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.