First impression: I was worried. If it didn't stink like I predicted it would, then at best, I'd just have a dull update; at worst, I'd look like a Y2K doomsday fanatic coming out of the ground January 5, blinking at the sunlight, watching people go in and out of the Arby's across the street, vaguely resentful that they're not all dead.
So looking at it, I thought, "oh, hell." I thought the design was interesting--good to see a change from white every once in a while--and the layout looked fairly together. It had the "random smiling people" concept in the top graphic, which I get kinda tired of, but that's just my personal preference, and not something I could fault them for; it's a well-made design bit. The little section header icons had good composition. Heck, I even dug the "sourcerunner" mouseover in the top left--it's always good to see a designer do something interesting with a mouseover that's more than simply "light up" without being busy or overdone.
So, its good look was making me unhappy, from a cynical bastard point of view--until I saw Jeff's first Insight article started with the phrase "In today's time," and I knew all was right with the world.
Gotta give him credit, because his writing has improved since the last we saw him. But he still digs his passive voice and run-on sentences, despite the fact he's had over a year to work on his "news&media moguls resides behind the door" statement:
It took a while to figure out exactly why this site was created, what could possibly be said about it here and how could it be said. However, after much thought, the conclusion has been drawn that SOURCERUNNER was created not only as an experiment with bandwidth, or an excuse for a few people to play Journalist but to actually provide the people--you--with a source for such items as news, news commentary and other current events related content that wasn't infested by the asinine practices of the news media conglomerates, governed by the editorial guidelines of corporate media as we know it today or for the matter, covered with third party banner advertising in typical online news site fashion.
So his writing's improved, but not much. It's still surprising to see this low quality of writing in a site actually trying to be something significant, but since we saw much worse last time, I can't muster up the same shock as I did then. And anyway, I've done the topic of his writing in the full iSourceline story, so just extrapolate that out a year with some experience, and you get the gist of it. But, this is the first time we've seen a full web site out of him, so let's discuss that:
Design. Can't help myself, I like it. I have some nitpicks: the links aren't a different color from the rest of the text, so if you don't have underlining on (I don't), you have to go mousing for them. The checkerboard pattern of icons and headlines on the front page makes the text difficult to scan (and those icons should be clickable, anyway). Also, the fonts are a bit odd on Netscape--bonus points for using style sheets, but minus points for using "xx-small", which Netscape sucks at rendering.
Still, those are nitpicks. Netscape isn't such a big deal anymore, and I'll bet the uniform text/link color wasn't the designer's decision. I like the layout, I like the professional use of pictures and highlighted quotes in columns, I like the Sourcerunner logo down the right of the pages, I like the "printer friendly" and "e-mail to a friend" options, and like I said earlier, I just dig that Sourcerunner graphic mouseover. Even the Marketplace page, which is basically a collection of standard referral links to Amazon.com and the like, is put together well.
This part was going to go on for two or three more paragraphs, but I had to cut it because I realized I was gushing. I'd imagine it's because my feelings for the design contrast sharply with the bit that you know is coming up later. Until then, we'll talk about:
Intent. This is one where a lot of new sites lose their first impression opportunity. Don't waste a page saying "hi, this is my site, I'll be updating things frequently so check back often, hope you like my corner of the World Wide Web." Jump in. Have a bunch of stuff up and ready to go. Assume you've existed forever and always will. Make your visitors believe it. This will make the difference between looking amateurish and professional.
And Sourcerunner manages this reasonably well. There's a good collection of columns live already; there are a number of categories with information in them. The "site news" section has more "welcome aboard" variants than I'd like, and I think it's too early to have an archive section (just wait and put it in after a month or two), but again, these are personal preferences and not really what I can call faults.
You get the impression of a bunch of people working on it, too. Of course, a cynical eye looking at a members list assumes that less than half of those people are active contributors and the rest just did a thing or two (or have only promised to do so). Even if that's the case, though, it still feels like a group effort, rather than one or two guys sitting in a garage at 3am putting a site together. That's a minor victory right there.
However, they take it a little too far, and in drawing undue attention to their mission, they're only highlighting the Sourcerunner anachronism. Okay, they want it to be a news commentary site, and it looks like they got that together pretty well. I'll admit I'm working against some Internet Sourceline bias, so some of you might be, also. Try clearing your head of it--just think of this as a new site, with multiple contributors, giving opinions and interpretations of the news. On that level, Sourcerunner is working. In another time and place, this would be a great idea.
