Friday, April 1, 2011

Ground Rules for the Discussion Period After Public Talks

We all been there. You know ... some public talk where there are great speakers and everyone is pumped for a lively discussion. And then it's wrecked by people that don't have much of a clue how to interact in that kind of situation.

So after long experience running public events, I thought I should draw up a few ground rules to read to the audience at a panel I organized yesterday evening. And even though I didn't read more then first phrase of most of the points, my message did seem to register with folks.

One of the attendees asked me to forward her the rules; so I thought I'd just post them here for public use. Add and subtract stuff to fit your own needs. Hope they come in useful.

Ground Rules for the Discussion Period After Public Talks

1) Be respectful of other people - while debate is encouraged, ad hominem attacks are not.

2) Avoid making stump speeches rather than asking questions of the panel. If you have some especially brilliant ideas, let's talk afterwards and maybe we'll do a panel featuring you in the near future.

3) Listen to what other people are saying - if someone asks the question you were going to ask, be aware of that and let someone else take your turn.

4) Do not ask two or three (or 12) part questions. And if one of our speakers asks you to respond to their answer, keep it to one response and don't start a lengthy back-and-forth.

5) And finally, let's try to keep some gender balance. I don't want to see a bunch of guys rush to speak first and suck up all the air in the room.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Very Progressive Robin Hood

My wife and I have been hanging around the apartment - cowering from the bitter cold - this weekend. And, as is often the case on occasional lazy inside days like this, we find ourselves taking advantage of available technology to watch free TV via the web. Recently, she discovered a 1950s serial called "The Adventures of Robin Hood." The show was produced in the UK for distribution in the US. It was a big budget affair for the time ... shot on 35mm film, with a fairly well-known cast, solid production values, and great writing. Like really great writing.

At first I wasn't paying much attention to it, but after few episodes, I began to realize that the show had very left-wing positions on class, sex, race (via the vehicle, as with class, of dealing with the institution of serfdom), democracy, justice, liberty and state oppression. So I started putting two and two together: great writing [check], late 1950s [check], produced abroad [check] and aimed at the American market no less.

So, I thought, "I wonder if this show was written by blacklisted Hollywood screenwriters?"

I checked for background info on Wikipedia, and sure enough it was. Turns out the show's producer Hannah Weinstein had left-wing sympathies and hired a number of blacklisted screenwriters - including Ring Lardner Jr., Waldo Salt, Robert Lees, Adrian Scott and Howard Koch, - to create over 140 episodes between 1955 and 1960. Other progressive writers also created episodes, including the German socialist crime writer, jazz critic and psychoanalyst Ernest Borneman.

The Adventures of Robin Hood aired in the US on CBS between 1955 and 1958 - no mean feat considering the times - and on ITV in the UK from 1955 to 1960, commanding an audience as large as 32,000,000 viewers weekly in the UK and US at the height of its popularity.

The series is streets better than most overhyped contemporary remakes of the Robin Hood story, and all without CGI shots from the "arrow's point of view." It is a prime example of why very few current TV dramas come anywhere near some of the classic series of the 1950s and 1960s in terms of social relevance and general quality (although I'm happy to name a few newer shows that I think deliver the goods in future posts).

Check it out on Hulu anytime. They have 117 episodes ready for your viewing pleasure. Highly recommended

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

OMB in the CJR

Open Media Boston got another nice press hit a few days ago. This time a quote in the Columbia Journalism Review in a nice piece by Lauren Kirchner on local advertising networks being started online news publications around the country.

Check it out here.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Behind the Photo: Little Girl at Chicago Greyhound Station 9/26/2010

There a story behind every photograph. Many are mundane, some are interesting. The photo above is one of the latter; so I thought I'd write about what was going on when I took it.

My wife and I were seeing her mom off at the Chicago Greyhound station - a couple of days after I had attended the "Block by Block" Community News Summit 2010 at Loyola University.

