Christian Science Monitor about to break big ground

The Christian Science Monitor will announce in tomorrow's paper that in April of 2009, it's going to cease printing a daily edition, in favor of a weekly print edition and daily online offering.

This is both really scary and really exciting.

Scary. The CSM is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. It's won six Pulitzers and a special citation, and it might just have the best international coverage of any U.S.-focused news outlet. If a paper like that is having trouble, I'd have to worry about other, not-necessarily-so-amazing papers.

Of course, the CSM is based in Boston and serves a national audience, and there aren't many of those anyway.

Really exciting. I've long thought that newspapers' print editions should complement their online offerings, rather than vice-versa (for the record, this was my belief before I started working for a newspaper-affiliated Web site). The Web may be bottomless, but people tend to skim.

Print news hole, however, is not infinite, and furthermore, newsprint is fairly expensive, so you tend to fill as much as you have to, not as much as you can.

Ideally, what goes on the Web are all 300-to-500-word briefs and interactive elements like slideshows, photogalleries, videos, and Flash graphics. What goes in the paper would be 3,000-to-5,000-word versions of the best of the stories, along with large, interesting informational graphics.

The idea is not to see the two media as competing, and not even as places for duplicating content to reach a broader audience (though shovelware has, thankfully, gone out the window in most places). Instead, use each for its advantages. You don't need to cram another 200-word blurb about a fire at a vacant house into a corner of the paper, but you can stick it online and tie it to a 4,000-word piece about absentee owners and insurance fraud that's running in the paper.

The item the CSM put out about the switch cites a combination of 40 years of declining print circulation and a growing Web audience. I'm sure that could be said of almost every daily newspaper/Web site pair in the country – as our jobs become more mobile, our lives become more hectic and our wallets become thinner, we don't take as much time to read a newspaper, and if we're not taking the time to read it, many of us aren't buying it. But we're reading online, and through a variety of sources, including our mobile phones and headline aggregators, and through social media services like digg, Twitter and Facebook.

Yes, it's going to be tough, and I'm guessing they picked April 2009 because (a) they can ramp up the plan, (b) train people, and (c) have enough cash to get them through the next six months.

I think that a lot of companies are going to look at what the CSM does, and adopt or modify it as a concept. It's an influential news organization, and it's a changing world out there. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do.

East Woods Skate Plaza

I met this morning with some folks from the Eastwood Neighborhood Association.

One of the things they've been working on – in addition to ensuring safe sidewalks, clean neighborhoods, and good rental programs – is a skate plaza attached to Huntington Park.

It's quite a project they're proposing. I went over to the site with a couple of members after our meeting, and saw that some neighborhood kids had built a BMX course through the woods; those trails would circle the skate plaza.

The plan is for a multi-use plaza: there would be picnic tables, and the way the land is sloped, it could be used as an amphitheater, as well.

If you're questioning the need for a skate plaza, talk to shop owners who keep chasing skaters away; ask the county, who gated up the Everson Museum plaza so skaters would stop using it; ask the folks who have put up signs at the Village Mall in Liverpool that say "Final Warning: No Skateboarding or Rollerblading."

Why can't they just use the skate park at Onondaga Lake Park? A few reasons:

• It's too small for large groups, or for mixed groups of bikers and skaters
• It's not in their neighborhood; they need rides to get there
• You pay for 90-minute sessions, and have to rotate between skaters and bikers

Seriously, who wouldn't want something else to do for teenagers?

The National Guard, the ENA members told me, have been doing some mobile skate parks. This makes sense, as one of the members pointed out, because skateboarders are fit and athletic (even the best remote control skateboards users), they're very aware of what's around them, and they're disciplined enough to work at the same tricks over and over.

I'm going to start mocking up a Web site for them. It'll be a volunteer deal, and I'm going to do a combination of static design and using Blogger as a content management tool, much like I do for this site and a few others that I run.

