Bee deaths concerning, mysterious

This story was published in the MetroWest Daily News on May 30

Depending on who you ask, the honey bees are in various states of decline. Some say the bees are doing all right, but others say they’re dying quickly. Some local beekeepers saw total loss this winter, others made it through all right and their hives are looking strong. One thing everyone agrees on is honey bee health is somewhat of a mystery.

"Abeilles 01" by 0x010C - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Abeilles 01” by 0x010C – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

On May 19, President Barack Obama announced the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a plan to study bee health and restore 7 million acres of pollinator habitat by planting wildflowers and other bee-friendly plants on federal land at an $82 million price tag. Though local beekeepers are dubious about the plan’s specifics, they hope the new federal focus on bees will help demystify the pollinators. Continue reading


Gastric bypass is a way of life

Published in the MetroWest Daily News on Jan. 3, 2015

Kimberly Choquette sometimes forgets she doesn’t weigh 400 pounds anymore. She catches herself shopping in the plus-size department, leaving the sales lady to redirect her to smaller sizes. When she had gastric bypass surgery five years ago, Choquette said she never imagined she’d weigh less than 200 pounds, but now she does and she said she will forever.

Choquette, 47, of Franklin, is one of what MetroWest Medical Center said is an increasing number of weight-loss surgery patients, according to MetroWest Medical Center. CEO Barbara Doyle said the medical center, with campuses in Framingham and Natick, will expand its bariatric surgery department this year to meet the steady demand from patients who have tried diet, exercise and countless New Year’s resolutions to no avail. Continue reading

Struggling in Suburbia: A quiet poverty in the MetroWest

Published in the MetroWest Daily News on March 7, 2015

FRAMINGHAM – Marilyn sits at her kitchen table inside her unassuming home in a Framingham neighborhood. The bags stuffed with coupons on the counter, and the ringing phone hooked on the brightly colored wall give away nothing. Photos hanging on her living room walls show smiling children at various ages. Everything looks normal.

But Marilyn sits at the table crying, because, to her, life is anything but normal. She is poor, but it hasn’t always been that way.

After her husband died a few years ago, Marilyn said her life changed dramatically. Money stopped flowing and bills became harder and harder to pay. Between raising two young children and taking care of aging relatives, Marilyn doesn’t have a job that pays, and her Social Security checks don’t cut it. Marilyn agreed to tell her story, as long as her real name and address were not published.

Like many in MetroWest, Marilyn is quietly poor. Her home is in good condition and her car isn’t beat up. Her clothes are clean and shoes are serviceable. While poverty in a city like Boston or Worcester is visible – people sleeping on the streets, food pantries clearly labeled – in the suburbs, area charity leaders say it is less pronounced, and often kept purposely quiet. Continue reading

News Round Up: best and worst of no particular date range

Sorry I’ve been gone for a while! Moving proved to be a huge feat, that’s still settling down. Without further ado, here’s a recap of some of the things I’ve read in the past few weeks:

Who is a Journalist?: In this Al Jazeera Opinion piece, Sarah Kendzior argues that only the rich can become journalists in today’s age. Sparked by Congress’ decision that only affiliated journalists are protected under shield laws, Kendzior argues internships and J-school tuition block many from the fourth estate. As a fresh-out-of-school, working (for pay) journalist, I think Kendzior’s piece is largely untrue. The landscape of work-for-free expectations and the dismal state of print journalism has certainly thrown up some roadblocks for journos, but it doesn’t mean only those who can afford to write while wearing mink can make it. Get a side job, freelance, get another side job, and keep going to school. It’s not possible for everybody, but certainly many people (and the majority of journalists I know) make it into the profession with humble backgrounds. The question of who deserves shield law protection still stands, but Kendzior’s argument does not.

The state of news today: After the Lebanon Daily News received a letter to the editor questioning the paper’s coverage and why the print edition always contained yesterday’s news, the editorial board composed an interesting reply that speaks for the state of news today. First, they explained that papers have always contained yesterday’s news, and only at the dawn of television and the internet did we start to expect instant information. Then, they continued to say that with a withered news room, the paper must focus on more than just print, but also online, photos, videos and social media. Now, news outlets have to report the news in many ways, making the reporter’s job three-fold (hey, after you write that, can you grab a video? And don’t forget to tweet!). Unlike the author of the letter, most people look for news in many places, and Lebanon Daily News is trying to fill all the roles. As the new WaPo owner Jeff Bezos recently said “I think printed newspapers on actual paper may be a luxury item. It’s sort of like, you know, people still have horses, but it’s not their primary way of commuting to the office.” I don’t know about luxury, but he might have the right idea.

