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DigBoston asks readers to chime in about our coverage, digital presence, and events


February 28, 2018



Frequent readers know that my colleagues and I on the new DigBoston staff like to hear from people from all the varied communities that make up our audience, talk with them, and hang out with them. So, it should come as no surprise that we’re very open to suggestions about what we do as a news organization and how we do it.


Nevertheless, we believe it’s important that we periodically extend a formal invitation to our audience—our extended community—to give us such feedback. To demonstrate that we’re not only amenable to two-way communication as journalists, but that we actively encourage it. And that, as we’ve said in the past, we think it’s impossible to be good journalists without it.


After running this paper for eight months, we can use specific input in three areas: our coverage, our digital presence, and our public events. We’d really appreciate it if respondents put some serious thought into their suggestions, and fill out the fast response form at the bottom of this page.



The heart of any news publication is obviously its content. DigBoston has a number of regular sections, including News, Music, Theater, Film, Visual Arts, Comedy, and Comics. In addition, we run Chris Faraone’s “Dear Reader” editorial weekly, a number of columns, opinion pieces when we have them, and my occasional editorials (like this one). Increasingly we also have big special features that dive deep into important issues of the day. And nice photos and artwork scattered throughout our publication and featured on the front page of our print edition.


In terms of feedback on our coverage, we’d like to hear: a) what people like and want to see more of, b) what people don’t like and want to see less of, and c) what areas readers think we don’t cover but should.


General responses are appreciated, but specific responses are always more useful to us.



In this era, it’s expected that a print newspaper like DigBoston will have a robust online presence. We do our best with limited resources, but we know that we still have a ways to go before we’re up to speed on this front.


The core of a good digital news operation remains a website. But now that more and more people are getting their news from phones, tablets, and traditional computers alike, websites have to be upgraded to display properly on a variety of screen sizes.


At least once a week these days, one or more readers will hit us up to complain about our website not being mobile-friendly. And we definitely hear them loud and clear. So this spring we’re building a new website that will look good on any device.


Still, since we’re just about to start work on that site, it’s a great time for folks to let us know what kind of other features they’d find useful on it.


We’d also like advice on a couple of innovations we’re planning to introduce on Namely, we’re thinking about eliminating ads from the site entirely, and about doing a pop-up on every web article that will take up the bottom third of the reader’s screen (like and invite them to become sustainers (in exchange for invites to special events, etc.) to help make sure that we’re able to keep providing you all with the kind of hard-hitting news coverage and fun arts and entertainment articles that you can’t find anywhere else in our region. Any advice on those moves would be super helpful.


Also, you can find every Dig article on no less than six social media platforms. We post to them pretty much every day. Here they are:



You can also subscribe to DigBoston content for free on the following news aggregators: Apple News, Google Play Newsstand, and soon Flipboard.


We even make the pdf of our print edition available on And help manage the recently-reactivated /r/bostonjournalism subreddit at


While that seems like a broad digital presence, there are new social media platforms and news aggregators starting up all the time. So we’d like to know if there are any we should be on, but aren’t. And are we using the platforms and aggregators in question in the best way? If digital mavens have any tips and tricks to share with us, please do.



We organize public events all the time, and participate in the events of other organizations as well. We do talks, workshops, courses, concerts, conferences, fairs, and festivals. We now also do a discrete amount of direct political activism by working for the abolition of nuclear weapons.


Are you with an organization—particularly a group rooted in one of the many Boston-area communities we cover on a regular basis? Do you like what we do at DigBoston? Are you running an event you’d like us to participate in? Or would you like to propose organizing an event with us? Then drop us a line.


And readers in general, are there events we’ve done that you have some input on? Are there events you’d like to see us do? Let us know.


Anything else I didn’t mention about DigBoston that you’d like to comment on? Then, again, please fill out the fast response form at the bottom of this page.


Look forward to hearing from you all.


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.


RTA bus


Gov. Baker’s proposed cuts throw gasoline on raging policy fire


February 21, 2018



A quarter-century ago, I lived in Lawrence for a few months. Because it was the closest place to Boston that I could find a cheap apartment on short notice. Unfortunately, I had a low-paying job in the city and couldn’t afford a car. So I took the commuter rail over an hour each way back and forth whenever I had a shift. Then at the end of the day, I was faced with getting to my apartment a couple of miles away from the station. Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) bus service ran near my place. But even in the early 1990s with a state budget that looks more humane in retrospect, it was infrequent at best. And my bus dropped me off a few blocks away from where I lived when it was running.


