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Best of 2011 BY Lauren Kirchner – CJR

From AOL to HuffPo, Kirchner picks her top CJR stories from the past year

By Lauren Kirchner

Salon and Slate in the Way-Back Machine: When The Daily launched early this year—to great hype and then to great derision, as it turned out—we at CJR thought about previous trail-blazing publications that launched on formats that probably seemed new and risky at the time. I spoke with the founders of Salon and Slate, two of the first online-only magazines born in the very early years of the World Wide Web (1995 and 1996, respectively) for this piece. My favorite part is the screenshot from a page entitled “How to Use Salon” that literally explains to readers how to click from one page to the next, “just like turning the pages of a magazine.”

The Internet’s Least Helpful Webpages: After writing my requisite this-is-why-content-farms-are-evil piece, I had some fun demonstrating just how awful some of the eHow/WikiHow/Demand/Helium/Answers.com stuff is, by looking at some of the results of searches about the Japanese tsunami. Tips for how to survive a tsunami and a nuclear fallout (Go “somewhere high and safe,” “Eat whole grains”) seemed to be the most ubiquitous—and least helpful—results.

AOL Settled with Unpaid “Volunteers” for $15 Million: In another lessons-from-history piece, I wondered what would happen if the thousands of Huffington Post bloggers tried to sue the site’s new parent company, AOL, for unpaid labor. This was merely a thought experiment at the time, as the acquisition deal had just taken place, and people were just starting to think about what it might mean for HuffPo’s unpaid contributors. I looked at class-action lawsuits from the past to see which claims were successful, which weren’t, and which ones might apply to this new, entirely hypothetical, situation. Months later, of course, several HuffPo bloggers, led by Jonathan Tasini, did try to sue Arianna Huffington and AOL, which hardly anyone thought was a good idea.

Darts and Laurels: In the March/April issue of CJR’s print version, I wrote about a controversial move made by The Portland (Maine) Press Herald. The newspaper’s management gave a huge amount of free ad space to the local Chamber of Commerce, which then used the space to support a “Yes” vote on a ballot referendum in an upcoming election. This in-kind donation was not originally disclosed to the paper’s readers—nor, as it turned out, to the editorial staff, who were then put in the awkward position of having to defend their impartiality when the transaction was revealed.

Information Wants to Be Free”; The NYT Does Not: My stubborn support of paywalls, and a clarification of a catchphrase that has lately gotten away from itself.

Anatomy of a Journalist: My review of Janet Malcolm’s book about a 2009 murder trial in Queens, Iphigenia in Forest Hills. It’s a book that is, like everything she writes, essentially about the tricky business of journalism. Malcolm is one of my favorite unreliable narrators, and I found the ways in which she inserts herself into this family’s story to be strange and fascinating.


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