Would you go there?

September 16, 2015

Can you think of a neighborhood in your city where people just shouldn’t go? Somewhere far and weird, that you know very little about, but just enough to avoid ever going there?

In São Paulo, my hometown, there are several places that somehow ended up with that dark fame. That always bothered and intrigued me, so when I was a senior journalism undergraduate student, I decided to explore some of them as my final project in College. The four furthest neighborhoods of downtown São Paulo were not only some of the poorest in the city and lacked elementary public services and infrastructure – but they were also seriously under-reported. For one year, I looked for stories that would break the “violent place” stigma, and actually translate the reality of those places to readers. The 22 multimedia stories of Extremos SP were about urban problems, cultural movements and interesting local characters.

I’ve only been in the United States for one month, but I do know that social and economical inequality have shaped this country’s history and geography just like in Brazil. Therefore, it would be a very interesting experience to continue working on this project in the American context.

Both Boston and New York crossed my mind as settings for this project. After deciding the city, the second step would be to select “extreme” neighborhoods to report on. The criteria could be geographical (furthest neighborhoods), social/economical (using some index such as HDI) or, I could even choose neighborhoods based on how they are usually stigmatized by the local population and media. I would then do an intense on-ground investigation, seeking stories that make up an objective portrait of those places.

Choosing this project as my Big Story has some advantages: ground reporting and finding sources (local inhabitants and researchers) should be easier than for a story focused in other country. There is an interesting historical component to this project – aside from current and local stories, I would also be able to produce pieces about the city’s urban development process. Finally, I’m specializing in data journalism, and this project would allow me to explore crime databases to create several maps and infographics.

The main downside, however, is that it is a very local project. I believe it would interest mostly Boston citizens and maybe tourists. I couldn’t imagine someone in Brazil being interested in this story because readers wouldn’t feel like it relates to their daily life, their issues and their experience.

Thinking of a way to adapt this project to compel international audiences would be a challenge. One idea is to include the creation of a business model for the project, thinking how the website could be sustainable and how it could be “exported” to other cities in the world.

A local example

To illustrate what this project would focus on, I did a research on one of Boston’s neighborhoods: Roxbury Crossing.

In Extremos SP “methodology”, the very first thing I would do was simply google the neighborhood’s name and see what comes up. So I did that, and in the first page, a forum topic caught my eye: a worried mother was asking if she should get a place in the Roxbury area for her daughter, who was moving to Boston to start college. Almost everyone was advising her not to, with very superficial comments such as “it’s sketchy” and “there are several housing projects” (using that as an indication of intense criminality).

Of course, this is just one website and few people’s comments. That forum thread obviously doesn’t reflect all of Boston citizens’ impression on Roxbury. So, to get another perspective, I tried searching “Roxbury” in Boston Globe’s website. This is what the search looks like:



For readers, it seems like all that ever happens in Roxbury is murder. It is very unlikely that the second most populated neighborhood in Boston has only crime stories to be told. According to the Boston Redevelopment Authority report, Roxbury holds 8% of the city’s population, which means 48,454 persons. Only Dorchester has more people: 114,235 individuals that sum up 18% of Boston citizens.

The Roxbury Crossing Historical Trust does an interesting job informing the neighborhood’s history and some statistics. According to the organization, Roxbury was originally an independent farming town. During the American Revolutionary War, however, it became a strategic military site. On the top of its high hills, colonists built a hospital and a fort to secure the city.

This are just some examples of interesting facts that are not usually known about Roxbury. In this project, I would seek untold stories about places like Roxbury and use data, maps and multimedia resources to report on them. If properly investigated, contextualized and produced, I hope this stories could help readers get different perspectives on this neighborhoods.

A Brief Introduction to the Alternatives Shaking Up Higher Ed

September 16, 2015
Lauren Landry

Image via Luis Llerena | Unsplash

Image via Luis Llerena | Unsplash

Ask PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel his opinion on higher education, and he’ll say “there is no one-size-fits-all.” To prove it, he’s paying college students $100,000 to drop out of school to pursue their passion projects.

The Thiel Fellowship represents just one alternative today’s students are dealt when faced with the decision of whether to enroll in a college or university.

An estimated 16,056 students are expected in 2015 to opt for a coding bootcamp over a traditional undergraduate computer science degree, according to coding bootcamp directory Course Report. The number of bootcamp graduates has more than doubled, sparking an estimated 138 percent growth in the bootcamp market over the last year.

Students who attend coding bootcamps spend an average $11,063 in tuition for an 11-week program, graduating largely with Ruby, JavaScript or Python skills. Compare that to the annual $23,872 four-year college students are paying in tuition, fees and room and board, and coding bootcamps present a compelling case.

Other companies like General Assembly have raised $49.5 million over the last four years to offer courses in design, marketing and technology. In August 2015 alone, massive open online course company Coursera banked the same amount, simultaneously announcing the company is expecting a second closing this fall, which would bring Coursera’s total Series C financing to $60 million.

“Coursera…is meeting a major, global market need with its multi-course Specializations in key workforce sectors,” said Scott Sandell, managing general partner of Coursera investor New Enterprise Associatesin a statement. “We are excited to support the growth of this high-impact enterprise, which is transforming lives through access to the world’s best educational institutions.”