After my mother-in-law had boarded the bus in the photo, a little girl and her mom (also in the photo) were denied entry to the bus by its driver. It turns out that Greyhound requires parents and guardians to buy tickets for kids over two years old, and the girl was a bit older than that. Her mother didn't have any money, and I actually was getting ready to offer to buy the girl a ticket when something very special happened. One of those moments of human kindness and solidarity that isn't supposed to occur in big bureaucracies like Greyhound.

Even as the girl's mom talked edgily to someone on her cell phone about what was happening - basically being stuck if she and her daughter couldn't get on the bus - the driver of the bus talked animatedly to one of the station crew guys and the two of them went over to the station office. A short while later, the men emerged gathered up the women and her daughter and put them on the bus.

The driver (of Bus 86300 bound for Indianapolis and Cincinnati at 1:30 p.m. on 9/26/2010) delayed the bus for about 15 minutes all told. Risking angering the passengers on board, and perhaps some kind of bad performance review from Greyhound. So, big ups to the driver and the station crew for doing the right thing.

And, fyi, the specific moment the photo captures is shortly after the mom first found out she and her little girl weren't going to be allowed on the bus. I shot the picture through the door to the bus gate. The girl stands confused. All excited and ready to board. But she can't. What will become of her and her mom? At that point in time, we don't know.

But I thought the backstory was worth recounting for our viewers.

And I'm sharing this tale because I kind of think that our planet could use more people like that bus driver.

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OMB Gets Some Nice Press Buzz

The work we've been doing organizing the recent Public Media Camp Boston, and going out to Chicago to attend the "Block by Block" Community Media Summit 2010 last week, has resulted in some nice buzz among academics and scholars that keep track of online community news publications like Open Media Boston - plus in the Columbia Journalism Review (wow).

So here are links to 3 articles that talk about us and/or quote us. Check them out if you have a moment - interesting stuff on their own merits to be sure ...

PBS Media Shift

Columbia Journalism Review

Knight Digital Media Center

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Friday, August 20, 2010

All Jason, All the Time ... This Week on OMB ... (d'oh!)

Wowzers. What a busy week. Working last weekend covering the Second Life Community Convention - and running their party/meetup last Friday. Doing that story, plus our weekly editorial, plus an audio recording and blurb on Prof. Charlie Derber's Solving Climate Change talk. Plus working on tomorrow's Public Media Camp Boston that I've been organizing with folks at WGBH and other outlets. Plus preparing a presentation for that event. Plus photos for a lot of this stuff. Plus work on the business side of our operation. Boo hoo. Poor me. [I can hear the world's tiniest violin playing already.]

So after getting all these ducks in a row, I realize that I've produced every single thing in this week's issue of Open Media Boston. Which hasn't happened in a long time. It's like a harmonic convergence of ... I dunno ... no one else filing any articles this week.

Which brings me to my point. Although I know other OMB staff will be filing pieces this coming week ... if you're a non-profit or union or nice person or whatever, please, by all means, file an op-ed for our Opinion section this week.

It'll help diversify our next edition. And it'll let me take a little break.


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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sign Petition to Free Moose and Squirrel

All the hoopla surrounding the capture of a group of deep-cover Russian agents in cities around the United States this week has obscured the real tragedy - Bullwinkle and Rocky are missing. Where are Moose and Squirrel? Well it turns out they've been held near Moscow since the Cold War. And now, by signing the following petition, you and your friends can help free them. Just one click (below) can make all the difference. Won't you help?

Petition: Russia, we have your spies. Now FREE MOOSE AND SQUIRREL!

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Rodney's Bookstore is Closing - Possibly for Good

Much as we're proponents of social media and digital communications in general, we're also fans of the printed word - since most of the Open Media Boston staff is old enough to remember when books, newspapers and magazines were how one got an education and regular information about everything happening on our big blue marble.

So it is with heavy heart that I mark the passing of one of Cambridge's great remaining used bookstores - Rodney's Bookstore in Central Square. They're giving up their lease as soon as they sell all or most of their remaining stock. So they'll be open at least another month. And, if I understood their clerk correctly yesterday, the degree to which they can generate cash by selling their books will determine whether or not they can reopen somewhere else in the area.

