A Blog Around The Clock

Talkin’ Trash

I know everyone in the sci-blogosphere is swooning over Carl Sagan. But as a kid I never cared much about him – I usually fell asleep halfway through each episode of ‘Cosmos’. But I would not miss for anything an episode of ‘The Underwater Odyssey of Commander Cousteau’ with Jacques-Yves Cousteau. That was breathtaking. And what he and the crew of Calypso did was truly ground-breaking, both in terms of scientific discoveries and in terms of under-water filming. And those discoveries and breakthroughs were shared with us, the audience, in an intimate and immediate manner.

That was a long time ago. The techniques of under-water filming pioneered by the crew are now probably considered to be ‘nothing special’. And I bet half the crew of Calypso were cameramen and sound engineers and lighting engineers and video mixers and other TV and movie professionals.

Can’t do that any more. Or rarely, with a huge cost, only on a very limited number of voyages on very large ships.

But what one can do, even on vessels much smaller than Calypso, is to have an embedded reporter. Not an old-timey one, but a modern reporter: someone who can search the Web for information, who can write, and blog, and tweet, and take and post photographs, and record and post audio podcasts, and record and post videos, all without help from any professional engineers, using small portable digital equipment and, most importantly, doing it in nearly Real Time, not after the ship docks after the voyage.

One of those new-style embedded reporters on a research ship is Lindsey Hoshaw. I was alerted to her by a tweet by Jay Rosen on Saturday. How did she get to do that?

She is a Stanford graduate in environmental journalism who was interested in the Pacific Garbage Patch and she put her proposal on Spot.us and asked people to help her raise the necessary funds:

I’ve been offered a space aboard the ship as the only journalist to chronicle this voyage. My enthusiasm for this project is only surpassed by the amazing opportunity I’ve been offered by The New York Times to publish an article and accompanying photos of my journey.

The Times has never written extensively about the Garbage Patch and my multimedia slideshow and article will be the first of its kind for the newspaper’s website.

As a recent graduate of Stanford University’s communications program, I have a background in environmental journalism. I have produced podcasts, audio slideshows and videos about environmental issues in the Bay Area and I have been studying the Garbage Patch for the past three years.

From their side the New York Times did not promise they’ll carry the story, but appear quite inclined to do so if the quality of her work is good:

LINDSEY HOSHAW, a freelance journalist in Palo Alto, Calif., hopes to sell a multimedia slide show and maybe an article to The Times about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of floating plastic trash caught in swirling currents in a stretch of ocean twice the size of Texas.

But first, she has to get there. To help finance a $10,000 reporting trip aboard a research vessel, Hoshaw has turned to Spot.Us, a Web site where reporters appeal for donations to pay for their projects. If she can raise $6,000 before the September departure date — so far, only about $1,600 has come in — she will take out a loan for the rest, she said.

The Times has told Hoshaw that it might pay about $700 for the pictures, more if it also buys a story.

To some, this is exploitation — the mighty New York Times forcing a struggling journalist to beg with a virtual tin cup. But Hoshaw does not think so. To her, it is an opportunity she cannot pass up — a story she has long dreamed of, and a chance for a byline in The Times. To David Cohn, the founder of the nonprofit Spot.Us, it is a way for the public to commission journalism that it wants. For The Times, it is another step into a new world unthinkable even a few years ago.

She got on the ship today! You can follow Lindsey Hoshaw’s trip on Twitter (which she wisely separated from her personal account) and on her brand new blog.

You can follow her voyage on the Facebook page as well, where she also wrote:

What does this all mean both for Spot.Us and for the potential future of journalism? We would never claim to have answers, but we do have theories.

Every pitch on Spot.Us is defacto a collaboration. At the very least it is between the reporter and the community of supporters.

But often news organizations get involved. Sometimes we get TWO news organizations involved. In the future – I hope we can get THREE news organizations to collaborate around a single pitch.

We are producing a custom CMS that is based around the idea that “collaboration is queen.” It is the acknowledgment that no single news organization can do everything and that it is okay to “link to the rest.” It requires a new level of transparency and honesty in our reporting.

