The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Thursday, September 4, 2008

MassAlive

The remodeling.


1997 Masslive logo



I see that Masslive.com has updated its look. It's about time, since the old look was less an actual style than just something that had grown organically as the site evolved, with new things sort of just glommed onto the old. Predictably, the appearance of the site had become cluttered and most of the remodeling has consisted of streamlining and cleaning up the site's appearance for greater clarity and ease of use.

Because of its ties to the Springfield Newspapers, Masslive has never received the credit it deserves as a true pioneer in the Valley blogosphere. Unfortunately, the Springfield Newspapers earned a reputation in the 1980's and 1990's, before Masslive even existed, as a manipulative, self-serving censor of local news that repeatedly offered aid and comfort to the corrupt and incompetent local political machines and economic development glitterati of which their former publisher, David Starr, was a major figure. Masslive often took similiar heat as the paper's website, but Masslive was always both more and different than its newsprint parent.

For one thing, the print people never much merged with the online staff. Heather Brandon, whose widely praised (but now defunct) blog Urban Compass began on Masslive, told me once that while working there she felt completely separate from the newsprint staff. Like most traditional dailies, the paper seems to still see itself as a newspaper with a website, instead of adopting the modern model of a news portal that has a print version. So while Masslive has done some interesting experiments in delivering informational content online, the paper itself remains in dinosaur sinking in a tarpit mode.

It's a shame that the entire top echelon of the paper wasn't fired by the Newhouse Corporation when Springfield went under a Control Board. What more was needed beyond the massive wave of corruption indictments, financial crisis and the fact that the paper had promoted the careers of some of the worst criminals and incompetents as proof that the paper had completely let the community down? If the Springfield Newspapers are to survive the transition to an online news portal, a good case could be made that a big personnel shake-up at the top of the newspaper staff is long overdue.

In sharp contrast, at the Masslive end there has been no shortage of innovative talent. Blogging guru Jeff Jarvis was once the overseer of the Newhouse websites, and former editor Scott Brodeur and current head Ed Kubosiak along with Kristen Beam, Jeff Hobbs, Erik Gallant, Ben Larsen, Laura Merwin, Robin Horrigan and newcomer Ben Swasey are all passionate about what they do and dedicated to making the site informative, provocative, compelling and timely. When blogging became a craze, Masslive jumped right in with lots of experimental blogs of their own. Most survived only short term, but the concept of blogging in the Valley, along with the efforts of a few pioneering independents like myself, was in large part introduced by Masslive. Before there was a YouTube for regular people to show videos online, Masslive was featuring people like The Moves and their ground breaking local videos such as their wicked satire of Valley affluence "Straight Outta Hadley."



In a way, Masslive helped to teach the Valley how to engage in meaningful political discourse, and the classroom was their Forums. With political dissent long suppressed by the political machines and their media allies, nothing was more subversive in the local blogosphere than when Masslive provided an easy way to let people discuss online pretty much whatever they wanted. At first people didn't seem to know how to debate, with the norm being vicious personal attacks. Many people had the same experience as Valley Advocate editor Tom Vannah did when he described his experiences on Masslive in an article printed in January of 2000.

If you believe everything you read on masslive.com, I'm a promiscuous, drug-dealing, "gender questionable" who gets his kicks swapping spit with radio talk jock Dan Yorke at roadside rest areas.

This alleged lifestyle of mine is probably only part of the reason that a few of masslive.com's anonymous Holyoke correspondents have wished me a slow, agonizing death from AIDS and a somewhat quicker demise in a "fiery head-on collision with no survivors." But, as one recent posting on the Holyoke Forum made clear, the level of animus may have nothing at all to do with my reporting. The following item, posted on Jan 6, was signed,

REAL HOLYOKERS DON'T READ THE ADVOCATE:
Did you ever wonder why there are things like cancer in the world? That is nature's way of thinning the herd of vermin like Tom "Pony Tail" Vannah. There is a prime example why some mothers eat their young. I hope your (sic) a veteran you low life switch hitting phoney! (sic) I would love to put a flag on your grave along with a case of beer that has already passed through my digestive system.


The forums can still be a rough place to play, but the kind of meanness Vannah encountered is much less common. Most people seem to have learned how to have a civil public debate. In fact the Forums can be a valuable sources of information, where genuine news is reported before it appears in any other medium.

