NewsTracker: Ebola reporting

At this point, you would have to live under a rock to not know the term “Ebola.” The current outbreak of Ebola virus disease (“EVD” if you’re a medical professional; just plain “Ebola” if you’re not) was first reported in March 2014, but the hysteria in US media truly developed after the first American case on September 30. Since then, no one in the US has been able to use the internet without coming across some news flash regarding the outbreak.

How necessary is all of this coverage? If my country-of-residence was somewhere in West Africa, I would want to know which towns are affected by this disease. Luckily, this is not the case. In a country of over 300 million people spanning 6 million square miles, the US has had four potential cases. 

The sensational nature of this outbreak has not been lost on Boston.com. The media outlet has had near daily reports on the spread of the disease. Like most US news outlets, Boston.com reports on the latest status of those who may be infected with Ebola. Multimedia features such as “Hey Boston, How do you get Ebola?” (co-created by classmate Megan Allison) keep the coverage fresh and interesting. However, these reports simultaneously make Ebola seem to be a massive terror while telling people they need to calm down.

Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary cary pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, has written  multiple posts on the outbreak of the disease. In a post about preventing a US outbreak, she advocates “going the extra mile”; in the case of the Liberian man who died in Texas, she said, “What the situation needed was for the person who asked the question to be in the faces of the people caring for Mr. Duncan saying, Did you see that he was in Liberia?” Two weeks later, Dr. McCarthy posted that fear is the worst effect of this outbreak. She didn’t acknowledge a change of opinion in either blog post, so perhaps she overlooked how these posts contradict one another.

Dr. McCarthy is not the only Boston.com staff member guilty of paradoxical reporting. Daily updates with the headline “Ebola Today” keep a count of the number of deaths–4,877 according to the Oct. 27 report–and time-stamped updates on US-related action. These reports are followed by a “Daily reminder not to panic” and a link to an interview with a Massachusetts General Hospital doctor discussing the low likelihood of an Ebola outbreak in the US.

The US is pretty much the only country that reports so heavily on the Ebola outbreak. While Boston.com is trying to dissipate fear, the constant coverage forces the sensationalization down our throats. It’s a bit much.

The image of men standing atop an overturned car became a well-used photograph to represent the riots at the Keene Pumpkin Festival.

NewsTracker: Keene riot coverage in Boston

In case you missed it (or, if I wanted to be hip, ICYMI) the Keene Pumpkin Festival in Keene, NH, got a little rowdy this year. The family-oriented event, which annually aims to possess the Guinness World Record of most lit jack-o-lanterns, quickly turned to a mass riot with hundreds of people filling the streets and destroying anything in sight. Overly dramatic? Maybe. But watch these videos of the riots and police deploying tear gas on crowds of primarily Keene State College students and then decide.

Just under 2 hours away from Keene, Boston took particular interest in the wild events in the small New England town. Reports from two primary news organizations, Boston.com and The Boston Globe, used similar content produced by overlapping writers and photographers, but the results highlighted the differences between citizen-journalist and crowd sourced coverage and reporters. The media outlets are owned by the same company but play very different roles. As referenced in a previous blog post, the Globe is much more interested in balanced, objective news coverage, whereas Boston.com is lighter and has more of a multi-interest blog vibe.

The Globe posted a statement released from Keene State College, which I have not yet seen on other news sources. The Globe also boasted “A first-hand account of Saturday’s events” in which the reporter painted a vignette of one young man’s experience at the Keene Pumpkin Festival. The pieces posted with the coverage seemed more well researched by including links to videos of comedians that mentioned the excessive machinery owned by Keene police.

Boston.com posted an initial article about the riots in Keene and continued to update the post as new information was released. On Sunday, more content was posted discussing arrests made during and after the riots and an event organizer who “loses cool over riots” on live broadcast. With the popularity of social media to tell one’s own life story, the pieces about the riots were often accompanied by images taken from Twitter or Instagram posted on personal accounts. In addition to the social media content, articles linked to livestream videos and primary sources. An opinion piece by Luke O’Neil, labeled as “Special to Boston.com,” posted Monday morning added analysis to the reports and attempted to identify why the annual Pumpkin Festival quickly escalated.

