HIP HUB HOORAY Adam Gaffin’s Universal Hub blog gives him a forum to critique the press’s spotty coverage of Boston politics, inner-city crime, and problems at the MBTA.
Greater Boston has witnessed a shocking amount of drama in the new year. A woman screamed obscenities at a Starbucks employee who’d chided her for changing her baby’s diaper on a store table. An Israeli visitor to Mattapan got a chilly welcome from that neighborhood’s mostly black residents (or thought he did, anyway). A 17-year-old blind kid from East Boston was busted by the FBI after reporting a bunch of fake crimes. Also, WTKK-FM talk-show host Jay Severin said that poor people smell.
If you get your information from newspapers, radio, or TV, you probably missed these stories. But if you’re a regular reader of the wry, boundless blog Universal Hub — which aggregates and invites comment on Boston-centric Web content, blog-based and otherwise, from the profound to the absurd — they’re old news. This, in turn, is because Adam Gaffin, Universal Hub’s founder and administrator, spends a substantial chunk of his waking hours looking for any and all new postings with a Boston hook. He wades through hundreds of RSS feeds. He feeds specific search terms into Google News to seek out new sources. And he does this every day — after he wakes up, during his lunch break, while he rides his exercise bike at night, even when he’s on vacation.
This might suggest that Gaffin aspires to do for Boston what Jim Romenesko does for journalism. But because Universal Hub (henceforth, U-Hub) is a multifaceted beast, the analogy doesn’t quite work. For one thing, U-Hub generates more reader responses than Romenesko’s Poynter Institute blog (poynter.org/medianews). It also doubles as an experiment in citizen journalism since it allows readers to create their own posts. But because they rarely do, U-Hub has become, in part, a platform for Gaffin to play media critic and acerbic local-news commentator — which he does with aplomb.
He is, for example, a detractor of certain employees and editorial practices of the Boston Globe, a role he embraced even when he wrote a short-lived blogs column for that paper’s City Weekly section. Gaffin’s preferred target used to be metro columnist Brian McGrory; after McGrory became metro editor, Gaffin turned his attention to metro columnist Adrian Walker, who he claims tackles good stories late, and without new insights.
At any particular moment, U-Hub might seem straight-laced compared with a perpetually snarky site like Gawker. But after a while, Gaffin’s pet peeves — including the homogenizing effects of gentrification, elitism in general, and the press’s spotty coverage of Boston politics, inner-city crime, and problems at the MBTA — start to jump off the screen. On the latter subtopic, Gaffin says: “With the number of [blog] stories that I pick up every day about people taking the T, it could be its own blog. And it’s always puzzled me why the Globe hasn’t figured that out. They have some very smart Web people there; they have some good bloggers. But they have this thing” — i.e., the MBTA system — “that’s just sitting out there; it’s ripe. And for some reason, they ignore it.”