In many ways the remodeling is more cosmetic than substantial, but there is an attempt to put more emphasis on interactivity. This is the direction in which they need to go, and its good that they realize that. In any case the remodeling is a good excuse to pause and give a little credit where it's due by acknowledging how much Masslive, despite its early handicaps, has become an integral part of the online community and a positive force for an informed public. The website of the Springfield Newspapers seemed an unlikely place for such a force to originate, but Masslive has become something that is both better and more than the fading newsprint institution it started out serving.

Tired of cow-cheese? Go visit the clown in Shutesbury and try an alternative.



This morning I ran into Larry Kelley at Northampton's King Street McDonald's.



Kelley told me there is another flag controversy brewing in town over whether American flags should be flown on the anniversary of 9-11. Why does Amherst repeatedly embarrass itself this way?

I stopped by the Iron Horse office today to see if I could pick up my Hot Tuna poster, but alas it was closed. A sign on the door suggests in many languages that they don't like solicitors.



Who is this hot hillbilly?



Why it's Local Buzzer Greg Saulmon, shown below in more normal attire at the Haymarket Cafe this morning.



Why the get-up? Saulmon was performing at the "Transperformance" concert in Hamp recently as ZZ Top, along with fellow buzzlings Bill Peters and Josh Thayer. Also in the group was Kendra Thurlow, James Heflin and guitar wizard Tom Sturm of the Valley Advocate. The annual event is always a lot of fun, but the big buzz this year was the disappointing performance by Primate Fiasco, currently Hamp's hottest band, which did a surprisingly lame set as Guns n' Roses. Rock fans were more than compensated however by the Valley Advocate/Local Buzz supergroup (called Vuzz) as evidenced below.

Legs

7 comments:

Kristen said...

Hi Tommy. Wanna blog for MassLive? hahaha.

For clarification's sake, Scott Brodeur is no longer the editor-in-chief at MassLive.com. He is a bigwig at Advance now, but still works locally here among we minions.

Our editor-in-chief is Ed Kubosiak, Jr.

LarryK4 said...

Hey Tommy,

That McDonalds and I go back about 45 years (although I have not been there for the past half-dozen or so). I attended St. Michaels catholic school a few blocks away for 12 years so that was a frequent stopping point.

I was in Hamp to have daughter #2’s (probably the most recent legal Amherst citizen) hearing tested at the Clark School for the deaf and fortunately it turned out just fine.

Yeah, the flying of American flags to commemorate 9/11 (which the town did in 2001, 2002 and 2003) will come up at the Amherst Select Board meeting Monday night at 7:05 PM.

Seven years ago it was scheduled for 7:15 PM (9/10/01) and of course the next morning the world changed. Let’s hope this coming Monday we have a better outcome.

holyokenow said...

It's still a cookie cutter design used over multiple sites.

I was searching for some information and came across nj.com, it was the exact same layout.

then on the bottom of the page there was a link to Advance. So I checked it out.

They use the same layout for all their affiliated news sites.

Anonymous said...

What is it with the bloggers and the Primate Fiasco lately? You're perfectly within your right to dislike the Guns N Roses rendition. But to say that the "buzz" agreed with you is a clear lie. The audience clearly rallied and even the backstage went nuts. You can talk smack all you want but you can't fake buzz. Unless of course more people read your blog than were at the show, in which case, I guess you can fake buzz.

Jeff said...

Great post, Tommy. Thanks for noticing.

Speaking of interactivity: One of the projects we've been most proud of lately is our revamped "Blogs page" here -- it features not only our MassLive bloggers but also pulls in Valley blogs as a whole (you'll notice your blog is prominently displayed!). We'd like it to grow even further to represent the entirety of blogging in the Valley as a whole, and give our readers the whole picture, so if any of your readers has a blog or site they'd like to see added, drop us a line here and we'll try to add it into the mix.

Ed said...

Tommy thanks for the kind words.

We're proud of what we do at MassLive.com and we have a talented and passionate staff.

I must say that the newspaper is playing a major role in many of the innovations you're seeing online.

Anonymous said...

Most participants are civil on the MassLive forums ... a major exception being the TV and Radio forum, where Jim Polito, Doug Lezette, Liz Tufts, Jim Gareffi and Barry Krieger are stalked regularly by some shady little dude.