The organizations utilized multimedia to convey their stories in ways fitting with their style. The Globe created a gallery of photos taken primarily by Globe Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox and Globe Staff Dina Rudick. The images were photographs; poised, with intent to tell a story.  Images used by Boston.com were more often crowd sourced, unedited, and raw. You weren’t watching college students clean up broken glass; you were there as people ripped signs out of the ground. You were laughing as drunk college kids said dumb things and danced in a mosh pit. You were running from the tear gas thrown police threw at you.

The reporting from Boston.com felt more rushed and desperate to find information, while the Boston Globe’s reporting seemed more filtered. However, the Globe was also polished and after-the-fact, while Boston.com’s was more immediate and uncensored. As social media and use of the public’s content becomes more common place, differences between older and newer methods of reporting on events will continue to widen.

NewsTracker: Movie time in Boston

Boston.com’s movie section tends to focus on movies filmed in Boston or actors from Boston (no surprises there). This section keeps readers in the loop about national movies and actors as well, but let’s be honest: most readers only care about Boston-related content. The pressure is on to create fun, interesting, new multimedia content on movies circulating on the website to keep readers entertained by the entertainment industry.

Timeliness is a friend of Boston.com’s content. From outbreak films due to the frenzy over Ebola to the latest Robert Downey, Jr. movie, The Judge, Boston.com pumps out multimedia content surrounding movies. Most articles are published in bursts and feature at least one photo or movie clip in each piece. New England-centric themes still dominate this section, with headlines like, “Why They Shot ‘The Judge’ in Shelburne Falls, Mass.”

Ghostbuster‘ article surrounding buzz on ‘Ghostbusters 3‘ and the 30th anniversary of the original movie allowed creators some flexibility with multimedia. In a comparative post, each of the main actors have photo sliders featuring their photos in the 1984 movie and them currently.

Regardless of location, actors from Boston are always of interest. A review of ‘Gone Girl’ focuses on Ben Affleck‘s role in the film and highlighted his insistence on NOT wearing a Yankees hat. Matt Damon‘s rumored return to the Bourne series made headlines at this media outlet.

Per usual, the quirky nature of Boston.com allows less-serious content to be juxtaposed with news-type content. Perhaps, as you read about the Mad in America Film Festival and consider the reflection in entertainment of mental health in the US, you also want to learn about “The 8 Most Important Jheri Curls.” They’re both important. Obviously.

NewsTracker: Health

Massachusetts residents pride themselves on being fairly healthy, so it makes sense that the content of the Health section on Boston.com is fairly extensive.

Health news is a regularly updated section covering the most concerning issues for Boston residents. Boston.com has followed the Ebola outbreak with updates primarily regarding potential cases in New England. Most recently, the CDC announced that a potential case is not Ebola. In addition to the more serious news articles, Boston.com’s cheekiness has again come into play with “104 Things More Likely to Kill You Than Ebola.” Granted, the “you” target most likely lives in New England where the chance is currently very low.

Most content of this section is evergreen: the material could be posted at any time because it is applicable at any time during the year. Bostonians like to stay fit, so informational pieces on ways to stay active (e.g. maintaining a strong core) are common.

Other tips are more focused on medical health. Pieces help parents with tough topics, such as teen contraception. Adults can also find tips on common topics like flu shots or more unusual topics such as self-defense.

For all the great content in this section, articles are posted at most once per day. I would like to see more content from Boston.com’s health section because this is very useful information that applies to everyone.

Some ran, some walked, some rolled. "We want to encourage healthy lifestyles," Sarah Fanous, organizer of the event said.

Run Like An Antelope: The Megan Lally Memorial 5K

Perhaps the Megan Lally Memorial Run Like an Antelope 5K and Fun Walk is not the event that pops into your mind when you think about breast cancer. October is known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but the goal of this event is not awareness; it’s action.

Friends of Megan Lally created the Megan Lally Memorial Run Like an Antelope 5K and Fun Walk as a way to memorialize their friend and some of her favorite things: running, live music, and beer. Named after the Phish song, and in tribute of her dedication to running half-marathons and 5Ks even while she was undergoing treatment, the event aims to fund the effort to find a cure for breast cancer.

Now in its third year, the Run Like an Antelope 5K and Fun Walk is a fundraiser for metastatic breast cancer research at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA. In previous years, the event raised over $20,000 for the research center.

“Awareness isn’t the issue now days; the Susan Komen Foundation and other organizations like that have made people aware of the issue for 15, 20 years,” co-organizer of the event Sarah Fanous said. The Megan Lally Foundation aims to raise money solely for cancer research. “It would be great if we could find a cure, but we’re just doing our part to help.”