Coursera and General Assembly have stepped up to meet industry demand, offering courses in high-demand fields where 84 percent of the employers claim to value skills over pedigree anyway. 

As of last month, more than five million students were learning on edX, an online learning platform founded in 2012 by Harvard and MIT. Although course completion rates remain an area of contention, imagine what would happen when, upon completion, employers would value a HarvardX certificate the same way they value an Ivy League degree.

As the cost of college rises, so, too, will alternatives to a traditional four-year education — options that come with far less debt, as well as industry-aligned employment opportunities. Who’s already acknowledged that and started going down the non-traditional road, whether as a student or education provider? Through this course, I will work to find that out. 

Virtual reality 101

September 16, 2015
Julianna Longo

Matrix and Second Life. That’s when I first heard about virtual reality and must confess: they both confused me to the point where I put them in the box of things too complicated to try to understand. It took me a long time to figure that a virtual world experience could in fact enhance journalism and storytelling. In my mind one thing was diversion and the other a “serious” business.

Google's virtual reality cardboard mount aims to democratize VR everywhere.

Google’s virtual reality cardboard mount aims to democratize VR everywhere.

More than 10 years later here I am in my second week of classes at Northeastern University trying to get the necessary courage to plunge and join the team of content developers for VR devices.

As a result of my frantic efforts to better understand virtual reality I found out tones of information about the history of virtual reality, the how and why major players are investing hard on the field. I bought my first Google Cardboard and discovered how incredible researches are linking the fields of psychology and education to virtual reality. But I also noticed that the industry is still running against the clock to perfect the hardware needed to provide a fully immersive VR experience.

Here is a compilation of the answers to the basic questions I have been asking the Web (and everyone I know) in order to understand the current affairs of virtual reality. I’ll keep my post short and provide interesting links on the subject. If you are like me and incapable of seeing a link without clicking it, you should have a pretty good notion of virtual reality by the end of this. 

How virtual reality works?

The key word here is telepresence: the combination of immersion and interactivity. Imagine a 3D movie. With VR you are inside the movie and the movement of your head and body controls what you see. Also, you can interact with objects and the surroundings of that particular virtual world.

Technically, in order to make virtual reality films you need a “360°, stereoscopic 3-D camera system and an audio system that can record sound from all around”. That is the very reduced version of the technicalities of it, since the production and post production of VR film seems to be much more challenging. More on that in later posts.

Who are the major players?

Virtual reality is not a new thing. The recent hype is mainly due to some big names in the industry investing on hardware and software for VR. Facebook recently bought Oculus Rift for $ 2 billion, Project Morpheus by Sony will be release in early 2016 and reviewers say it is the best so far to deliver virtual reality for console gamers.

Microsoft works on HoloLens, which focus more on augmented than virtual reality. Samsung was the first to put its product in the market with Gear VR. Samsung’s potential competitive edge might be in the portability of the product, since developers for Oculus Rift are trying to make the head mounting device lighter while Sony and Microsoft’s devices only work with Xbox and PlayStation.

Then there is Google Cardboard with a different strategy: a device made of cardboard that costs about $5 and an open-source development app.

What are some of the industries VR might disrupt?




Social Media


Stay tuned for more talks on virtual reality!

What do we really know about the death penalty?

September 16, 2015

“I couldn’t stop thinking that we don’t spend much time contemplating the details of what killing someone actually involves.”

Bryan Stevenson writes this in his 2014 memoir Just Mercy, which details his decades of experience representing and exonerating people on death row. Here he is referencing the discomfort he observed as the prison guards charged with carrying out the death penalty actually did the deed. We rarely see those moments of human conflict, but more than that, we live in a place where in more than half our states, it is legal for the state to execute a citizen; yet most of that process is veiled in secrecy or hidden by cultural assumptions.

“The state has transformed executions by moving them inside and away from mass observation,” writes Daniel LaChance in a 2007 paper which examines the last meals and last words in the U.S., particularly in Texas.

These are highly ritualistic acts that serves to show the humanity of the state through the transference of that humanity onto the condemned. Perhaps America is able to sleep a little easier knowing that a man on death row is allowed these last dignified moments before execution.

These last moments and meals are rarely so cinematic. As we probe each other for the most decadent last meals we would choose for ourselves, last meals served rarely live up to these high culinary expectations. In Oklahoma, an inmate’s last meal cannot exceed the cost of $25. In a number of other states, meals must be prepped in the prison kitchen with available ingredients or chosen from the prison menu. In 2011, Texas did away entirely with requests for last meals.

The devil is often in the details, and that’s surely the case with the death penalty. How can we examine death row as a pop culture icon? A cost saver? A political tool? A sign of our humanity?

From the data points to the diary entries, we have a lot to learn.


September 3, 2015

Hi All. This blog serves a few purposes. For one, it allows us—Aleszu and Jeff—to communicate necessary information (announcements; assignments; changes in scheduling, etc.) to all of you. Second, it allows us—everyone in the Media Innovation community, including students and professors—to communicate with each other. It should be an agora, an online marketplace of ideas around digital journalism and storytelling.

For those of you just starting the program, the main priority is to use this site to access the syllabus, which you can access any time through the link to the upper right of this post.

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