Author Archive

Visualization: 68 Blocks

December 15, 2012

Last week the Globe published the fruits of a year-long  effort to tell the story of one of Boston’s forgotten neighborhoods.

Mention Bowdoin-Geneva to the average “The Wire”-loving holiday shopper walking down Newbury Street and you’ll draw a blank. Few in the prosperous tribe that hugs the Charles have heard of it. But summer after summer, it’s a Dorchester neighborhood in the cross-hairs of gang violence, with a rate of violent assault three times that of the rest of the city.

This summer the Globe decided to go deeper than the usual “drive-by” journalism that follows shootings with an article or two, then disappears. So we rented an apartment in the heart of Bowdoin-Geneva and moved a small group of journalists in. They even slept there. The outcome is the sprawling 68 Blocks series, a 5-part, 25000-word newsvella.

And we didn’t stop at embedding ourselves in the physical Bowdoin-Geneva. What would happen, we asked, if we embedded ourselves in the virtual Bowdoin-Geneva, too? We looked at traces of the neighborhood’s lives left on YouTube, on Twitter, on Facebook – even vertical networks like We found fascinating conversations and expressions coming from these 68 blocks everywhere we looked. But one service clearly rose above the rest for the widely ranging way it reflected the neighborhood: Instagram.

Instagram was perfect because it showed people’s lives in an intimate way: their children, their homes, their moments and big and small. And it provided a great counterpoint to the main storyline, which is one of lives darkened by violence. Instagram showed that normal lives were being lived in Bowdoin-Geneva, too.

We started by saving links to every Instagram photo taken in the neighborhood over the summer. Then we built a tool that allowed an editor to browse through them regularly and pick out pictures that seemed to tell a story. We phoned the photographers, asked them about their picture, and recorded their answers.

Check it out here.

Also see a lovely post about the project by Rachel McAthy at, which has covered the Globe’sSandy-related Instagram work previously. blog post: Boston’s hurricane heroes of day drinking – caught on Instagram!

October 16, 2012


The world had Monday off. And on Instagram, half the world seemed to spend it drinking. That’s my takeaway from an afternoon spent staring at Snap, our fancy newsroom Instagram visualization tool.

My assignment was to find a story in the flood of storm-inspired images streaming from Bostonians’ phones. Day drinking emerged beautifully as a hot trend – rising above the too predictable shots of downed trees, flooded streets and lawn furniture on its side. These were young revelers, I felt, daring to love life on a carwash afternoon.

I waylaid them with comments on their photos, asking them to explain themselves. Seven responded. The result:



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Globe Ideas piece: Boston’s vanished New York Streets

September 17, 2012

I worked on this one for a few months in fall of 2011 and it sat in limbo all winter. Then, with news of lots of new development in the South End, it was revived on a quick deadline. The result!

In the desolate eastern reaches of Boston’s South End, at the corner of the Mass. Pike and Interstate 93, the old Boston Herald office sits empty. The paper’s staff decamped to offices in the Seaport District in January. Earlier this month, new details emerged of a redevelopment scheme for the area, currently under consideration by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. With a large residential and shopping complex called the Ink Block and other plans for apartments, shops, restaurants, and a hotel, developers hope to transform this light industrial zone into a vibrant, “18-hour” neighborhood.

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Phoenix profile: David Kornfeld’s High Noon

July 26, 2012

My longest piece to date, and my first outside the Globe. A profile of the Somerville Theatre’s head projectionist. Excerpt:

Ian was warning me about David again. As he led me up the back stairs, past a trash can with a length of 35mm film spilling out of it, he reiterated: David didn’t want to do this. David can be difficult. Don’t take David the wrong way. When we arrived in the cramped, neatly organized projection booth, David took up the mantra himself. Looking up from a Styrofoam bowl of takeout Chinese food, his first words to me were a self-deprecating heads-up: “Ian told you I’m prickly.” Then he told me he’d drop a projector on my head if I misquoted him in my article.

Within a couple weeks, he’d invited me into his cramped, neatly organized Somerville home to listen to Sergeant Pepper’s on a pair of scavenged movie theater speakers the size of refrigerators. He’d been raving about them; he spent years tracking them down, they were the best speakers. They were in his kitchen. They were six feet from each other and I sat between them on a swivel chair. I listened to “Lovely Rita” and it felt like I could hear the traffic on Abbey Road, molecules of air hitting the studio walls, the sound of George Harrison thinking. And that was even with David standing over me shouting things like, “IS YOUR MIND BLOWN OR WHAT?” every minute or so.

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Globe Ideas piece: MegaBoston!

July 26, 2012


In January, I wrote this piece for the Globe Ideas section. Fact-checking that graphic was intense! Excerpt:

Could Boston have become one of the world’s megacities? For Bostonians who treasure their dense, walkable urban space, it may seem like a shocking idea. But that was the ambition of a Brookline lawyer named Daniel J. Kiley, who 100 years ago this month submitted a bill to the Massachusetts Legislature that would have totally transformed the city, swallowing every municipality within 10 miles of the State House to create a unified “Greater Boston.”

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2nd Globe Ideas piece: Disappearing roadside markers!

July 26, 2012

From Oct. 2011, my second Globe Ideas section piece! It was the first time I got to work with the Globe’s News Graphics team. The inimitable Patrick Garvin designed the graphic. Excerpt:

 Robert Briere first remembers seeing the sign as a teenager in Sturbridge in the 1940s. Eight feet tall, it bore witness in bold capital letters to TANTIUSQUES, a local graphite deposit “valued by Indians for face paint, and by the white men for pencils.”
Sometime in the intervening years, Briere, a rural mail carrier, noticed that the sign had vanished. After retiring in 1989, now the president of his local historical society, he decided to investigate.

The state is scattered with historical markers like the one Briere had his eye on — sturdily constructed, painted black on aluminum, and prominently featuring the Commonwealth’s coat of arms. Instantly recognizable to most people in Massachusetts, they stand outside town greens, by cemeteries, on the sites of old battles or long-vanished mills.

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My first ink: Pigeons and Yachts

July 26, 2012

This was my very first professional, paid newspaper article, published on the back page of the Boston Sunday Globe Ideas section back in August of 2011. I did the fact-checking in the MGH Neo-natal ICU!


THIS MONTH, AS the runup to the 2013 America’s Cup gets underway, television viewers of the 160-year-old yacht race will see something new: high-tech graphic overlays for the ocean course, inspired by technologies like the NFL’s digital first-down marker. Larry Ellison, the Cup’s billionaire impresario, hopes the explanatory graphics will help capture the attention of mainstream viewers who know a lot less about sailboat racing than, say, baseball.

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WBUR piece on GlobeLab!

June 17, 2012

The space I run was profiled awhile back by Deborah Becker for WBUR’s morning edition. I had to do my regular lab tour with a mike in my face, which was disconcerting!

by Deborah Becker
BOSTON — As newspapers around the country struggle to be profitable in the digital age, The Boston Globe is taking some ambitious steps to marry old and new journalism.

The Globe created what it calls the Globe Lab, a space where employees are encouraged come up with ways to breathe life back into the newspaper industry.

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Gonna start blogging

January 31, 2012

Yep, I’m going to start blogging. VERY OCCASIONALLY. The idea is record life-changing milestones. I plan on having at least a few more of those, so do check back every four or five years.

old psychoastronomy sort of still exists. isn't it beautiful?