Outside the Frame: First-Person Recession Part 2

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Amanda HirschFreelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her column, Outside the Frame.

Read Part 1 of this series on how Americans are documenting their recession experiences online.

This week, I set out to see how professional news websites are integrating user-generated content into their recession coverage. The results are pretty unimpressive, I’m sorry to say, after reviewing about a dozen major news sites. But since I’m a glass-half-full kind of gal — let’s focus on those who got it right:

The New York Times
The Times‘ “Living With Less” series proclaims a focus on the human side of the global recession, and it delivers, with a well-designed integration of professional and user-driven storytelling. The site is anchored by articles and slideshows produced by Times staff; these features are presented right alongside user-submitted “survival stories” (“Grow your own vegetables,” suggests ML from New York. “I’m on unemployment, but I still have $15 per week deposited automatically into my savings account. Better than saving nothing,” writes Dylan in California). The site also includes an interactive feature depicting readers’ moods, which lets you toggle between submissions from those who are “employed” and “unemployed”:

Screenshot from the NYTimes' Living for Less section

With its thoughtful solicitation and presentation of users’ perspectives on the recession, smartly integrated with its own professional coverage, the Times is head and shoulders above the other sites I reviewed.

Salon.com
Participants in Salon’s “Open Salon” community have contributed well-written blog posts about the recession, which are grouped under the “economy” tag (I had to dig a bit to find this: from the Open Salon homepage, click Topics, then click “economy” in the tag cloud at left). Bloggers offer diverse perspectives on everything from a healthcare graffiti battle in Flint, Michigan to a satirical skewering of the government’s Cash for Clunkers program. Salon loses points for keeping its community-generated content in a silo, and making it harder than it needs to be to sort content by topic. But the site gains points for the impressive range and generally high quality of the material its users submit.

Patchwork Nation
Patchwork Nation, a co-production of Christian Science Monitor, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and local PBS stations, includes community bloggers in its coverage of how the recession is impacting a range of communities around the country; the site also features photos submitted to the project’s Flickr group:

Screenshot of Patchwork Nation

While Patchwork excels at local/national storytelling about the economy, opportunities for members of the general public to submit content are limited to the Flickr group. (Full disclosure: I’m the project manager for an economic news initiative involving 12 public media organizations, including The NewsHour.)

I’m sure there are examples I’ve missed; submit your picks using the comments feature below. While you’re at it, let me know — have you shared any of your recession experiences online? Why or why not?

Amanda Hirsch
Amanda Hirsch
Amanda Hirsch is former editorial director of PBS Interactive.