We’ve collected them into a eBook here and we encourage you to share it with your colleagues!
We know that many of you are already active tweeters, bloggers, etc. and we’d love to hear some of your ideas, experiences, tips, etc. Please feel free to tweet @JustPublics365 or leave comments on our blog. If you plan to be at the American Sociological Associate meeting in August, please follow our Twitter handle and join us in live tweeting the conference!
In this topic series on media skills for scholars, we have focused on using digital media to communicate your research and measure your online impact. But what about researching digital media itself?
Digital scholarship has quickly become a major area of study in the social sciences. Studying such an interactive, dynamic and ever-changing field can be challenging, but fortunately for researchers, there is often a record. As with most social science research, digital research usually falls into either the quantitative or qualitative camp. Endless debates have pitted the two approaches against each other but, as with the great peanut butter – chocolate debate, they can go great together!
Ethnographic content analysis is a hybrid methodology that draws from both of these approaches and is very adaptable to the digital field. Ethnographic content analysis, or ECA for short, was developed by media scholar David Altheide in the late 1980s to study television news coverage of the Iran hostage crisis from 1979-1981. He argued that while conventional quantitative-focused content analysis is useful for revealing patterns and big-picture information, it leaves out room for more the nuanced interpretations that qualitative methods elicit.
Typically, content analysis is a linear, step-wise projection from data collection to analysis to interpretation, while an ethnographic approach is reflexive and circular. Aiming to meet in the middle, ECA is “systematic and analytic, but not rigid” (Altheide 1987). As with conventional content analysis, information is organized by categories and sub-categories, but with an ethnographic approach, other categories are “allowed and expected to emerge throughout the study.” As any qualitative researcher will tell you, the most interesting findings are often the unexpected ones.
For example, in reviewing TV news coverage, Altheide noticed that while the hostages’ families were a part of the story from the beginning, they became more prominent over time. This had to do, in part, with media access. Families were often willing to be extensively interviewed on camera, and a group of families formed a quasi-organization with articulate spokespeople. Had he not been analyzing data qualitatively as well as quantitatively, he likely would have missed these contextual factors that shaped and influenced TV coverage, or there may not have been a place for this interpretation to “fit” in a conventional content analysis.
The digital field offers so much data, both quantitative and qualitative, and ECA is a highly effective approach for handling both of these. For example, I studied personal blogs written by women with Multiple Sclerosis. Gathering quantitative data, such as the number, frequency and length of posts; images and multimedia; and examining blog architecture demonstrated patterns of activity, topical themes, and design choices, and gave me an overall sense of my sample. I then selected a subset of posts to analyze in more depth, paying closer attention to not just what bloggers wrote about but how they wrote about: Was their blog more information-focused or personal? What was the “tone” of their writing (humorous? serious? what did they complain about?)? Did they write about everyday life or significant events?
Looking at the focus of their blogs revealed that the bloggers saw themselves as having different “roles.” For example, some considered themselves as translators of complex medical information for a general audience. They felt a responsibility to make sure the information was reliable and were diligent about citing sources and providing links.
Looking at the tone of their writing (the how), and not just the content (the what) demonstrated that there were different narratives, some that conformed to social expectations about how a personal with serious illness should act (i.e. putting on a sunny face) and some that challenged these expectations and took an activist stance.
I also reexamined and interpreted images and graphics. Some bloggers posted pictures of themselves, their families, and their pets, and provided ways to contact them, while others were not as forthcoming in these ways, indicating varying levels of comfort with a public identity.
The ECA I conducted was the first phase of a three-part mixed method study, which also included a survey and online discussion forum. The information I gathered helped me craft the subsequent survey and discussion questions and guide the rest of the study. The results served as a foundation to which I returned again and again during data analysis. As I found, ECA is a well-rounded and adaptable research method for the digital field, which can be used both on its own and in tandem with other methods.
Peanut Butter – Chocolate; Chocolate – Peanut Butter. Either way, they work well together.
This post was written by Collette Sosnowy (@SOsnowyNYC). She has a Ph.D. in psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center and is the Project Manger for JustPublics@365. She likes both chocolate AND peanut butter.
When your area of scholarly expertise becomes part of a news cycle, you have a chance to jump in and add your perspective to the conversation. You may be burning to refute an argument or clarify a popular opinion or, more ambitiously, change the direction of a longer conversation. However, it can be hard to know how to do just that. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.
An excellent way to bring your work and perspective to a broader audience and inform public opinion is to write Op-Eds for mainstream publications. In this post, I’ll give some basic guidelines for writing Op-Eds that effectively present your academic work and link it to the topic of the moment (or longer!).
The challenge for many academics is striking a balance between the complexities of a subject and making it accessible to an intelligent public. Academics are fluent in the language of expertise. We often define this in terms of our discipline, sub-discipline, and methodological practices. But even smart, informed readers cannot be expected to know disciplinary ins-and-outs, (and they may not care).