Not that I think their prospects are especially great without some sugardaddy or momma to bankroll them as an essentially profitless antiquarian enterprise - one has only to remember other efforts at bookstore relocation (witness McIntyre and Moore's bouncing around Harvard Square to Davis Square to Porter Square) to understand the cruel economics of face-to-face bookselling in an age of online sales and rising commercial rents - locations outside downtown Boston or central Cambridge are not often capable of forestalling the seemingly inevitable end of bookstores (at least independent general-interest bookstores) as many of us have known them.

Nevertheless, we are great supporters of doomed Quixote-like crusades at OMB (d'oh!), and since Rodney's is selling off really great stuff for 50 percent off, I think it's worth everyone's time to head over their and buy some books. I got a great book on the history of photography during my visit yesterday, and fully intend to head back for more.

Rodney's Bookstore is at 698 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge's Central Square.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Open Media Boston Gets Nice Plugs from Noted Media Mavens

When I first launched Open Media Boston in March 2008 (although I actually started preparatory work back in July 2007), I knew it was probably going to be a long time before the publication got much recognition from nationally-known media experts. That's because OMB was not only a new news outlet, but we were trailblazing a new news model - the specifics of which I will soon begin discussing more in public - that I wanted to present in a low-key way in practice over many months. Rather than in hyperbole-laden press releases. I figured that if we did a decent job, OMB would get noticed in new media circles. And it's obviously important that we get some attention if OMB is really going to succeed and stick it out over the long haul. But there was no way to know in advance if that would ever come to pass.

Then suddenly, over the last couple of weeks, we've started getting more positive attention in a shorter time span than we have heretofore. Which is certainly gratifying. We've been working hard week in and week out for almost two years now - quite a long time for an experimental social media operation like ours. So it's nice to get some validation of our efforts from people that think deeply about the promise and perils of the new journalism.

First, Michele McLellan of the Reynolds Journalism Institute added OMB to her list of "promising online news organizations" on her Knight Digital Media Center blog. That was way cool of her, so I called her up and told her how much we appreciated our inclusion.

Then, through friends at Free Press, the entire OMB staff had the opportunity to hang out a bit with Robert McChesney and John Nichols (both Free Press founders) at the Cambridge, MA stop on their speaking tour in support of their new book "The Death and Life of American Journalism." Which was a fun and informative evening from start to finish. And not only did they say nice things about us to the crowd at the Cambridge event, but they went on to plug us on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now show two days later.

I don't automatically assume that either development will lead to exactly the kind of outcome that can improve Open Media Boston's chances of long term success. But it's still an excellent sign that our project is getting some positive vibes sent our way by people who are key figures in the construction of a new (and hopefully better) journalism.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jason's Favorite Photos: Special Near-Infrared Film Edition

Hi folks! It's been a couple of weeks since I posted my latest fav pics ... but as previously promised, I just got a bunch of shots back from the photo lab that I took using Ilford SFX 200 near-infrared film on my old Pentax ME Super with an Osawa 49mm Red 25 filter onboard. Even though the lab's scans of the prints I got have come out a bit foggy (quite different that the nice sharp prints themselves), I still think these scanned images are worth displaying here. The near-infrared spectrum that the film and the filter create very interesting high contrast photos with a hyper-real feel to them. Best on very sunny days, the film also makes plants and bright surfaces show up as very light or white - which also makes for neat effects. Anyhow I very much like SFX 200, and if you shoot 35mm film I highly recommend that you check it out. [And if anyone can find it in their heart to donate me a professional high-quality film and negative scanner, I will inscribe that person's name onto the Open Media Boston Honor Roll of the Chariots of Fire.]


Children at Greenway Fountain

Building on Bright Day

Sometimes People Look Like Cutouts

Windows and Shadow

Hidden Fountain

Ghost Building

Modernist Christ Statue

Burning Bush

Chimney and Sky

Tasty Gelato

Church on Bright Day

Tunnel Redux

This blog post and all photos are published under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2009 Jason Pramas.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jason's Favorite Photos - Week of 7/26/09 (plus 7/27)

Here are my latest favorite pics. I actually didn't shoot that many last week; so I ended up adding a couple from Monday just to round things out a bit. I like the first three a bit more than the second two. I like the light towards sunset ... especially in the summer - although watching Boston's retail economy fall apart ... capitalist or not ... is pretty painful as storefront after storefront is covered in brown paper. Not a good sign.

