WBUR mourns the Boston Globe


New Link: Scott Lehigh asks readers to “have a say” in saving the Globe.
WBUR reports (that story says Monica Brady-MyerovMeyerhoff “broke” the story, though clearly several others got it at similar times including the Globe itself) that the NY Times is threatening to close the Boston Globe if its unions don’t give major concessions.
Boston Globe Truck
This morning on Morning Edition, ‘BUR’s Bob Oakes moped aimlessly about this tragedy for nearly 6 minutes with Lou Ureneck from BU’s Journalism School. I wanted to yell at the radio. Instead I tweeted:

Soo sick of people (Lou Ureneck and Bob Oakes on @wbur) complaining about people getting their news “for nothing” on the Internet.

and went on my merry way. Later, I got some supportive tweets from folks (thank you @katrinskaya and @KatPowers) and a polite, diplomatic tweetback from WBUR (it must suck to be a corporate twitterer sometimes):

To @fonchik & others: The “listener line” is open. Please feel free to comment on the story here. http://is.gd/r25A Thanks for the feedback.

So I grudgingly signed up for Utterli (barriers to commenting, grr) and posted this mini-rant:

IT’S NOT ABOUT NEWSPAPERS GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, people. The Boston Globe and other newspapers can (already are and likely will continue to) fail to do all the things people like Lou Ureneck (you misspelled his name above, btw) want them to do (and I do too!) whether they stay in business or not. We need to reframe this whole debate urgently based on a better understanding of how news media work:
— newspapers do more origin

In honor of Ada Lovelace


Joining folks celebrating Ada Lovelace Day, by writing about one of many women in technology whom I admire.

When I met Carolyn in Moscow in 1992, she was not yet a woman “in technology.” She was editing translations of Russian journals into English for a strange little enterprise, one of several hundred groups named “Intersomething.” I worked there too, briefly, one of an uncountable number of odd jobs I had in those early years in Moscow. Carolyn eventually migrated to working for a law firm, translating documents from Russian to English. For a while she and I worked together translating a business newsletter, while I hosted an English-language radio news show. Then somehow she started doing some “computer stuff” for them, mostly because no one else wanted to. Or because whoever was supposed to do it wasn’t getting things done that she needed so she did them herself. Soon enough she was their IT person.

Then she moved back to California and got a job in a youngish company (what do you call a startup that’s been started up for a few years? An upstart?) that did conference calling systems. To be honest, I never exactly understood what she did, and I only saw her a couple times a year, but after a while I began to notice when I introduced her to friends that she told them she was a developer. And when I mentioned that I wanted to start a blog she offered to host the domain for me. I realized that while I hadn’t been paying attention, my thoroughly humanities-oriented friend had become a full-fledged geek. Just like that. Then a little while back she mentioned she had gotten involved in running an online social network called Tribe.net. She and my fiancé have conversations about servers that make my head spin.

What makes Carolyn so cool? It’s not that she’s the most brilliant geek I know (she’s not) it’s that she joined this mysterious, predominantly male tribe with such seeming ease. She proved to me that you don’t have to be male, born after 1980, obsessed with computer games, socially awkward or in any other of a number of stereotyped ways to the manner born in order to be a happy and successful technology professional and enthusiast. No angst required. It seems interesting? There’s an opportunity? You find you’re good at it? Then do it.

I’m writing this late in the evening after all-day meetings with a group of about a dozen folks who work on computer projects. Would like to say it was surprising that the only other woman there does their graphic design, but of course it wasn’t. But knowing Carolyn helps me believe that it won’t always be this way.

We are womyn (and men), hear us ruminate


A fascinating afternoon yesterday at the Berkman Center talking about many dimensions of the intersections of gender and technology. Liana Leahy’s posting links and other good info here, here are just some personal reactions:

Mainstreaming – I’ve been doing it for years! (who knew?) I learned that the stuff we’ve had to do for the past several years in the government grant-funded world is called “gender mainstreaming.” It always caused groans among my ex-Soviet colleagues (female and male) – every grant application must explain how the project will address any gender equity/equality issues that exist and all statistics and reports have to be “gender disaggregated.” Not very hard of course to note the M/F breakdown of a seminar, unless you’re suddenly asked to do it retroactively for the several thousand participants in training and conferences. And at first it all seems silly, until you realize that you do find yourself paying more attention that you used to.