For example, labor experts who focus on intersectionality may have significance among our tribe, but that can mean very little to readers of the Washington Post. However, if that labor expert can link her specific niche to broader issues of public concern, it will have far more meaning to the average reader. For example, her scholarship can inform issues about gender wage gaps, criminal background checks on hiring practices, and the decline of the black middle class. Those are all issues generally understood and hotly debated in the media.
Whichever media outlet you pitch a piece to or its subject matter, an Op-Ed should: 1) establish your credibility 2) argue for a compelling point-of-view and 3) consider counter-perspectives.
It should also follow a general structure. The one presented here is recommended by The Op-Ed Project, a great organization that seeks to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world, especially from women. An Op-Ed should have:
Lede: Establishes why and for what this Op-Ed matters, and it needs to be pegged to a news hook;
Thesis:Statement of your argument, either explicit or implied;
Argument: Based on evidence, such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience;
“To Be Sure” Paragraph: In which you pre-empt potential critics by acknowledging any obvious counter-arguments;
Conclusion: Have a clear ending, and if you can, circle back to your lede.
Your lede should be brief, to-the-point, and make the connection to the news hook clear. If you are a labor sociologist, it is clear how your argument relates to that a news story on disparities in earnings. At other times, the connection can be less clear, but no less compelling. For example, a labor sociologist could just as easily use a popular movie like The Wolf of Wall Street to discuss gender, sexism and financialization during the 1980s.
In either case, your lede should establish who you are, why you are talking about this topic, and how it relates to a news item of interest. To present who you are and why you are talking to this subject, you should establish your credibility very early on. One way to do this is to lead with your baubles. Consider every title, position, and publication you hold and highlight the ones that best represent you and the relevance for the topic. Each of these signal to editors and a general audience that you are expert. This is analogous to using citations efficiently in an academic article.The primary difference is that general audiences generally do not want a literature review or bibliography. Instead, they need to trust that you know the literature. To establish that; speak to who you are rather than what you know.
The thesis, argument, counter-argument, and conclusion are more self-evident. Just remember to stick to one point, make the connections between each piece of evidence clear for your audience, and do not rely on jargon. A well-crafted Op-Ed, written by an expert who can translate relevant research for a broad public audience is both attractive to a media outlet and a valuable contribution to public intellectual life.
~ This blog post was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd),a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Emory University and a PhD Intern at the Microsoft Social Media Collective in Cambridge, MA. She has written Op-Eds for the New York Times (here and here) and is a regular columnist for Slate Magazine. More of her writing can be found on her website here.
Being a scholar means keeping track of your productivity – all those articles, conference presentations and books we work so hard to create. With the proliferation of digital technologies, scholars can have an impact in lots of ways and there are new ways to track this impact, but it can be confusing and overwhelming at first.
In this post we’re going to offer you a brief introduction to the mechanics of maximizing the impact of the kinds of digital media tools we’ve already covered in this series, like Twitter, blogging and podcasting.
An important part of taking your scholarly identity online is minding the details. When we create print documents, we routinely perform familiar tasks that make the work appear more polished and professional, like formatting the cover page or setting the margins. Yet the online equivalents of these activities are too often brushed aside for expediency. Who has time to add tags and tinker with all those settings?
Take the time. Simple actions like using thoughtful titles and headers in your blog posts, assigning tags or keywords, and summarizing your posts into 2-3 sentence abstracts can enhance the visibility of your content in search engines and improve the look of your posts when they are shared on social media. If you use WordPress for your blog, many of these functions are provided by easy-to-use plugins, so you don’t have to become a web designer or metadata expert to benefit from these techniques. But there are some basic principles to remember as you create content on the web to help you connect with your audience—and ensure that they can find you.
What is SEO and what does it have to do with academic blogging?
SEO stands for search engine optimization, and the basic premise is that understanding how search engines index and retrieve materials on the web allows us to structure our work so that it has a better chance of showing up in search results.
If you’re blogging on a self-hosted WordPress site, I highly recommend using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, which installs a simple set of menus on your dashboard so you can easily customize the most important components of your post’s metadata (the data about the post that helps web crawlers identify the main topics of your post). Regardless of what platform you choose, the following tips will help you flag the most important keywords to search engines and improve your chances of getting your posts included in search results.
Choose your title carefully. We all love being creative, but if your post is about unsafe working conditions, include those words in the title. It helps in search engine retrieval and in social media sharing.
Use html headers (h2, h3, etc.) when breaking up blog posts and make them meaningful. Descriptive headers allow readers to scan through quickly, and search engines will place greater weight on the keywords used there when indexing your post.
Get to know your meta tags. Meta tags include descriptive information about your web page. You know that snippet that appears in Google’s search results? That’s controlled by your site’s meta tags, so it pays to pay attention to them.
Optimize your posts for sharing on Twitter and Facebook
If you use Twitter to share links, as many academics do, you’ve likely noticed that some websites include a preview of the content directly within the tweet. Likewise, Facebook includes an image and summary content whenever a link is shared. As authors on the web, we have control over what is displayed in these areas, but it means taking a few minutes to check the details of our posts.