I'll keep you posted; I'm excited about this project.

Thoughts on the Future Fund’s Fall Kick-Off

I went to the fall kick-off event Thursday for the Central New York Future Fund.

The Future Fund is a project of the CNY Community Foundation, and basically borrows an idea from microcredit.

When you make a microloan through an institution like Kiva, you're basically saying, "OK, here's someone who would never get a $500 small business loan from a bank, but if 20 of us can lend her $25, that'll get her to her goal, and if it turns out she can't pay us back, well, we're only out $25."

The Future Fund brings together young philanthropists who might want to increase their charitable footprint but don't have the capital to do so, to combine resources to make a greater impact.

OK, now I'm going to translate that into English.

The Future Fund asks a bunch of people for $100, or $250 or whatever, and combines their money into a $5,000 grant every year for some worthy organization.

I went into the kick-off figuring I was going to say no to putting up $100 because I know organizations that could do more with my $100 than some organizations could do with the Fund's $5,000.

I left the kick-off saying no for entirely different reasons.

The speaker, Community Foundation CEO Peter Dunn, invoked Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone.

Bowling Alone is a massive study done about civic engagement in the U.S. The title refers to the fact that bowling alleys are still doing well, but the number of people bowling in leagues is declining greatly.

It's not just bowling leagues that are suffering. Attendance is down at houses of worship; service organizations like the Elks and Rotary International are seeing declining memberships. You get the idea. More people are going it alone, and there's not a lot of gathering together.

This was Dunn's pitch: Let us pool this money together. We'll get a bunch of grant proposals, and the steering committee or advisory board will whittle down the proposals to a few finalists. Everyone who put money into the pot will then get the chance to visit all the finalists, vote on who you want to give the money to, and hopefully, while you're checking the organizations out, you'll make some connections and either want to give of your time or money once you meet them.

I can't fault people who honestly don't have time to do any volunteer work. If you're a young lawyer or doctor, you're putting in 80 hours a week, and maybe you're trying to start a family, or raise your already-young kids. If all you can do for charity is write a check, by all means write a check.

But I felt very much like the pitch was, "You don't want to put your time and energy into volunteering, and we understand that. Write us a check, and we promise we'll make you feel really good about it."

Assuming they get about 60 people to put up $100 (50 for the grant, and another $1,000 in operating costs – though I didn't ask to see their books, so I don't know how they roll), I'd be surprised if more than 10 actually do check out the organizations that are picked as finalists. I'd be surprised if five begin volunteering with one of the organizations.

Between SPaRC, the Art Forum, 40 Below, and a new project I'm hoping to get involved in this weekend, I volunteer a fair bit of my time and energy. What I think I got out of the kick-off last night was a look at what the Fund might look for from an organization I'm working with. I guess that's something.

For the love of God, stop talking and tear the thing down already

In 1989, the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants played in the World Series. It was called "The Battle of the Bay." It dragged on forever, not because of long games, but because there was an earthquake that halted play for a little while.

Take 12 minutes or so to watch what San Francisco did with the part of their freeway that collapsed in that earthquake.

Video courtesy of Streetfilms

Now, why aren't we tearing down Interstate 81?

Other cities have moved or removed freeways with great success.

There are a lot of naysayers; let's look at the arguments.

It's too expensive. Actually, the raised portion of I-81 has been up about 10 years longer than it was meant to last, and it's going to cost roughly the same to tear it down as it would to rebuild.

Syracuse can't handle 60,000 additional cars getting off the highway and moving along city streets. If you build a street-level boulevard, you're likely to put a punch of businesses there, and traffic lights every quarter mile or so. If you're looking to head through the city, you're more likely to drive seven miles on the I-481/I-690 spur, than to get off the highway and drive five miles in stop-and-go traffic.

If you put a street-level boulevard, you get more pollution. This is maybe a valid argument, but maybe not. The item just above points out that traffic moving through the city probably wouldn't use it. And if there are businesses along the boulevard, you trade the pollution for the revenue. Or, gasp, you improve your mass transit so people don't have to drive on it. Repeat: gasp.