Although that's my question here: isn't it too late? From the About SR page, under Vision:
SOURCERUNNER was created not only as an experiment with bandwidth, or as an excuse for us to play journalist, but to actually provide the visitors with a source for content not governed by the asinine editorial restrictions of corporate media. Finally, the voice of the average person has come to life!
The Internet is no longer a tool that simply harbors connectivity and information but a wealth of scattered opinions as well. By capitalizing off these possibilities afforded to us, we now have the opportunity to express our outlooks on various topics, ranging from politics to sports, to thousands of passionate people every day by way of one single platform.
It is officially time to open your eyes and realize that the concept of freedom of speech is on the verge of exploding all over again. Anyone with a computer and a connection to the Internet has access to this age-old concept reformatted in a new school package.
Welcome to our world!
Feels like this was written in 1997, you know, the standard "the Internet isn't just for the universities and government anymore, now anyone can put up a Web page and talk to the world!" line. Taken as a whole, though, they seem to be taking credit for the coming Internet commentary explosion. "Finally, the voice of the average person has come to life"? Thousands of below average, average, and above average people have had a voice on the Web for years. There haven't been hordes of opinionated people sitting at home, screaming in anguish at their computer screens, waiting for some news commentary site to set them free. Even if that's judgemental of me--maybe they're not taking credit, they're just saying "the time has finally come"--that bell rang years ago.
Still, that's the marketing copy, and you expect some bluster. The bigger question is, how is this going to work? There's a thanks to the current writers about working for free the first time out; there's a Support SR page that asks for contributions and talks about advertising revenue. So apparently the intention is that the site will generate enough revenue to pay their writers. The business atmosphere is so terrible for this right now, that you'd need two things to really make it work: one, great funding during the start-up phase (which we know they don't have); two, excellent content.
Content. Congratulations, you've made it to the fun part.
Of course, this is where the house of cards falls down. Let's start with Sourcerunner's own explanation of the importance of quality writing:
Our goal is simple: publishing quality content. We do just that, as we work towards that very goal every day by providing you with original, compelling and hard hitting content in a clear and concise form with only the truth in mind.
Despite the fact that there appear to be four editors on staff (Rambo and three others), this badly formed sentence appears at the top of the page where Sourcerunner asks for your money and support. This is probably the last place where you want to convince prospective investors that your writing averages a C-. And besides, I'm just digging the irony that they emphasize the importance of quality writing, and then write it badly.
From the About SR page, we discover about Jeff Rambo:
Most suitably described as being moderately conservative, he often mixes up his takes on many different topics, which truly serve's as an additive to the tangy politically incorrect flavor SOURCERUNNER is infamous for.
(I've linked infamous to m-w.com for your convenience.) Plus, we learn that Rambo calls himself an "Enigma of Life", and "the most controversial person on the Web." Also, "Unlike many, he limit's the spin & rhetoric and switches gear to his candid & blunt demeanor during his search for the truth." I am still amazed that someone who insists his standards are higher than almost everyone else's thinks that an ampersand is a valid replacement for "and" in critical writing.
A quick scan down the bios on this page tells us two things: first, most contributors probably wrote their own bios, because the majority of the other entries aren't written poorly. And an aside here: hands down, the single best piece of text on this site, the real shining moment of Sourcerunner, is Kara Hansen's bio. She probably wrote it herself, and she sounds like a copy editor after my own heart ("she was known to throw copy and sometimes stylebooks at those who would stand in the way of editorial perfection"...man, after reading the rest of this site, I wanted to weep with joy). It gives me the urge to get a crowd of people together and record "Kara, where are you?!" like in the Scooby Doo intro. For the sake of all that is good in the world, I have to hope she's yelling "GOOD GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE" at her walls somewhere, or her name gets off this site quickly, or both.
Second, Rambo considers anything he writes suitable for immediate publication without being shown to other editors. His National entry for the Insight section starts with that "In today's time" sentence I mentioned earlier:
In today's time, most Americans are subject to being manipulated by the mainstream media into believing that they should regard terrorism only as an act of mass violence. It is time to redefine that stance as the industry of Kidnap & Ransom (K&R) is alive and well with no signs of any let-up anytime soon.