Equity is for other people – As a white, educated and wealthy (relative to the whole population, not to my Harvard class, keep those fundraising calls on hold, thanks) person who happens to be a woman, I find myself quite conflicted about what kinds of solutions I think are appropriate. I absolutely agree with the (male and female) Berkman fellows and staff who started this group that it would be so, so, so very much better if the 12 faculty directors of Berkman were not all men. I am disturbed that only 10 of the 33 current fellows (sorry Rosalie, having enjoyed being a “fellow,” I don’t find the male-ish term is a problem, in fact the opposite, I like “fellows,” “guys” and “folks” as non-gender-determinate terms)  are female. But, do I think the reason Berkman didn’t find a way to continue my fellowship after its original funding ended was because I was female? Of course not. Much as I would like to be still have that nifty “fellow” title, would I have wanted them to find a way to keep me on because I was female? Of course not; I would have been horrified and insulted. When I was juggling lists of folks to speak at my conference, was I annoyed every time someone (always male) suggested that it was a bad thing that an individual panel was all-male? Of course I was.

Overall, though, I came away agreeing (no surprise, because as we already know, he’s always right) with David Weinberger: in fact, even when it’s hard, we should do EVERYTHING, because it is simply depressing and stupid how long we’ve been worrying about this (not just at Berkman but in the world) and things are not changing fast enough. The fact that so many Berkman luminaries made time to join the conversation at some point (leading excellent guest speaker Prof. Seltzer to note that the crowd had impressive numbers of men in it) is heartening. So are the 1000+ members of the Berkman Gender and Technology Facebook group.

So, we are all looking forward to seeing Berkman use its unique position at the intersection of technology, law, academe and business  to take a lead in this. Some of the ways mentioned yesterday (but there are many more) were:

— more Berkman fellows researching how gender difference plays a role in the topics they’re studying (perhaps the question “describe how you will consider gender differences in your research” will find its way into the fellows application? Perhaps they will recruit scholars who focus on gender issues? Perhaps both, and more?)

— existing Berkman research will make sure consideration of gender difference is included (Terry Fisher talked about this)

— hosting small, regular discussions on some of the separate issues

— maybe finding funding for something larger, like a conference?

— looking at how to address the faculty/fellows imbalance

and that’s just the beginning.

Meanwhile, in the media field – female new media entrepreneurshave 11 days left to apply for seed funding from the good folks at McCormick and there’s still time to register for Women, Action and Media, March 27-29 at MIT.

Media Cloud, because media are like weather, isn’t it?


Media Cloud. It’s a tool. It’s a database. It’s a kind of mechanized form of content analysis. It’s chocolately goodness.
It’s raining news
Developed by some of the clever folks at Berkman, Media Cloud takes the output of many many many (1500 so far) news sources, from the New York Times to blogs of all persuasions and parses them using an incredibly powerful free tool from Thomson Reuters with the lovely if mysterious name of Calais. After that, you can use it to ask questions about who’s covering what country, what topics are mentioned most in which media (“New York” is in the top ten for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, but NOT for the New York Times? hmm) and what terms are used with specific terms (in non-Boston general interest media, the top ten things mentioned with “Boston” almost always includes the Celtics).

The stuff you can try out now on the site is just the beginning – the developers want you to begin to help them imagine the possibilities.

As Ethan Zuckerman explains on his blog and in a video interview at Nieman Labs, one of the reasons Berkman decided to do this was to help people like Ethan (and me) prove to Yochai Benkler and others that the blogosphere’s power is mostly not about initiating original reporting.