On Rebooting the News #24 this morning (I am assuming that all my readers listen to the show religiously every Monday), Jay and Dave talked about her as well:

On September 8, Lindsey Hoshaw set sail for The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge pool of debris out in the middle of the Pacific that’s been known about for a while but rarely reported on or photographed. Her trip has been funded by users who think it’s an important venture. That happened at spot.us, the crowd-funding site for investigative journalism created by David Cohn, who used to work with Jay on NewAssignment.Net. (Background: See Lindsey’s original pitch in July 2009 and Jay’s original post for NewAssignment.Net back in 2006.) The New York Times has agreed to run her account and photos if they are up to Times standards. Meanwhile you can follow along on Twitter by adding thegarbagegirl.

That’s the re-booted system of news at work, already at work!

Dave: we’ve had reporters there before. Anyone who sailed by the Garbage Patch could have been our correspondent on the scene. We just have to teach them to do it.

Jay: it’s unlikely we’d be able to fund a reporter and a photographer and a videographer, which is why it’s important for journalists to be able to do multiple things.

Now you may say “Hmmm, that sounds familiar….didn’t I hear something about this before?” And yes, you did.

Another research vessel just returned from the Pacific Gyre where the crew studied the Garbage Patch. That was the Seaplex expedition, led by Miriam Goldstein, a well-known ocean blogger from the Oyster’s Garter blog. Miriam too, separated her personal Twitter account from the expedition account (I don’t actually know who from the crew tweeted from the official account). And she also blogged about it on the official Seaplex blog. So that crew also had an ‘embedded reporter’ of sorts – Miriam herself.

But take another look at the crew. Notice something? Miriam was not the only experienced blogger there. Or even the most experienced as a reporter. There were three other people there whose main purpose was to record and report from the trip – the Project Kaisei people, who also used their own Twitter account. One of them is Annie Crawley, founder of DiveImagination who also tweeted from the voyage.

So it seems all these trips have young journalists embedded as reporters, or as parts of the scientific crew, using all the modern communication technologies to report from the voyages in real time as well as to prepare more robust reports afterwards.

Oh, did I say that’s all? No, Lindsey Hoshaw is not the only person with reporting and blogging experience on that ship. There is also Bonnie Monteleone on board. Bonnie is a blogger on The Plastic Ocean (associated with the organization of the same name (hat-tip to North Carolina Sierra Club Blog):

UNCW’s Bonnie Monteleone and Jennifer O’Keefe, Director of Keep America Beautiful- New Hanover County, will represent North Carolina’s passion for the ocean by going out into the Atlantic Gyre, followed by Monteleone joining Algalita Marine Research Foundation into the North Pacific Gyre. They will be taking samples to quantify pelagic plastics found on the oceans surface, collecting surface feeding fish to necropsy for ingested plastics and bringing national awareness to the issues of man made debris entering our oceans. Most of this research is personally funded and why they need your help.

So Bonnie, who is both a student at UNC-Wilmington and staff in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry there, will be able to do a direct comparison between the Atlantic and Pacific Garbage Patches. And write and post videos from both expeditions.

Ah, what a tangled web! And the distinctions are getting blurry – who is a scientist, who is crew, who is journalist? Everyone is a little bit of everything these days. The journalists are surrounded by scientists – a constant source of information – and scientists are surrounded by journalists – a constant source of questions. They both also help with the daily ship routines (there is no space on small ships for freeloaders – hoist the sails!). And they all report from the voyage, each in his or her own way, some focusing more on the science, others more on the human connection, both at least some on the personal experience.

Now, if you’ve ever been to one of the ScienceOnline conferences (e.g., last year, or the year before….), you know that Ocean Bloggers are a jolly bunch – they come to the conference and what do they do for three days non-stop? They sing Sea Shanties! But they also do the best, most creative and most informative sessions! They are totally at the cutting edge of the new online technologies and many of them are awesome writers.

Karen, Craig, Kevin, Miriam, Mark, Jennifer, Rick, Allie, Christie, James, Jason, Sheril, Andrew and David and many others are all amazing bloggers! And very active on Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and elsewhere online (it is entirely possible that Karen tweets more times per day than I do!).