Now that was during rush hour on a weekday. If I got home later than early evening—especially on weekends—MVRTA buses had already stopped running. I moved there in December. And until I moved back to Boston the following March, through what proved to be a very cold winter, I would often get off my train, watch all but a handful of people get into waiting cars and leave, and then begin the long, frozen slog home. Across the Merrimack River, on sidewalks that were mostly unshoveled and roads that were indifferently plowed.

Standing in the middle of Duck Bridge one Sunday night in mid-February during a fierce snowstorm, I experienced a moment of nearly perfect alienation. The scene was completely desolate. No vehicles were on the road. It was pitch black except for the occasional street light with the darker black of largely abandoned textile mills looming in the middle distance. Snow was piling up all around me. The brutal wind off the water cut through my coat. My sneakers were entirely insufficient to the task of keeping me consistently upright—let alone keeping my feet warm and dry. And I remember thinking that if I had slipped and fallen into the river, no one would have the slightest idea of where I’d gone until spring. Because in the era before ubiquitous cell phones or texters, I could not have typed “aaaaaaah” to my girlfriend as I fell. So who would be the wiser?

Fast-forward to this week, and that memory immediately sprang to mind when I read the transportation section of Gov. Charlie Baker’s annual state budget proposal. And discovered that he’s planning to level-fund the 15 regional transit authorities (RTAs) for $80.4 million, according to the Mass Budget and Policy Center, while most Bostonians are focusing on the ongoing fight to keep the MBTA solvent. Authorities like the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority… which is already cutting back bus, van, and Boston commuter service and eliminating that Sunday service I kept missing in the early ’90s. Since level-funding means a budget cut, given annual cost increases. And it’s not looking like the legislature is likely to swoop in to save the RTAs later in our now-normalized austerity budget process.

After all, if the legions of working- and middle-class Bostonians that rely on public transit can’t yet force elected state officials to properly fund the MBTA, the smaller numbers of riders in outlying cities like Brockton, Fitchburg, Lowell, and Lawrence are in even worse straits. Especially when many of them are immigrants who can’t vote.

Yet the need for public transit gets more dire the farther you get from Boston. If you don’t have a car in places like Athol, Greenfield, Holyoke, and Pittsfield, literally your only inexpensive transit option is bus service run by your regional transit authority. Which I’ve already made quite clear is of limited usefulness at the best of times. RTAs don’t go everywhere riders need to go and don’t run many of the times riders need to use them. As I experienced during my brief, unpleasant Lawrence sojourn.

People without cars in the many parts of the state that aren’t reached by the MBTA’s main bus and subway lines are already at a major disadvantage in terms of their ability to access jobs, laundry, shopping, education, social services, daycare, and healthcare in the best of times. If RTA service continues to be whittled away year by year, eventually there will be no public transportation left in many locales. And taking an Uber or Lyft won’t be an option for people that can’t even afford a hike in bus fare. Even while those private transportation services are angling to replace public transit for those that can pay their largely unregulated fares.


That is no minor problem—lest readers think that only small numbers of people lack cars in Mass cities outside of the Boston metro area. It’s a major crisis. For example, according to a Governing magazine article looking at car ownership in US cities with a population over 100,000, 19.3 percent of Worcester households and 22.2 percent of Springfield households did not have a car in 2016. Meanwhile, my colleague Bill Shaner at Worcester Magazine just reported that “[t]he Worcester Regional Transit Authority Advisory Board voted to send proposed service cuts to a public hearing after decrying the possible changes as a ‘death spiral’ for the bus system.

He continued, “WRTA officials unveiled several possible measures to bridge a $1.2 million budget gap, due mostly to budget cuts to the RTA system at the state level. The possible measures include routes cut wholesale, cut weekend service, and diminished routes, which would increase wait times between buses.”


Both WRTA Board Chairman William Lehtola and WRTA Administrator Jonathan Church agreed that the system would “cease to exist in a few years” if the funding crisis continues unabated.