I am compelled to put in my own tiny claim (success has a thousand mothers, or however it goes) to a place in the Media Cloud origin myth. Early on in my year at Berkman, I went to talk to Berkman guru Jonathan Zittrain about how to shape my Media Re:public project. He had two suggestions – one was an interesting and complicated idea about the political blogosphere and the presidential election which I rejected instantly not so much because it would have eaten the entire project and not been what Berkman and MacArthur had in mind but because although at that time I didn’t dare admit it, I find political blogs more boring than I can convey in polite language. The second thing that Prof. Zittrain said was vaguer, but much more intriguing. He said – “Don’t just produce another boring white paper” (oops) “why don’t you make something for MacArthur that lasts beyond the project – a gift that keeps on giving. Some kind of tool or something.” I relayed this thought to Ethan Zuckerman, who’d already done some experiments in this area, and Hal Roberts, who was able to conceive of how to do it on a much grander scale. They brought in other folks, including the multi-talented Steve Schultze and the rest is history. Or at least weather. Go, play!

PS it’s not just the name of Calais that’s opaque, try understanding the dense prose poetry below (you downstream reader, you!)
About the Thomson Reuters Calais Initiative
The Calais initiative supports the interoperability of content and advances Thomson Reuters mission to deliver intelligent information. It leverages the company’s substantial investment in semantic technologies and Natural Language Processing to offer free metadata generation services, developer tools and an open standard for the generation of semantic content. It also provides publishers with an automatic connection to the Linked Data cloud and introduces a global metadata transport layer that helps them leverage next-generation search engines, news aggregators and more to reach more downstream readers. For more information or to get started with the Calais API, visit OpenCalais.com.

2007_09_09_bos-iad-lhr069.JPG by doc searls
Uploaded September 15, 2007

Community media in a new light


What can a Haitian radio station teach people about building a successful local news website?

Something about what it means to really be vital to your community.

Imagine a town of 25,000 people (easy for me, I grew up in one). Now imagine that, for whatever reason, there is really only one news source (in the US, until recently, this would often be nearly true of the local newspaper; we semi-affectionately called ours the Piddletown Mess).  Now imagine that one local news outlet (doesn’t matter – newspaper, radio, TV, website) having 200 fan clubs of 10-50 people each meeting regularly to talk about the outlet’s content, contribute money, discuss how they can help. Are you thinking about that? Somewhere between 8 and 40% of all the men, women and children in an extremely poor community volunteering their time and money to support independent local news and information.

I don’t care where you are, that’s serious community involvement!

With my year as a Berkman fellow officially at an end, I’m now focused on trying to bring what I learned there back into my old life in international media development. First attempt at this was in writing a small piece for a publication put together by Internews on community media and sustainability. The Community Media Sustainability Guide: The Business of Changing Lives (3 MB PDF), is out now and although most of the advice is aimed at and examples (except for my small piece) are drawn from community radio, mostly in developing countries, I think it’s well worth reading for anyone working on not-for-profit media online or otherwise in any country. In fact, there are similarities between the struggles to sustain a radio station in Nepal and a cooperative hyperlocal site in New Hampshire. So much of the time when I was at Berkman, I found myself referring to the same discussions about what is needed for small media outlets to succeed that we had when working with local TV in the former Soviet Union:

  • How can low-budget local content best compete against big-buck national outlets?
  • Should we try to be a one-stop shop, including (or linking to) national/international news or should we focus on original, local content?
  • How do you go beyond your instinct or the comments from your friends and family to learn what your audience is really interested in?
  • How do you achieve the critical mass needed to attract advertisers?
  • What kind of partnerships might bring in useful content or new audiences without threatening your independence or credibility?

I hope this community media guide starts some conversations about how media outlets of different kinds in  in radically different communities might actually have experiences to share with each other. Naturally, as I post this I’m listening to my favorite community radio, even though it’s not my community, vocalo.org’s weird and wonderful mix of talk and music.

Whole world(wideweb) in my hand(held device)


It’s one thing to say, as I frequently have, (though to my embarrassment not nearly enough in my Media Re:public papers), that handheld devices will be the computers and the internet platforms of most of the world and that everyone doing something with media (or, in fact, anything at all that involves information) in any country in the world, developed or otherwise, should be figuring out where mobile comes in.It’s another thing to see with your own eyes that this is not a future we can pretend we are planning for, it’s right now. Mobile is it. Mobile mobile mobile mobile. Repeat it, believe it. om mobile padme hum.sms
Saturday’s marvelous Mobile Tech for Social Activism BarCamp made it all real for me. Kudos to Hunter College’s Integrated Media Arts program for getting it – they co-hosted the event.

