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We are just two weeks out from the install date of Virtual Street Corners and our publicity campaign is gaining momentum. The project will connect two neighborhoods in Boston via live video connection in public places. We’ve been picked up a lot on the blogosphere, on CBC radio in Canada, and The Atlantic magazine came out today with a feature that put Virtual Street Corners on the front page of its website.

Within hours I had an email from Israel offering me money and assistance to set up the same project between Tel Aviv and the West Bank. That was interesting because I started with that concept years ago, and also because I had an offer to pull in a live feed from Gaza. So we are currently exploring the possibility of bringing in live feeds from international sources for a couple days during the course of our installation. On the one hand it could garner a lot of interest, but on the other hand it could be a distraction from the focus on local interaction/relationships in the Boston area.

By bringing the conflict in the Middle East into our project, I worry that we could exacerbate the existing tensions between Dudley and Coolidge, the two neighborhoods we’re focused on connecting. There is a possibility things could get ugly, since people feel such passion about the issue. Yet the concept of using this technology to address social division and to allow people to represent themselves and be in direct communication is very much what Virtual Street Corners is about. It is interesting how such a hyper-local focused project is resonating nationally and internationally.

Advertising

Who am I to you?
Where do you get your news?
Everyone has an opinion.

Those are some of the taglines on the ads that I recently dropped off at the printer. We were donated space on city buses to advertise Virtual Street Corners, and they specifically gave us space on Route 66 because it connects the two neighborhoods where we will be putting our installation. If you are out and about in Boston hopefully you’ll see a few of these roll by:

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Meet the Journalists

Citizen journalists are a backbone of the news-sharing aspect of our installation, and despite it being a short term and underpaid gig we have managed to get an array of qualified folks with strong roots in the neighborhoods.

Our journalists in Roxbury are lifelong residents. Yawu Miller is a freelance journalist and photographer. He is a former managing editor of the Bay State Banner, a weekly newspaper serving Boston’s African American community. Miller was born in Boston and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990.

Jamarhl Crawford has worked in all kinds of media, including print and radio as well as being a poet and performer. He has lectured at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley, Northeastern, Boston University, and Boston College; he’s been on BBC and NPR and performed with Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Amiri Baraka, Gil-Scot Heron, Run-DMC and many others. Stand on a corner with Crawford in Dudley and you will quickly be introduced to six or seven people.

Our Brookline reporters include Emily Corwin who works at the Public Radio Exchange, hosts and produces “The Neighborhood” on WMBR in Cambridge and does freelance radio production in the Boston area. Her stories have aired on public radio stations across the country.

Also working in Brookline is Joanna Marinova, co-director of Press Pass TV, a non-profit organization that engages youth in advocacy journalism to tell the stories of those communities that work for change. And Sue Katz is an author, journalist, teacher and blogger who has lived on three continents and been widely published in each.

Something that will be both challenging and very interesting is seeing how the reporters negotiate this new media form. Some are planning to bring people directly to the portals, in order to interview them; others will upload video and photographs they have recorded; and others plan to recount stories and make commentary. Of course, each will be interacting with a live crowd on the other end. Hopefully they will be able to adapt in exciting ways.

The other element we have thrown in to help activate participation is to organize discussions between people in the two neighborhoods. Some examples: A city councillor from Roxbury will meet with their counterpart in Brookline; musicians will play together via video; Peace in Focus, a group that uses cameras and photography to teach peace to teens, will be taking photos and interviewing people from each location, and along the bus route that connects the neighborhoods. They will then show the photos and talk about their experience.

In addition, students from the local public high schools will compare their experiences and discuss education. The Imam from a mosque near Dudley Square will discuss religion and religious freedom with a Rabbi in Brookline. We have identified many more issues, and have many people in Roxbury eager to engage in the conversation, but we have less connections in Brookline and are still trying to find participants on that end.

Lastly, we are preparing to launch our website, which will have reports from our journalists, video clips of interesting conversations that have occurred, and ongoing commentary and discussions about the topics we are addressing.

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