It takes longer to get places. Sorry, but Syracuse shouldn't be in the business of making sure people can get out of the city quickly. And if it's people trying to get into the city from the suburbs, maybe they'll just move into the city so they don't have to worry about it.

You risk losing lives if people can't take the highway to the hospitals. I disagree. I think that most people who take the highway to get to the hospitals are either (a) living out in the middle of nowhere, when they could be moving into the city (see item above), or (b) not in danger of dying, if they're not taking an ambulance, which can do highway speeds on local roads. Also, figure if you take out the elevated portion of I-81 – not the whole thing through the city – you're getting off at the same exit if you're going to St. Joe's, or another exit a half-mile away from the current one if you're going to Upstate.

I can't think of any reason you'd leave the thing up, frankly.

Embracing the poison

There's a lot of poison in my body these days, although it's starting to leave, slowly.

It started when I was out at Chittenango Falls on Yom Kippur. I stepped on a wet rock, fell, and banged my left elbow.

I can now put weight on it via my hand and forearm, but I still can't lean directly on it. Worse, I keep banging it, even if just lightly, on my desk, on my car door, wherever. It's got one of those "holy crap! that's ugly!" bruises that doesn't hurt as bad as it looks, but it's still one of those injuries that sends bad blood through your veins.

The following Saturday – just over a week ago, now – I was stung multiple times by what I think was a yellow jacket. It somehow got entangled in my shirt, and it got me in the left shoulder and just below the navel, and probably dragged its venomous stinger under my skin for part of that journey. I'm not allergic to such stings, but as with any venom that gets put into your veins, the affected area was swollen. In fact, I'm going to estimate that more than 60 percent of my stomach and chest were swollen.

The swelling is definitely down (a little remains above my pants line, where my abdomen folding over a belt would get irritated), but I'm sure the poison's not out of my system. I'm a little paranoid, actually, of getting stung again, and if it happens soon, I'm going to the emergency room.

One thing Zach Phillips said at the 40 Below summit yesterday hit home with me. To create good art, he said, you have to embrace your pain, whether it's physical or emotional.

I've decided to go with that, and I'm starting to see art everywhere, even if I'm not capturing it. It's really uplifting.

40 Below Summit: Syracuse Exposed

I spent a good chunk of time Saturday at the fourth 40 Below summit. It was the second year I've gone.

The idea of this group is stop what's called brain drain – people either leave for college and don't come back, or they come here for college and leave.

If you can retain young people in the area and let them do great things, your area benefits. Dig?

Greg and Laura bounced around and saw a bit of everything, so if you want the overview, read the article.

I saw the opening film and panel, and then went to a panel on some of the projects going on downtown, and then saw some of the development.

The opening film, done by panelist Zach Phillips of Scherzi Studios, included a bunch of young Syracusans, including fellow panelist Suntrana Allen, who owns a North Side barber shop, and 40 Below chair Dominic Robinson.

The film's theme was essentially doing something good for your community, whether it be riding a bike instead of driving, taking care of people who need it, or recognizing that if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anything else.

After that, Phillips, Allen, Sharif Bey of Syracuse Kung Fu, 40 Below founding member Jessica Crawford of the Syracuse Research Center, and Alys Mann of the Near West Side Initiative.

They spoke about the challenges of deciding to be in Syracuse, whether they grew up here, left and returned, were transplants to the area, or if they'd been here their whole lives.

One thing struck me about all of them, because it's something I had to recognize in myself a few years ago: If we want this to be an amazing place, we have to make it that way. We can't sit and wait for others to do it.

I like the way Allen put it best: "If you want this to be your Atlanta, make it your Atlanta. If you want it to be New York, make it your New York."

