Tuesday, June 30, 2009

the sleeping alone review of films*: the road

Summary: They're gonna screw it up.

Here's a trailer:

As always, I want the movie to give me the same experience as the book did. In this case, I know that what I want is not deliverable by the filmmakers, for one main reason: the novel achieved its sparseness in large part because of McCarthy's decision to eschew conventions of printed text, to avoid description, to avert his eyes from the details that might matter to us as voyeurs but wouldn't matter to the characters that populate this post-apocalyptic ode to humanity's innate survival drive.

Look at the following examples:

I should have been more careful, he said.
The boy didn't answer.
You have to talk to me.
You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?
He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
Yes. We're still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.

He walked out into the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of an intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.

Films, visual and aural platforms that they are, hinge on the presumption that a thing worth the camera's focus is worth showing to the audience in all its textured glory. While we judge a novel(or, for that matter, a screenplay or script) based on the writer's ability to show us a scene instead of telling it to us, a movie--with some, but not much, variation--is restricted only to showing. You can show well, or you can show less well, but the delicate dance of showing without showing--McCarthy's tactic throughout the road--is nigh on impossible on the screen.

Besides, when it comes to movie, story is king. we want movies whose narratives bend us over ourselves. We want to get a good look at the enemy, even if the enemy is scarcely described in the novel on which the film is based. We want all dimensions of the relationship between the boy and his father. We want to know the boy's mother and understand why she did what she did.

Still, you know how I like post-apocalyptic zombie movies, and this movie basically fits the bill. It comes out Oct. 16, which means there's still plenty of time for any number of interested parties to screw it up royally.

*that have not yet been released

Monday, June 29, 2009

Let's rethink OpenCourseWare

You can't knock down the gates around higher education by putting up virtual borders instead.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I'm on the open source movement like Daniel Tosh on videos of people puking.

Which is why I engage with MIT's OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative as if I were trying to embody the very definition of insanity itself. This time, I've gotten my dander up over the promise and disappointment of an awesomely titled course, Research Topics in Architecture: Citizen-Centered Design of Open Governance Systems. Here's the description from the course's syllabus:

Imagine if networked computers and other devices could unleash full democratic real-time participation in official decisions by all stakeholders. To date, member-led debate and decision-making has always been subject to physical limits in space, time and numbers of participants. Current technologies and business practices can allow architects and planners to break through the traditional constraints to member involvement in the agoras of our public and private institutions. The implications for corporate transparency and accountability, as well as for more responsive government are provocative.

In this seminar, students will design and perfect a digital environment to house the activities of large-scale organizations of people making bottom-up decisions, such as with citizen-government affairs, voting corporate shareholders or voting members of global non-profits and labor unions. A working Open Source prototype created last semester will be used as the starting point, featuring collaborative filtering and electronic agent technology pioneered at the Media Lab. This course focuses on development of online spaces as part of an interdependent human environment, including physical architectures, mapped work processes and social/political dimensions.

Perfect, right? And not only that, but I keep going back to the noble origins of OCW and wanting the tool to live up to its promise. As the site proclaims,
In 1999, MIT Faculty considered how to use the Internet in pursuit of MIT's mission—to advance knowledge and educate students—and in 2000 proposed OCW. MIT published the first proof-of-concept site in 2002, containing 50 courses. By November 2007, MIT completed the initial publication of virtually the entire curriculum, over 1,800 courses in 33 academic disciplines. Going forward, the OCW team is updating existing courses and adding new content and services to the site.

It's an expensive--according to the site, it costs between $10,000 and $15,000 to upload materials from a single course--but laudable effort, ideally suited to highly resourceful learners looking for ways to supplement their formal or informal learning.

Again and again I return to OCW. Again and again I'm disappointed by how hostile OCW materials are to even the most dedicated, passionate learner. The materials are easy to download and unzip but difficult to unpack: They're so dense, and so decontextualized in their current format, that they're nearly nonsensical.

The architecture course is a case in point. While I'd be hard-pressed to find a more perfect class for the likes of me, the materials, though organized according to the course schedule and packaged with lecture notes, handouts, and supplemental readings, are simply too much to make head or tail of. Here, for example, are the class notes from week 1, "slashdot as example":

Class Notes
  1. Slashdot.org - Karma – six levels – terrible, bad, neutral, positive, good, excellent
  2. Self-Organizing
  3. Fiction (Jeremy) – similar point system
  4. Pathfinder (Stylianos)
  5. Shock Experiment – Anonymity
  6. Slackdot – takes time to penetrate – no ‘design’ (‘blurb’ upon ‘blurb’)
  7. Legibility should be more important
  8. Hard to read – squint eyes
  9. Only get ‘tip of the iceberg’
  10. Graphic way of searching for info – rhizome.org (starry night)
  11. The Brain EKP – Enterprise Knowledge Platform
  12. Spider Map – Irish PM interface – drag and drop
  13. How things get ‘about the iceberg’ – organized on screen – very different
  14. Slashdot – every user is not equal – ‘superusers’ have more input – antidemocratic
  15. Mediation – 3rd party neutral – resolution among themselves.
  16. Arbitration – 3rd party neutral – arbitrator rules based on evidence.
  17. EBay- used same technology to resolve dispute
  18. High reputation, good feedback – typically did nothing wrong – past performance
  19. Filters – like minded people (ie ACLU) or only hi-karma people
  20. Maybe have user-defined (voted for things you also want)
  21. To what extent are user comments and actions transparent?
  22. Is real identity necessary?

Next Week:

How to preserve minority rights – mediation – therapeutic circles!

Debate Notes:
What do you mean by project based experience?
Really there is 2 proposals – eliminate GRE, use project-based evaluation
Other criteria still valid.

I'm sure this makes perfect sense to the student who was able to sit in on that week's lecture, but it's all but useless without that guidance. Though I'm sure the readings and other assignments clarify nicely, it's up to me to locate the texts, read them alone, and figure out the link to the key ideas of the course. This is only slightly better, and perhaps a good deal more time-consuming, than if I were to simply email the instructor with a request for reading recommendations.

The resources aren't completely useless, of course; the reading list saves me the time and energy of having to locate, contact, and wait to hear back from the instructor. I imagine, too, that OCW is an invaluable resource for higher ed faculty and administrators as they approach course planning. Used right, this kind of resource could help us make enormous strides toward leveling the higher education playing field.

