on interesting cultural trends and art– perhaps an unheard-of-in-America food trend for a written story, a local underground music scene for video, or an undiscovered artistic talent for a picture slideshow– in an effort to share the underground culture of my temporary home with the world at large.

Ultimately, at Global Post, it’s about showing the world as it really is, from the eyes of someone that’s right there in the middle of it. And isn’t that what journalism is fundamentally supposed to be?

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