Saturday, November 6, 2010

Recent projects

I realize I'm long past due for updating my blog, but I figured now is as good a time as ever — especially considering what's currently going on in my life.

October was one of the busiest months I've ever experienced. Aside from finishing up my master's at NYU — and juggling all the work that goes along with that — I spent almost half of the month traveling.

My first adventure led me to the Eddie Adams Workshop. The workshop brings together 100 fiercely talented students, incredible photographers and photojournalists, and a host of other photo experts for an amazing four-day experience.

This is how it works: The 100 chosen students are divided into 10 teams of 10, and each student is given a topic on which to base his or her photo project. Additionally, one student from each of the 10 teams is selected to work with a multimedia producer to create a multimedia project instead of a traditional photo essay. My role at the workshop was to work as one of the 10 multimedia producers — an amazing opportunity I still can't believe I was offered.

The student I was fortunate enough to work with was the incredibly talented Alice Keeney. Working with Alice was such a great experience — she is an awesome photographer and a great journalist.

The final pieces each team produced sincerely blew my mind. I was so inspired by each of my colleagues and learned a lot from them. The piece Alice and I produced, "Sunup to Sundown," is something both she and I are very proud of.

The experience as a whole was life-changing for me. The people I met and got to collaborate with are some of the most talented people in the industry. One of the executive producers of our multimedia pieces — founder and CEO of MediaStorm, and the man so many look to for multimedia guidance and inspiration — is Brian Storm. Being able to work with Brian and learn from him was — at the risk of sounding like a total fangirl — a dream come true. Hearing firsthand his philosophies about multimedia and working alongside him taught me so much, challenged me and reaffirmed my love for storytelling and multimedia production.

My second great adventure was a trip to the Arizona-Mexico border with 16 of my classmates, a couple of professors and a handful of freelancers. Our trip, tentatively called "Beyond the Border," was sponsored by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Led by our amazing professor and program director Yvonne Latty, and with help from some students and professors from the University of Arizona, we flew out to the Southwest to report on immigration. I spent most of my time there in Mexico, assigned to examine and photograph the fence itself.

I returned with more than 1,000 photos and many stories to tell. I would have loved to produce several multimedia pieces, but I was faced with the challenge of the language barrier while in Mexico. I was able to collect a ton of audio, but in the end, I came out with just one cohesive story, "The Thin Line," which looked at the changing landscape of the border fence and how it has affected the lives of two Mexicans over the past few years.

The work produced by the rest of my classmates is absolutely phenomenal. With only two days of reporting — and a deadline that came as soon as our plan landed back in New York — my peers turned out some unbelievable stories.

The last of my travels came at the end of the month, as I traveled to the 2010 ONA conference in D.C. It was great to meet up with some old friends and meet some new ones — and putting human faces to my many Twitter contacts was an added bonus.

The conference was at the same time as the Rally to Restore Sanity, and D.C. was PACKED. I slipped away to check out the commotion and ridiculous signs. It was complete chaos, but I enjoyed being able to see some of it firsthand.

Now, I'm back in New York and working nonstop to finish my degree in December. I'm working on several exciting projects, in addition to job searching, which is beginning to seem like an impossible task. Regardless, I'll keep at it, hoping to soon find the perfect job somewhere out there... If you hear of anything you think I'd be well suited for, please let me know!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Works in Progress N.Y.C.

Works in Progress N.Y.C. from Rachel Wise on Vimeo.

Story about this great organization TK. Stay posted!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Part four in the great surveillance debate

Apparently this is becoming a recurring them in my blog: the advantages and disadvantages of surveillance cameras. I've argued they encroach on our privacy; I've argued they help solve crimes. I've questioned the changing expectations of privacy in our world today, and I've advocated being smart under these circumstances.

Now I can't help being a champion for surveillance cameras in light of last night's events: Times Square was evacuated after a suspected car bomb was found.

I sat watching the events unfold on CNN after 1 a.m., and the first thing I thought: Good thing there are tons of cameras in Times Square. And sure enough, after my initial thought, that's what I heard everyone else saying. The reporter, the cops, the government officials. They all pointed to the dozens of area cameras that could help them find a suspect.

Obviously, the story and evidence is still unfolding. But the latest information released at a press conference this afternoon is that police suspect a white male in his 40s is connected to the incident after they reviewed surveillance footage.

It's hard to argue against these cameras when something like this happens.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Tenant president stands up for residents

This is a story I just finished about a 67-year-old woman who is president of the tenant association at a public housing development in the East Village. It's also posted on Pavement Pieces here, with some really colorful, entertaining audio. Take a look!


One morning in early April, an elderly woman awoke to find her stove was no longer working. The woman, who lives in Jacob Riis public housing in the East Village, contacted the maintenance call center to report the problem.

The operator told her the earliest they could fix her stove was May 29. And when she continued to follow up on the request, the operator told her to stop calling. That’s when Odell Tamias, president of the Jacob Riis Tenant Association, stepped in.

“That is unacceptable! You know how Spanish people like their coffee,” Tamias said with a chuckle, before a stern expression swept over her face. “Seriously, though. I don’t play. I really don’t.”

Tenant president stands up for residents
Audio, Features — By Rachel Wise on April 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Edit

Odell Tamias, president of the Jacob Riis Tenant Association. Photo by Rachel Wise

One morning in early April, an elderly woman awoke to find her stove was no longer working. The woman, who lives in Jacob Riis public housing in the East Village, contacted the maintenance call center to report the problem.

The operator told her the earliest they could fix her stove was May 29. And when she continued to follow up on the request, the operator told her to stop calling. That’s when Odell Tamias, president of the Jacob Riis Tenant Association, stepped in.

“That is unacceptable! You know how Spanish people like their coffee,” Tamias said with a chuckle, before a stern expression swept over her face. “Seriously, though. I don’t play. I really don’t.”

Odell Tamias explains her outrage over the operator’s response.

Odell Tamias, 67, has lived at Jacob Riis Houses for 43 years, but for the past five years, she’s served as president of the tenant association. Her job is to help tenants with any housing-related issues, on a volunteer basis.

“Basically, I’m the medium between housing and tenants. Someone has to stand up for them,” she said.

Jacob Riis is a public housing development comprising 19 buildings and 1,764 apartments. Its borders are East Sixth and East 13th streets, and Avenue D and F.D.R. Drive. And it is home to 4,305 residents.

Tamias was born and raised in Columbus, Alabama, but moved to New York City when she was only 17. She worked odd jobs at factories in Long Island and Manhattan in the 1960s, and moved from place to place, usually staying with friends or family members.

“I didn’t become a prostitute or drug addict, thank God. I’m surprised. But you can’t change a person, especially from South,” Tamias said. “I was doing OK. I was never, like, homeless or anything like that.”

Tenant president stands up for residents
Audio, Features — By Rachel Wise on April 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Edit

Odell Tamias, president of the Jacob Riis Tenant Association. Photo by Rachel Wise

One morning in early April, an elderly woman awoke to find her stove was no longer working. The woman, who lives in Jacob Riis public housing in the East Village, contacted the maintenance call center to report the problem.

The operator told her the earliest they could fix her stove was May 29. And when she continued to follow up on the request, the operator told her to stop calling. That’s when Odell Tamias, president of the Jacob Riis Tenant Association, stepped in.

“That is unacceptable! You know how Spanish people like their coffee,” Tamias said with a chuckle, before a stern expression swept over her face. “Seriously, though. I don’t play. I really don’t.”

Odell Tamias explains her outrage over the operator’s response.