(There's that frickin ampersand again, man. I dunno what it is but those ampersands just grate on me.) Rambo has some good points to make--he's more informed on news and politics than I am, and it seems like he can pull various events together to present a big picture point--but he is so clearly in need of an editor, there must be an Ed Wood scale of self-blindness at work, here.
However, since part of his function is Editor-in-Chief, you have to figure that this editing blindness extends to the rest of the site. Here's the starting sentence for Nick Angelides' review for Operation: Swordfish:
With the summer blockbuster season in full swing, Warner Brothers' new movie Swordfish, debuted at theaters hooking over $18 million making it last weekend's largest catch in the film industry climbing over Dreamwork's animated movie Shrek and Disney's Pearl Harbor.
In the review, he refers to X-Men ("It was that one based on the Marvel comic, you know the one dealing with the mutants and world mutation"), "Tom [sic] Raider", and says this about the plot: "... Either way one looks at this film, it is clear and simple, although somewhat weak it is exiting [sic]." If the Web didn't exist, the only way this review could get print circulation would be in a high school newspaper.
So, yes, there's bad writing throughout, but some of the topic choices are odd, too. Scott Mendelsohn writes a pair of bland pieces: in the Lifestyles section, he talks about the terms "African-American" and "White" appearing in the same poll; in the Tech section, he ruminates on the ever-changing world of computers, with the hardly original observation that "it seems like everything is the same drab color and monotone shade". The former might've been edgy several years ago; the latter ends with "Happy cyber-shopping!" for no reason I can determine.
Plus, without any reason or explanation, the Audio, Video, and Photo sections are comically outdated. Audio is Pres Bush the First announcing the start of Desert Storm in 1991; Video and Photo both concern World War II. I can see some context here, because these were highly significant news events, but if Sourcerunner is supposed to be a news commentary site, where's the commentary? Or at least a couple lines to say "these things really have a purpose here other than filler"?
And so on, and so on, and so on. I really started losing my steam on this part. If Sourcerunner can't tell what it's supposed to be, how can I? These site direction issues are the responsibility of the editor-in-chief, which brings us back to the core problem, apparently. One thing I will give them is that H—. scored a few good interviews: former San Diego Chargers player Hank Bauer, and actress Kristen Winnicki. For his online radio show, Rambo lined up Mark Bowden, author of Killing Pablo, which is pretty impressive.
Still, given that Rambo describes his show in the following way...
Howard Stern, Imus, Jim Rome, they all have nothing on the latest radio talk show host to hit the airwaves. With "The Insider Radio Show," Jeff Rambo brings you the best source for talk radio on the Internet.
Every two weeks, listeners get to spend an hour inside the mind of this young prodigy. A true Renaissance man, Jeff provides knowledgeable insight on almost every topic imaginable.
...it's just so hard to take him seriously.
Back in the iSourceline days, I said they desperately needed a writer to look at their text before it was made public; the response I got (it was signed "corporate", but I'm assuming it was Rambo), was that writers don't edit, editors do. At the time, I figured this meant that Rambo considered himself a writer, not an editor. This didn't answer the obvious question ("Well then why the hell don't you have an editor?"), but it at least gave an explanation why I was seeing what I was seeing. Editing was the realm of mortals; Rambo was the doer, the shaker, the Enigma of Life, and getting conventions of style and readability in the way of his raw, unbridled inspiration was the purest folly.
So now what? Rambo's the Editor-in-chief; who do we blame now? In part, the columnists who write badly, but ultimately, the editor who publishes the stuff. Someone says "That's great! Publish it!" and suddenly we're reading text like "If I had the job of knowing all the new products that come out every single day, I would be awake the entire 28 hours there are in the day! It would be 28x8 if you go by the Beatles week."
At the end of the iSourceline story, I got a lot of comments from readers, and one of the most common was "I wish the site had finally gone live, so we could see what a mess it would be." Wish no more, because Sourcerunner is all about busting down the doors of online commentary and news & info dissections with an eye toward you, the reader, as it publishes hardhitting insights and politically incorrect controversy that limit's the spin & rhetoric and switches gear to its candid & blunt demeanor during its search for the truth. Ultimately, there are no surprises here--except why this site exists at all.