Public Enemy: In one of the best long form pieces I’ve read in a while, Ben Austen chronicled how gang wars are spilling onto the internet, and vice versa. Using two Chicago rappers, Chief Keef and Lil JoJo as the basis, Austen shows how JoJo got killed because of twitter, and how Facebook “drillers” take internet drama to new heights. This was not only a fascinating and grabbing piece, but so rife with personality and detail, obviously showing Austen’s talent as a narrative writer. Important subject matter, important writer, important read. And, of course, if it’s happening, we’re studying it in Boston. Recently a University of Michigan professor reached out to MIT to help with his study of gang violence on social media and its link to some social problems, as told in this Boston Magazine article .

300 Sandwiches: In technical terms, this article and idea suck. New York Post writer Stephanie Smith is on a mission to get her boyfriend to marry her, which he promised he would if she made him 300 sandwiches. I have no smart words about this because UGH really? I understand that every couple is different. I am also not against making anybody any number of sandwiches. I also understand the value of a joke. However, the problem lies here: “Each morning, he would ask, ‘Honey, how long you have been awake?’ ‘About 15 minutes,’ I’d reply. ‘You’ve been up for 15 minutes and you haven’t made me a sandwich?'” Or, if he doesn’t like a sandwich, it doesn’t count. Or, even if she is tired and overworked when she gets home, he still expects her to make him a sandwich above basic pb&j level. There’s a power dynamic here that does not bode well for a marriage. Ultimately, it’s her choice, but from her article, it sounds more like an obligation.

News Round Up: best and worst from 8-18 to 8-23

Saudi Arabia’s war on witchcraft: This Atlantic article discusses the Saudi effort to eliminate witchcraft in the country, employing Harry Potter sounding agencies to catch magic doers. At first glance, the headline seems ridiculous to westerners, and it’s a little hard to put aside cultural differences on this one. I read this from the perspective of how a journalist who likely does not believe witches and sorcerers are ruining Saudi Arabia handled speaking with subjects who deeply believe this is a problem. On one hand, Americans learned a long time ago how witch hunts end up, on the other hand, many, many countries believe magic exists. Who’s to say who is right or wrong in this situation? Live and let live, but how do you report on it without seeming like a jerk? This is a pretty good example.

Lady Journos: In this Poynter interview, my two favorite things are combined: journalism and women. Two recent J-school grads started up a longform outlet for ladies, something severely lacking in the media. As the interview with the founders, Kaylen Ralph and Joanna Demkiewicz, points out, in 2012 Harper’s had 76 bylines by men and 17 by women, The Atlantic had 176 men and 47 women, and The New Yorker had 445 men and 160 women. It’s no secret that men dominate the media (a new golden age??), so The Riveter is a refreshing start up. “The Riveter is an important project because women’s voices are important. They have to be represented in the important genre that is longform.” Yeah!

Girl Power: Speaking of women, Mayor Menino declared Aug. 23 Girl Power day in Boston. The power of a lame duck politician is literally boundless. The best part of the whole thing (besides ample excuses to listen to the Spic Girls) is the pen Menino used to sign the proclamation. Where can I get one of those?

The preferred pronoun is a non-problem: The New York Times published an article discussing how different media outlets are handling Chelsea Manning’s announcement that she prefers female pronouns and a new name. The wikileaker was sentenced to 35 years in prison this week, and made the announcement following the sentencing. The AP Style book advocates using the pronoun the article’s subject prefers, yet AP will stick with gender neutral pronouns. The New York Times will stick with male pronouns until Private Manning begins a physical transition, saying the sudden change would confuse readers. NPR is disregarding Manning’s request, keeping male pronouns and using the name Bradley. The media is showing its age by not using Manning’s preferred pronouns; it is showing the overall ignorance toward gender and trans* issues. Wikileaks and trials aside, if a she says she’s a she, she’s a she. No questions asked.