Meanwhile, the Republican reported that Springfield RTA “the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority has proposed a 25 percent across-the-board increase in fares and pass prices and a slate of service cutbacks, all to take force July 1.”


So make no mistake, this is a significant escalation in the war on Mass working families by Baker and any legislators that back similar cuts to public transit around the state. Cuts that RTAs have already been struggling with for years. As with the battle to save the MBTA and other public services, the RTAs can only be defended with a concerted fight from their riders. Whose goal must be to increase taxes on corporations and the rich in the Commonwealth, and to change state and local budget priorities to better serve the needs of all Mass residents.


Failing that, you’ll see a lot more people walking long distances in inclement weather statewide. And all too many of them won’t be able to escape their “transit desert” like I did. They will simply become more and more isolated. Until they literally disappear. The way I feared doing on a lonely bridge in the depths of a Merrimack Valley winter half a lifetime agone.


Townie (a worm’s eye view of the Mass power structure) is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


MBTA workers protest privatization. Image courtesy INVEST NOW.
MBTA workers protest privatization. Image courtesy INVEST NOW.


MBTA bus mechanics beat back privatization… at a cost


February 14, 2018



Unionized bus mechanics represented by the International Association of Machinists Local 264 won an important victory last week when they agreed to a four-year contract with the MBTA—effectively ending a two-year effort by the transportation authority’s Fiscal and Management Control Board to privatize three bus garages, eliminate 150 good jobs according to IAM District 15 Assistant Directing Business Representative Mike Vartabedian, and crush the union.


The attack on the bus mechanics, and all unionized MBTA workers, actually began in 2015 when Gov. Charlie Baker (with plenty of help from his pals at his old stomping grounds, the right-wing libertarian Pioneer Institute) pushed a three-year suspension of the landmark anti-privatization Pacheco Law through the Mass legislature as part of the annual budget. The suspension applied only to the T. Shortly thereafter, Baker appointed the five-member FMCB—one of them, Steve Poftak, being a former Pioneer staffer like the governor—to get to work privatizing a public transit system serving much of eastern Massachusetts.


Because, you know, reasons. Most of them involving transferring as much public wealth into private hands as possible. And freedom. For the rich to get richer and the poor to starve.


The 1993 law, officially known as the Taxpayer Protection Act, protects unionized state workers and the people of Massachusetts from outsourcing and related corporate malfeasance in six ways that the Institute for Local Self-Reliance was thoughtful enough to summarize:


  1. Agencies seeking to contract out a service must prove not only that the move would save money, but that it would save money even if state employees were to work in the “most cost-efficient manner.”


  1. Firms cannot win business if they’ll pay less than the lowest amount the state pays its employees for similar services.


  1. Every privatization contract must contain provisions requiring the contractor to offer positions to qualified regular employees of the agency whose state employment is terminated because of the privatization contract.


  1. The contractor must add lost tax revenues to the cost of the bid if any work is to be performed outside Massachusetts.


  1. Private bids must also include estimated costs of monitoring contractor performance.


  1. Public employees have the opportunity to submit bids to keep the work in-house and “the agency shall provide adequate resources for the purpose of encouraging and assisting present agency employees to organize and submit a bid to provide the subject services.”


In suspending the law, the Baker administration meant to allow corporations free reign to eliminate huge numbers of good unionized public transit jobs and replace them with bad underpaid jobs with few or no benefits and little security. All in the service of reigning in costs at a quasi-independent transportation agency that is only having budget trouble because the state government—including the dominant Democratic legislative leadership that absolutely does not put its money where its collective mouth is—refuses to return to fully funding it based on its actual needs (see my 2016 column “Squawk or Walk” for more background). Rather than hobbling the MBTA with insufficient annual support and then dumping a huge amount of Big Dig debt on it for good measure. Because that might involve finally raising taxes on corporations and the rich. And corporations and the rich don’t want that. Just ask Raise Up Massachusetts—the folks pushing for the upcoming referendum fight for the “Millionaires’ Tax” that would devote money to properly funding public transit, among other worthy goals.


The expected script happily got flipped by the Machinists union and the labor-led INVEST NOW coalition, who fought hard for many months to demonstrate that privatizing the MBTA bus garages was a bad move. For everyone but the fat cats that stood to make millions off the misery of T workers and T riders alike. Since the already-overburdened, underfunded T bus system would basically collapse without the skilled union mechanics keeping its bus fleet in good order for short money.