But I'm not sure what using it right might look like. Should all universities compare their course offerings and reading materials to that offered by MIT faculty? Should all students pick an accompanying OCW course to complement their chosen field of study? Or should we ignore the content and emulate the approach: Making all course materials at all universities available to anybody who wants to access them?

Perhaps, as a colleague pointed out, it's not fair to use a course from 2002 as proof of OCW's failings. After all, as she explained, 2002 was too early to judge anything by today's criteria: "In 2002," she said, "the New York Times was still charging for content."

Fair enough. But more recent courses appear similarly information-dense and context-sparse. All I'm saying (and I've said it before, here on this blog) is that while the impetus behind OCW is grand and noble, it doesn't seem like anybody's getting their $10,000 to $15,000 worth. It seems much more valuable--not to mention cheaper and more readily accessible--to capture one or two key lectures per semester, surround those lectures with related readings designed by the lecturer for the OCW context, and link learners to a cluster of resources available through other open educational resources, online networks, and offline texts. This seems much more closely aligned to the spirit of the open educational movement, an effort that hopes to break down archaic and arbitrary geological, achievement-oriented, and class-defined gaps in participation.

Okay, now I'm just repeating myself.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tosh.0 is my favorite new show

Why? Because it has included a puke scene in every one of its first four episodes, that's why.

In case you haven't been following along on Comedy Central, Tosh.0 is a new show hosted by comedian Daniel Tosh. The main conceit is that Tosh introduces, and comments on, a series of viral videos.

It's funnier than you think, even if you think the premise is a downright hoot. But you do have to kind of like watching people throwing up, people making idiots of themselves, and goats that sound like humans.

If you do, you also need to think it's funny when comedians revel in the most humiliating aspects of the human attraction toward spectacle and performance.

If you do, you'll agree with the Reuters review of Tosh.0 by Dan Carlson, who exclaims that
it succeeds on the strength of host Daniel Tosh, a talented stand-up comedian who isn't above poking fun at the show's premise even while gleefully introducing a fresh batch of clips. He's self-deprecating and quick-witted enough to keep the action breezing right along.

Carlson writes, and I agree, that the best part of the show is the weekly "Web Redemption" segment, in which someone whose humiliation has gone viral gets a chance to come on the show for an opportunity to regain her or his dignity. Guests on this segment have so far included Afro Ninja, Miss South Carolina, the famous tumbling-table star of the video "Scarlett Takes a Tumble," , and my personal favorite so far, Tyrone Davies, most recently known for his massive puke-puddle on a morning news show. Davies gets his shot at web redemption here:

Tosh.0Thurs, 10pm / 9c
Web Redemption - Puke Guy
Daniel ToshMiss Teen South CarolinaDemi Moore Picture

Simple redemption's not enough for Daniel Tosh, oh no. He has to take it one step farther and take on the "60 minute milk challenge"--drinking a full gallon of milk in under an hour, which everybody knows is physically impossible.

Why do I love this show? Mainly because of Tosh himself, who takes such obvious delight in excoriating the self-humiliation drive. If you like his new show, you'll love his recent stand-up movie, "Daniel Tosh: Completely Serious." Here's a teaser:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

just because I'm frothing at the mouth doesn't mean I'm rabid

My friend Clement recently gave me an amazing book by Patrick J. Finn called Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in their Own Self-Interest. The description on the back cover explains that this book "dares to define literacy as a powerful right of citizenship.... Our job, (Finn) argues, is not to help students to become middle class and live middle-class lives--most don't want it. Education rather should focus on a powerful literacy--a literacy with an attitude that enables working-class and poor students to better understand, demand, and protect their civil, political, and social rights."

Finn picks up on the foundational work by social-justice educational theorists like Jim Gee, Lisa Delpit, Jonathan Kozol, and--most importantly for his approach--Paolo Freire. Freire is best known for his work with the poor, illiterate, and undereducated population of Brazil, out of which work emerged his key text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire argued for an approach to literacy that Finn calls "dangerous literacy"--the kind that is acquired for the purpose of struggle, for personal and social justice.

Finn asks what might happen if we approach literacy from a "Freirean motivation"--a motivation to identify and fight against the features of a culture that serve to oppress you and other members of your community (including overcrowded schools, unemployment and underemployment, substandard housing, and substandard health care). What if, he asks,
your teachers addressed these issues while teaching history, English, art, music, and even math and science? What if your parents and teachers were involved in grassroots organizations that demanded better schools, a living wage, or universal health care? What if they were active in their unions and supported other union campaigns such as Justice for Janitors or organizing housecleaners, nannies, and car wash workers? What if your teachers taught the history of democratic movements such as abolition, suffrage, and labor and helped you to see that you and your fellow students could become more powerful if you appropriated the discourse of power and prepared to become union members or community activists or organizers or teachers or lawyers or elected officials with a passion for social justice so you can fight to get a better deal for yourself and families like yours?

As Finn makes clear, schools as they are currently structured are not designed to support learning experiences that answer the above question. It's not, he explains, the fault of teachers, many of whom are doing the best they can. But the education system is designed for "empowering education for some and domesticating education for others" and, Finn writes,
about as savage as any I can think of, but it's much harder to pin down.... The easy (but I believe incorrect and ultimately self-defeating) answer is to shout conspiracy. But subtle mechanisms (that) deny working-class children access to higher levels of literacy work so well--even when there are competent teachers and reasonable resources--that there is no need for conspiracy. Savage inequalities persiste because a lot of well-meaning people are doing the best they can, but they simply do not understand the mechanisms that stack the cards against so many children.

Teaching for Freirean motivation, according to Finn, is teaching kids to want what the teacher wants and being willing to cooperate in order to get it. It's teaching kids to understand what Jim Gee calls the "master myths"--the belief systems on which our society is built--and to understand the extent to which these myths serve or fail to serve their own best interests.

This book is blowing my mind, and I'll offer up a more thorough review soon. Right now, I want to just highlight something interesting that I'm learning about being mad enough to fight with people about how effed America's public education system is: While it's easy to talk about the subtle mechanisms that support current social structures with people who already agree that school is effed, it's unbelievably hard to talk about these things with people who aren't yet convinced. Consider the following sample conversations:

Me: Here's why I think school is effed (reasons A, B, C, D).
Katie Clinton: I agree with reasons B and C, but I think reason A is actually an effort to make schools more fair.
Me: Well but A requires administration buy-in, which is hard to get.
Katie Clinton: Actually, a good teacher can overcome administration hostility because....