Librarian Eric Phetteplace has written an excellent introduction to using Twitter Cards and Facebook’s OpenGraph Metadata Protocol to enhance the way a site appears when it is shared on these platforms. Facebook’s OpenGraph Debugger tool provides a preview of what a link will look like when it’s shared on someone’s timeline, and will flag any errors in the metadata for that site.
Measuring your reach with analytics
To see how visitors to your blog are interacting with your posts, most platforms provide basic data and will distinguish between page views and unique visitors. Many will also tell you what search terms brought people to your post, and what site or social media service linked, or referred, them to your site.
To drill further down into detailed metrics, Google Analytics stands alone for in-depth analysis, but it can get rather complicated quickly. Google offers free resources (online courses and tutorials) for learning and implementing Google Analytics on your website, including a Setup Checklist that goes over the details for getting started with the service.
Altmetrics tools like Impact Story and Plum Analytics can capture the reach of work outside the traditional formats of academic articles and books, including blog posts, datasets, and slides, and will measure stats from social media sites as well.
Bottom line: don’t let the immediacy of digital publishing platforms lead you to neglect the mundane tasks that lead to polished publications. Your audience depends on it.
This post was written by Roxanne Shirazi (@RoxanneShirazi) Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) student and an adjunct librarian at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is also a Founding Editor of the dh+lib blog.
Blogging can be a great way to find a broader audience for your academic research. Moving research out of the ivory tower and into the public sphere has the potential to address some of the most pressing social problems. In the words Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson of the London School of Economics, “Blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.”
On the fourth anniversary of my blog, Sociology Source, I want to share some of what I’ve learned about making research in my field of sociology accessible to a broad, public audience. Throughout my teaching, my work on Sociology In Focus, and the one-off projects like the “Doing Nothing” video, I’ve been developing my skills at communicating highly complex ideas using language that most people without specialized training in sociology could easily understand. The guidelines that follow are designed to help your scholarly work find it’s largest audience.
1. Talk to Me: Acknowledge the Reader.
EXAMPLE: Many scholars today argue that when sharing your ideas with your audience the use of the third grammatical person places distance between the two parties whereas employing the first and second person delivers a reading experience that is superior in it’s intimacy with the reader.
Write as if your reader is in the room with you.
Show don’t tell. Don’t be afraid to slip into a narrative to allow your reader to experience the event first hand.
2. Just Say It: Don’t lead with a disclaimer or qualifier.
EXAMPLE: I don’t want you to read this and think I am trying to be mean. I’m also not trying to say that this applies to all forms of writing. As I said above, these are just my opinions.
Your first sentence exists to entice the reader to read the second sentence. Your first paragraph’s job is to intrigue your reader so they are compelled to read the second. And so on and so on.
EXAMPLE: Academic writers who use jargon and esoteric language are often preoccupied with communicating their cultural capital to their peers and because of this they sacrifice what could be a learning opportunity for a lay audience.
Mercilessly destroy jargon. If you absolutely have to use a piece of jargon, don’t just define the term. Introduce the term to your reader using an anecdote or other illustrative tool.
The greater the pre-requisite amount of education a reader must have to understand your reading, the smaller your audience will be and the smaller your impact will be.
4. Get in & Get Out.
Keep it succinct. If possible, keep any blog post to less than 500 words.
Oh the hypocrisy! This blog post is 790 words long!
5. No, It’s Not All Important
Only present the reader with information that is essential for them to understand your larger points. “Kill your darlings” as the saying goes. Delete non-essential information.
As an academic, you have an expert’s mind, so to you it’s all essential. Try to remember back to when you were a novice to your subject and how you saw your subject as a beginner. Then, write to answer the questions of the reader with a beginners mind.
6. If You Have Something to Say, Say It
Say something compelling, intriguing, challenging, inspiring, evocative, poignant, or otherwise interesting.
If what you write is something that you sincerely believe and something that empirical research can back up, then take the risk and hit publish.
7. Don’t Let Perfection Be The Enemy of The Good
Focus on clearly communicating your ideas. It’s more important that you share your ideas with the world than it is to make sure your writing is 100% error free. Get in the public arena and mix it up with people.
Your writing isn’t etched in stone. Remember that unlike print, you can immediately change errors as your readers point them out to you.
Not every scholarly publication needs to be written so that a the general public can read it. There is value in scholars writing for peers in academic journals in ways that are highly technical and complex. However, as academics we need to cultivate a community of scholars that are highly skilled in communicating esoteric research into texts that can be read by a general audience.
Academics who are skilled at writing long, nuanced, complex arguments may be flummoxed by the 140-character constraints of Twitter but they needn’t be.
I’ve been using Twitter since 2008, and in the six years (how time flies when you’re sharing in 140-characters!) since then, I’ve gleaned a few things that may make Twitter easier for my academic friends.