The downtown development panel, moderated by my fellow 40 Under 40 winner Merike Treier, featured David Mankiewicz of the Downtown Committee, Andy Breuer of Adapt CNY, and Nick Ciotti of Syracuse 20/20.

Adapt CNY was created out of the first 40 Below summit, and their first project was to buy the Wilson Building. I helped clean out the building as part of last year's summit, and it's a gorgeous old building, built in 1898. Adapt, a non-profit, is renovating it for apartments and retail, and Breuer said they're close to signing with a preferred developer for the project.

Adapt CNY is beginning to look at other buildings.

The Downtown building has purchased three buildings adjacent to the Wilson building, and is going to work on those.

Ciotti's presentation was on a bit of a different subject. Syracuse 20/20's stated goal is "government modernization," which essentially means power concentrated in fewer places – rather than having lots of villages and towns in addition to the county and city, have just the local government, or just the county government.

Essentially, Ciotti focused on sprawl. He noted that between 1960 and 2000, the population of Onondaga County grew about 40,000 people – a little less than 10 percent. At the same time, the amount of land developed for homes – including roads, sewer lines, etc. – grew from about 60 square miles to just over 120 square miles.

So, you have a few more people living in twice the amount of space. He threw up a photo of a fire hydrant that had to placed in a particular spot due to regulations and sewer lines and everything, and there was no building within three miles. But because there was development in each direction passed it, it had to be placed there.

All the extra roads, utility cables, hydrants, sewer lines, this stuff costs money, and it's a reason taxes are so high.

Putting boundaries on future development and offering incentives to renovate vacant buildings – as Portland, Ore., has done since 1979 – are good ways to curb sprawl, Ciotti said.

I asked particularly Mankewiecz and Breuer a question that grew out of the CNY Speaks forums: will any of these apartments they're creating be affordable?

If we want the sort of people who work at non-profits and/or are at the early stages of their careers to move downtown to help revitalize the area, we can't expect they'll be able to pay $750 and up per month.

The answer is, sadly, mostly no. The former Masonic Temple will include both "market-rate" and affordable apartments, but they described most of the units being created downtown as "market-rate," which means they're going to price out people who aren't necessarily pulling in good money, and keep them only going downtown occasionally.

Which, frankly, I think is stupid. But I'm not a developer, and I don't necessarily understand market trends.

Overall, the self-guided (after the film and opening panel) format was, I thought, not-so-good. If you were already motivated and knew the city, you'd handle it pretty well, but if you're the sort of person 40 Below really needs – a potential convert, if you will, who didn't necessarily know the city and needed to be hand-held through some of it – it was really a hassle to get to the next place at the summit, without a guide to actually follow.

I'm looking forward to the 2009 version, and hope there's a return to action, like there was in 2007.

Reminder: College athletes are still kids

Syracuse University women's field hockey team
The 2008 Syracuse University field hockey team, courtesy of

College sports are big business. Really big business. Athletics – football and basketball, really – can bring tens of millions of dollars to a college.

Athletes are supposed to behave like they're representing companies worth tens of millions of dollars.

Remember, those athletes are college students. Generally somewhere between 18 and 22.

There has been a lot of complaining going on about Daryl Gross, the athletic director at Syracuse University. His biggest profile hiring was football coach Greg Robinson, who has taken a storied program and won eight games in four years.

But lower-profile sports have thrived under Gross, and the field hockey team is ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time ever.

Waiting for Funk 'n' Waffles to open this morning, I popped into Bruegger's for a cup of coffee to shake the chill out of my bones, and the field hockey team walked in to start their day, ahead of a game against UConn this afternoon.

That photo above may make them look grown up, mean, competitive, but the group of young women in bright orange skirts at the bagel shop was nothing like big and mean. It was a bunch of kids having coffee, wondering how many cars they had among them to get where they needed to go, and in general talking about things like Friday night.

You wouldn't think, sitting there, there was an aggressive bone among them. But we know there is.