Me: Here's why I think school is effed (reasons A, B, C, D).
Benighted conservative: School isn't effed.
Me: Wha--
Benighted conservative: I mean, look at me--I was born into the working class and overcame my roots through education.
Me: But that's not--
Benighted conservative: What we need is a more rigorous, standardized curriculum, including more focus on the classics, a better testing system, and greater accountability.
Me: No no no, the problem isn't that curricula aren't rigorous enough, it's that curricula are designed to serve the interest of the dominant Discourse.
Benighted conservative: There's a reason Shakespeare is still taught--it's because he's universally valued and valuable. We need to teach poor people to understand that.
Me: This isn't about Shakespeare, it's about an education system that's--
Benighted conservative: I succeeded through hard work and dedication, and anybody who works hard enough can do what I did.
Me: *sputter*

I've had many versions of both of the above conversations, and what I've learned is that while there's no need to convince the Katie Clintons of the world that our school system is inherently slanted in favor of dominant groups who participate in the dominant Discourse, it's almost impossible to convince the benighted conservative of the world that this conversation is even worth having. Once somebody has experienced success in a screamingly unjust educational system, that person is far less likely to be willing to engage in a conversation about whether that system is unjust. There's just too much to lose.

Which is why the approach of Finn and others--teaching a healthy sense of outrage both within and toward the education system--seems like the best approach for real, systemic change.

I'm also learning an important lesson about the rhetoric of social justice. It may not, for example, be the smartest thing to begin a conversation by offering the four reasons I think schools are effed, at least with people who don't already embrace the assumption that schools are seriously broken. It's just that my hackles are already up and I've gotten a good growl going, deep down in my throat.

I hope graduate school isn't like a kennel for angry dogs. I hope it's not a place to keep people caged until they forget what they were mad about in the first place. I hope it's more like a place where they offer you things to chew on so the anger gets channeled into something productive.

Friday, June 26, 2009

seven things I know about Michael Jackson

He changed the way we think about movement:

He refused to engage with what we wanted from a showbiz family:

He just went ahead and ignored our need to sort out his sexuality:

He knew we were racist. He used it to his advantage:

He offered us spectacle. We loved it. He knew it. He embraced it, sometimes:

Sometimes, he embraced it in more complicated ways:

He was a singer, composer, dancer, musician. A really effing good one.

Michael Jackson, pop icon, dead at 50

Can you even BELIEVE it?

Michael Jackson was THE pop star of my generation, maybe even the last real unifying star before social media screwed everything up and made it impossible for one star to rule them all.

Jackson was confounding in almost every sense. He forced us to rethink and approach anew cultural attitudes toward race, gender, masculinity, sexuality, and public performance of identity. In many ways it was easier to think of him as an anomaly, a phenomenon so far outside of the world we understood that we didn't need to bother figuring out what he meant to us, and why.

With his death, analysts will probably find fuel to continue down this path--approaching Michael Jackson as a simple freak instead of the product of a complex interaction between the technologies and (human and inanimate) objects of our culture and one person's difficulty in being offered up as a cultural object. If we're lucky, someone will offer up a smart analysis of the cultural tensions that created the two Michael Jacksons: The (damaged, brilliant, trouble, dangerous) person, and the (brilliant, confusing, performative, captivating) public persona. The personal and the public increasingly intersected, especially as Jackson aged into a new media era and suddenly it was more than cameras that surrounded him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

applying the abundance model to the classroom

In a recent Wired article called "Tech is Too Cheap to Meter: It's Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity," Chris Anderson considers the difference between a scarcity management model and an abundance model. His point is linked to management of technology resources; he writes that
[i]f you're controlling a scarce resource, like the prime-time broadcast schedule, you have to be discriminating. There are real costs associated with those half-hour chunks of network time, and the penalty for failing to reach tens of millions of viewers with them is calculated in red ink and lost careers. No wonder TV executives fall back on sitcom formulas and celebrities—they're safe bets in an expensive game.

But if you're tapping into an abundant resource, you can afford to take chances, since the cost of failure is so low. Nobody gets fired when your YouTube video is viewed only by your mom.

Anderson's point is that when resources--in this case, willing content producers with cheap production tools--are abundant, we need to rethink how we structure, market, and make money off of content.

The point, though linked to media marketing models, might easily be applied to the domain of education. The following graphic accompanies Anderson's piece:

Clearly, the abundance model as presented here aligns with the spirit of participatory culture, at its heart an egalitarian, anti-hierarchical movement wherein cultural decisions become crowdsourced. Here's where many school policies confuse scarcity and abundance: They block participatory media (including YouTube, many social networking sites, and sometimes Google and Wikipedia) and evaluate students based on their ability to repeat back to the teacher (or testmaker) the big ideas of the class. Knowledge, in this case, is treated as a scarce resource, when in a participatory culture knowledge is almost the most abundant thing we have.

What would it look like to apply an abundance model to the classroom? What new roles can and should teachers and students play in an egalitarian classrom in which "everything is permitted unless it is forbidden"? What's the difference, practically speaking, between a "command and control" classroom and a class without that type of control?

Important questions to chew on. More soon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Katharine Weymouth's ulterior motives

what print newspaper editors have to gain from arguing that content is king and format is just something to quibble over

You have to read Washington Post editor Katharine Weymouth's shrill defense of print journalism, thinly disguised as a commencement speech for Medill School of Journalism grads. For my money, the most interesting part of the speech is this chunk, which comes right after a grudging nod to the role of new media technologies like Twitter and Facebook in the ongoing Iranian revolution:
But using new tools do not mean doing away with the profession of reporting – of cultivating sources and spending days and weeks and sometimes years developing a story and digging to the bottom. Of parsing sides in order to get at the underlying truths. Ariana Huffington refers often to the new era in media as that of the “linked economy.” She is right to a degree. But like a chain, a linked economy is only as good as its weakest link -- meaning it’s only as good as the quality of the content to which you are linking. Without serious sources of news, both our economy and our society would suffer.

What format that content comes in is a separate question.