Aveda No More

Summer Dusk

Summer Dusk #2

What Shall We Call This? Hmm ...


Unless otherwise noted, all photos shot on a Pentax K200D and a Tamron 18-200 mm telephoto lens with a Marumi 62 mm sky filter. This blog post and all photos are published under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2009 Jason Pramas.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jason's Favorite Photos - Week of 7/19/09

Hi again! Here are my latest favorite pics. I found this week's shoots especially challenging because of a lot of interplay of light and shadow on the bright days we've been having lately - and some indoor work, which can be tough.

Tunnel and Sky

The rest of this set I think could have been better, but I think they're close to being good shots ... the bird shot was particularly tricky because I was standing in the middle of the street trying not to freak it out ...

Cambridge University Storage

Baker at Hi-Rise Bakery

Cousin at Family Reunion

Dodgeball at Family Reunion

Robin on Fence

Unless otherwise noted, all photos shot on a Pentax K200D and a Tamron 18-200 mm telephoto lens with a Marumi 62 mm sky filter. This blog post and all photos are published under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2009 Jason Pramas.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Jason's Favorite Photos - Week of 7/12/09

Hi folks! Here's another batch of my photos for your comment/critique. I chose them either for technical merits or because I find them interesting in one way or another. In coming weeks, I'm planning to scan in some of the film photography I'm doing. For example, this past weekend I was shooting the near-infrared Ilford SFX 200 black-and-white film on my old Pentax ME Super. Can't wait to see what those pics look like.
[Note: Click photos to see them displayed at full size.]

Window Pots

Antique Window

Friend at Party ... Late Night, Dim Light
(shot handheld at low speed, high ISO, and
wide-open aperature - which generally doesn't
work very well - I did a corrected version, but
I like the feel of this picture as shot ...)

Man Through Fountain
(using Phoenix/Samyang 500 mm f/8 super-telephoto
reflector lens on a monopod from around 150 ft. away - not
a great shot by any means, but I'm surprised I got it on a low-end
older film lens without a tripod)

Unless otherwise noted, all photos shot on a Pentax K200D and a Tamron 18-200 mm telephoto lens with a Marumi 62 mm sky filter. This blog post and all photos are published under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2009 Jason Pramas.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Jason's Favorite Photos 7/4/09-7/5/09

I do a lot of photography every week that never gets seen by anyone; so I thought it would fun to start to post some of my favorites to this blog. I figure it might also encourage me to start posting more extracurricular writing here as well. I've been a very naughty editor/publisher - setting up this nice blog like 3 months ago and hardly using it at all. D'oh! Anyhow here are some pics for your enjoyment (or constructive critique ...). [Note: Click photos to see them displayed at full size.]

Boston Fireworks 7/4/2009 #1

Boston Fireworks 7/4/2009 #2

Boston Fireworks 7/4/2009 #3

Cambridge Building Reflection

Ladybug Shadow (at a North End Cemetery)

All photos shot on a Pentax K200D and a Tamron 18-200 mm telephoto lens with a Marumi 62 mm sky filter. This blog post and all photos are published under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2009 Jason Pramas.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

On the (Sometimes) Unbearable Weirdness of Reporting

Sometimes as a journalist, you go to events and your plans to cover them just don't work out. Yesterday was one of those times. I went over to the Pierre Menard Gallery - a very nice and rather public-spirited Cambridge art gallery that I have been to on a few occasions - to record a sort of minimally-advertised "conversation" between feminist icons Kate Millett and Catherine MacKinnon that I found out about by the old-fashioned method of seeing a flyer on a lamp post.