There is Twitter lingo, but it’s not that hard. When you’re learning a new software platform (or, a new anything really) there’s often specialized language that goes along with it. We all know this from the jargon in our academic fields (post-structuralism anyone?), but somehow it often comes as a surprise in Internet-land. Really, if you’ve mastered any field well enough to get a PhD (or, through the first few years of grad school), you’ll be able to master Twitter lingo. The first term you should know about Twitter: “handle” or, the name you use on Twitter.
Choose a short, easy-to-remember handle. When you choose a handle, you want it to be something that’s short (your handle takes up part of your allotted 140-characters). And, you want something that’s easy to remember. Usually, people include part of their name. Many times, academic folks want to include “Prof” as part of their handle. Fine if you want, to but there are a lot of these now, so it might not be as easy to remember. You probably don’t want to include your institution in your Twitter handle in case your Dream School calls and you switch affiliations. Or, if you’re already at your Dream School, you might not want to include it because people may mistake it for an ‘official’ account. My Twitter handle is @JessieNYC. It seems to work fine except for the unlikely event that I decide to move out of New York City.
Write a bio that captures your interests. Take a few minutes to set up your profile. You can always change this, and should update it as your interests change. People will read this to get a sense of who you are and what kind of information you’re likely to share on Twitter. So, your profile should give some sense of your interests in 160-characters (slightly longer than the standard Tweet).
Include a photo of yourself so people know you’re not a spam bot. The default icon that you get on Twitter is an “egg” (get it, like a bird’s egg?). When there are spam bots — and yes, this happens sometimes — they can be easily spotted by the default egg icon. So, an important way to distinguish yourself from the spam bot is to change that default icon to a photo. You want to show people that you’re a real person, and at least moderately friendly. Put a photo of yourself in there. Yes, we’re all pleased that you got married and had kids, but leave those photos for your Facebook page. On Twitter, people expect to have a glimpse of who you are.
Figure out what you want to contribute. There are a bunch of metaphors that are useful for explaining Twitter, one of my favorites is “DJ.” Think of yourself as a DJ, and the Tweets you’re putting out into the world as your playlist. What do effect do you want to have on people listening? On my scholarly blog, Racism Review, my focus is on race and racism. On Twitter, I have a broader range of topics I’m interested in and that I share. I Tweet about race and racism, and also about: academia, higher ed, digital media, documentary films, and memoir writing. For academic folks, think about sharing what the latest news is in your field. Did you see a recent journal article that seems especially path-breaking for people in your field? Compose a Tweet about that and then people will begin to look to you for the latest news in that field.
Learn to tune your TL. More Twitter lingo! (breathe) “TL” stands for “Timeline.” Timeline is the string of Tweets I see when I log into Twitter. Every person’s TL is different. What I see in my Timeline is a result of who I choose to “follow.” So, at the moment, for someone who is very into the World Cup, their TL may be filled with updates about who won the latest game and what the prospects are for their favorite team. For someone else who is very interested in Supreme Court decisions about reproductive health, their TL could be filled with updates about the Hobby Lobby decision. When I first started Twitter, I didn’t get it. It just seemed boring to me. But, a friend who’s opinion I respect, said “this is where the action is, keep trying.” Finally, I figured out how to adjust my Timeline so that the flow of information is useful to me. It’s sort of like learning to tune a radio in the car, you want more “signal” than “noise.” For academic folks, you’ll want to figure out who to follow so that Twitter is useful for you professionally. Often this means following other academics, but it can also mean finding journalists, activists, policy makers, and philanthropists who are Tweeting about the topic you’re interested in. These sorts of connections can help inform your work, and may even yield real, material benefits for social change or just career advancement.
Getting the flow of Twitter into Academic Life. “I’m so busy already, I don’t have time for Twitter!” I hear this a lot from academic colleagues. I’m busy too. And, I’m on Twitter often. My experience is not that Twitter takes me away from the flow of academic life and knowledge production, but rather that it is now a part of how I conceive of what we used to call “the life of the mind.” When I say that I’m on Twitter often, by that I mean that I usually have one browser tab open to Twitter if I’m working on a desktop or laptop computer, or if I’m out in the world, I’ll check Twitter on my phone. But, it doesn’t mean I Tweet that often. I read Twitter and “listen” in the morning while I’m having coffee, and at breaks from work during the day. Twitter is something I learn from and something I think with. I’ve written more about how I use Twitter in knowledge production here.