It just reminds me how much weight we put on such young people, still working on finding their way in the world.

I hope you remember that as you watch the football team play South Florida this afternoon. We might be looking at a 40-point loss for Syracuse, or they might surprise us, like they did against Louisville last year. But either way, they're a bunch of young kids, and it almost seems unfair that the hopes of an entire upstate region are riding on their shoulders.

Involvement Fair 2

Crocodile Purse
Keep reading to find out why this purse made out of a crocodile was at the Involvement Fair.

I spent about five hours Thursday afternoon and evening at the second incarnation of the Involvement Fair, which is a project of the Civic Engagement Task Force of 40 Below.

If you're familiar with the concept of a job fair, that's pretty close. At a job fair, you have maybe 50 or 100 employers at tables in a large hall, and a bunch of people looking for jobs walking around, handing out resumes, and meeting their potential employers.

The difference here? You have a bunch of service organizations sitting at tables, and a bunch of people looking for volunteer opportunities walking around meeting representatives from the service organizations.

I handed out instruction sheets for using the Helping Out Blog, and also finding both new members and new organizational partners for CNY SPaRC.

There were 40-ish organizations there. Here are a look at some of them.

United Way of Central New York – If you're not familiar with United Way, you should be. In pretty much every decent sized market, UW sponsors a lot of small organizations that otherwise would struggle for funding and visibility. They also do work with larger, mainstream organizations.

Eastwood Neighbor Association – I don't live in Eastwood, but I do live pretty close (about a 15-minute walk). I'm excited to be getting involved in one of their projects: getting a multi-use skate park together. Some kids have been very involved with this project for a long time, and it's a unique idea – it will be a tri-level park in the woods, and it will be able to be used beyond just skateboarding and freestyle bicycling. I'm in the extremely early stages of being involved, so read often, as I'll be mentioning it frequently.

Center for Community Alternatives – Spend a lot of time learning about this organization from their Web site. Two of their programs that struck me were taking people who have done their time and working with them to find housing, employment and peer support; and getting to children as young as middle school whose parents have been "in front of a judge" (as they put it) to mentor them both with their schoolwork, and keeping them on the right path to make sure they don't wind up "in front of a judge."

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo – Next to the SPaRC table, a woman wearing a name badge identifying her as Ellen set up an elephant molar, a tiger-fur throw, a python skin, a crocodile purse (that's the photo above), and other stuff that you're not supposed to have. It turns out that when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service confiscates banned items at entry locations on borders, at ports and in airports, it tags them, then sends them to schools and zoos for educational purposes.

On Point For College – The gentleman behind the table for On Point (one of those organizations the United Way helps out) was living proof the program works. He had dropped out of high school and gone back for a GED, and then On Point helped walk him through the scholarship, financial aid and application processes. He went to the University of Buffalo and Cornell. They work with some fairly hard-luck kids, and do good work.

There were a host of other organizations, including Meals on Wheels, Girl Scouts, and some others you've heard of – and still others you haven't heard of. If you're looking for a little extra fulfillment in your life, there are plenty of ways to donate your time and expertise around here.

Want to get hooked up? Maybe we'll see you at a 40 Below Civic Engagement Task Force meeting. We meet the first Monday every month from 5:30 to 6:30 in the 18th floor conference room in the State Tower building. Regardless of the name, we don't require you to be under 40 years of age.

Book review: Gather Together in My Name by Tracy Price-Thompson

Tracy Price-Thompson writes like it comes from experience, and for those of us who will never know or directly understand that experience, it's beyond good, bordering on amazing.

Gather Together in My Name by Tracy Price-ThompsonAlvin C. Romer actually does a really good job summing up the novel, so I won't rehash his work.

What I do want to say about this book is that Price-Thompson writes amazing characters: characters with very human flaws, but super-human strength.

Maybe it's a common strength in the projects in Brooklyn, I don't know. Like I hinted above, I will never understand that experience directly (or, at least, it's highly unlikely).