It was an unconference with about a half dozen sessions going simultaneously all the time. A lot of good Twittering captured some of the stuff, and organizer Mobile Active has a great directory of projects and demos. Patrick Meier did a very detailed summary of his day at iRevolution.

So, very briefly, a few things I came away with:
* I want an Android phone, but even more I want to become an Android developer so I can play with things like RapidSMS.
* I love the fact that so much of the interesting work with mobile is in the developing world. America is behind the curve.
* I am finally reading The Promise of Ubiquity: Mobile as Media Platform in the Global South, which John West and my colleagues at Internews Europe had the prescience to put out in December and which I hope will get the media development community thinking and talking more about this.
* As Ethan Zuckerman, always wise, reminded us via Skype, mobile doesn’t do everything – sometimes it needs to be complemented and multiplied by, for example, radio. Also, projects using voice are really interesting.
* Security and privacy are just as important for mobiles as they are on the Internet.
* Wish I were doing this not for a day but a week at Info-Activism Camp. Generally need more unconference and more camp in my life.
* Wonder if all the competition is good or wasteful (apparently it’ll take 3 years till we can fix the idiocy of mobile phone chargers?)
* Somewhat daunted by the thought of a whole new area of geekery to learn how to fake my way through.
* Saw a demo of 3-D video on an iPhone. Funtastic.

Update: Dried fish and mobile phones – read Christine Gorman on her day at M4change.
“SMS till you drop” — mobile phone ad on van in Kampala, Uganda
Uploaded to Flickr on November 24, 2006
by futureatlas.com

Hat trick


“Andriankoto’s hat looks good, and it attracts attention. And when people ask me whether it’s from Thailand or India, I can tell them it’s from Madagascar, a gift from a friend who’s trying to save his homeland from political violence by planting high-yield rice. And that’s a story I don’t mind telling as often as I have the opportunity.” — Ethan Zuckerman

TED envy, 2009 edition


For the second time since I started my wonderful year at the Berkman Center, I’m devouring my friend Ethan Zuckerman‘s blogposts about the TED conference. (He was delayed getting there by travel nightmares; Erik Hersman did a great job standing in for him on the first day or so.)

Now that I’m back in the world of grant-funded international media development, one of the things I hope to hold onto from my year as Alice in cyberland is the amazing tradition of eclecticism, openness to new ideas and generosity I found among the people I met at and through Berkman. TED is the epitome of this. I’ve never been to TED, but from what I’ve heard and read, it’s an inspirational event where super-smart people from an amazing range of fields talk about what they know, think, do.

A quick selection of quotes from the more than 20,000 words in the 30+ TED 2009 posts on Ethan’s blog gives a hint of what we missed:

“There is no such thing as a viable democracy of experts, zealots, politicians and spectators.”

Ariely filled fridges at MIT with coke cans and tracked their disappearance… and also put in plates containing six dollar bills. The half-life of the coke was very short, and very long for the bills.

Hunting bushmeat means lots of blood contact between hunters and their primate prey.

Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline and the owner of a legendary library, … tells us that the desire for people to learn English is now approaching mania state much as Beatlemania, sports manias or religious manias have swept through populations.

We see a video of a wooden rollercoaster made by eight year-olds.

Ueli Gegenschatz tells us he’s “addicted to air”. What he means is that he’s addicted to jumping off things. He began with paragliding, then moved to skydiving, and eventually to skysurfing – diving with a stiff board allowing him to fall more slowly, and with twists and tricks.

Mary Roach projects a slide titled, “Ten things you didn’t know about orgasms.”

The strategies that get us through childhood alive keep us from growing up.

Willie Smits lives in Borneo, Indonesia, where he works as a forrester and microbiologist. But he’s better know as the guy who saves orangutans.

Don’t worry about octopuses taking over the world – not only is their structure wrong for life outside the oceans, but they have very short memories, appropriate for their short lifespans.

The legs she wears today make her 6′1″, not her usual 5′8″, and she tells us that friends say, “Aimee, it’s not fair that you can change your height.”