Find people you want to connect with. Re-Tweet them. Talk to them. Connect with them. I’ve heard it said that “Facebook is for connecting to people you already know, Twitter is for connecting with people you want to know.” I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but it’s certainly been true for me. In many ways, finding and connecting with people on Twitter allows me to curate the ideal academic department (which also includes lots of non-academic folks). On Twitter, I can follow people that I want to know, without the reciprocity required and expected of being “friends” on that other platform. I can also go beyond merely “following” and reading the Tweets of someone by “re-tweeting” them. Re-tweeting, sometimes abbreviated as RT’ing, just means re-sharing a Tweet that someone else composed. When you’re on Twitter, you can see that someone has RT’d you and that’s a form of connection (people like it when you RT them). You can also talk to people using the “@reply” – more lingo! – which is just simply clicking on the “reply” button and it appears as a mention, sort of like a RT. Too much lingo? Don’t worry about it. It’s one of those things that sounds harder than it is. It’s just a way of connecting with people.
Academic conferences with Twitter. Perhaps one of the most useful implementations of Twitter is at academic conferences. For the uninitiated, the junior, the marginalized, or the just-plain-shy, academic conferences can be a nightmare of face-name-badge-scanning. Twitter changed this for me. Whereas I once felt alienated, connecting with people on Twitter (see #8) transformed the hallways of academic conferences into giant meet-ups where warm embraces replaced dismissive face-name-badge scowls. The Twitter backchannel has also enlivened sometimes dull academic conferences. The backchannel is just a conversation going on about the conference by people using Twitter. The way this works is that people are using a particular hashtag (just any word, set of letters and numbers with a # symbol in front of it). For example, #ASA2014 becomes a hashtag for the sociology conference and so on. It also means that I can follow the conversation at a particular conference even if I didn’t get to attend it in person. This is a tremendous boon for academics with both intellectual curiosity and a limited travel budget.
Be generous and kind. There is often some anxiety about using Twitter as an academic, especially for folks who are still in graduate school or early in their careers. “Won’t this hurt my career chances?” Well, it depends on how you use it. If you say evil, hurtful things – like wishing death on someone’s children – it can get you in trouble. My experience is that if used without malice, it won’t hurt and it might help. I started on Twitter when I was pre-tenure and got tenured (and promoted) since then. Some of my colleagues even suggested that getting added to this list helped my chances. In general, I think the world would be a better place if people were generous and kind, so I’m adding that as a recommendation for how academics should be on Twitter.
Summer is typically the time when academics use to delve into research, writing, and brushing up on skills.
We’re here to help with a new series on digital media skills for academics. Beginning this week and continuing through July, we’ll feature posts on how to use Twitter, Blogging, Op-Eds, Podcasts, Digital Research and Analytics.
In the digital era, media skills are increasingly important for scholars to build an audience for their research. Here at JustPublics@365, we think hybrid training – in traditional academic research and digital media skills – is crucial for fostering collaborations between scholars, activists, and journalists in ways that further social justice.
Previously, we’ve hosted discussions here about the ways in which scholarly communication is changing. Building on these conversations, our latest series deepens and expands the work of our successful MediaCamp workshops. We’ll be offering some of these workshops at the August meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.
This is also a good time to remind you about some of our other resources and skills guides we have put together, such as:
We are pleased to announce that our recently-concluded social justice topic series on activism in East Harlem has been compiled into a free eBook, accessible here
This eBook, the fourth in our series, deepens and expands the work of a community meeting at the CUNY School of Public Health on April 26, 2014. This meeting brought together volunteers, city officials, and faculty and staff from CUNY to discuss emergency response following a tragic gas explosion nearby that had killed 8 people the previous month. Participants met in groups to discuss the event, make recommendations for better emergency response in the future, and strengthen community partnerships. Afterwards, several people sat down with us to talk about their experience, which we produced as a series of podcasts.
The active participation in the meeting was characteristic of the strong, invested community of East Harlem, also known as El Barrio. We drew inspiration from this event and highlighted other important activist work and pressing issues impacting the community, especially affordable housing and gentrification, and drug policy reform. In addition to the conversations with local volunteers, our series included interviews with a local journalist and two scholar-activists; featured the work of local filmmakers; highlighted a two-day forum on drug policy reform held at the New York Academy of Medicine; and discussed current events and policies impacting the neighborhood.
This series portrays only a small portion of the dynamic activist work being done by local residents. To do justice to this rich community would take far longer. Luckily, this work is represented by the many community groups that are active in East Harlem and in everyday life in the neighborhood. We encourage you to start here and do more exploring on your own, both virtually and in person. Take a walk around the neighborhood and meet some of the amazing people who call it El Barrio.
Listening to peoples’ stories is a powerful way to understand how inequality affects people in their everyday lives. For example, gentrification in a low income neighborhood like East Harlem impacts a person’s ability to find affordable housing, education policies such as opening charter schools affect young people at local public schools, and lack of digital access limits economic opportunities.
In this topic series on East Harlem, we have explored a number of social issues impacting the neighborhood and have featured the voices of local residents, activists, journalists and scholars.
Beginning with the aftermath of the tragic gas explosion in March, we highlighted the community conversation held at the CUNY School of Public Health that brought together volunteer first responders, city officials, activists, and researchers to talk about emergency response and plan for better preparedness in the future. The disaster, and the stories we gathered from participants at the event, highlighted a community that is unique and tightly-knit.
