A blogger's essay creates an online frenzy

In terms of generating Internet buzz, the front-page New York Times Magazine essay penned by former Gawker editor Emily Gould, which was featured prominently on the newspaper's Web site, would generally be considered a homerun.

In terms of generating Internet buzz, the front-page New York Times Magazine essay penned by former Gawker editor Emily Gould, which was featured prominently on the newspaper's Web site, would generally be considered a homerun.

Published online the week before its May 25 printing, the first-person account of Gould's odyssey from publishing house associate editor, to blogger and pseudo-celebrity, to scorned lover of fellow Gawker scribe Joshua David Stein generated more than 1,200 comments and the attention of thousands of bloggers.

However, many of the comments on the Times' Web site, and commentaries from bloggers and media critics around the Web, were not kind to Gould - or the Times editorial staff for granting her placement generally reserved for presidential candidates, household names, and in-depth investigations.

For one, Huffington Post media and special projects editor Rachel Sklar slammed the piece in a post, claiming it was a poorly chosen attempt to create user comments. Calling it "an extended blog post, an overlong 'Modern Love' essay," Sklar pointed out that its 7,937 words surpassed that of the Times' recent investigative coverage of the Pentagon's ties to military TV analysts.

Choire Sicha, former Gawker lead editor, tells PRWeek that he was "a little shocked at the outcry," noting that newspapers commonly run first-person essays.

"[The essay] is really not all that different for the Times magazine, and even if it were, so what?" he asks. "Apart from whether it's a question of [front-page placement] to create buzz or not, and I'm not even sure it is, it's definitely in the [New York Magazine editor] Adam Moss-ian tradition of the way we live now, like it or not."

Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati, who did not return phone calls for comment, told the FishbowlNY blog that the number of comments shows a clear public interest in Gould's story.

"These are the kinds of things readers are engaged by on a Sunday morning," Marzorati told the blog hours after the essay was posted online. "How the Internet is re-describing how we understand privacy, intimacy, and personal history is, I think, such an issue, and the fact that the story - an 8,000-word story - has already in six hours or so, attracted more than 600 comments... leads me to believe a lot of folks agree."

Although, apparently, the publication could only take so much reader engagement, as the Times shut down the comments section more than once.

At least one media critic dismissed the clamor. The Times, as the most read news Web site, doesn't need to print first-person essays about the love and personal lives of bloggers to draw attention to itself, explains Kelly McBride, Poynter Institute ethics group leader. The essay did not detract from the Times' coverage of important national and international issues, she added.

"If you look at what the Times' audience is, a lot of what they do is to provide translation for its audience - a very smart analytical translation of trends involving the new ways that information is passed along - and this is exactly what the article did. It was sort of a window into a world," she says.

"I thought it was a fairly smart choice of articles and the placement was appropriate. If they had put it on the [newspaper] front page... people would have said, 'What is this doing here?'"

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