Odell Tamias, 67, has lived at Jacob Riis Houses for 43 years, but for the past five years, she’s served as president of the tenant association. Her job is to help tenants with any housing-related issues, on a volunteer basis.

“Basically, I’m the medium between housing and tenants. Someone has to stand up for them,” she said.

Jacob Riis is a public housing development comprising 19 buildings and 1,764 apartments. Its borders are East Sixth and East 13th streets, and Avenue D and F.D.R. Drive. And it is home to 4,305 residents.

Tamias was born and raised in Columbus, Alabama, but moved to New York City when she was only 17. She worked odd jobs at factories in Long Island and Manhattan in the 1960s, and moved from place to place, usually staying with friends or family members.

“I didn’t become a prostitute or drug addict, thank God. I’m surprised. But you can’t change a person, especially from South,” Tamias said. “I was doing OK. I was never, like, homeless or anything like that.”

Odell Tamias explains her experience avoiding alcohol and drug use.

Then in 1967, Tamias got married and had a son. When her son was only 8 months old, she applied for housing and was accepted. She moved into Jacob Riis Houses — when rent was only $68 per month. Although she got divorced in 1972, she and her son continued living at Jacob Riis. And it didn’t take long before she became involved in the community.

“I have been living here for 43 years. … I was always involved when something happened,” she said. “When there was another president … I would volunteer my service. I could not be doing nothing — I’m not like that. I have to be doing something.”

Before she became president, Tamias served as tenant patrol supervisor — a part-time job for which she received a small stipend. For 12 years, she was responsible for the safety of tenants at Jacob Riis. Every night, she patrolled the grounds and checked on tenants. After that, she became vice president of the TA.

During her time as president, Tamias said she has done “what’s expected” of her but doesn’t think she’s done anything “special.” But history, and tenants, tells a different story.

“I think she’s great. Always friendly and happy to help,” said Maria, a 12-year resident of Jacob Riis who declined to give her full name. “I know when I’ve had a problem, she really helps to work it out. And she’s got a great spirit about her, too.”

One thing Maria pointed to is Tamias’ ability to build a sense of community among residents, specifically citing her organization of Family Day.

Every summer, Tamias is responsible for putting together a Family Day celebration.

“Politicians give us money, and housing gives us money. And we buy franks and burgers and ice cream. … And we have a DJ and clowns, and sometimes (a bounce house),” Tamias said.

But Tamias takes it a step further: She also provides gifts for all the children who come to Family Day, sometimes using her own money if funds run out.

“I buy book bags for the boys and girls for when they go back to school in September. I put everything in there: the pencils, the pens, the eraser — all kinds of little stuff for them,” Tamias said. As she continued to describe the day’s events, her excitement grew and her eyes lit up. “I love to just help, you know, just buy stuff for the kids.”

In addition to community building, Tamias also has made great strides to improve the security at Jacob Riis. When she became aware of safety issues in the development — such as break-ins and robberies — she immediately took action.

“I did the petition to get surveillance cameras for every building,” she said. “I got over 600 people — 700 people (to sign). It’s supposed to keep out the undesirables.”

The “undesirables,” according to Tamias, are the “drug dealers” who invade the premises and stay with friends in several of the buildings.

“I have a whole apartment of drug dealers in my building — in my building,” she said. “I told the police, I told everybody. … There ain’t nothing much else I can do.”

Sibyl Colon, manager of Jacob Riis Houses, agrees with Tamias that drug addicts and dealers are a big issue in the community.

“(Tamias is) very proactive in trying to get rid of the drugs,” Colon said. “We have constant meetings with the police … and relay the information on.”

And while these drug problems are a source of frustration for Tamias, they’re not the only thing.

“The hardest part of my job is when (maintenance) stuff does not get done fast. … That is what is bothering me. It’s the same thing, week after week,” Tamias said.

She said the problem stems from a lack of funding to hire the proper staff who knows how to fix the issues that plague Jacob Riis — “leaky walls, broken this, broken that,” according to Tamias.

“There’s a lot of work shortage here … because of the budget,” Tamias said. “They got the people that clean the grounds (working on) infrastructure problems. They need a contractor to come in and fix the leaks inside the wall because these people don’t know how to do that.”

But all of this wouldn’t be as hard to handle, she said, if it weren’t for the issues tenants have when they contact the maintenance call center.

Tamias said she has seen dozens of apartments with various problems, but no matter what the problem is, she always hears the same response.

“They’ll tell you a month from now. I swear … it doesn’t matter what you call for, they’ll tell you a month from now,” she said.

Sometimes, Tamias admits, the issues she faces seem overwhelming.

“When I first came here it was beautiful. You know, nice, quiet. But now … it’s gone to the dogs, I think,” Tamias said. “It was like the nicest development in the whole Lower East Side … but now it changed. It has changed, trust me, over the years.”

Despite the problems, Tamias is determined to help Jacob Riis become the development she knew 43 years ago.

“She cares about her community. It’s a volunteer position, so you have to really care to do it,” said Sibyl Colon, manager of Jacob Riis. “She has definite leadership qualities, and the residents respond well to her.”

For more than 20 years, Tamias has served her community. But in only one month, Tamias’ reign could be up. The election for TA leaders is set for May, and the winners will be sworn in in June.

“At first, she wasn’t going to run again,” said Epifania “Fanny” Rodriguez, 62. Rodriguez is TA vice president and Tamias’ longtime friend. “But I told her she had to. She’s done a good job — she really has.”

When tenants and friends urged Tamias to run again, she gave in. She said she’d be happy to be president again, but for a shorter term.

“Two years — I think I can deal with that, right? I don’t think I’ll drop dead in that time,” she said, erupting in laughter. “That’s all I can say. And if they still want me, they vote for me.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some good news for print journalism?

If you're talking about "the state of print journalism," or in any way critiquing traditional media, I can almost guarantee what you're going to say: It's bad news. Numbers are bad; readers are dwindling. It's bad, bad, bad.

But what if it's not all bad?

I had begun to give up hope that I'd ever hear any positive news about print media. In fact, sometimes I'd begun to give up hope about media in general. Everyone is so negative, and I feel like it's all we ever talk about.

But then I saw this report: Naples Daily News reports a 22% increase in circulation. That is, print circulation. You know ... newspapers. You remember those, right? (Juuuust kidding. Sort of.)

I was particularly pleased about this report, not because I think it's changing the game or even a trend that will have any significant impact, but because I used to work at the Daily News. And I still have a lot of friends and former colleagues there. And not only that, but I think Naples Daily News is an incredibly strong publication with some really, really talented journalists on staff. Their photo staff is one of the best in the country. Their Web and multimedia teams are amazing. And their reporters, editors and copy editors are just really great people.

But, mostly, it's just nice to hear some good news once in a while.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pavement Pieces

I can't believe I haven't blogged about this before — but it's time I do. Have you checked out Pavement Pieces lately?

For those of you who haven't, I urge you to. Pavement Pieces is an online publication that features the work of NYU graduate journalism students, mostly those in the Reporting New York and Reporting the Nation programs. And for the past nine months, I have been editor of this publication, taking it from a basic, slightly messy version through an elaborate redesign in September to its current incarnation.

We officially relaunched the new Pavement in October, showcasing our coverage of Navajo Nation.

In fact, just last week we learned that we — by way of our Navajo package — are a finalist for the Harry Chapin WHY award — up against the New York Times and Denver Post. Needless to say, we were thrilled and very honored to hear about this!

And if you need further incentive to visit Pavement Pieces, I point to the latest stories we've posted. There have been some incredibly powerful stories — and very compelling multimedia — generated by my talented colleagues.