Just as Weymouth nods to Huffington, I'll grant that Weymouth is also right to a degree--a linked economy really is only as good as its weakest link. But treating content as separate from format flies against the principles that led journalists to want to expand reporting across new formats in the first place: New formats offer new types of journalism, new chances to reach new audiences, and (let's face it) new potential advertisers. Indeed, the effort to separate content and format--to suggest that one exists independent from the other--descends beyond confusing into the realm of the absurd.

Format may not matter if you're rich, white, and a resident of a large (democratic) metropolitan city, where you have access to just about all imaginable news delivery platforms; it matters a little more if you don't have a television, or you can't get online, or the only communication tools not controlled by the government are tools like Twitter and Facebook.

Oh, and also, it's easy to argue that weak links can be identified by an examination of content, not format, when you're a dyed-in-the-wool member of the weakest news delivery format we have. Newspapers aren't dying because their content is weak; they're dying because the format they use to deliver the content quickly dies on the vine. While online journalism is easily picked up and spread across platforms, the material offered in a print newspaper gets tossed at the end of the day. Iranian Twitter users break the news of revolution to a global audience of millions; the Washington Post reports the same revolution and a few thousand, at best, first learn of it via the print edition that lands in their driveway. The rest of the WaPo readership already got the news, from Twitter or hundreds of other news platforms, including--perhaps--the online edition of the Washington Post. If the goal of journalism is to deliver the news, then it seems pretty obvious that print newspapers are the weakest link.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ray Bradbury smacks down new media types

First, in case you weren't aware of this, Ray Bradbury is alive and kicking at 89.

If Bradbury's name doesn't trigger instant recognition and a flood of memories of high school English classes, then it's possible it's simply too late for you to make any useful contribution for society. In case there's still a chance, here's why you should recognize Bradbury's name: He penned Fahrenheit 451, a novel about a future in which critical thought is outlawed (451 degrees is the temperature at which books burn). Though this is his most famous work, Bradbury is a highly prolific writer and in addition to dozens of novels, short story collections, and novellas, he has also authored multiple teleplays and screenplays. His most famous is the 1956 version of Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck, which became the canonical representation of the novel (despite certain liberties taken with Melville's novel--most notably, a significant rewrite of the ending).

Bradbury is in the news lately because of a crusade to save public libraries in Ventura Country, CA. According to this New York Times article, the libraries there are under threat of closure because of a drop in property tax funds in the city. Property taxes make up the lion's share of public funds to support libraries in Ventura.

When friends of the library went to Bradbury for help, he was apparently an easy sell. As the article explains:
Fiscal threats to libraries deeply unnerve Mr. Bradbury, who spends as much time as he can talking to children in libraries and encouraging them to read.

The Internet? Don’t get him started. “The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’

“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

Readers of this blog know that I take my joy out of pummeling people who attack the internet as "meaningless" or "not real." In this case, though, I'm going to let Bradbury off easy, and not just because I'm easily dazzled by literary stars. Bradbury gets a free pass because he points to a key problem inherent in the social revolution: That the demise of print newspapers, public libraries, and books in general means that kids who either can't or choose not to engage with participatory media will get left behind. This means that the most disadvantaged learners will, once again, live at the mercy of the educated class.

The NYTimes article explains why libraries matter so much to Bradbury:
His most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” contains a seminal library scene.

...“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Look, I know it's not a revolution if nobody loses. But if the same groups of people who have always lost--the poor, the undereducated, the underclass--lose this time, too, then what kind of revolution are we hosting over here?

I will admit, though, that it's kind of confusing that one of the most innovative, creative, and future-oriented writers of 20th Century America is displaying such a resistance to a technology that appears to feel just a little too futuristic to him. It's not real? It's in the air? Isn't that the premise of the vast majority of Bradbury's body of work?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I don't even care that posting this now shows how late I am at getting on the Adam Lambert bandwagon

is all i can say in the face of this much talent

I don't even care how lame it makes me look. This man is perhaps the most mind-blowingly talented singer to come out of the American Idol popster factory. I don't even care that I'm a month late in noticing it.

open source, open access, open education: some definitions

For my upcoming study at Indiana University, I'm working on a position paper on the Free / Open Source / Libre movement, the open source ethos, and open education. It's kind of weird having to draft a position paper when I kind of feel like I've done that, over here at sleeping alone and starting out early.

In fact, a position paper focusing only on the F/OSS movement and open education seems to somehow miss the point, since the spirit of these movements embraces an open-source approach to culture at large. In this way, this blog feels more appropriate as a position statement than any short paper ever could.

Still, academia is academia, and I can't just turn in a one-liner (http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com) as a position paper. The paper I'm drafting, though, belongs to and informs this blog as much as this blog informs it. For that reason, I'll be posting my work here as I go.

Today, I'll start with some definitions.

Open Source:
Open source is an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software, offering practical accessibility to a software's source code. Some consider open source as one of various possible design approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source)

Open Source Software (OSS): computer software for which the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that meets the Open Source Definition or that is in the public domain. This permits users to use, change, and improve the software, and to redistribute it in modified or unmodified forms. It is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open source software is the most prominent example of open source development and often compared to user-generated content. The term open source software originated as part of a marketing campaign for free software.

Free Software (vs. Open Source Software): The term “free software” was coined by Richard Stallman, who explains that
When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users' essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.” (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html)

Briefly, the difference in the terms highlights different ethical approaches to software development. In general, the OSS movement emphasizes the collective engagement with source code in order to develop, and sometimes to market, powerful and efficient software. The free software movement identifies as a social movement. Stallman explains:
Nearly all open source software is free software; the two terms describe almost the same category of software. But they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, because only free software respects the users' freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only. It says that non-free software is a suboptimal solution. For the free software movement, however, non-free software is a social problem, and moving to free software is the solution.

Many adherents to these movements, to avoid this issue, simply refer to the Free/Open Source Software (F/OSS) Movement.

Community Source Software (CSS): Community Source Software differs from OSS in that institutions devote paid employees to the project, with the intention of collaboratively developing a product that embraces the open source ethos. From the Wikipedia article on Community source,
An important distinctive characteristic of community source as opposed to plain open source is that the community includes some organizations or institutions that are committing their resources to the community, in the form of human resources or other financial elements. In this way, the open source project will have both more solid support, rather than purely volunteer efforts as found in other open source communities, and will possibly be shaped by the strategic requirements of the institution committing the resource.