So I got there and there were about 25 people spiraling around towards some folding chairs set up in the front of the gallery space - the kind of nicely-dressed bohemian academics and artists that one comes to expect to see at these sorts of things. In the back were Millett and MacKinnon, who were just arranging themselves in their seats. Millett was fiddling with an old tape recorder and seemed a bit preoccupied with it, but MacKinnon was more or less unoccupied. I went up and introduced myself to both of them and and said I would be recording the event for Open Media Boston.

Even though I had just seen a guy from WMBR introduce himself and set up a recorder next to MacKinnon, she seemed a bit taken aback by my statement, and we chatted about creator rights for a couple of minutes. I explained that if they didn't want me to record I didn't have to, and that I'm active in the National Writers Union and quite understanding of the need for people to control their own work. MacKinnon, for her part, sort of argued with herself - recognizing that it was a public event, and that I technically had the right to record them for broadcast. The event moved towards getting started; so we never really finished the conversation.

German artist Heide Hatry, who was curating the exhibit of Millett's artwork that was the reason for her conversation with MacKinnon, got things started shortly after helping convince Millett that she was recording the event on video and would get Millett a copy, and that there was therefore no need for continuing to try to coax life into the old tape recorder.

So I started recording - not sure if I'd be using it or not for anyone other than myself - and taking photos. And the hour that followed unwound strangely. Millett alternately engaged and attacked the audience with a series of near non-sequiturs and rambling anecdotes. Having just written a piece about the Battlestar Galactica finale, Millett reminded me of no character so much as one of the Hybrids in that TV series - half-human, half-machine oracles that spouted seemingly nonsensical bursts of verbiage that occasionally focused like lasers into incredibly useful insights into the nature of existence and the universe.

Unfortunately, the purpose of the conversation was to have MacKinnon lead a guided theoretical exploration of Millett's artwork - which seemed to be the one subject that Millett had no intention of talking about.

Around 45 minutes into Millett's dialogue/diatribe on subjects as diverse as laws against second-hand smoke (which she opposed), the subordinate position of women in Iran (which she also opposed), her dad and mom (both of whom she seemed to like), her desire for a Viking funeral (which I vocally agreed with), and the war in Iraq (which she was against), Hatry finally said in a level but firm tone that Millett needed to answer MacKinnon's inquiries in one sentence before launching into verbal flights of fancy. Millett basically assented, and gave a more or less straight answer to one of MacKinnon's last questions - with some interlocutory help from MacKinnon and Hatry. And then they wrapped up the talk a few minutes later.

I waited for about 5 minutes near MacKinnon to try to talk to her again and finish figuring out if she cared about my running the audio recording I'd made in Open Media Boston. But MacKinnon was surrounded by 3 women who seemed to be Harvard students - and it became clear they'd be talking for a while. So I went over to the gallery owner, gave him my card, asked him to put me on his press list, and split.

Upon leaving, I mused about all the things I dislike about such events. The speakers and the curator and the owner were all fine - however odd the conversation. But the rarified "Art" with a capital A environment is always difficult for me on a class level. I mean it's hard to know people's class backgrounds in that kind of scene, yet it's a pretty sure bet that a lot of them come from money and/or privilege of various types. In that vein, the idea that I had to even discuss rights issues as a poor reporter (from the kind of working-class striving to middle class family background that I share with the vast majority of Americans) from a poor non-profit publication with a tenured professor from a powerful family with a bunch of successful books made me kind of sad. And was kind of representative of the feelings I get in crowds of such people.

Then I spent the past day dithering about whether I should run the audio after all. And finally, after discussing the matter with my wife (a feminist activist herself) and a couple of friends, I decided it would probably be a disservice to Millett to run the audio and that I didn't want to inadvertently disrespect MacKinnon. So I just bagged it.

There's no special moral here. Just another day in the life of a turn-of-the-millennium journalist dealing with famous and rich people in the rarefied air of one of the world's intellectual powerhouses. Just another choice about what to cover - up or down, move on to the next person/event/demonstration/whatever, and try to tell the truth or something like it to whomever is interested to hear. But thanks to the invention of blogs like this one - I get the luxury of discussing my otherwise internal process with a random audience. Which is nice because then I can get it out of my head, into print, and move on to the next story. Kind of like life that way, when all is said and done.

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