News Round Up: best and worst from 8-11 to 8-17

How Laura Poitras helped Snowden spill his secrets: In what I expected to be a look at the decision to publish sensitive security documents and give a leaker a national platform, Peter Maass takes a sort of weird approach to his New York Times Magazine article about the journalists behind the Snowden story. Maass pays more attention to Poitras’ intense fear of GPS location, which I understand is why Snowden chose her, than the complicated and life-threatening decision to take on a story exposing secrets of the United States government. Maass paints Poitras and her semi-partner Glenn Greenwald in a weird light, exposing little about why this story came about. He focuses intensely on the how (who called who, where they went), which is less interesting than the why. Maass is an investigative journalist and this clearly comes through in his very detailed information, but for me, it was not the right information. I recommend reading this article for background, but I wish it had done more through the ten-page web spread to really shed some light on why these two somewhat vilified reporters took on this story. Side note: Maass writes “The kitchen clock is off by hours, but no one notices.” I stopped enjoying the story at this point because all I could think was that the reporter noticed that the clock was wrong, which indicates that someone has noticed. Picky I know, but it’s things like these that get me.

Where are they now?: Jim Romanesko published a follow up on the former Boston Phoenix writers and what they’ve been doing recently on his revered media blog. As a former Phoenix intern and freelancer, I was so happy to see this check-in with some of who I would name the best journalists in Boston. Many landed at Boston Magazine, and are making it rock harder than it ever did. Some are doing their own thing, and making money doing it (which is so very hard). Chris Faraone, who gave me one of the best compliments of my career thus far, said something that really rang true for me: “Money was always tight, so we wouldn’t always be able to bring in freelancers and interns who we wanted there full-time, but they stuck around anyway, and in a lot of cases became part of the family. I’m one of those people, as I started freelancing hip-hop articles for the paper about six months before coming on as a staff writer.” He absolutely hit the nail on the head. I played such a tiny, tiny part at the Phoenix, but I do feel like the journalists there helped me realize that I can do this, and do it well. I forced myself in there for a short while, and though I remained very much on the fringes, I loved every second of it. Glad to see great people still doing great things. Another side note: the man who made me so anal about sentences like Maass’ clock one started at the Phoenix before becoming a narrative great. Kudos to Mark Kramer.

State Police fail to report rape of a woman picked up by a gypsy cab in South Boston: The Herald reported on Friday morning that the Massachusetts State Police failed to alert the public that a woman was raped in Newton in the gypsy cab that picked her up in the Seaport District of South Boston. Long called law enforcement’s “no-mans land,” State and Boston Police have argued in the past about who is responsible for the area, Boston Magazine says in a follow up article. It makes me sick and sad that this happened in the first place, but it is absolutely imperative that the public know about incidents like this, isolated or not. The State Police have vowed to change reporting policies, taking blame for the failure and saying they will report things like this immediately in the future. Mayor Menino’s spokespeople are calling for concurrent jurisdiction. Where do we go from here?

News Round Up: best and worst from 8-5 to 8-10

The Opt-outs want in: The New York Times Magazine revisited the opt-out women, those who left their high-power, high-paying jobs to be stay at home moms, exploring whether or not they made the right decision. The piece is interesting and well researched, showing both women who deeply regret their choice and those who have never been happier. Feminism is about choices, whether or not they turn out to be right for whoever is making them.

A rebuttal: The Atlantic published a rebuttal to the Times Opt Out piece, calling it bad social science. I think the Opt Out piece definitely has flaws, but the Atlantic missed the point. It’s not necessarily a cautionary tale for women to stay in the work force, but a follow up on a trend that, because of the economy, went by the wayside.

So I creep: The NSA creeps on us, we know that now. Every week, the scope of their snooping broadens, but how much does it really matter? This New York Times article deals with peripheral creeping, noting that the NSA can’t necessarily target American citizens except for that they kind of can. Basically, the system allows the agency to look at American emails (etc.) if the subject or content is about the targeted person (not a citizen). It allows them to hone in on a target through the people surrounding them. It’s an interesting perspective and interesting method.

The Patch problem: Patch will lay off hundreds and majorly scale back in the coming weeks, according to this Tech Crunch article. The state of journalism is sad, and no one knows how to fix it. I feel strongly about the importance of quality local news, but it’s hard to turn out good reporting without proper funding. From this article, it sounds like the leadership at AOL/Patch is unstructured and unsure.