Darren Tobia recently reported on a transgender woman and Jersey tabloid who are at odds over a recent report about the prostitution arrest of Coy Gordon of West New York. His audio slideshow is creative and interesting and a joy to watch.

Liz Wagner produced a phenomenal story about a Muslim woman who has been a victim of domestic abuse and who struggles to find the resources to help her in New York. The audio segments she included are chilling and very moving.

Alex DiPalma wrote about a fun, lesser-known sport: hard-court bike polo in the Lower East Side. Her details of the sport and characters she interviewed made for a really fun read.

And Amanda VanAllen covered a story about "soul-food diseases" and their negative impact on the health of the black community. She also produced a slideshow featuring some of these delicious "soul-food" dishes. It was so funny and creative.

Obviously, the pieces we feature are diverse, dynamic and truly innovative — there's something for everyone.

I hope you take a look at the site, and don't forget to follow Pavement Pieces on Twitter and 'like' Pavement on Facebook!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

'People are gray'

When the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced recently, it was particularly exciting for my Reporting New York class (at NYU) and me. We learned that Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won for investigative reporting for their work at the Philadelphia Daily News. My professor and program director, Yvonne Latty, worked at the Daily News for several years and considers Barbara Laker one of her mentors — and a dear friend.

So last week, we had a conference call with Barbara Laker to talk about the series that won her the Pulitzer. The series — "Tainted Justice" — "exposed a rogue police narcotics squad, resulting in an FBI probe and the review of hundreds of criminal cases tainted by the scandal," the announcement reads.

Talking to Barbara was a joy because it was so clear how invested she is in the series. Her dedication and excitement was infectious, and it was really great to hear about how she and Wendy "hit the streets of Philadelphia" day after day and month after month. I think it was, in a big way, paying homage to the traditional idea of journalism that has become a rarity in the modern newsroom.

But what I took away from our conversation with Barbara was an understanding of the importance in being so invested — so immersed — in the story. Barbara talked a lot about how she envisions herself in the shoes of the people she interviews. She tries to understand what it feels like from their perspective to better convey the little details.

One of my favorite things she said was in reference to a video that was part of the series. The Daily News obtained surveillance footage from one of the raids led by the narcotics unit in a bodega. She talked about how closely she watched that video to glean the particulars.

In the video, one of the police officers, who was at the center of this entire controversy, was seen talking to a young person and allowing him to leave as the other officers searched the place, questioned the owner and cut wires to disable the video camera — seemingly for no reason. Barbara said how easy it is to assume people are all good or all bad, but that she saw a different side of this officer based on his interaction with the young man.

"People are gray," she said.

I couldn't agree more. And the series, which was reported so fairly and with such detail, was an inspiring, thought-provoking read. I highly recommend taking a couple hours and looking through the articles.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

After cuts, rat problems in E. Village could worsen

A sign in the Creative Little Garden on East Sixth Street warns
visitors to clean up trash to prevent rat infestations. Photo by Rachel Wise

Faruk Mohammed recalled dozens of mornings when he’d show up to work and find signs of intruders. Packages seemed to be torn open, and their contents covered the floor.

Mohammed, who works at Akter Grocery at 106 Avenue B, set traps, hoping to catch the offender. When he returned to work the next morning, he was shocked to find not just one but five intruders — five fat, gray rats stuck in traps.

“We’re losing business because of rats,” said Mohammed, 32. “We had to move all the shelves around because they bite everything.”

Mohammed is one of many East Village residents affected by rat infestations. And unfortunately for them, things could potentially get worse in the coming months.

On March 30, amNewYork reported the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to reduce the number of pest control aides by almost 70 percent — cutting 57 of 84 full-time positions.

Pest control aides are workers who respond to complaints called into 311 and from community boards about rats; they conduct inspections and work to rid troubled areas of rodent infestations when owners fail to act.

According to officials from DC37, a union for public employees in New York City, four of six workers in Manhattan and one of two supervisors will be cut.

Amy Geung, who lives on E. 10th Street across from Tompkins Square Park, worries about how these cuts will affect the neighborhood.

“I’ve lived here seven years, and each year (the rat problems) have gotten better,” said Geung, 41. “If they cut those positions, what will happen? Probably, it will set us back.”

Geung says her apartment building doesn’t seem to have problems with rats but plenty of other places nearby do.

“You see the rats in some areas a lot — like near trash or dirty vacant lots. In those areas, (you see) one rat trap after another,” she said.

Mohammed said rat traps are necessary in his store because of the amount of trash that accumulates.

“The basement is all garbage. But where I live (on First Avenue), there are no signs of rats,” he said. “I think garbage is the key.”

Michael Rivera, co-owner of Beyond Pest Control at 80 First Avenue, agrees. Rivera said there are some parts of the East Village that are hit hard.

“St. Marks is one place that’s heavily, heavily hit. All the street shops there, and the transit system,” Rivera said. “People are generally not clean, and that attracts rats. There’s no real cure for it.”

Rat traps, like this one on East Fifth Street, can be seen throughout
the East Village, usually near trashcans outside apartment buildings.
Photo by Rachel Wise

The health department couldn’t say how often pest control aides are sent out, and Community Board 3 didn’t respond when asked how often complaints are reported in the East Village. But Rivera said he gets calls daily about rat problems in Manhattan. As for the East Village specifically, Rivera said, “it’s hard to say.”

But Steve Rose, who works as a superintendent on East Sixth Street, around the corner from Akter Grocery, and manages the Creative Little Garden also on East Sixth Street, tells an entirely different story.

“I live on the ground floor. … I’ve been there thirty-five years, and I’ve seen all of five rats. People tell me they see them in the garden, but I’ve never seen them,” said Rose, 59. “It doesn’t seem to be a problem.”

Rose admits he keeps his properties very clean, which might make all the difference. In his apartment building, he keeps trashcans sealed and indoors. In the garden, rat traps are set and trash is kept to a minimum.

In a statement, the health department maintains “proposed cuts focus on the services that would have the least adverse impact.” Officials said the pest-control program will “continue to answer complaints about rats, conduct inspections, exterminate, issue violations for rats and garbage … (and) proceed with the indexing initiative which was recently expanded to Manhattan.”

The indexing program is detailed in the Rat Information Portal, an extension of the Web site, which provides specific data “to proactively identify the presence of rats in neighborhoods, and to compare the severity of infestations among blocks and neighborhoods.” Using the RIP complaint tracker, users can zoom into specific places in the city to determine whether an area shows signs of rats, problem conditions or has passed inspection.

Additionally, the RIP provides a 10-page guide on how to prevent and control rat problems. The health department reminds residents to store garbage in rat-resistant, sealed containers; to trim shrubs and keep landscaped areas free of tall weeds; and to check for and repair cracks or holes in buildings and sidewalks.

The pest-control aide cuts represent just 35 percent of staff cuts the health department plans to make, which could save the city as estimated $1.5 million. Almost every city agency has been asked to reduce spending by at least 15 percent to help New York City close its $2-billion deficit.

While it’s uncertain when these proposed cuts would go into effect, it would likely be at the start of the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Visit the Rat Information Portal and see your neighborhood statistics at

Grammar geeks unite!

On April 16, during a session at the annual American Copy Editors Society, the folks in charge of AP Style announced a significant change. Immediately after that announcement, @APStylebook Tweeted: "Responding to reader input, we are changing Web site to website."

As soon as I saw that, I retweeted it. After all, I've not always been called the "Walking AP Stylebook" for nothing. I'm grammar-obsessed. I love all things to do with copy editing, grammar and style. And, of course, I expected my fellow grammar geeks to Tweet about the change, which they did.