Other things I love about TED:

TED is expensive (it costs $6,000 to attend)

TED is free (you can watch and participate online)

TED is a fierce meritocracy (you have to be really good to present there)

TED is egalitarian (they work hard to get people of all kinds)

TED is serious (hey you could win a fellowship of $100k, that’s no joke!)

TED is silly (I just registered, was offered the chance to identify myself as “atheist, blogger,foodie”)

Let me clear – I’m not saying that people in development or nonprofits aren’t openminded or creative but after a year in Cyberland going to a media development conference (as I did in December in Athens) made me want to hang myself. Even though GFMD2008 was a GREAT conference by the standards of typical conferences (all the right people, some good discussions, very well organized), it could not come close to the chaotic, creative juiciness of the Knight Digital New Challenge gathering (which Ethan liveblogged, of course) organized by my friends at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media last June.

Many of the people I work with in media development are dedicated, passionate (even obsessed) about their work, and also fun to hang out with. But like most people they draw lines between stuff they love that they keep separate from work, which must remain serious and serious=dull. Whereas, at their best, my new cyberpals consider that everything they’re interested in may be a learning experience, even when silly, and that everything they learn must belong to the world, just in case someone might need it. They actually work incredibly hard (take a look at the output of people like David Weinberger, Doc Searls and Ethan Zuckerman on their blogs and you will realize how much effort it takes) to share it. They understand that they are phenomenally privileged to have the time and opportunity to meet people and learn about things and they feel compelled to give back.

Anyway, thanks people for a transformational experience, hope I can do it justice as I return to life as an electronic paperpusher.

Images: Aimee Mullins‘ amazing legs; Living Skyscraper, Blake Kurasek

Free newspaper — paid news?


Dear Tina Chadha and Editors of (Boston) Metro,

I’m not a regular reader of Metro but I happened to flip through today’s issue while on the Green line. On the “Careers and Wealth” page I found a text by Ms. Chadha “Use the Internet to keep on track”  which describes a single product by the Behance network in glowing terms. It includes  3 graphic elements: a picture of the current product and its earlier incarnation and a little button that says “Learn more at behance.net” which is the website of the company, not of your publication or some independent or generic organization. (The online version has no graphics, but the text includes a clickable link to the website for the product.) I’m unable to see what distinguishes this item from a marketing pitch for a commercial product. Is it in fact an advertisement? Did Behance compensate Ms. Chadha or Metro for this piece? If so, what is Metro’s policy about labelling such “advertiorial” content? In a brief search, I didn’t see anything that looked like an ethics policy on your site to help readers figure out what your policy about paid articles might be.
If the company didn’t pay for this excellent promotion, you’re doing yourselves a huge disservice by not writing the article in a way that makes that clear. Even more so if Ms. Chadha actually “reported” this story rather than just re-writing a helpful press release.
Feel free to post your response in the comments field on my blog –  I notice you don’t have comments enabled on your site, which is a pity.

Persephone Miel

Image – my own snapshot of the paper version of Metro, since the online version doesn’t have the graphics.

Read real people writing about Gaza and Israel


I have found myself feeling simply exhausted and helpless in the face of the deferential-to-Israel news coverage and the relentlessly pro-Israeli opinion in the so-called prestige press in the US. Even when the coverage is fair, I’m too depressed to take in any more reports about the violence against civilians in Gaza and Israel.

I found some relief in this excellent article on Global Voices that highlights two bloggers in Gaza and Israel who are maintaining a daily dialogue and managing to focus on peace and hope rather than blame.

One, known as Peace Man, writes from Gaza:

It is hard to describe what is going on in Gaza , a terrible disaster, where the aircraft do not distinguish between civilians and military and children.

His friend in Sderot, Israel observes:

The war was a great mistake, however it is no wonder that so many people in Israel support it. The ongoing reality of rockets falling in Sderot and other places for 8 years is a terrible reality. Many people of our region have left it for good over the years. Bringing up children in such a reality seems almost abusive and certainly irresponsible.

Go read the whole thing, it should shame us all that there are people living under the falling bombs who are less hate-filled than the commentators here. Thank you, Global Voices, for this and your other coverage of the war, from which the two images here were borrowed.

Images: “We are all Gaza” from a Moroccan blog called the Mirror; photo from eatbees, both via Global Voices.