Examples of CSS include: the Sakai Project, Kuali Foundation, and Open Source Portfolio.

Open Access (OA):
From http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm, “open access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. The goal of adopting OA policies is to remove barriers to information. Many higher education institutions have adopted an open access policy, as for example the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which explains that it adopted an OA policy because “The Faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.”

Open Education Movement and Open Educational Resources (OERs): From Opening Up Education, a key tenet of this movement is that education can be improved by making educational assets visible and accessible and by harnessing the collective wisdom of a community of practice and reflection. The open education movement embraces a shift away from a scarcity-based model of higher education, which bases its value on limiting access. As Batson, Paharia, and Kumar explain (in chapter 6, “A Harvest Too Large? A Framework for Educational Abundance”), open education works within a “knowledge ecology characterized by unfettered access to educational resources, choice, and change in the context and clientele of higher education.” In the open, “abundance-based” learning framework, we see the following shifts, with the “trend indicators” column showing features of higher education that point to the shift.

Recursive Publics: This term was coined by Christopher Kelty, who describes it at length in Two Bits (available for download, online browsing, and modulation for free online):
A recursive public is a public that is vitally concerned with the material and practical maintenance and modification of the technical, legal, practical, and conceptual means of its own existence as a public; it is a collective independent of other forms of constituted power and is capable of speaking to existing forms of power through the production of actually existing alternatives.

More to the point, a recursive public is a group of people who exist outside of traditional institutions (governments, churches, schools, corporations) and, when necessary, use this outsider status to hold these entities in check. The engagement of these publics goes far beyond simply protesting decisions or stating their opinions. Kelty, writing about geek culture as a recursive public, explains it thus:
Recursive publics seek to create what might be understood, enigmatically, as a constantly “self-leveling” level playing field. And it is in the attempt to make the playing field self-leveling that they confront and resist forms of power and control that seek to level it to the advantage of one or another large constituency: state, government, corporation, profession. It is important to understand that geeks do not simply want to level the playing field to their advantage—they have no affinity or identity as such. Instead, they wish to devise ways to give the playing field a certain kind of agency, effected through the agency of many different humans, but checked by its technical and legal structure and openness. Geeks do not wish to compete qua capitalists or entrepreneurs unless they can assure themselves that (qua public actors) that they can compete fairly. It is an ethic of justice shot through with an aesthetic of technical elegance and legal cleverness.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blogwatch: Cool blog about the law school experience

I've found a fantastic new blog on the ups and downs of law school.

Well, more accurately, so far the blog is about the ups and downs of getting ready to go to law school.

The blog is called Really? Law?, and it chronicles the careening emotions that surround the commitment to attending law school. The author was given a full tuition scholarship to attend Suffolk University in Boston; her posts include musings on her shift away from art (she studied painting) and toward a career in law; the decision to attend a so-called "Tier 4" school instead of the more highly ranked schools that accepted her; the mixture of fear, trepidation, and excitement she feels about the start of law school; and her take on legal issues in the news.

What's most interesting about this blog is that it presents a refreshingly honest take on the challenges of embarking on something really hard, while reaching out for support, advice, and reactions from readers. Here's a sample post, called "Is this normal?"

I'm dreaming about law school.

I'm not just dreaming about it; I'm having nightmares. Many of them. Every night. Some are typical: last night I dreamt I couldn't find my section of the first law class of the day. See, I'd forgotten to attend orientation and never even SAW my class schedule.

OK; typical.

But I also had a dream about moving to my new apartment. I had so many boxes of stuff that the tiny studio had no room for a desk. Clearly, then, I wouldn't be able to complete my schoolwork.

Somewhat typical. I guess.

Then I had a dream that I ate so much pizza the night before school (those damn nerves) that the clothes I'd laid out for the first day of class didn't fit the next morning. I pulled out my loosest clothes but then the boxes that were crowding me out in the second dream reappeared and I couldn't find a mirror. I think you can see where this is going.

Anyone else have that dream? Anyone? Anyone?

I should maybe also mention that the author of this blog happens to be my twin sister. This is us:

yay gay rights! boo rich white gay people!

file under: I voted for the right guy
file under: but I'm still not satisfied

note: a lengthy conversation with a (self-identified) white, upper class, educated, straight, male gay ally led me to rethink, and revise slightly, the title of this post. It was previously titled "yay gay rights! boo rich white people!"

The Obama Administration announced this week that it will extend health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Setting aside for a moment the important questions about the motivation behind this move, this policy is a significant victory for the gay rights movement. First, as members of the GLBT community know, the difference between a workplace that does not offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees and a workplace that does is like the difference between a dial-up internet connection and broadband.

On a tangentially related note, it turns out that 17 percent of Americans with internet access get online using dialup service.

Perhaps more significantly, only 67 percent of Americans have internet access of any sort in their homes. Predictably, the elderly, poor, less educated, and black or hispanic Americans are far less likely to have internet access than are white people with a bachelor's degree or better. Eighty-six percent of Americans with a college degree have internet access in their homes.

Aside from the obvious social justice issues inherent in the above statistics, you may be wondering what this has to do with health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Information travels fast in a highly connected society, which is why I learned about the new health insurance policy for federal employees before it was officially announced by the Obama administration. Internet access is like high-speed gossiping, but with one added wrinkle: It also supports collective action. Gay rights groups are mobilizing their supporters, arguing that the Obama administration's move, while the right one to make, is intended to mollify GLBT supporters who are angry that Obama has appeared to back down from his pledge to support gay rights. (Mainly they're mad that Obama's Justice Department filed a brief last week that appeared to support the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. It doesn't matter that in this particular case, the Justice Department's hands are tied--since until the law itself is repealed, any court case arguing that gays have a national right to marry will be rejected.)

Groups that successfully leverage the mobilization features of the internet and other new media technologies are more likely to effect the kind of changes they hope for. Nobody--least of all me--would dare argue that this is bad, even if it means that loathsome people with loathsome ideas have the same access to these features.

What's problematic is that all of this collective action is more likely to support the interests of people with high connectivity: the wealthier, better educated, and whiter segments of our population. The gay rights movement crosses racial and socioeconomic boundaries, but many of the points of focus within this movement emphasize issues that the wealthiest and best educated members of the GLBT community care about. Adoption rights and the fight for equal access to fertility technologies, for example, matter if you have the money it takes to adopt a child or pay for visits to a fertility clinic. If you don't, then you're likely to care more about custody rights, health insurance, and protection against hate crimes.