As sounds from the piano, guitar, and drums blared from the speakers, toddlers swayed to the music and grinned at each other. Moms chased their kids around and dogs with race numbers on their backs ate any morsel of food that fell on the ground. College kids, either volunteers or participants in the 5K, scampered around the parking lot to prepare for the race.

The event hosted approximately 150 participants (four-legged friends included) while around 50 volunteers ensured it ran smoothly. The total amount raised has not yet been calculated, but Fanous estimates the sum to be well over $10,000.

“The good one does outlives that person. When I look at Rusty, and Megan’s friends, and her family in the crowd, I can see that,” UMass Cancer Center director Dr. Giles Whalen said.

The organizers of the Megan Lally Foundation created this organization to do their part to help the fight against cancer. Many of them are Lally’s friends from high school and college.

“Megan was the strongest person I know,” Fanous said, who had attended Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, MA, with Lally. “She touched a lot of us.”

Megan Lally grew up in Achusnet, MA, and graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She was a systems engineer and worked throughout her treatment, when she could. She battled metastatic breast cancer for 3.5 years before she succumbed to the illness in September 2011.

Throughout her treatment, Lally kept a blog about her personal and medical experiences. At the time of her diagnosis, Google was not well saturated with information on what it meant to be a breast cancer patient. Lally hoped that her blog would be a resource for breast cancer patients to better understand the process. Soon, readers around the world followed her blog.

Her blog is frank and, perhaps most admirably, honest. She didn’t fluff over the difficult parts and apologized for her potentially “TMI” (too much information) content. As she became too sick to write, her husband Rusty would post on her behalf.

Rusty wrote posts on the days leading up to Lally’s death for years later. The sadness and hole left in his life are palpable in these posts. He ended one of them reflecting on her love of music:

In the comfort of our home, surrounded by posters and other memorabilia from the literally hundreds of concerts we had attended together, we were still finding ways to connect and share and love, even in these, thus-far, darkest-of-our-days.

There would be music playing in our home for much of the remainder of Megan’s time on Earth, from this point onward.

Will I need to apologize to my grandchildren when my home is lost to sea level rise?

Catalyzing Action: Generation Y needs to stop climate change

Catalyzing Action. “Catalyze,” to bring about or inspire, and “action,” the bringing about of an alteration by force. This was the title of the United Nations Climate Summit 2014, convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to address climate change with the political leaders of the world.

But the problem of climate change isn’t just for political leaders to fix. It is an issue that all levels of society must address. The leaders of today grew up in a system with a problem and tried to change some parts of it. Some effort was given; the reduction of the ozone hole over Antarctica and policies like the Montreal Protocol. However, was it enough? From the multitude of reports by scientists and organizations around the world, the actions of the previous generation were not enough.

Climate change has now fallen into the lap of Generation Y. While the UN leaders sort out these issues, we, too, must do our best to resolve the issue.

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner read her poem addressed to her 7-month old daughter “Dear Matafele Peinam” to leaders at the summit. Her primary message: We deserve to do more than just survive; we deserve to thrive.” However, as sea levels continue to rise, low-lying islands are sucummbing to the ocean and people are losing their homes.

Unfortunately, climate change refugees have begun their exodus. In August 2014, the New Zealand government accepted a family from Tuvalu as refugees in part due to the loss of land in their island nation. This ruling could open the floodgates for more climate change refugees. Kiribati has began training its workers in highly-skilled industries through the Migration with Dignity program to increase refugees’ chances of acceptance into another nation when they are forced to leave their homes.

My generation will be the one accepting these refugees. We, too, will have to apologize to these islanders that we did not do enough to stop them from losing their homes. Sea level rise is just one of the many effects of climate change. What else will my generation need to apologize for?

Catalyzing action to prevent climate change must happen now. It can’t just happen at UN Summits or in political speeches. We must act to stop the change, stop the loss, and stop the apologies.

 

Will I need to apologize to my grandchildren when my home is lost to sea level rise?
Will I need to apologize to my grandchildren when my home is lost to sea level rise?

NewsTracker: Food and Dining and YUM.

Hungry for something new? Boston.com’s food and dining section has been on point recently. While I’m generally not a fan of reading or looking at food online (I much prefer it in front of me), pieces in the food and dining section made food accessible to the average viewer.

