Saturday and Sunday morning breakfasts are the only regular times Adam Gaffin is not on alert for breaking news, or searching online for Boston related content.
On those mornings, he keeps his laptop closed and smart phone in his pocket so he can enjoy a meal with his wife and daughter in their Roslindale home.
This courtesy isn’t extended to other times of the day, or running errands. Gaffin has posted a story from inside Sears as his family shopping.
Since 2009 managing Universal Hub, a popular Boston news blog, has been Gaffin’s full time job. Each morning he wakes up and checks his email, Twitter, various news regional news sources, the city website, Massachusetts Most Wanted. He filters everything he reads down to three to five things he’ll post online before it hits noon.
“I do work on the weekends. It drives my wife and daughter nuts,” the 53-year-old father said. “It’s more than full time. The news never stops.”
Gaffin is the driving force behind the content creation and tweeting, though he has some regular contributors. Throughout the day, he will stay as busy as he is in the morning whether he is at table or riding his stationary bike, and is constantly updating.
For the most part, he is the main writer, but other area journalism hobbyists contribute as well, like John Keith, 47, whose day job is selling real estate at his own company.
“The amount of content is amazing. It’s more than you could expect a group of people to write. It’s probably 10 times a day,” said Keith, who writes once every few months for Universal Hub. “There’s other sites that should be doing this now, like Patch by AOL, but they don’t.”
The website began as a fascination with the Internet when Gaffin learned of its power during the Tiananmen Square protests in China, where university students were coordinating through internal computers at their schools. As the Internet grew, he started a collection of newsgathering websites, which developed into a blog role of Boston writers.
He began adding more breaking and local news to the conversation himself because of a fascination in local stories. He recalls coming home from work and Washington Street was shut down for three quarters of a mile because two kids were shot, but he didn’t see the large news organizations cover it.
“The next day, it wasn’t in The Globe or Herald, so I wanted to start doing that kind of thing. You hear a lot of sirens and you first think, what is that?” Gaffin said. “I like telling people what just happened because you’re curious.”
When he began serious expansion of the site in 2005, the concept was that there was a lot happening in the community that Bostonians didn’t know about. These smaller stories were overlooked or buried by mainstream media, so a resident who heard fire trucks might not have their curiosity satisfied.
In 2009 when he was laid off from Network World. UH, he decided to try it as a full time job by boosting content and create more original posts.
The site has a developed audience, and includes original reporting from scanners or Licensing Board meetings, anecdotes and photos readers send in, and a variety of articles from publications like college newspapers to the Globe and hundreds of community blogs.
“He reports news you can’t get anywhere else, and he also aggregates news from just about every other website in the city,” Keith said. “He’s doing a lot of work that other people wouldn’t do on their own. It’s easier to see what’s going on through one source.”
The growth of the site has been in part because mainstream media doesn’t catch everything happening in the city, and now some of the large sources in Boston now turn to Gaffin for breaking news content.
At The Boston Globe, a push for breaking news content on the Metro Desk blog has co-ops and reporters writing small community updates much like Universal Hub, and look to Gaffin’s website for story ideas.
“Usually Adam’s website has something to back up what he’s saying,” said Amanda Cedrone, a part time Globe city desk co-op, who also fills two night reporting shifts a week. “Nothing on the scanner or Twitter is ever for sure, you have to look into it and it can be the complete opposite of what’s actually happening. But things that Adam will post he generally has more evidence for.”
As Twitter broke on the scene, there was more to post about and gave Gaffin a new medium as a Boston news curator, where he as nearly 12,000 followers and has sent out almost 53,000 tweets.
“The interesting thing about Twitter is it’s just this great news source,” he said. “I post a lot more, partly because of Twitter. When something breaks, before I was relying on blogs and people that don’t tend to do [report] in real time.”
Gaffin said he is still learning the kinks of Twitter, though. While he constantly retweets what people notice around the city (and instinctively tag him in), he will also tweet what he hears over the emergency services scanners. At times there can be a spread of misinformation, and he said the same journalistic principles apply online – verify before reporting.
The culture of Twitter has also made way for citizen journalists, allowing Gaffin to sit at home or in a Panera Bread and report what is happening in real time without being on the scene.
“Everyone walks around with a camera now; everyone is essentially a reporter,” he said. “News is a two-way conversation. There’s still a role for editors and journalists because it’s like a wire feed; you’re getting a vast amount of stuff and you still have to filter it.”
With the background of a journalist, Gaffin said he has faced issues trying to monetize the website, and earns his income from not only the website, but helping companies and individuals use the content management system Universal Hub runs on, Drupal. Ideally, he will be able to hire an advertising representative in the future, but that poses the problem of having to pay another person, which he can’t afford to do quite yet.
“The advertising is a completely different skill,” he said. “You have to deal with rejection a lot more. With advertising, you make a lot of calls and knock on a lot of doors.”
Because Gaffin is the only person behind Universal Hub, the site has developed a different feel, focusing on crime and the idiosyncrasies of Boston. He admitted he is a sucker for any animal story, and people will go out of their way to Tweet or email him about it, and his name has become synonymous with Universal Hub.
“He has such a wide readership that people will go to him first,” Keith said. “He has become the de facto source for community led, or community based, media.”