However, this cohesiveness is threatened by changes brought on by disinvestment giving way to gentrification. East Harlem (aka El Barrio) is a primarily low-income, Latino neighborhood and has one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the city, yet its landscape is rapidly changing as higher-end chain stores open on 125th Street and luxury condos crowd out affordable housing.
Gathering the perspectives of people who are directly affected, rather than interpret a situation for them, is vital to understanding these issues. East Harlem resident, activist, and filmmaker Andrew Padilla emphasizes this point in an article he wrote about a Fox News journalist who contacted him. The reporter, Soni Sangha, seemed determined to frame the story of gentrification in Latino neighborhoods like East Harlem as being “taken back” by wealthier Latinos returning to the area, implying that this form of “gente-fication” benefited the community rather than displaced residents. Padilla countered that perspective, sharing his experience interviewing people in the community and offered a more contextual explanation. Ultimately however, the article didn’t include the perspectives of East Harlem residents, which was a disservice to the community and readers alike.
We also profiled a number of scholars-activist and journalists working in the area, calling attention to these concerns, and working to address disparities.
Jeff Mays is a journalist who covers the neighborhood and spoke with us about how people have been impacted by the explosion. Even now, three months later, several of the nearly 100 families displaced by the disaster remain homeless and are having difficulty finding affordable housing in their community. Businesses are slowly recovering, but suffered great losses.
CUNY School of Public Health Professor Lynn Roberts addresses the intersection of race, class and gender and its influence on health disparities and models of community organizing for social justice.
Educator-scholar-activist Edwin Mayorga recently worked with two young people from East Harlem to explore public education in the neighborhood and connected with community members using digital media to tell their stories.
And finally, we co-sponsored a symposium on drug policy reform, held at the New York Academy of Medicine. Many of the speakers focused on the intersections of race, poverty, and incarceration. Punitive drug laws and high rates of incarceration disproportionately impact low income, minority neighborhoods like East Harlem. CUNY Professor Harry Levine’s research reveals racial patterns in Marijuana arrests. As we wrote earlier, the data tell a story that whites use marijuana at higher rates, yet blacks and Latinos in neighborhoods like East Harlem are arrested for marijuana at much higher rates.
This collection of East Harlem stories exemplifies JustPublics@365’s approach to bring together scholars, activists and journalists to highlight social justice issues. By bringing together a diverse range of people with ties to East Harlem, we have offered a few of the many voices working to make the neighborhood a more just place for all its residents.
Edwin Mayorga describes himself as an educator-scholar-activist of color, as well as a parent, organizer, and doctoral candidate in Urban Education at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His recent work facilitating a digital participatory action research project explored how NYC education policies during the Bloomberg administration (2001-2013) have impacted “Latino core” communities like East Harlem. He and two youth co-researchers, Mariely Mena and Honory Peña, both East Harlem residents, designed and conducted the project, which they called Education in our Barrios.
The goal of the project was to gather the perspectives of parents, youth, community leaders, activists, educators, and educational leaders who have been connected to public education in East Halem/El Barrio. The team recorded video interviews, digitally recorded stories (using vojo.co), collected archival materials, census data, and policy documents. This data informed their critical analysis of educational and related social policies to document how several generations of people see and experience public education reform in East Harlem.
While the researchers wanted to use digital technologies as a way to connect to the community, the challenges they posed highlighted how the landscape of digital access, which is among other structural inequalities, impacts residents at both the individual level and larger social and economic level.
In a recent talk at the CUNY Graduate Center, Edwin talked about some the challenges of engaging the community with digital media, and understanding how they make use of it. He said,
“The digital does introduce new ways of engaging the world but not everyone is quick to adopt those practices.”
One simple, yet significant obstacle to adopting digital networked technologies is access and affordability. In recent years, New York has become a more digital city, but for whom? City parks have become increasingly wi-fi accessible, but as Edwin pointed out, most of the park land in East Harlem is on Randall’s Island, which is both less accessible and becoming increasingly privatized. Free wi-fi spots in East Harlem and many other low-income residential neighborhoods, are few, as this map from the NYC Parks department illustrates.
In an area like East Harlem, many may not be able to afford in-home broadband access, making free, publicly-available networks that much more important. In the neighborhood, the public library and McDonald’s are the primary spaces that have it. Despite being a vital community resource, the library suffers from disrepair and, like all NYC public libraries, decreased funding which cause them to shorten hours and limit services. A recent article on NY City Lens, an online news site, compared the recently renovated Washington Heights library and the Aguilar Library, which is located in East Harlem. The article highlights the great demand for access to library computers and the frustrations users experience from long waits, time limits, and slow access.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called attention to the problem of uneven access as an issue of equality, social justice and economic mobility during his campaign and has said that the issue is a top priority for his administration. He has said that he will use the city’s regulatory, purchasing and franchising powers to pressure Verizon and other providers to increase access and lower costs to consumers.