And I know that most of them are planning to come to ScienceOnline2010. I have learned that the best thing to do with the Ocean Bloggers is to give them an one-hour time slot and let them loose. They don’t need no guidance from me – they are much more creative than I am and ‘get’ the spirit of the Unconference better than most. They’ll plot something in secret and surprise us all right there and then.

Also, what I did as soon as I saw Jay’s original tweet was start following Lindsey Hoshaw on Twitter. She followed me back so we could exchange Direct Messages….and, she’ll also try to come to ScienceOnline2010. Now I just need to catch Bonnie (she is in Wilmington, an hour’s drive from here – perhaps she can carpool with Anne-Marie) and Annie Crawley and all the ‘embedded reporters’ and bloggers from all of this summer’s Garbage Patch voyages will be there. So perhaps they can all get together and tell us all about it – compare notes. Each one of them came to this with a different background, with different skills and experiences, with different goals. What did they learn about modern journalism out at sea?

Or perhaps they can put all of their stuff together – all the tweets, blog posts, photographs, podcasts, videos and polished articles (or at least links to polished articles if they are published in corporate media, e.g., New York Times) can, perhaps, be placed in a single online spot which we can then all link to and boost the Google rank so people who search for the ‘Garbage Patch’ find it up high in their searches. Perhaps they can plot how to do it at their session. Or, knowing them, they can do it quicker and use the conference to unveil the site to the world.

Remember what Lindsey Hoshaw wrote (above):

What does this all mean both for Spot.Us and for the potential future of journalism? We would never claim to have answers, but we do have theories. Every pitch on Spot.Us is defacto a collaboration. At the very least it is between the reporter and the community of supporters. But often news organizations get involved. Sometimes we get TWO news organizations involved. In the future – I hope we can get THREE news organizations to collaborate around a single pitch. We are producing a custom CMS that is based around the idea that “collaboration is queen.” It is the acknowledgment that no single news organization can do everything and that it is okay to “link to the rest.” It requires a new level of transparency and honesty in our reporting.

Today, we are all Jacques-Yves Cousteau. And all of the filming crew.

Last year some of the ocean bloggers were involved in the session with the title “Hey! You Can’t Say That!”. Perhaps next year they can call the session “Oh, You Bet I Can Talk Trash!” or “Blogging Garbage” or, like this post, “Talking Trash”….

Whatever they decide to do, I am looking forward to the result, and to their session. And the Sea Shanties the evening after it.

Comments

  1. #1 llewelly
    September 9, 2009

    I have learned that the best thing to do with the Ocean Bloggers is to give them an one-hour time slot and let them lose.

    “lose”?
    Uh, wait. Don’t you want them to win? What do you mean here?

  2. #2 Coturnix
    September 9, 2009

    Arrrggh – late night blogging by a non-native speaker. Will fix the spelling – two Os, eh? Thanks

  3. #3 Miriam
    September 9, 2009

    Thanks, Bora! I definitely have some thoughts I’d like to share on the SEAPLEX outreach effort. I especially want to emphasize that blogging/tweeting as an official representative of one’s institution is very different than blogging for yourself. And that as scientists, it’s not trivial to balance “exciting findings!” with “highly preliminary unpublished non-peer-reviewed data that our labwork might contradict.”

    Re: the @seaplexscience Twitter: it’s pretty much me these days, but during the cruise it was also the SIO communications team, Mario Aguilera and Lara Dickens. I also want to emphasize that none of our communications would have been possible without Alison Cawood, a fellow SIO grad student who did all the shoreside support and question-answering. It takes a huge team effort to blog from the field while also doing science 24 hours a day.

  4. #4 Thomas
    September 9, 2009

    Cousteau did a lot of stuff that wouldn’t be acceptable today, such as blasting his way through a reef with dynamite to be able to sail his ship into a lagoon. He also started the myth of sharks as man-eaters, because he wanted drama in his show. You got to see divers inside a cage filming “dangerous” sharks, but you didn’t get to see how the cage was lowered empty and the divers entered afterwards, because the divers were more afraid of being trapped in the cage if the winch should break than they were of any sharks.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.