All of which are issues embraced by the gay rights movement. It's just that mobilization--and therefore, conversation--around these issues only happen if the rich, white, and educated members of the gay population also happen to care. (In this case, they do. They most indubitably do.)

Think of other causes that give rise to collective action. The environmentalist movement is focused more on recycling, saving the polar ice caps, and protecting open space than it is on making environmentally friendly products cheaper or cleaning up the toxic superfund sites that are poisoning those who are sufficiently unlucky or poor to live too close to one. Even the fight for universal health care--an issue that surely benefits us all--is dominated by members of what Jim Gee calls the "dominant Discourse."

The argument I'm making here is, very simply, that the potential exists for participatory media to transform what we talk about, how we talk about it, and who gets to have a say in those conversations; but that so far at least, participatory media is being used in ways that continue to silence those who have traditionally been kept out of these conversations.

To paraphrase Jay Lemke: Yes, there's some hyperbole going on in this blogpost. But far less than you may wish.

There's also hope, of course. The ongoing protests in Iran, supported via participatory technologies, are only the most current and exciting example of how an entire country can be mobilized, even despite a worst-case-scenario dictatorship, via new media resources. It's just that it often takes the worst case scenario for this to happen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

the sleeping alone review of books: Teaching the New Writing

Summary: Awesomeness reigns at the house of NWP

I'm only giving you the first three paragraphs, and then you have to read the rest at the real live journal that published it online. brb turning into pile of graduate student joy confetti

ok back

the link is here. The journal is THEN (the name stands for [t]echnology, [h]umanities, [e]ducation and [n]arrative). The review begins below.

The National Writing Project is perhaps the most enduring teacher development network in the country. Started in 1974 as the Bay Area Writing Project, based at the University of California, Berkeley, the project quickly grew, both in funding and popularity, and today the NWP has nearly 200 sites nationwide.

Many have argued that a significant reason for the ongoing success of this program is its decision to host NWP sites at local universities. According to NWP supporters, this pairing allows for stability, ongoing professional development opportunities, and a higher degree of buy-in from faculty at local schools and at the university. One wonders if this model limits access to NWP involvement to the teachers who work in and around colleges; these are the teachers who already have the most access to research and university resources, and traditionally underserved rural or geographically isolated teachers and their students are, prevented access to this resource.

Still, it's hard to argue with success, and the NWP is nothing if not successful. The pairing of K-12 teachers with higher ed faculty makes for an interesting and fruitful partnership, as evidenced by the NWP's new book, Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom.

The editors of the book represent ... [to read the rest of this review, go to http://thenjournal.org.]

Sunday, June 14, 2009

President Obama scales back plans for America after visit to Denny's

new plans outlined in his "new 'Realistic Hope for America' plan"

This report comes from the Onion News Network (ONN).

Obama Drastically Scales Back Goals For America After Visiting Denny's

the harrison bergeron approach to education: how university rankings stunt the social revolution

I've been thinking some lately about the odd and confusing practice of comparing undergraduate and graduate programs at American colleges and universities and producing a set of rankings that show how the programs stack up against each other.

One of the most widely cited set of rankings comes from U.S. News and World Report, which offers rankings in dozens of categories, for both undergraduate and graduate-level programs. Here, the magazine offers its altruistic rationale behind producing these rankings:
A college education is one of the most important—and one of the most costly—investments that prospective students will ever make. For this reason, the editors of U.S. News believe that students and their families should have as much information as possible about the comparative merits of the educational programs at America's colleges and universities. The data we gather on America's colleges—and the rankings of the schools that arise from these data—serve as an objective guide by which students and their parents can compare the academic quality of schools. When consumers purchase a car or a computer, this sort of information is readily available. We think it's even more important that comparative data help people make informed decisions about an education that at some private universities is now approaching a total cost of more than $200,000 including tuition, room, board, required fees, books, transportation, and other personal expenses.

(To access the entire rankings, developed and produced selflessly by U.S. News and World Report, you need to pay. Click here to purchase the Premium Online Edition, which is the only way to get complete rankings, for $14.95.)

The 2009 rankings, released in April, are in the news lately because of questions related to how the magazine gathers data from colleges. As Carl Bialik points out in a recent post at the Wall Street Journal, concerns over how Clemson University set about increasing its rank point to deeper questions about the influence of rankings numbers on university operations. Clemson President James F. Barker reportedly shot for cracking the top 20 (it was ranked 38th nationally in 2001) by targeting all of the ranking indicators used by U.S. News. Bialik writes:
While the truth about Clemson’s approach to the rankings remains elusive, the episode does call into question the utility of a ranking that schools can seek to manipulate. “Colleges have been ‘rank-steering,’ — driving under the influence of the rankings,” Lloyd Thacker, executive director of the Education Conservancy and a critic of rankings, told the Associated Press. “We’ve seen over the years a shifting of resources to influence ranks.”

Setting aside questions of the rankings' influence on university operations and on recruiting (both for prospective students and prospective faculty), and setting aside too the question of how accurate any numbers collected from university officials themselves could possibly be when the stakes are so high, one wonders how these rankings limit schools' ability to embrace what appear to be key tenets emerging out of the social revolution. A key feature of some of the most vibrant, energetic, and active online communities is what Clay Shirky labels the "failure for free" model. As I explained in a previous post on the open source movement, the open source software (OSS) movement embraces this tenet:
It's not, after all, that most open source projects present a legitimate threat to the corporate status quo; that's not what scares companies like Microsoft. What scares Microsoft is the fact that OSS can afford a thousand GNOME Bulgarias on the way to its Linux. Microsoft certainly can't afford that rate of failure, but the OSS movement can, because, as Shirky explains,
open systems lower the cost of failure, they do not create biases in favor of predictable but substandard outcomes, and they make it simpler to integrate the contributions of people who contribute only a single idea.

Anyone who's worked for a company of reasonable size understands the push to keep the risk of failure low. "More people," Shirky writes, "will remember you saying yes to a failure than saying no to a radical but promising idea." The higher up the organizational chart you go, the harder the push will be for safe choices. Innovation, it seems, is both a product of and oppositional to the social contract.