But what I didn't expect to see were so many people buzzing about it — many of whom don't usually take an interest in these kinds of things. But for some reason, this change was a particularly hot topic.

Stemming from the Twitter buzz, I came across two really awesome links. The first was a sort of reaction piece from The Poynter Institute — Some Cheer, Jeer AP Change from 'Web site' to 'website.'

The second link I came across has less to do with the AP Style change and more to do with grammar in general. It's a list of the 50 best blogs for grammar geeks, many I've seen before, but plenty I haven't. These blogs are great resources for answering grammar-related questions or just having a place to go to discuss nerdy things with like-minded geeks.

And, in case you're not like me and don't share my bizarre love for grammar and style, here's something you can enjoy. Yes, it is about grammar, but it's light-hearted and very funny.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Even more in the surveillance-camera debate

Last night, I decided to try my hand in Stumbling — or browsing the Web using StumbleUpon. For the most part, I wasn't impressed. I came across some mildly funny quotations and pictures, some cool nature photos and some less-than-impressive tech blogs.

I was about to call it quits when I StumbledUpon this page: a wiki entry entitled "How to Watch Security Camera Streams on the Internet."

The entry insists if you enter one of the dozens of codes they provide into a search engine, you will find yourself watching a random surveillance camera monitoring a random place somewhere in the world. Skeptical at first, I plugged in a few of the codes and, indeed, found myself watching over parking lots, street corners, city views, highways and even inside some businesses.

Inside of some pet-grooming shop.

A highway ... somewhere in the world?

I'm uncertain whether these are live streaming or pre-recorded. I think both. On one video, it was several hours ahead, across the globe, and another claimed it was footage from October 2005.

Nevertheless, this certainly complicates my argument on surveillance cameras. In my first entry, I argued these cameras were seriously breaching our day-to-day privacy. In my second, I said there was a great deal of good cameras potentially could do. Now, I'm somewhere in the middle.

Certainly, they can be advantageous — no doubt. But with systems designed to be open-ended like some of these, or easily hacked (The entry does say, "If you have to break through an existing login system, it's most likely illegal." Good to know. ...), is that really in anyone's best interest? Some of these monitor public places, but others have the capacity to tilt and zoom the camera, making it easy to become less of a surveillance tool and more of a stalking mechanism. Creepy.

But, then again, technology is heading quickly toward a state of omnipresence, so shouldn't we almost expect we're always being watched? Is this actually all that surprising?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What's the big ****ing deal?!

Since I can remember, I've been fascinated with language — history of language; origins of language; how certain words came to be. And I've dedicated some time to answering a lot of these curiosities. But one thing I've never really been able to answer is the mystery of cuss words.

I've always wondered why the word "fuck" is wildly inappropriate compared to the word "puck" or "duck." Who came up with it? Why do humans use it? And, really, why is it so offensive?

Why do we snicker at Ben Stiller's name — Gaylord Focker — in the movie "Meet the Parents"? Do we think it's clever? Do we feel as if we're getting away with something naughty?

And why — whyyyyy — did everyone make such a big deal when VP Joe Biden uttered, "This is a big fucking deal," to Obama during the signing of the health-care bill?

What is the fascination with — the big deal about — these words?

I recently read an article that provided some interesting opinions on the subject. In light of Biden's recent "slip," some New York Times editors wrote about why educated people use bad words.

Journalists, for the most part, are intelligent people, but if you've spent any time in a newsroom, you know how often cuss words fly. It's traditionally viewed as part of newsroom culture, but I tend to think it's what naturally happens when you have a large group of people working together under the weight of stress and strict deadlines.

At any rate, the article provides several opinions from different language "experts," and I found it to be a fascinating read.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The future of gaming and technology

This video is an excerpt from a presentation by Jesse Schell at the DICE 2010 Summit. Schell discusses his views on how gaming and technology will eventually be present in every facet of our lives. He hypothesizes that in the near future, there will be sensors and cameras that will monitor our every action, turning our day-to-day lives into games to be played with a massive point system to determine rewards.

Overall, it’s pretty terrifying thought, but it's also quite far-reaching. I’m doubtful most of this will actually materialize, but it’s certainly food for thought.

(In case the embedding doesn't work properly, it's on YouTube here.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ashley Gilbertson: a truly inspiring photojurnalist

I'm often asked to name a photographer or photojournalist who I find particularly inspiring, talented or otherwise noteworthy. I guess some people think that because I'm a photojournalist, I look to certain other photojournalists to help guide my work. But the truth is, until recently, that hasn't been the case. That's not to say I'm not inspired by other people's work — I find myself browsing through galleries and becoming inspired by the photos themselves, and less often the photographers. 

But this week in my photojournalism class, Ashley Gilbertson, a war photographer, came in to speak with us. Not only did his work speak to me, but his words and philosophies reached out and grabbed onto me.

Gilbertson photographed the Iraq War from 2002-2008, so much of his work is focused on wartime or post-war issues and PTSD. But his most current project — something I had seen and really admired before knowing anything about him — is really simple yet incredibly powerful. It's a project featuring the bedrooms of young veterans who were killed in the Iraq War.

His reason for doing this project, he said, was because he had seen too many obituaries that were so generic, and he wanted to personalize these deaths. Gilbertson felt it was hugely important to find a way people could relate to these soldiers and this war.

"A lot of Iraq pics are largely a failure because people can’t look at them and connect with the people and situations. I thought, 'How can I reach out to readers and help them understand?' " he said.

He is in the process of taking more photos and eventually plans to compile them into a book.

Gilbertson attributes his success to his being "horribly ambitious and incredibly driven." He began his career by photographing skateboarders in Australia, and eventually he found himself as one of the only war photographers in Iraq in the early 2000s.

What is really special about him, I found, were his philosophies and views on photojournalism. One thing he said that really stuck out to me was to be passionate about the things you photograph. Without that drive and conceptualization, the path to success will be much harder to navigate.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Blogging gems from NYTimes' Brian Stelter

Last week, I visited The New York Times. Since the announcement that NYU and will be partnering on the East Village Local project, my Reporting New York class has been talking a lot about plans for the collaboration and working on generating some content. So we figured it was time to take a trip to the Times for somewhat of a meet-and-greet.

While we were there, we had a handful of Times employees come speak with us. Among those people was Brian Stelter, who covers television and digital media for The New York Times. Previously, Stelter edited the popular blog TVNewser. Stelter discussed reporting and blogging, and a few things he said really stuck out.

But really what I took away from Stelter was one quotation he mentioned that I found particularly insightful: "Our jobs (as reporters) are to put stuff on the Internet that isn't already there." He stressed the importance of original reporting.

I have to agree with him. While I do find some value in aggregating and analyzing preexisting content, I think it's much more valuable to provide something that is new and fresh.

For instance, I recently learned about Guy Kawasaki from the many speakers who've visited my Entrepreneurial Journalism class. I started following him on Twitter and found the links he posted to be really interesting — usually random, quirky topics. Most times, the links lead me to his blog, and what I'll find is a short summary with a link to the original post on some other Web site. More often than not, that link leads me to another Web site that also summarized the post, which also includes a link. Eventually, I find my way to the original site, but at that point, I've lost interest. 

What I really enjoy is clicking on a link that takes me directly to where I want to go — a colorful post full of new information or a different perspective, preferably with some kind of visual, perhaps a photo or graphic. Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

My altercation with N.Y.P.D. blogged, reblogged

The other day, I blogged about a run-in I had with N.Y.P.D. officers wherein they tried preventing me from photographing a protest on a public sidewalk. I was merely venting about how blatantly wrong their actions were after I found several of their "dirty looks" in photos during the editing process.