In the meantime, the New York City Housing Authority has two vans equipped with eight computers and a printer, as well as high-speed wireless access that travel to parts of the city where connectivity is low. Hopefully, this innovative project, and other efforts to increase access and create a public network, will begin to balance out this inequality.
On May 1st and 2nd, The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and The New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) hosted a symposium titled “Marijuana and Drug Policy Reform in New York: 70 Years After The LaGuardia Committee Report,” to look at the current state of drug policy. The goal of the conference was to foster a rich discussion of contemporary drug policy reform efforts nationally and in New York.
Over the next two days, JustPublics@365 will be posting some audio clips from the conference. Today’s post includes audio from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Professor Richard Bonnie from the University of Virginia, Professor Samuel Roberts from Columbia University, and Deborah Small from Break the Chains.
“Elected officials need to be equipped with research and policy recommendations,” declared New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the start of a day long discussion on marijuana and drug policy reform in New York. She focused on ways to combat “misinformation campaigns based on myth not science” to make sure that drug policies are fair and just. Most arrests for marijuana are a corruption of the original intention of the law.
Richard Bonnie then opened up the conversation with comments on the Shafer Commission (aka National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse). He said that we have “over relied on prohibition and criminalization rather than using other tools to meet our objectives.” By looking at alcohol probation we can look at the regulatory practices that have already been put in place, he said. There was a “tremendous success” in discussions of decriminalization during the Shafer Commission and between 1973 and 1977 twelve states decriminalized marijuana.
The first speaker, Samuel Roberts from Columbia University, said that “as a historian of drug policy this is a very interesting moment in which we find ourselves.” He told the room that it was the role of the historian to remind people of their past and that there were some things we should think about as we talk about current issues in drug policy. There are many ways of thinking about drug policy and Roberts urged the room not to focus too heavily on medicalization because, like criminalization, there are problems with over medicalizing.
Deborah Small, J.D., Executive Director, Break the Chains, started by saying that it makes no sense to say we need more research to determine drug policy. The whole conversation around the need to protect children from drugs does not currently apply to other policies, like gun control and environmental hazards are much more dangerous than marijuana, she said. “The government is not protecting us from the right things,” she concluded.
With the widespread use of social media, people often learn about emergencies via Twitter faster than they do on breaking television news or from official government news sources. In fact, these traditional news sources often get their information from social media and follow up to verify and report information.
Obviously, the advantage of sharing information via social media is that the faster people have information, the faster they can respond. However, a disparate media landscape means that misinformation can also spread quickly, or that different sources may report different information, contributing to confusion.
This was the experience for some in the wake of the gas explosion in East Harlem. While emergency responders and established organizations like the Red Cross adhered to their procedures, other groups like the Certified Emergency Response Team weren’t clear about their roles or where the most reliable information should come from. Participants in the April 26thcommunity conversation held at the CUNY School of Public Health, these volunteers among them, emphasized the need for reliable, central communication channels during an emergency.
One interesting approach recently put into place in New Orleans makes use of personal health data to identify people with special needs and tailor responses to them. The New York Times recently reported on a pilot program that used Medicare data to target vulnerable individuals who may need extra help, such as people using breathing equipment. Officials from the program visited people in their homes to gauge the accuracy of the information they were able to gather from records and to get people’s reactions.
As journalist Sheri Fink wrote in the article,
“the program is just one of a growing number of public and corporate efforts to take health information far beyond the doctor’s office, offering the promise of better care but also raising concerns about patient privacy.”
While this program focused on visiting people in person, elsewhere, other digital and social media are being used to augment health care, such as text messages that alert parents that their children need to get vaccinations.
But making use of personal health records raises privacy about using “big data” to reveal information people many not want shared. The pilot program conducted in New Orleans adhered to privacy guidelines and, as the article described, most people who were approached welcomed the help. However, the widespread use of digital media and the kind and amount of data we share, inadvertently or otherwise, has shaken up our ideas and expectations about privacy. The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, more commonly referred to as HIPPA, and procedures of informed consent (i.e. all of those long forms you fill out at the doctor’s office) were designed to protect people’s personal health information from anyone other than themselves, their medical providers, and others with special permission, such as a family member. But those laws were drafted before digital media became so integrated in our everyday lives and before we thought about the potentials and pitfalls of vast stores of data.
Could (or should) a program like the one in New Orleans work in East Harlem? How could it reach the whole community, especially those with special needs? Are there other models to follow? How could people’s privacy be protected? How could clear communication channels be designed given the many outlets for information?
With churches large and small throughout the neighborhood, religious faith is a hallmark of the East Harlem community. It was only natural that ministers, pastors, and chaplains were prevalent in the aftermath of the March 12 gas explosion, and that pews were full the following Sunday.
Faith leaders were also present at a community conversation held at the CUNY School of Public Health on April 26, which brought together residents and community groups to discuss what happened following the explosion and how to better prepare for future emergencies.
