Giving iBooks a Try

This is not a post discussing the merits of Apple’s iBooks 2 announcement … that has been done all over the web. Instead I did what I typically do when a new publishing engine emerges, I try to publish content with it. So attached to this post is a first shot at publishing some content … and again, as I typically do, I grab content that exists and re-imagine it within the construct of a new platform. This is the same content that was published a long time ago by my team in the IST Solutions Institute via the D3 platform we utilized. I have since published this old content numerous times across various platforms including Drupal, WordPress, and MoveableType. Now it is reborn as an iBook — with a few extra pieces of media thrown in. This is not a full test and it certainly is not a “publishable” piece of work … although the process to get this much content packaged and online was next to nothing — maybe 30 minutes of work.

If you have an iPad you can download and install (I guess that is what happens when you click the link) this text into iBooks 2. The process of getting it onto the iPad seems a little slow and outmoded without the aid of the actual iBook Store. The link takes quite a bit of time to bounce me from Safari to the actual iBooks app on the iPad. I did sign up to be a publisher, but I have yet to receive all the information back from Apple even a couple hours after I submitted it. If I can find a way to become a publisher, this would be much simpler and would probably integrate very nicely with the new iTunes U functionality. I will keep looking at it.

Press Enterprise and Openness?

I and others have been critical about the lack of open and available news in and around Bloomsburg, PA over the last several weeks. It has been widely documented that the Press Enterprise offered two or three days of free digital distribution following the flood — primarily because they couldn’t deliver the physical paper to residents in flooded areas. After those first three days, the Press went back to posting daily stories behind a paywall.

Since the flood that has so devastated Bloomsburg, PA there have been several Facebook pages started to try and organize help and information for the people in town — many of whom have lost everything. Demands to the Press Enterprise to open their flood related information has been met with silence from them. Amazingly there have been so many people who have defended the approach by the Press, saying it is a business and we can’t expect them to give away the paper. That has been a faulty and mismatched argument from the beginning as I haven’t seen anyone demanding that all of the Press be opened, instead the focus has been on flood related images and news.

I haven’t been shy about sharing the numbers of views I’ve received for the 373 photos I posted openly to Flickr in the days following the flood. As a matter of fact, in a presentation I gave at the PA Newspaper Association’s Advertising Conference last week I shared that these photos were viewed 153,650 times from 9/11/2011 through 9/28/2011. What that tells me is that there is a market of need that wasn’t being filled by traditional channels.

Today, my wife shared with me a new page that appears in google search results for an open archive of 30 pictures from the Press Enterprise. The photos are shared in a gallery outside the paywall and are openly available to view and download. Like we have hoped from the beginning, the photos are excellent in that they are taken in the moment by newspaper professionals. Is the Press Enterprise listening to the pleas and (in my opinion) appropriately toned criticism? Perhaps, but either way we now have access to at least 30 images linked from the official newspaper site of the greater Bloomsburg area. I call that progress by any measure.

Altering the Rhetoric in Bloomsburg

In Friday’s Press Enterprise is a letter to the editor that casts a very critical view on town and University leaders in the days following the Bloomsburg Flood. The letter, written by a Bloomsburg resident titled, “Town’s attitude angers West Ender,” works to explain how it feels to live in the western part of town — to be branded “west enders” perhaps.

“You think we are fools who only have ourselves to blame for getting flooded. We choose to live in the West End so we got exactly what we deserved, right? We are uneducated and obviously not as “intelligent” as you, or we wouldn’t be in this situation…I live here because my home, like others in the flood zone, was passed down through generations of families.”

When I first lived on the Bloomsburg side of the Susquehanna River, I lived at 245 East Street in a pre-civil war house that my Dad bought at a bank auction. It was in the middle of an ever-increasing press from student housing. I am sure at some point prior to moving there in 1977 (from Wonderview) the whole of East Street were families. I loved living there. There were young families along third and fourth streets where we rode our bikes late into the evening year around. I wasn’t aware that I was living a different life than kids on Market Street. My friends weren’t children of doctors, lawyers, or professors (although my parents were). They were children of the town, almost all Bloomsburg natives. It was the best place in the world to grow up. It made me tough, it made me incredulous, and it made me love Bloomsburg.