So I blogged and Tweeted, and before I knew it, I was receiving e-mails and comments about the incident from people I didn't know. As it turns out, my entry and photos were picked up by several blogs.

This first post I caught wind of is a blog called "Photography is Not a Crime" by Carlos Miller. Miller is a multimedia journalist who was arrested for taking photos of Miami police officers against their will in 2007. He documents the events surrounding his arrest and trial but also brings light to other First Amendment violations.

The second blog I heard I was mentioned in is a blog called NYC Photo Rights. The blogger's goal is to highlight issues of photographer harassment.

The last blog I've seen that mentions my altercation is a blog called NY 13, which documents the 2010 race for New York's 13th Congressional District. (The congressman, Michael McMahon, who was the center of the protest I was photographing, currently represents that district.)

I want to thank everyone who Tweeted, e-mailed or blogged about my entry. I think this is a really serious issue, and I wish more people knew their rights. It's not acceptable for any police, especially the N.Y.P.D., to try to intimidate photographers or prevent them from taking pictures in public places. I really appreciate the incredible support I've received. Let's keep spreading the word about these kinds of incidents! 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nate Hill going national?

I just saw an article on Gawker that performance artist Nate Hill, who's known for his "Free Bouncy Rides" and "Candy Crack Delivery Service" in his Club Animals group, was approached about turning his work into a TV show.

In December, I produced an audio slideshow and article on Nate Hill and Club Animals, which, according to its Web site, is no longer.

In tribute to the news about Hill's potential show and the demise of his group Club Animals, I'd like to suggest you take a look at the slideshow and article I posted in December here.

Here's a quick taste of the night I spent following Hill and his counterpart, Blizzard.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stuck in a MediaStorm

While perusing some of MediaStorm's multimedia workshop projects a while ago, I heard an insightful quote from MediaStorm founder Brian Storm that stuck with me: "In journalism, we may not get rich, but we live a rich life," Storm said.

So true.

Journalism has been my life for as long as I can remember. I've always been working to represent my community in some form or another. Most recently, I've found a great passion in multimedia and visual storytelling. I think words are incredibly powerful, but when I traveled to the Navajo Reservation last October, and produced three audio slideshows as a result, I learned firsthand how compelling audio and visual aids can be. (The three audio slideshows: Living with uranium; No longer a home; and The Forgotten People.)

And while I've found an incredible outlet in multimedia storytelling and production, I'm always itching to improve and to study other journalists' work I find inspiring. And the place that never disappoints is MediaStorm.

If you haven't seen their work before, I highly recommend taking an afternoon and browsing through their slideshows. In fact, just recently they posted the work of their latest workshop in New York City. Really cool stuff.

Their team of producers and journalists is so talented, from the proficiency on the production end, to the tight, compelling story lines crafted by curiosity and poignant reporting. I hope to one day produce work as inspiring as theirs. Until then, I'll no doubt remain an avid viewer.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fortunately, I know my First Amendment rights

Most people would agree that police officers know right from wrong. I mean, after all, their jobs are to enforce the laws, so they must know them, too, right? Well, yesterday I learned that's not necessarily the case. At least not for some members of the N.Y.P.D.

The background

Yesterday I attended a protest at the corner of Second Avenue and East 46th Street. Members of the Armenian-American and Greek-American communities, along with representatives from the Cyprus Action Network of America, Armenian International Committee and Federation of Hellenic Societies, were picketing outside of Ali Baba Terrace, a Turkish restaurant.

Essentially, the protesters were speaking out against Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.), who represents the 13th Congressional District. McMahon recently voted against a House resolution that would recognize the Armenian Genocide nationwide. (It is already officially recognized by 42 other states, including New York, and 20 other nations.)

On Saturday, McMahon was attending a fundraiser — allegedly to receive honors and campaign contributions — which was organized by some members of the Turkish community. In Turkey, it is a crime to even discuss the Armenian Genocide, and many Turks deny it ever happened.

Because of this, the Armenian-Americans and Greek-Americans felt McMahon was accepting "blood money." They chose to stand outside the restaurant and surrounding area to spread the word to passersby and to ensure the congressman and the fundraiser attendees heard their point of view.

The issue

So I show up just after 11 a.m. Armed with my camera, I'm prepared to take some photos and get the back story for my photojournalism class. At first, there's no issue. I'm speaking with the protesters, reading their flyers and snapping some basic shots.

Then things start to heat up a bit. Outside of the restaurant are a couple of police officers and a security guard standing around. The protesters nearest the restaurant begin to shout their views, and the police and security confront them. I'm standing several feet away, taking photos of their exchanges, when a police officer approaches me and asks whether I'm a member of the press.

As the only other photographer present (there was another reporter, but she was across the street and never came to the corner by the restaurant), I thought this was strange. I said yes, and he asked to see my press pass. Because I wasn't representing any particular publication during this assignment, I show him my business card. He tells me that isn't a press pass and that I can't be standing there, but that I can relocate to across the street (a.k.a. where I won't hear what they're saying).

At first, I'm stunned. I almost concede and walk across the street until I realize he is completely out of line. The protesters are standing on a public sidewalk, where hundreds of people are walking by. The last time I checked, public spaces are just that — public. I know my rights as a journalist and as a citizen, and I know it's perfectly legal for me to be photographing and standing exactly where I am.

I manage to maintain my cool and ask the officers to justify their reasoning. They tell me I can't be there because there is an event going on inside of the restaurant, and that's why they're there in the first place. I see right through this excuse, and so I tell the officers that I won't be relocating because I'm standing on a public sidewalk and not trying to gain access to the private fundraiser inside.

After a little more back and forth, and the police officers trying to intimidate and confuse me, I stand my ground and continue taking photos. Eventually, they back off — though they did continue to shoot me dirty looks.

I only wish I had a copy of an internal N.Y.P.D. memo that reminded New York City officers they aren't allowed to harass or prevent anyone from photographing in public places. Since this incident, I have printed out a copy and put it in my camera bag. Next time, I'll have an easier time defending my First Amendment rights, which I can't believe I had to do in the first place.

To learn more about the story behind the protest, visit

The dirty looks

When I got home and began editing my photos, I saw I inadvertently captured some of these "dirty" and "intimidating" looks. So I cropped the faces and thought it'd be fun to post them here.

But, be warned: They're not the greatest quality because they weren't intentional shots. Simply really awesome afterthoughts. 


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Proposed budget cuts will hurt homeless


Gov. David Paterson’s (D-N.Y.) proposed state budget recently revealed a plan to cut $65 million in annual funding for adult homeless services. And many elected officials and advocates aren’t taking that lightly.

On Monday, the Department of Homeless Services and the Coalition for the Homeless, along with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, councilwoman Annabel Palma and a group of advocates held a press conference to voice their fierce opposition to the proposed cuts.

“We have record homelessness in New York City right now. The governor’s cuts would absolutely decimate the adult municipal shelter system,” said Mary Brosnahan, executive director of Coalition for the Homeless. “This is exactly the wrong cuts at the wrong time. We need more help from the state, not less.”

More than 39,000 people in New York City seek shelter, according to the Department of Homeless Services daily census. Officials and advocates claim Paterson’s proposed cuts would drastically reduce aid to adult shelters, homeless-prevention services and safe havens.

“New Yorkers have seen the progress we’ve made in outreach program, drop-in centers, prevention,” said Christy Parque, executive director of Homeless Services United, a coalition of homeless service agencies in New York City. “We’ve made significant milestones in reducing the number of people of the street and reducing the length of stay (at shelters), and we want to continue doing that.”