The U.S. News rankings, and the methodology behind them, runs completely anathema to the notion of innovation. Indeed, a full 25 percent of the ranking system is based on what U.S. News calls "peer assessment," which comes from "the top academics we consult--presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions" and, ostensibly, at least, allows these consultants
to account for intangibles such as faculty dedication to teaching. Each individual is asked to rate peer schools' academic programs on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). Those who don't know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly are asked to mark "don't know." Synovate, an opinion-research firm based near Chicago, in spring 2008 collected the data; of the 4,272 people who were sent questionnaires, 46 percent responded.

Who becomes "distinguished" in the ivory-tower world of academia? Those who play by the long-established rules of tradition, polity, and networking, of course. The people who most want to effect change at the institutional level are often the most outraged, the most unwilling to play by the rules established by administrators and rankings systems, and therefore the least likely to make it into the top echelons of academia. Indeed, failure is rarely free in the high-stakes world of academics; it's safer to say no to "a radical but promising idea" than to say yes to any number of boring but safe ideas.

So what do you do if you are, say, a prospective doctoral student who wants to tear wide the gates of academic institutions? What do you do if you want to go as far in your chosen field as your little legs will carry you, leaving a swath of destruction in your wake? What do you do if you want to bring the social revolution to the ivory tower, instead of waiting for the ivory tower to come to the social revolution?

You rely on the U.S. News rankings, of course. It's what I did when I made decisions about which schools to apply to (the University of Wisconsin-Madison [ranked 7th overall in graduate education programs, first in Curriculum & Instruction, first in Educational Psychology] the University of Texas-Austin [tied at 7th overall, 10th in Curriculum & Instruction], the University of Washington [12th overall, 9th in Curriculum & Instruction], the University of Michigan [14th overall, 7th in Curriculum & Instruction, and 3rd in Educational Psychology] the University of Indiana [19th overall, out of the top 10 in individual categories], and Arizona State University [24th overall, out of the top 10 in individual categories]). Interestingly, though, the decision to turn down offers from schools ranked higher than Indiana (go hoosiers) wasn't all that difficult. I knew that I belonged at IU (go hoosiers) almost before I visited, and a recruitment weekend sealed the deal.

But I had an inside track to information about IU (go hoosiers) via my work with Dan Hickey and Michelle Honeyford. I also happen to be a highly resourceful learner with a relatively clear sense of what I want to study, and with whom, and why. Other learners--especially undergraduates--aren't necessarily in such a cushy position. They are likely to rely heavily on rankings in making decisions about where to apply and which offer to accept. This not only serves to reify the arbitrary and esoteric rankings system (highest ranked schools get highest ranked students), but also serves to stunt the social revolution in an institution that needs revolution, and desperately.

In this matter, it's turtles all the way down. High-stakes standardized testing practices and teacher evaluations based on achievement on these tests limits innovation--from teachers as well as from students--at the secondary and, increasingly, the elementary level. But the world that surrounds schools is increasingly ruled by those who know how to innovate, how to say yes to a radical but promising idea, how to work within a "failure for free" model. If schools can't learn how to embrace the increasingly valued and valuable mindsets afforded by participatory practices, it's failing to prepare its student body for the world at large. The rankings system is just another set of hobbles added on to a system of clamps, tethers, and chains already set up to fail the very people it purports to serve.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Jon Stewart is on board with the sleeping alone stance on newspapers

as evidenced by this report from The Daily Show's Jason Jones:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
End Times
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorNewt Gingrich Unedited Interview

You know, when I was a fledgling reporter my greatest dream was to some day work for the New York Times. I guess I still harbor that hope, deep down. I wonder if they'd be willing to pick up and publish my blog. I'd probably be willing to enter into negotiations about this, as long as they didn't try to inform me that they planned to cut the length of my posts by 23%.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

just a cool commercial for you

I'll go ahead and admit that I know next to nothing about Bing. I'm not going to lie: I actively resist learning about new Microsoft products. I'm an open sourcie all the way (which was why my underwhelmedment over the open source project Google Wave was so disappointing).

You don't have to have any interest whatsoever in bing, though, to enjoy this commercial. You can just ride the wave and have fun.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Breaking: University of Texas-Austin freezes staff pay, continues to offer faculty merit increases

this despite its admission that funding sources have grown

I recently received a copy of this email that was sent from the office of William Powers Jr., the President of the University of Texas-Austin, to all UT faculty and staff.

Dear Colleagues:

The University Budget Council and I have reviewed the budget for the coming fiscal year in light of the current economy and the actions of the 81st Legislature. The University of Texas at Austin has fared better than many universities in other states. We do not face pay cuts, mandatory furloughs, and other austerity measures that peer institutions across the country are experiencing. In fact, our sources of funding will grow modestly next year and would allow for a balanced status-quo budget. But in light of what is happening elsewhere, this is an opportunity to advance the university rather than settle for the status quo. For us to move ahead, however, we must focus our available resources in areas that have consistently been identified as the most critical for progress-our competitiveness in attracting and retaining outstanding faculty and graduate students.

For this reason, we have made the difficult decision to forgo staff raises in the next fiscal year for both classified and administrative and professional (A&P) staff. We all recognize the valuable contribution the staff makes to our University and that this is disappointing news. (As I notified you previously, the salaries of University of Texas System officials and presidents, as well as our campus's vice presidents, deans, and senior administrators, were frozen last February until August 31, 2010.) By strategic use of our limited resources, we will be able to address urgent issues of faculty competitiveness, equity, and salary compression. Faculty salary increases will be narrowly targeted-not uniform.

I believe that we must continue to strive to become the nation's best public university-in good times and in bad. This plan will keep us on that path. With your help, and the prudent management of our resources, we will succeed.

Bill Powers

My questions include the following:
  • If the University of Texas is doing as well as Powers would have its employees believe, what rationale supports the decision to freeze staff raises just in case?

  • If this decision is an effort to get UT in front of the curve, how much money does the University expect to save through this move, and what are the plans for allocating that money?

  • Why is staff salary frozen while faculty are still eligible to receive merit increases? If belt-tightening is underway, shouldn't it be more fairly distributed?

  • Aren't some of the so-called "austerity measures" being undertaken at other universities intended to cut the fact that made sense during flush times and make less sense given the current budget crisis?

And lastly,
  • What do UT affiliates--faculty, staff, students and alumni--think about this and other budget-related decisions made by the university?

