Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Journalists expose ‘the eyeglass bully’

By · Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

If you saw the story last week in The New York Times about Vitaly Borker and his business, decormyeyes.com, you’ll be interested in the latest news — that Borker has been arrested and charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, making interstate threats and cyberstalking.

What is intriguing about this story is its evolution and the intertwining of print and online elements.

In a two-page spread in print (though the story was also online, of course), under the headline A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web by David Segal, we found out about Borker and his dealings with Clarabelle Rodriguez, who had purchased a pair of glasses from the Brooklyn online merchant. In the story, she describes being threatened and scared when she tried to return the glasses, which she called fakes. At one point when Rodriquez refused to drop complaints against Borker, he even told her, “I know where you live.” It was clear from dozens of online comments about him that he treated many customers this way, yet was highly successful.

Eight days after that story was published, the online seller was arrested. In the follow-up coverage, we were reminded of the twist that made this story so compelling in the first place:

Mr. Borker maintained that scaring Ms. Rodriguez — and dozens of other customers in the last three years — enhanced the standing of DecorMyEyes in Internet searches on Google.

The original print story, which also appeared as an eight-take story online, led not just to an arrest, but also to a move by Google to change its search formula. As Segal’s follow story states:

… last week, Google published a post on its official blog stating that it had changed its search formula so that companies were penalized if they provided customers with what it called “an extremely poor user experience.”

The Times said that as a result, decormyeyes had dropped from a top search result to several pages down. A search this morning turned it up at the top of page 7, well down the list and presumably a spot most shoppers would never reach.

And here we experienced a bit of Web serendipity at the bottom of Google search page No. 3: It’s a lead journalists should be aware of:

… In response to a complaint we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint that caused the removal(s) at ChillingEffects.org.

As it turns out, this is not decormyeyes.com at all, but another business. ChillingEffects is a comprehensive — and fascinating — list of complaints about website thefts and infringements. Yes, many of them deal with porn and music, but there are also hundreds of others that illustrate, as Borker’s business shows, that it’s not about the tool (the Web in this case), but how you use it.

As for the Borker case, you really have to read the original story to fully appreciate the power of journalism to educate, enlighten and effect change. The story about Vitaly Borker and his business model is a perfect example. And it is a compelling coming together of print and online on many levels.

Steve Davis and Emilie Davis


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