The officials and advocates who held the press conference at Bowery Residents’ Committee, 317 Bowery, made it clear they were very different from one another. Each was involved in some part of the homeless-services community but admitted they have been known to butt heads often.

“This is a diverse group. Many times, we have gone against each other in terms of policy and what to do,” said Palma, a councilwoman who was homeless only 18 years ago. “But today we are standing here together to send a strong message to the governor and to Albany that these cuts can simply not happen.”

New York City operates under a “right to shelter” mandate, which ensures shelter for homeless men, women, children and families. Because of this, the city would still be required to serve the same number of individuals but with significant less funding.

Some speakers at the press conference held back opinions of what they thought might happen to the homeless-services system if these proposed cuts were passed.

“I’ve really hesitated when I’ve been asked … what would happen as a result of these cuts … because it’s unconscionable. It would set the city back, in the area of homeless services, 20 or 30 years,” said Robert Hess, commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services.

Other advocates felt it was important to look to the past to predict what the system might turn into — a grim forecast.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, we never had a capacity crisis in the shelter system because (shelters) were just so horrible. People only went when they had to,” said Muzzy Rosenblatt, executive director of Bowery Residents’ Committee. “They weren’t safe; they weren’t supportive; they weren’t caring; and they didn’t get results. And so when you make a two-thirds cut, you go back to that.”

Adding to this already-complicated issue is the fact that more and more people are becoming homeless as a result of the economic downturn.

“We need to step up and provide the services for the new people coming into the system,” Parque said. “Cutting the safety net for the people who are already hanging by a string is tantamount to condemning them to remain homeless and eliminating any opportunity for them to better their lives and return to a stable housing situation.”

Markus Spokane, a 46-year-old homeless man, has been in and out of shelters for more than four years. Spokane said he wasn’t aware of the proposed cuts but isn’t surprised.

“So many shelters are at capacity as it is. That’s why I’m here, sleeping on the sidewalk,” Spokane said. “The cuts are just going to hinder that even more. I don’t even want to think about how many others like me will be back on the streets — probably for good.”

While the cuts would certainly have a negative impact on the homeless community, advocates say the rest of the city will feel the change, too.

“These cuts aren’t just going to hurt our homeless neighbors; they’re going to hurt all of us because it’s going to decimate the quality of life here in New York City,” Brosnahan said.

These leaders and homeless-services advocates are calling on Paterson and the state Legislature to reverse the proposed cuts and restore funding to what they say is an integral community need.

“Is there going to be a broad abrogation of responsibility, and sort of running away from the problems in our state, or is there going to be some kind of lines in the sand drawn, where there is an understanding … the quality of life in this city could be fundamentally different if Albany fails to act?” de Blasio asked.

On Tuesday, de Blasio and Commissioner Hess will be in Albany, fighting to restore funding for the homeless population.

“We need everyone to call members of the Legislature, and to put all the pressure on possible to call on the governor to do the right thing,” Hess said. “We call upon them today with a coalition that doesn’t often stand together but believes, sincerely, that we cannot set this city back 30 years.”

Friday, March 12, 2010

Surveillance cameras prove immensely helpful

In an earlier post, I talked about privacy and cameras, specifically pointing to surveys and studies counting the number of cameras on New York City streets. I was shocked to learn that, as of 2005, my particular neighborhood had an estimated 2,227 cameras — up from 142 only seven years earlier.

My first reaction was to consider the privacy violations this could imply. From there, I admitted it's almost ridiculous to assume we have any privacy, other than in our own homes. But what I didn't really explore is how these cameras could be helpful — even pertinent, in some cases.

Today, I read about a prime example of such a case.

Yesterday, I read a Tweet from @DNAinfo about a woman who was brutally beaten in a Midtown bar after refusing a man's advances. I followed the link, read the story and hoped the police would catch her attacker.

Then today, I read more Tweets: This time, they said the man was caught — only because of footage from nearby surveillance cameras.

The New York Daily News reports: "He was seen on a NYPD video as he left the bar, shaking his hand as if in pain. He was later caught on another camera, walking into a bodega, where he grabbed a beer and left without paying. Nearly 600 cameras have been installed throughout the city as part of the NYPD's Operation Argus."

So while there might be some iffy feelings about the NYPD's invasive surveillance, it goes to show there are times when this can really be crucial. DNAinfo, a Manhattan news site, claims the woman, a 29-year-old pediatric nurse, "was beaten so badly her eye socket and nose were broken, requiring surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Q&A with entrepreneur Lena West

For my third Q&A with an entrepreneur, I spoke with Lena West, founder and CEO of xynoMedia. XynoMedia is a company that deals with social media consulting, both the business and technology sides. Essentially, xynoMedia shows companies how to use social media — blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — and the Internet to their advantage.

Lena is a very savvy, forward-thinking businesswoman, and her ideas about entrepreneurship are different from most others I've heard — a refreshing and welcome change. Here's our Q&A exchange:

Rachel Wise: Why specifically do you think you are considered an entrepreneur?

Lena West: I guess because I have a business and I started a business. I fit the definition. My definition of an entrepreneur is someone who has founded not just one business, but multiple businesses.

RW: Please briefly describe xynoMedia.

LW: We are a social media consulting and strategy firm. We work with business and help them to use social media to increase visibility, connect with their target markets and indirectly increase sales.

RW: Is xynoMedia your first start-up/business?

LW: It's not my first business, but it was my first start-up. (I've started other businesses since.) I was co-owner of a restaurant before I started xynoMedia (in 1997).

RW: How did you come up with the idea for it?

LW: I started as a consultant. I was a full-time, on-site corporate consultant, and I realized rather quickly I would be more profitable if I had more than one client. I decided to take the services I was offering for just that on-site consulting and offer them to multiple clients.

RW: How did you turn your idea for xynoMedia into a business plan? How long did it take?

LW: I don't know that I ever turned it into a business plan, at least not initially. I just thought companies need these services, they need to understand IT, they need someone who understands their business. There are a lot of IT people who understand IT but don't understand how business operates. I'm someone who happens to understand both. So I thought, 'Wow, there's a need for this.'

I have a gift for seeing a business need and being able to figure it out because I'm a strategist — that's how my mind works.

RW: How long did it take to become profitable after officially launching xynoMedia?

LW: About a year or two. For me it was faster because we don't have traditional overhead expenses. I built this company a bit differently, in that I didn't want people to have to choose between whether they would stay home and take care of their children if they were sick, or take care of sick family members, and coming to a job. So we're totally a virtual company. There's a main office, but nobody reports in to work. We just all get our work done, we're all responsible adults, and I don't micromanage anyone.

RW: How did you initially fund your idea? What eventually became your revenue model?

LW: Initially it was funded by my pockets and consulting. I took about $50,000 that I had in savings, and I put that into building the company. We never have received a dime of outside funding, not even like a loan from a relative. We've always been a boot-strap company — what we earn, we reinvest in the company.

As far as a revenue model, we've always been a service-based business, and this year we are taking that to a different level. We're going to be offering some information products people can purchases — some books and audio CDs and stuff like that.

RW: How did you get the word out about xynoMedia?

LW: We never did any advertising. I think I took one ad way, way, way back when. I just realized that if you do good work, and you're really passionate about what you do, and you have happy customers, they'll tell other people. The reality is, unfortunately, in IT, a lot of times people don't show up and they don't deliver as promised. And I knew, if nothing else, I'd be able to do those things. I would be able to deliver on budget, on time, and I'd be able to provide top-notch service to our clients and help them look at IT from a business-case scenario.

Initially, it was word-of-mouth, but now I do a lot of speaking and writing.