The union coalition and allies like Attorney General Maura Healey scored major points when they demonstrated that only one private transportation company, First Transit, had submitted a bid to run the T bus garages in question. The same company that paid a $7.3 million settlement to the Commonwealth in 2012 after backing out of a contract to run the T’s The Ride, a door-to-door service for disabled commuters.


Advocates and labor-friendly legislators—including the author of the Pacheco Law, Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), himself—testified to the Fiscal and Management Control Board that First Transit’s action resulted in a $66 million deficit for the state, according to State House News Service.


Ultimately, the union’s grassroots campaign worked, and the FMCB, the governor, conservatives from both parties in the legislature, and the ideologues at the Pioneer Institute were forced to back off this latest privatization push. But all battles exact a cost. So while the T bus mechanics scored a solid win overall, their new contract looks to be a mixed bag. On the upside, it keeps all nine MBTA bus garages plus one support facility in Everett public and includes Taxpayer Protection Act provisions that will help provide Local 264 members legal cover against privatization until the law’s suspension ends later this year.


On the downside, it forces the workers to accept low cost-of-living raises over the contract term and allows the T to bring in new workers for worse money and benefits than they would have started with previously, according to the Patriot Ledger. And, like the Carmen’s Union contract that preceded it, the Machinists’ agreement allows the T to hire private contractors to perform work outside its 955-bus core service. But only if they “maintain the same procedures and quality standards followed by the machinists,” according to Commonwealth magazine.


Since the devil is often in the details of such statements, it’s hard to tell if that will really stop T management from undercutting the union should bus service expand. Which it very well might—since the Boston Globe reported that T capital expenditures have risen under the Baker administration, even while it has done its level best to ram through cuts in operating expenditures on the backs of workers. Like the 406 bus mechanics and fuelers in Local 264’s MBTA bargaining unit, who are essentially having $4.1 million a year in concessions forced on them in the service of a completely avoidable budget deficit.


Still, all in all, the contract demonstrates that fighting for justice in the workplace remains far better than not fighting. If the union had been defeated, many workers would have lost their jobs and their families would have been immediately thrown into poverty. Their replacements would have been un-unionized and unable to easily defend themselves against T management. So, readers observing this fight should think twice before criticizing the bus mechanics, and think carefully about their own work situation. If your bosses decide to outsource your jobs to some fly-by-night company tomorrow, could you and your co-workers defend yourselves? For nearly 90 percent of American workers who aren’t unionized, the answer remains “probably not.”


The only thing that can change that sorry situation is for workers to stand their ground. Those of you interested in doing that should check out the website of the main US labor federation, the AFL-CIO, for more information on how to form a union at your workplace:


It’s not easy to do, no lie. I lost a job for helping lead a union drive not three years back. Fortunately, all the other workers in my former unit at that employer are now unionized. So it’s worth the risk. And it’s necessary. And everyone who lives from paycheck to paycheck should consider it.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


Apparent Horizon column North Andover MA collage


Moral panic hamstrings promising North Andover cannabis farm deal


February 6, 2018




Last fall, I wrote about the history of Osgood Landing—a large industrial facility in North Andover—as part of a column (“An Andover North Andover Deal?”) slamming a hasty bid to win the Amazon HQ2 contract put together by that town in partnership with nearby Haverhill, Lawrence, and Methuen. For decades, it had been a huge Western Electric manufacturing plant and AT&T research center, the storied Merrimack Valley Works—heavily unionized and employing over 12,000 area residents at its height. After the AT&T breakup in 1984, it began its downward slide. First under Western Electric successor corporation Lucent, then under French multinational Alcatel-Lucent—which killed the facility off completely by 2008. Blowing a hole thousands of jobs wide in the fortunes of a region that had already fallen far from its heyday as an industrial powerhouse between the 19th century and WWII.


A small company called Ozzy Properties bought the complex from Lucent in 2003 for a bargain-basement price at the time of its merger with Alcatel, and over the years has only managed to fill about 40 percent of its 1.8 million square feet with a grab bag of companies that together provide about 1,000 jobs and pay North Andover about a third of the $1 million in taxes a year on average that it used to get when Lucent owned the site, according to a 2017 North Andover Citizen article.