I'd love to hear from anyone who can help me answer these questions. You can post anonymously to this blog, but if you want an added promise of anonymity, you can email me directly at jennamcjenna(at)gmail.com. I guarantee to keep your identity private.

RT @jennamcjenna: thank goodness the Boston Globe is shutting down

From the Boston Globe itself comes notice that the New York Times Co., the corporation that owns the Boston Globe, is seeking bids from potential buyers of the Globe.

The well-publicized struggle between Globe unions and the NYTimes has been, for the most part, depicted as a David vs. Goliath kind of fight: The Globe, the scrappy little paper in the scrappy little city that could, against a big-time news conglomerate. In general, we like to root for the underdog, though it doesn't help that the Globe's largest of its four unions (editorial, advertising, and business office staff) voted against pay cuts after the other three unions--representing the largely blue-collar section of the paper--ratified major concessions in an effort to keep the paper open. Here's how the Globe article explains it:

In the last two weeks, three of the newspaper's four major unions -- representing the mailers, the pressmen, and the delivery truck drivers -- ratified concessions giving $10 million back to the Times Co. The Guild -- the paper's largest union representing nearly 700 editorial, advertising, and business office staff -- fell 12 votes short of ratifying another $10 million in concessions on Monday. However, the Times Co. said yesterday that it will get $10 million it needs from the Guild by imposing a 23 percent across-the-board wage cut, effective Sunday, the start of the next pay period.

I'm not, of course, actually glad to see the Globe get shut down. It means loss of jobs in a tight economy, and it may result in a kind of news vacuum, at least until reportage shifts to accommodate the gap. Even the fact that a second paper, the Boston Herald, covers city news won't stop this from happening. All the sources, all the politicians, public figures, public servants, and reading public that was loyal to the Globe won't suddenly defect; they're more likely to simply...kinda go away.

But as I've stated before, the traditional model of print journalism is unsustainable in a new media environment. The notion that all major cities need at least one major newspaper is no longer viable and, in lots of ways, no longer accurate. Papers once served as a community's glue, connecting people to each other when the community itself got too big for everybody to know everybody else.

Now we have lots of other new media outlets to glue a community together, and even the notion of "community" is no longer quite so bounded to geographical space.

Though we may not need or be able to support print newspapers, we absolutely still need journalism. It's time now to figure out how to harness the tremendous energy, enthusiasm, and brainpower of all the new media-journalist types by looking at how, why, and when they report on the news. It's time now to figure out how to support some sort of hybrid model that connects professional reporters with amateur (unpaid) journalists (brb plugging words linking to site http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com). It's time to move past the question of who killed newspapers. Journalism is dead. Long live journalism.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

what's to become of local newsweeklies?

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I spent a handful of years as a print newspaper reporter. This was in the early years of this decade, before new media platforms posed the obvious and significant threat we're seeing locally, nationally, and internationally. Interestingly, though, two of the papers I worked for at the time--the Fenton Independent and the Holly Herald--folded during my tenure despite the dearth of new media technologies. The complex set of pressures that resulted in their closure exemplify the difficulties of keeping a local paper open even without too much competition. But that's a story for another day.

During those years, my editor was one Phillip Allmen, who currently runs the Milford Times, a print newsweekly owned by Hometown Communications, a local news conglomerate owned by Gannett, a larger news conglomerate. As a former employee of this group, I've been following the impact of the social revolution on these newspapers. Nothing drives home the thorniness of this issue like seeing a good editor and great reporter--Phil is both of these things--struggle to keep his newspaper and his job viable. On June 4, the Milford Times ran this editorial:

As many may have heard, the Observer & Eccentric closed its West Bloomfield, Troy, Rochester, Southfield and Mirror newspapers, with their final publication on May 31.

The Birmingham Eccentric was also on that list, but was revived to a once-a-week paper, after a groundswell of community support and pledges to boost subscriptions and advertising for that edition. It remains a “wait and see” proposition, but the company is willing to give it a try.

A South Oakland Eccentric paper will cover Southfield, Royal Oak, Ferndale and other south central Oakland County communities. The paper will be published on Sundays.

Many people are shocked and dismayed by the loss of the local papers. Many readers of the Milford Times have expressed relief that our paper remains open.

But, it can only survive with the support of the community.

We view the Times' long-standing relationship with the Huron Valley community a partnership. We depend on local advertising and home delivery subscriptions to survive. The community depends on the Milford Times to inform people about all aspects of the Huron Valley, from stories that affect neighborhoods and taxes to spreading the word about fund-raisers, special events and incredible people who do incredible things.

The Milford Times is the county's oldest, continuously published weekly newspaper. We've been around since 1871.

Just as we've promoted the “buy local” concept, in an effort to push local consumers to locally owned stores, we're urging folks to invest, to engage, in the Milford Times. Advertising budgets are tight, we know, and household budgets are also tight, but if we support each other, we'll make it through.

Here's what you can do to help the Milford Times. Urge merchants to advertise. Patronize local merchants who do advertise. Don't forget to tell merchants that you saw their ad in the Milford Times.

Purchase an annual subscription to the paper. The newspaper industry is in transition with print and online editions. But that transition is incomplete as newspapers search for a successful business model that will help sustain local information on the web. So if you read us free online that's fine, but it's important to pay for the print subscription — that's the only way we can afford to sustain that hyper-local Web site.

Each and every issue of the Milford Times contains items that support local causes, local events, local people. We're here to shine the light on the good, to evoke conversations, to support local businesses and to provide a forum for healthy debate on local issues that affect you. We want to be around for many years to come. You can help.

For subscription information, call (866) 887-2737 or for local advertising, call Sue Donovan at (517) 375-1369.

Readers of this blog know I'm fond of the Clay Shirky axiom that "it's not a revolution is nobody loses." In this case, local newspapers--and the communities that rely on it--are big potential losers. As Nieman Journalism Lab Director Joshua Benton pointed out in a recent BBC interview (lol I was part of the conversation too), the decline of print journalism means nobody's going to cover school board issues, community meetings, city council convenings and local elections.

I suspect Joshua and Phillip are right--I suspect that the loss of community newspapers will shift how, when, and why local events get covered. I'm at a loss here. I'd love to know what others think.

All content on this blog has been relocated to my new website, making edible playdough is hegemonic. Please visit http://jennamcwilliams.com and update your bookmarks!