RW: How many people went into creating and maintaining xynoMedia? Do you now have a consistent staff?

LW: I went into creating and maintaining xynoMedia — for years it was just me. I had some consultants and stuff like that. But now we have a consistent staff, and we've hired a couple of people. We have developers, assistants, an operation person, business-developing person.

RW: Who was your competition, and how did you manage to stay ahead?

LW: I don't even know. I never think in terms of competition. I think it comes from a scarcity mindset. To think that someone is in competition with you mean that there isn't enough business to be had, and I believe there is enough business for everyone. I never paid attention to the competition — I was my own competition. I stayed in my lane and I just focused on how can we be a better company? How can we be better?

Certainly there's something to be said about knowing what's going on in your industry and who the players are. But, in terms of identifying them and trying to beat them at their own game, I just really believe in playing your own game and playing that game really, really, really well. And that's easy to do when you're passionate about your topic.

RW: Is xynoMedia continuing to grow? If so, by how much?

LW: We're definitely continuing to grow. It's absolutely safe to say we're growing by 20% every single year.

RW: Where is xynoMedia today? Do you still maintain it?

LW: I'm the CEO, I'm still involved. I'm doing other things, and certainly there are other poeple in the company who have more responsibilty. I'm not afraid to delegate once I find the right people. But we're a growing company. We're about to change our brand, change our company name, launch a new Web site, so we have some really exciting things coming down the pike. We're about to launch some information products, so we'll have some products in the mix with our services.

RW: What are you most proud of?

LW: The fact that we've been in business for 13 years and never had a dime of outside financing. And we have a company culture that just underscores that. We don't feel indebted to shareholders or people. We don't feel we have to be anything other than who we are and how we show up.

RW: How much of your success would you attribute to your education, and how much would you attribute to trial and error and hands-on experience?

LW: Well, as far as education, I've only had one year of college. Everything I know is self-taught. If we're talking about formal education, I'd say none. But if we're talking about life education, everything. I've learned constantly from dealing with clients and being out there and understanding business. And there's still stuff I don't get and don't understand. But I'm a big believer in hiring people to help me with stuff like that.

RW: What advice would you give to emerging entrepreneurs?

LW: Pick one thing, do it well, know who you’re serving and serve them really, really, really well. Like, just pick one thing that you can be the best at, and just rock out in that category, and don't worry what everyone else is doing. Know what's going on, of course, but run your own race.

RW: Is there anything else you think would be helpful to know?

LW: Sign your own checks. I don't care if you're a multibillion-dollar business, sign your own checks.

(Photo courtesy of

Friday, March 5, 2010

One in 8 million really is

One of the most rewarding things about being a journalist, at least in my view, is being able to meet and interact with some truly incredible people. And as a reader and viewer, the same thing is true.

One of my favorite multimedia packages is the New York Times' One in 8 Million series. During 2009, photographer Todd Heisler photographed dozens of individuals and recorded audio that multimedia producers turned into extraordinary vignettes. These slideshows, though short and simple, are remarkable in both production and content.

Todd Heisler was scheduled to come speak to my Photojournalism class a few weeks ago, but had to reschedule. I'm really looking forward to meeting him, though. This work is inspirational and a true delight to watch.

What do you think of the series? Are there any other pieces that you find inspiring?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pioneering new media: the Web documentary

In class this week, my professor, Yvonne Latty, showed us a completely interactive web documentary called "Journey to the End of Coal."

It was produced by Honky Tonk Films, a French production company that focuses on Web documentaries. Their explanation of why they use the Internet as the platform to spread their docs? "We think the internet is a place to develop new narrative formats, where interactivity can help build great stories and involve our audience like never before."

(Screenshot of the documentary. The options it gives: Enter the slum,
or get back on the road.

I completely agree. And "Journey to the End of Coal" is a perfect example of how true this is. The premise of the documentary is that the viewer is a freelance journalist who has traveled to China to investigate some of the "most dangerous coal mines in the world." Each step of the way, the viewer is given options: where to go, who to speak to, what to ask.

It plays out almost like a video game, but the truth is everything is real and based on what two freelance journalists actually experienced. (Though, they do indicate names have been changed.)

All I can say is you have to see it yourself. It's something really different, really innovative and really cool.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Privacy and cameras — they're not what you think

In class the other week, my Entrepreneurial Journalism professor Adam Penenberg was discussing the notion of "privacy" today, and how, essentially, having an expectation of privacy is almost absurd nowadays. One example he gave is that New Yorkers are caught on camera 30 to 40 times per day. There are hundreds of cameras within a 1-mile radius of any one place in New York City — traffic/red-light cameras, banks surveillance, police surveillance, ATM camera, convenience store/corner market cameras. They're everywhere, he said.

Surprisingly, this notion hadn't crossed my mind since I moved to New York. I was very aware of cameras in other places I've lived because the communities are so small, cameras seem to stand out more. But in N.Y.C.? In my neighborhood? Hmm.

I decided to start digging to see what I could find about my neighborhood. After doing some research, I found that several different groups had compiled reports, data and maps of all the surveillance cameras around New York City. The New York Civil Liberties Union completed a survey (see the PDF here) that I found to be the most comprehensive.

It reported that, in my area — SoHo and Greenwich Village — in 1998, there were 142 reported cameras. But just a few years later, in 2005, there were a reported 2227 cameras. That's almost 16X the amount in just seven years. And I'd venture to say there are even more today, five years later. (I couldn't find any updated numbers, but if you do, please share!)

And, surprisingly, the other day, I was looking out my window that overlooks Prince Street, as I have hundreds of other times, but this time I noticed a surveillance camera in plain sight. It's visible from ground level, mounted to the side of a brick building on the second floor. The building is actually a friary — yes, as in friars live there (I'm always asked that question when I mention the word 'friary').

I also saw the New York Daily News wrote an article about this issue last year, and I liked how it divided it into the good, the bad and the funny.

It's bad, they said, when someone learns they're being filmed in their own apartments by an NYPD traffic camera, for instance. It's funny when a celebrity is caught in an incriminating act. And it's good when a camera phone captures a lewd act, for example, which is what happened to Thao Nguyen when she saw a man masturbating while staring at her in the subway last year. Nguyen's camera phone caught the act, and her photo made the front page of the Daily News — and it got the man, 43-year-old Daniel Hoyt, arrested.

Nguyen is a prime example of how this kind of technology can help. And her Web site,, collects similar photos, videos and written accounts to "empowers New Yorkers to Holla Back at street harassers." But my favorite part of their objective? "You have the right to feel safe, confident, and sexy, without being the object of some turd's fantasy." Agreed.

The question my professor posed to us at the end of this discussion is the same questions I'm left wondering: What is privacy? Do we have privacy on the phone or Internet anymore? I think not. Did we ever really? The Supreme Court argues the only time you can expect to have privacy is in your home. And sadly, I think that's true. But, as the Daily News reported, even in our own homes we might not have as much privacy as we think (and certainly not if we're using the Internet).

I think this issue poses a lot of questions as it relates to journalism — and citizen journalism, specifically — but that I think I'll tackle another time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Details, details, details

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Warner, my professor's former editor at the Philadelphia Daily News. He's one of those hardcore editors, a newspaperman who has been in the business for many years. He's worked at so many different publications in so many different cities, and he's still doing it today. It was refreshing to connect with someone like that again. The old-schoolers are some of my favorite people — they're journalists through and through.

One of the things Dave told us really stuck with me. He said it was a quote he had heard from a colleague and always kept it in mind:

“A good reporter is someone who is constantly astounded by the perfectly obvious.”