Well before town leaders decided to court Amazon to set up shop in part at Osgood Landing, its owner, Ozzy Properties’ Dr. Jeff Goldstein, had been floating a proposal to turn the unused 1.1 million-square-foot portion of the facility into one of the world’s largest indoor cannabis-growing farms.


After reviewing all the problems I thought that Amazon would be likely to bring to the area should the Merrimack Valley bid for HQ2 have prevailed (which we now know it did not), I closed my “Amazon North Andover” column by reminding the people of Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, and North Andover to remember the advice recently proffered by their own regional planners:


[T]he 2013 Merrimack Valley Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy produced by the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission stated, “The region’s best prospects for future economic growth are its local entrepreneurs.” Local entrepreneurs like the Osgood Landing owners, if they choose to start their marijuana farm rather than grab for the brass ring Amazon could offer them. A sustainable “growth” industry if ever there was one that could provide an estimated 2,500 good jobs to the region—two-thirds of which would not require college degrees. But it seems like local residents, perhaps with former Lucent employees in the lead, will now have to remind their elected officials. If not in lobby days and protests prior to an Amazon deal, then definitely at the ballot box come next election should such a disastrous initiative ever actually come to pass.


Fast-forward to last week and we find Goldstein trying to get his cannabis farm proposal passed by North Andover Town Meeting for the second time in under a year. Now projecting only 1,500 new jobs for the Merrimack Valley region, but upping the ante with a pledge to pay the town $5 million a year for 20 years—$100 million overall—for the privilege of doing business “around the corner” from where he lives. But the town meeting passed a ban on all recreational marijuana establishments instead. Preempting the planned vote on the bylaw changes needed to zone Osgood Landing for a marijuana business, and placing the future of Goldstein’s grand “Massachusetts Innovation Center” plan (which includes the farm and a medical cannabis “research campus”) in serious doubt.


Seems like an unfortunate outcome from this corner. And not just because of the usual fact-light, emotion-heavy prohibitionist antics on display at the latest town meeting dustup, according to multiple sources. For the kids, don’t you know. Who are busy getting baked as regularly as the parents who are now trying to “protect” them did when they were teenagers. No, I guess such behavior is only to be expected from North Andover’s still-robust contingent of downwardly mobile, middle-class burghers hoping to keep up bourgeois respectability by not becoming known as the “Pot Town” to some imaginary audience of tut-tutting social betters in Georgetown or Boxford or, god forbid, Andover—and which clearly had the effect desired by such retrograde anti-pot crusaders. Far better, apparently, to be known as yet another “Oxy Town” as they continue to fail to replace all the good jobs they’ve lost and turn to opiates to kill the pain of maxing out their last credit cards shortly before becoming homeless, am I right?!


But to my point, even if the planned cannabis facility ended up providing half the 1,500 jobs currently being promised by Goldstein and company—750 jobs—that would at least go most of the way toward replacing the 800 jobs and attendant tax revenue lost earlier in the decade when Converse and Schneider Electric both left North Andover (the former to Boston’s Seaport District, the latter to evil twin Andover). And while I’m not in the habit of suggesting that backing corporations as a municipal economic development strategy is any kind of optimal solution, at least Dr. Goldstein is offering to actually give $100 million to the town, rather than just trying to extract huge bribes from local government like most companies do when they set up shop pretty much anywhere these days.


Which is not to say that he hasn’t at least tried to benefit from government largesse before. He has, as when Osgood Landing was designated the Osgood Smart Growth Overlay District (yes, OSGOD, of all acronyms) in 2006. And there was supposedly a tax increment financing (TIF, aka a significant corporate tax break) plan of the type I often criticize attached to the district. But in a 2015 North Andover Citizen article, Selectman Rosemary Smedile was quoted saying the TIF wasn’t activated.


Regardless, it seems highly unlikely North Andover is going to find a better deal anytime soon. And certainly not with any company that has the kind of built-in market that an industrial cannabis concern would have in a state with a robust recreational market for the “demon weed.” What it will get instead is some version of the bad Amazon deal from large corporations that will demand millions in tribute from local and state governments before ever putting two sticks together anywhere near the town.