Chaplain Alicia Goudif from the United Chaplains State of New York, and who is active in NYPD Precinct 25’s community board, shared with us her experience following the explosion:
“I got a you call saying to look at channel one, and after that they told me you need to get out there because a lot of chaplains was out there at that time. We were just standing around seeing where we needed to help the most. I call myself the CEO. That means Chaplain Encouraging Others, so I was there to encourage others where their lives are concerned. If they need prayer, I give them prayer. If they need encouragement, I give them encouragement. I was there just helping out the police department, which I’m part of the Two Five Precinct Community Board Sergeant of Arms. So I was out there making sure everybody was safe. Everybody who needed help who were down and out to let them know it’s going to be ok. It’s not over until God says so. If they need help I give them my card to let them know I’m there whenever they need help. I was there following the explosion every day for those who needed my services.”
On Monday, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio released his ambitious 10-year, $41 billion affordable housing plan, which proposes creating 80,000 new units of affordable housing and preserving 120,000 more city-wide. It emphasizes greater urban density, building up, and implementing some requirements (as opposed to current incentives) for developers to include affordable housing in new construction.
What does this mean for East Harlem, a neighborhood whose affordable housing stock is dwindling as gentrification, particularly in the form of newly-constructed luxury housing, raises the overall market value of apartments.
According to a 2012 report issued by Manhattan Community Board 11, which represents the neighborhood, most East Harlem residents live in some form of rent-regulated housing. East Harlem has one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the city and much of the remaining housing stock has been rent-regulated. However, as the report suggests, the expiration of government subsidies will likely price current residents out of their homes. A third of rent regulations will progressively expire by 2040.
City-wide, rents have gone up nearly 40 percent in the last 20 years, while renters’ wages have risen less than 15 percent. Nearly a third of the city’s households who rent pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent and utilities. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, the median income of East Harlem households is $31,444.
Currently, despite incentives such as tax breaks for new construction and financial assistance to property owners to keep their buildings from turning market-rate, more rent-regulated apartments are lost to deregulation than new ones are built (source).
The strategies proposed in the 2012 Community Board 11 report may dovetail with the Mayor’s proposed plan. The Community Board 11 report recommends coordinating efforts to maintain the supply of rent-regulated housing, and working with building owners to promote continued participation in programs that will preserve affordable housing. If successful, de Blasio’s plan will preserve the current supply of affordable housing and both regulate and incentivize the creation of new stock. However, how the plan will be funded and implemented remain to be seen and it’s a question of how much affordable housing will be left to preserve in East Harlem and how many opportunities there will be to intervene in new development by that point.
The mayor’s report highlights El Barrio’s Artspace P.S. 109, which is an affordable housing project for artists, as an example of adapting existing structures into housing. This project was developed by Minneapolis-based developer Artspace with grant funding from the Warhol Foundation for the Arts. While this unique project may not be able to be replicated at a scale that meets the community’s overall needs, it is a start.
Reclaiming property for housing and building on vacant lots is what activist organization Picture the Homeless has been vying for. Working with the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development, the group identified enough abandoned and unoccupied space in the city to house all of the homeless, outlined in this 2012 report. In their study of city housing data, they found a total of 143 vacant buildings and lots in East Harlem that could house 9,252 people. Perhaps implicitly acknowledging the organization’s exhaustive work, the mayor’s report calls for conducting a comprehensive survey of all the vacant sites in the city, potentially corroborating their data and analysis.
Overall, the plan has the potential to address at least some of the community’s urgent housing needs and ideally help shape a healthier community development over the usual displacement-through-gentrification.
As gentrification rolls across New York City like a tsunami, residents of lower-income neighborhoods like East Harlem are both concerned and conflicted about the changes occurring around them. This “Latino core” has one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the country. According to educator-scholar-activist Edwin Mayorga, approximately 31% of East Harlem residents in poverty, 45% are children and of those, 55% are Latino.
With luxury housing replacing older tenements, residential and commercial rents on the rise, and more wealthy, primarily White, people moving in, current residents are already being priced out, and the flavor of the neighborhood is changing. As one resident interviewed in Ed Morales’ documentary Whose Barrio? described, gentrification in East Harlem is the “urban removal” of Latino residents. The film, created by journalists Ed Morales and Laura Rivera’s and released in 2009, examines the changes in East Harlem through the perspectives of several residents, some of whom oppose them and others who welcome it. You can watch the full film here and watch the trailer here:
While East Harlem has already begun to experience these changes, there is a strong network of community groups, cultural institutions, tenants’ rights organizations, and other activists working to advocate for the neighborhood. Furthermore, with gentrification impacting so many communities across the city, the issue is gaining the attention of the general population and policymakers. With a history of activism and an identity as a strong Latino community, many in East Harlem are actively resisting the pressures of gentrification. As the community response to recent tragic explosion and building collapse demonstrated, this neighborhood is a cohesive and engaged community that stands a chance to resist some of the destabilizing changes that accompany gentrification.