When I heard it, I immediately understood exactly what it means. The way I see it, it means there are stories, details, fascinating things all around us at all times. A true reporter is always be on look-out for these minute details that most people overlook.

When I asked Dave about some ways he comes up with story ideas, I realized I already knew. It's about being aware of your surroundings, questioning everything and simply being "astounded by the perfectly obvious."

It's part of my nature to be detail-oriented and to wonder what every little thing is and how it all works. Even on some of my worst days — dark days when I question whether I even want to be a journalist anymore — I know this is what I'm meant to do. It's what I'm good at. It's just how I'm built.

Monday, February 22, 2010

NYTimes and NYU collaboration

Today it was finally announced: The NYU j-school will be partnering with to produce a hyperlocal news site covering the East Village. For now, it's been dubbed EV Local, and it will be hosted on

I'm excited to work on this project. I've heard great things about Rich Jones, who is the NYTimes editor who will oversee the project. I'm also eager to be working in a "newsroom" environment again. The project will be structured as two classes that will operate as newsrooms — and working in newsrooms is what I truly love. (I've been working in some kind of "newsroom" since I was 10, but I've been reporting to legitimate, daily-newspaper newsrooms since I was 16.) It's like home to me.

The Studio 20 program is planning the beginning stages and launch of the project, while Reporting New York, primarily, (along with a few other stragglers) will be contributing content and running the site in the fall.

I'll make sure to keep you posted!

Journalists' involvement in stories they cover

It must be hard having two professions — or two callings or two conflicting views — and being caught up during a time when both are of tremendous value. This has been the case with many journalists in the past, though they often weigh between the principles of being a journalist and simply being a human being. But for Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is both a CNN anchor and medical doctor, his dilemma was much more complex during his recent trip to Haiti.

Gupta assisted with many medical procedures, volunteering his time to help so many of the terribly injured Haitians suffering on the streets of Port-au-Prince. I'm not in any way suggesting the need for medical assistance was not great — it obviously was. What I'm saying it perhaps Gupta, and the others who were similarly involved — relinquish their journalist duties if the need for these services is so great.

In an earlier post, I discussed the general ethics of reporting in Haiti and some of the scrutiny surrounding the issue. Certainly it's very complicated, but I maintained that journalists need to avoid becoming part of the stories they cover. I've found this view to be increasingly less popular, as my colleagues have expressed the opposite view in class discussions. They say they're human first, journalist second, and if need be, they would step in. I can't say I disagree with that statement, but it was their follow-up to that I found troubling.

OK, so you step in if you have to, but then what? Most responded: nothing. They would go about reporting and covering the story as if nothing happened. But is that really possible? Is it possible to, say, carry a wounded child out of harm's way one second, and the next second stare at the lens of a camera and objectively report on the incident without any emotional investment or other similar reaction?

But recently, during a visit to NYU's Reporting New York class, USA Today reporter Marisol Bello, who covered the Haiti disaster for USA Today, expressed the very same view I have on this matter. He point of reference was to Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta, who has garnered a lot of attention and praise for their efforts in both reporting on and helping in Haiti. “I just feel like we should never be part of the story,” she said. “In this way I can be old-school. If you want to be an actor in that, and if you need to be an advocate or aid worker, do that so then you get interviewed.”

Anderson Cooper even won January's Sidney Award for his efforts in Haiti (an award my partner Katy Bolger won for her story and my photos in October for our Navajo coverage). This award is extremely prestigious, and it almost irks me that he was awarded it considering the circumstances.

An article in the LA Times quoted someone who echoes my opinion to the T: But some media ethicists said medical correspondents should consider forgoing their journalistic roles if they're going to participate in the relief effort. While reporters should help when they can save a life or prevent profound harm, "I think it's very hard for an individual who is professionally and emotionally engaged in saving lives to be able to simultaneously step back from the medical work and practice independent journalistic truth-telling," said Bob Steele, journalism values scholar at the Poynter Institute and journalism professor at DePauw University.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Q&A with entrepreneur Peg Samuel

For my second interview with an entrepreneur, I chose to speak with Peg Samuel. Peg Samuel is an accomplished entrepreneur, author and PR/marketing/advertising expert. She has worked in the interactive media industry for more than 10 years and from that launched Social Diva, a lifestyle and entertainment Web site.

Peg was very helpful and quick to respond to my query. I enjoyed speaking with her and learned a lot from her responses. I hope you do, too! Here they are:

Rachel Wise: Why specifically do you think you are considered an entrepreneur?

Peg Samuel: I work solely on a business that I created myself from scratch. I am self supporting with my business and I create new projects, opportunities and partnerships. I also feel that being an entrepreneur is a boundless energy and spirit that I embrace.

RW: Please briefly describe Social Diva Media.

PS: Social Diva ( is the premium digital brand speaking to a community of powerful, trendsetting woman; the influencer set. They look at our newsletters as the go-to resource for all of their lifestyle needs.

RW: Is Social Diva your first start-up/business?

PS: Yes.

RW: How did you come up with the idea for it?

PS: I was working in online advertising sales, I founded the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association with a group of other Internet marketing pioneers and I was the social chairperson, someone nicknamed me Social Diva it stuck. When I was looking to go out on my own it only seemed natural to create a business around the brand.

RW: How did you turn your idea for Social Diva into a business plan? How long did it take?

PS: I started making money immediately, I wrote a formal business plan when I changed my business model and wanted more clarity and focus around my plans. It was probably 3 years in.

RW: How long did it take to become profitable after officially launching Social Diva?

PS: I launched Social Diva in 2000, as my sole income. I went back to work for a “day job” when I moved to NYC in 2004. Since 2007 I have been running Social Diva Media full time and we are profitable.

RW: How did you initially fund your idea? What eventually became your revenue model?

PS: We are self-funded though an advertising model and sponsorship. Which is my background I have 15 years of ad sales experience.

RW: How did you get the word out about Social Diva?

PS: Grass roots, virally.

RW: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in launching your idea? In keeping it alive?

PS: One big challenge is the overall workload and finding strategic balance of which role to be focusing on at any given point. Also, evaluating the company as a whole to make sure everything in alignment with the business goals, my personal goal and ultimately the marketplace.

RW: How many people went into creating and maintaining Social Diva? Do you now have a consistent staff?

PS: I am the sole proprietor; I utilize my outside services to get many things accomplished with the business.

RW: Who was your competition, and how did you manage to stay ahead?

PS: Email marketing is a very competitive space; there are a lot of other great newsletters out there. We focus on ourselves by giving our reader exactly what they come to us for, the best content to suit their social needs. Additionally, we host our own created events, something they can’t get anywhere else.

RW: Is Social Diva continuing to grow? If so, by how much?

PS: Yes we see month over month growth.

RW: Where is Social Diva today? Do you still maintain it?

PS: Yes, we are in a massive growth phase which I own and operate the business.

RW: What are you most proud of?

PS: When my readers tell me how much they love Social Diva.

RW: How much of your success would you attribute to your education, and how much would you attribute to trial and error and hands-on experience?

PS: Most of mine is hands on experience. My education is though mentors and consultants.

RW: What advice would you give to emerging entrepreneurs?

PS: Have passion about what you believe in, find a need and fill it.

RW: Is there anything else you think would be helpful to know?

PS: Our main business is email marketing most of our revenue comes from ad sales, we host events and revenue comes in from sponsorships. We are one of the few online companies that embrace online/offline and social media to market brands in one media buy. We have a book “How to be a Social Diva” published by Easton Studio Press. We are currently producing dance music compilations with the top dance label in the world entitled Strictly Social Diva.

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