This is a quick, astounding, plot-twist-driven read. It will be back at the library Friday around lunch time, if you'd like to go grab (and I recommend that you do).

Poverty isn’t just someone else’s problem

Today is Blog Action Day, a day when bloggers band together to hit on one topic. This year: poverty.

I'm going to focus on poverty in the U.S., because, well, I can't begin to imagine what it looks like in other countries. Countries that might be considered "underdeveloped," "developing" or, God help them, "poor."

We don't eliminate poverty in the U.S. until these three things happen:

(1) People recognize the sources and cycles of poverty
(2) People who aren't suffering realize poverty is their problem, too
(3) The federal government grows a brain about realistic guidelines

Let's look at item #3 first.

Federal minimum wage is $6.55 an hour, and goes up to $7.25 an hour next July.

If you work 40 hours per week, 52.5 weeks per year, at minimum wage, right now you're pulling in $13,755 now, and you'll be pulling down $15,225 next year.

According to this year's poverty level guidelines (PDF), right now you'd be below the poverty line for a family of two; next year you'd be above that, but below the line for a family of three.

Let's assume that someone making minimum wage pays no taxes. None.

Let's take John McCain's word that $5,000 will cover your health insurance.

Let's say you pay $500 in rent.

Let's say you drive a used car that you're paying $150 a month for.

Let's say you fill your gas tank once a week for $25 per week, and you skimped on the auto insurance so you're paying $50 a month.

Let's figure your heat and stove are electric, so you're averaging about $50 in utility bills all year round.

Everybody get $15,300? Have you eaten yet? Put down a co-pay on a doctor's bill or a prescription? Bought any clothes?

OK, maybe the car is a luxury, so let's knock of the $3,000 in car-related expenses.

But let's add $40 a month in bus fare and $10 a week in cab fare, since you can't load all your groceries onto the bus.

OK, so now we're at $13,300 in expenses for one person – again, we haven't eaten yet, we haven't been to the doctor, and we're still naked (not to mention sleeping on the floor).

The federal government's poverty guidelines says one person needs to make $10,400 a year to live. We've just racked up nearly $3,000 more than that, and we haven't even done some basics.

And if you're a single parent raising a kid? Forget about it.

Yes, there are social programs available, but they're getting cut left and right, and things are going to continue that way.

Minimum wage jobs tend not to have paid sick days, personal days or vacation. So, people working them are putting excess stress on their immune systems and are encouraged not to have any sort of family life. And if you're not emotionally strong enough to handle that? Too bad.

So people working minimum wage jobs tend to have little job security, and they bounce from minimum wage job to minimum wage job.

They see others around them – friends, parents, neighbors – doing the same thing, and don't learn how to break out of that rhythm or cycle.

#2 is a big one, too. People who don't consider themselves victims of poverty, have to lose the "I'm doing OK, why can't they?" attitude.

Everything from accidents of birth to circumstance to bigotry helps to keep a cycle of poverty going, and if you can't see that, maybe you need to spend a week actually walking in someone else's shoes.

Walk 6 miles to work one day because you spent the $2 bus fair on a can of beans and a pound of rice so you could eat for three days. Heck, keep your other comforts and consume only a can of beans and a pound of rice for three days – drink only tap water, give up the morning coffee and forget happy hour.

Figure out how you'd live if had to choose between paying your electric bill and your doctor bill, and when you've made that choice understand that your resulting bad credit keeps you from getting a checking account, so you have to carry around whatever cash you earn. Do your best not to get robbed, when everyone else around you could really use a sandwich.

You might complain about your taxes taking away your ability to live comfortably, but without taxes, governments can't provide services. No services means more poverty, especially if we're not going to regulate the industries everyone needs – insurance, pharmaceutical, etc.

Poverty is everybody's problem – yours, mine, the CEO of your company's, and yes (as the general election approaches), government's as well.

Wise up.