We moved to East 12th street when I started 10th grade, but I always look back on my days on East Street as the best of my youth. Socio-economics didn’t matter to me and to this day they don’t. When I was a child, I heard people talk about divides in town, but I was too young and oblivious to really understand. I see it now. I am now reading the wedge issues in the Press and it makes me sad. And the sadness deepens when I read this from that same letter:

“Sadly, we are the ones cast aside; they’ll give us a token or two, but in their eyes we’re just idiots who live too close to the water.”

With that said, I now know the same pain those do in the western part of town — that when the water comes, it takes everything with it as it leaves. And in this flood it leaves more questions to engage in for the longer term than any clean up effort ever will.

Can we climb out of our rage and frustration to build a new sense of empathy? One of the things I find interesting about the letter is that it feels like it has been published to further divide the town, instead of bind it. I can completely understand where the author is coming from and I know it is from a position of anger and frustration. I feel both of those. I’ve walked the devastation in Bloomsburg. I am outraged by much of what has gone on, but I would also urge us to work to feel a sense of change happening.

The free trash collection was ended early, but it was brought back with clear instructions on how it would proceed after residents voiced concerns. The Block Party is a disaster, but the way the University came to the aid of the town has been inspiring. This is a chance for positive and restorative messages, ones I would love to see published openly in the Press Enterprise and online so people in and outside of Bloomsburg can engage in a new form of conversation regarding a town that is about one community and not multiples. What will it take for us to alter the rhetoric that has dominated our community for so long? Engaging that question is critical to our relief effort.

Update: This was submitted to the Press Enterprise as a letter to the editor.

Catawissa, PA

I am really curious about what has happened in the towns around Bloomsburg, PA. Catawissa, PA comes to mind as a place that had to have been hit so hard and yet I’ve not heard or seen a thing. It simply blows my mind that the only real reason I know about what has happened in Bloomsburg is because I’ve visited there. Now that I have a subscription to The Press Enterprise, you know the newspaper whose slogan is, “Serving Bloomsburg, Berwick, and Danville, PA,” I can easily keep up to date with those areas.

So now I begin to wonder who is serving a town as small as Catawissa, PA? And what about Orangeville, Benton, and Millville, PA? These are all towns with homes, churches, schools, businesses, and people. These are all towns I rode my bike to when I was growing up. Who is responsible for exposing their stories? Who is collecting them?

These are questions we should all be asking.


I woke this morning to a front page headline in the Press Enterprise titled, Don’t abandon us, Bloom. It is a piece focusing attention on the town’s decision to stop free trash pickup and the overall impact on the residents in town. When I first saw the headline I thought maybe I was reading an editorial, but the story signifies something deeper than that. To me it is another example of the type of narrative that is built to construct a wedge issue.

“We ripped it out so it wouldn’t grow mold,” Mr. Taylor said. “Now it’s getting moldy out there.” Dawn Taylor said no one on their block had a good idea when debris pickup would end. They heard through word of mouth about the Wednesday cutoff. “And a panic kind of set in,” she said. “Like, ‘What comes after that?'” The Taylors have flood insurance on their house, but not its contents. That means they’ll be paying to replace their washer, dryer, stove and all the other appliances lost when just under 3 feet of muddy water rushed through their first floor. “We don’t want to take advantage of the system,” Taylor said. But they don’t have much money to spare for a Dumpster rental.

In addition to the stories of my friends’ needs, what I really wanted to see in the piece were some real details about what FEMA would and wouldn’t do, but we’ve all seen in the last few days what has gone on with that argument in DC. We aren’t at a place where we should be ready to blame our local government when these issues are so much more complex than a binary decision. All this is new territory to us locally, but we have to remember that regardless of the rhetoric we’ve historically entered into a social contract of sorts — local communities can count on the Federal Government to help us not fail when disasters happen. And a disaster has happened — locally. With that in mind, I think that in the wake of the flood we remember what real abandonment looks like to the people in and around Bloomsburg. It looks like this:

That is the image of total loss, of the need to abandon, and the need to be emotional. Keri and her family lost their house today. It is so easy to say she’ll get relief, but I hope we can lean on some sort of empathy and feel for them in ways we aren’t usually asked to. Each day this is happening in Bloomsburg. Each day this isn’t being shared. Why? Here is another story from another Bloomsburg resident that has lost everything … someone I can guarantee you won’t see in the paper or on the nightly news. This is the new reality and this is yet another story that wouldn’t otherwise get told. These are stories of real abandonment. This is a Flood of Silence.