Most of the articles featured recipes and instructional videos on a variety of dishes and drinks. I thought it was interesting that restaurant reviews were not recently posted on the section, but more unusual ways of approaching a food section pervaded the content. Series such as “Healthy Dinners for the Broke and Lazy College Student” have revived the somewhat bourgeoisie type of section for a younger audience with a smaller paycheck. Cheeky articles like the lack of Pepe’s Pizza in Boston, complete with a photo of a sad-looking Doug Saffir, have added spice to a topic that is often starving for innovation.

Staff reporter Doug Saffir included this photo of himself in his article about New Haven pizza.
Staff reporter Doug Saffir included this photo of himself in his article about New Haven pizza.

The Drink of the Week section most reliably includes multimedia pieces. Most recently, the Bohemian from Beat Hotel gained the spotlight. Unfortunately, these videos are not necessarily made well. The introductory shot, although often well composed, runs a title screen straight from a basic version of iMovie. Background sounds throughout the pieces tend to distract the audience from what the bartender is saying.

Although the food and dining section could use some tweaks, particularly in multimedia, the section has done quite a bit to keep the information new and fun. As Boston.com generally appeals to a younger audience, movement toward more multimedia while sustaining fresh topics will develop the food and dining section further.

NewsTracker: Sports

Sports coverage at Boston.com is one of the most updated section on the webpage. In the past 24 hours, 18 articles have been posted about the Patriots-Raiders game. Are sports enthusiasts really that hungry for more information?

Despite the extensive coverage, the articles seem to cover the same topics. Two opinion pieces (by Adam Kaufman and Eric Wilbur) posted within four hours of each other use rhetorical “Should we worry about the Patriots?” in their headlines. Perhaps this is a mistake on the editor’s part, but I don’t think two opinion pieces of the same content with very similar headlines are necessary.* Additionally, local sports journalists are often criticized for being too kind to Boston teams. The home-team bias of these writers is fairly apparent in both the content and extensive (perhaps unnecessary) coverage.

The navigation bar at the top of each page changes to reflect similar topics to the webpage the user is currently on. Generally, the navigation bar does not help much–I’ve tended to return to the homepage before I continue navigation. However, the sports navigation bar is very helpful. From the sports homepage, the user can find the most popular New England professional sports teams, popular columnists, tickets, scores, and forums on various sports.

On the Boston.com app, the over-emphasis on sports remains true. The Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots have individual sections in addition to a general Sports tab (which includes articles on some of the teams).

While the strength in sports reporting is admirable, I would like to see more coverage of other topics. Some national news stories are well-covered on Boston.com, while others receive little or no attention. Should one desire up-to-date news coverage, the Boston Globe is a much better media source; for New England-centric sports coverage, Boston.com is a great media outlet.

 

*One of the pieces was removed from the sports homepage approximately 30 minutes after it was posted, but remains on the columnist page.

NewsTracker: Boston.com

I’m reviewing Boston.com for my NewsTrack assignments. You can check here weekly for my assessments of its effectiveness as a news organization.

 

Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 11.30.35 AM

Boston.com is a branch of the Boston Globe that provides news for free (“free” being a relative term) on events in New England. It offers viewers a number of ways to stay up-to-date with events via the Boston.com app, social media, text updates, RSS feeds and (debatably) email updates. I tried to subscribe to email updates, but the link does not work.

The primary foci of the media organization is news and sports, to some extent a reflection of its audience. Since Boston is a sports-loving city, the Boston-based football, baseball, hockey, and basketball teams have their own sections on the app and on the website. Some of the staff sports reporters also have their own sections on the sports webpage.

On the “top fold” of the website, there’s a section for “Top News” highlighting the most recent stories and often covers breaking news events or sports. Weather, traffic, and in-house advertisements for the Boston Globe are also at the top. Advertisements also sit beneath the navigation bar and beneath the in-house ad. The top part of the webpage tends to be text-heavy, so interest is reliant upon headlines instead of visual content.

I would suggest the web developer for Boston.com navigate through the primary webpages because several faulty links left me disappointed that I couldn’t access some features of the website. Boston.com would benefit from more visual elements on the top of the page instead of the bottom. Diversifying the foci of the media organization would also be beneficial; although other topics exist, they are not updated as frequently as sports and news. Some topics (e.g. food and dining) are listed under multiple tabs. I’m not sure if this is a mistake or intentional. Cleaning up the webpage and making it more user-friendly would largely benefit the effectiveness of Boston.com.