Bloomsburg, PA Ends Free Public Trash Collection

In the aftermath of the most devastating flood in the history of Bloomsburg, PA I personally witnessed some extraordinary work by the community to help with clean up. Students from both Bloomsburg University and Bloomsburg High School showed up at dozens of homes to scoop the mud out, strip walls, carry destroyed items to the curb, and so much more. I witnessed people coming from higher ground in unaffected areas to do the same for people they’ve never met. And all that help ended up on the curb.

DSC 2703

This morning I read in the Press Enterprise that the town has decided to stop collecting and disposing of the trash as a common good. I have mixed feelings about this as there is still so much to do, but I can understand the decision. Doing this costs money and now people seem to be taking advantage of the situation by placing an excessive amount of construction items in their curb-side piles. From the Press Enterprise article, Free flood pickups end, by Leon Bogdan,

“We wanted to help through the worst of it and get personal possessions that were ruined in the flood taken away quickly. But we started getting construction material now,” Mayor Knorr added. “The last thing we want to do is make it harder for people, but we had to decide where that line is to stop providing public Dumpsters. We’re still hopeful of getting some FEMA money. But if we find this is an undue hardship, we’ll evaluate it and go from there,” he said.

I was amazed at the work they did helping everyone take care of the trash — and remember, this flood happened on September 9, 2011 so the town has been at this for two weeks. If you could have seen the constant dumping of trash on the old tennis courts in the Bloomsburg Town Park you’d have a better idea of what the scale of all this is about.

DSC 2660

That photo above is from the Sunday following the flood while the image below is ten days later.

Trash Piles

I found the article from the PE’s teaser post to go buy today’s paper on Facebook this morning. Since I am a paid subscriber, I downloaded the PDF of today’s paper to read the article. Relatively fair reporting, but what I find amazing are the number of negative comments amassing on the Facebook page demanding the Town continue to do this for free. One in particular struck a chord with me and the parallels to the imperative to provide free and open access to flood news that I’ve seen …

God Forbid someone NOT profit from this flooding…..guess it was just a matter of time but let me tell you there are people out there who didn’t work their jobs for almost 2 weeks due to clean up do you really think they have the money the trash haulers want for bulk pick up or better yet for dumpster use. These townships should be ashamed.

I’m not sure the town needs to continue to do this for free, but they provided a very costly service for free for two weeks. The PE closed down as soon as 12th street and the west end of town was suitable for standard delivery. Those of us who criticized the Press in the days following the flood for not providing free access to critical information got lambasted on the PE Facebook page for wanting a free hand out. People said that the Press was a business and news cost money to produce. In fact a PE representative actually told me the same thing on a Facebook posting. Last I checked running a town is a business as well — with a real balance sheet that needs to be considered … I guess I just don’t understand the context well enough.

What I appreciated most was an incredibly measured comment in the article by an old friend from our days at Bloomsburg High School,

Keri Gaito, whose home in the 900 block of West Main has foundation damage and had 4 feet of water on its first floor, was grateful for the town’s help in hauling away four or five large loads of flood debris. “They did a real nice job. Took it out quickly. It was a big help. I can understand the town can’t keep doing it forever,” she said.

Providing critical services in the wake of a disaster like the Bloomsburg Flood is a critical link to restoring order to a devastated community. In my mind hauling trash for free, scooping mud because a neighbor needs it, or providing open access to critical pieces of news about the event are all part of a larger value chain leading towards recovery.

Keynote: 9/29/2011: Pennsylvania Newspaper Association

I have been invited to speak to the PA Newspaper Association at their annual get together happening in State College, PA. I will be discussing the role of social media in creating new types of conversations as it relates to today and the future of news. I am sure I will have quite a bit to say about the events of Bloomsburg and the notion of the cone of silence surrounding small communities.  It should be a challenging and interesting opportunity.

Talking About the Bloomsburg, PA Flood on DTLT Today

Last week I was lucky enough to catch the University of Mary Washington’s DTLT crew getting set to broadcast episode 40 of their daily web show. I saw in a tweet that they were planning to talk about the stuff I had been doing with social media around the Bloomsburg, PA flood and the apparent lack of news converge. I happened to be home, working in my home office when I replied to the tweet and asked if I could be a part of it. We got hooked up with Skype and the results are below.

I really can’t thank these guys enough for not only having me on, but for taking the time to really think about the things that are happening in Bloomsburg. The fact that they only know about this via the social web is astonishing to me and continues to point towards a need for a more open local news approach.