And that’s a shame. Now Goldstein will have to find a way to get some version of his proposal passed before his investors abandon him, or his clever idea for a modicum of municipal renewal (and a tidy profit to be sure) will go the way of most clever ideas. Into the dust heap of history.


While the teenagers of North Andover remain as stoned as ever.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


nuclear fireball


News weekly feels the threat of cataclysmic war is grave enough to warrant direct action


January 30, 2018



DigBoston—and this should be obvious, but it bears stating plainly—is against the US or any nation, organization, or individual having nuclear weapons. Because the longer anyone has them, the more likely it is that they will be used. And if one is used, there is a very significant chance that many or even all of the nukes will be used. Lest we forget that when the US had the first two atomic bombs in existence, and used one, it was very quick to use the second.


That’s why last week, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a journal founded in 1945 by Manhattan Project scientists who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work,” moved the hands of its famed “Doomsday Clock” up from “two and a half minutes to midnight” to “two minutes to midnight.” The clock has not been so close to “midnight”—meaning nuclear war—since 1953. Shortly after both the US and the former Soviet Union tested their first outrageously destructive hydrogen bombs at the height of the Cold War.


The journal’s reasons for taking this alarming step are many, and can be read on its website, But at base, it is dangerous changes to US nuclear policy under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump that threaten to overturn treaties that have led to decades of reductions to the global stockpile of nuclear warheads—from over 65,000 in 1986 to about 15,000 today—coupled with Trump’s escalating war of words with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that led to the clock being dialed forward.


Behind the bluster is the world’s largest military: America’s. Which for the last few months has been positioning conventional and nuclear forces within easy striking distance of North Korea. So when, according to the Wall Street Journal, some of the less sane Trump administration figures like National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster support the idea of giving the growing North Korean nuclear weapons program “a bloody nose” with a military strike using “small,” “tactical” nuclear weapons, the world takes notice. And the Doomsday Clock continues its unnerving march toward midnight.


Lest readers think such concern is overstated, Business Insider just reported that the US has deployed B-2 stealth bombers to Guam—joining B-52 bombers already stationed there. Both planes are capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Including the new B61-12 gravity bombs that, while not slated to be deployed until 2019, are supposedly able to take out deep bunkers with a minimum of damage and fallout. Which, together with their adjustable yield setting down to a fraction of the Hiroshima bomb, makes them more likely to be used, according to peace activists and defense officials alike. And a fraction of a bomb that destroyed and irradiated an entire city is still much more dangerous than the largest US conventional weapons. Not to mention the Pandora’s box problem. Since once the US opens that figurative box by using nukes in battle, there’s nothing to stop other countries from doing the same. Least of all North Korea.


Russia and China have been frantically trying to get the US to pursue a diplomatic path to peace with North Korea, but to no avail. At a time when the US no longer has any nuclear disarmament negotiations in progress with Russia, a nation with 7,000 nuclear warheads—the most of any nation—and tensions are rising with China, which has 270 warheads, that is most disturbing news indeed.


Because the path from the “bloody nose” of a few “smaller” nukes like the B61-12 dropped on North Korean nuclear weapons sites—or sites that Pentagon planners assume are nuclear weapons sites despite having been wrong before due to poor intelligence on North Korea—to a global conflagration is crystal clear. Since the ironically named “Demilitarized Zone” between North and South Korea is the most heavily fortified place in the world. And 35 miles south of the zone is Seoul, the capital of South Korea.


If the US nukes North Korea, then Kim Jong Un would have every reason to nuke American targets that North Korean missiles are probably capable of reaching in the Pacific basin—and even Seoul itself in retaliation. Followed by other nuclear strikes, using precisely the same “use ’em or lose ’em” strategy that the US has followed since the dawn of the Atomic Age, according to Daniel Ellsberg—who recently released a book about his decade as a senior American nuclear strategist prior to his leaking the Pentagon Papers and helping end the Vietnam War.


Once nukes are flying, therefore, there’s nowhere to go but down. North Korea has somewhere between 10 and 60 warheads—depending on whether you believe the lower estimates by peace groups like the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons or the higher estimates by US government sources—and its quest to figure out how to miniaturize nukes to fit on its short-, medium-, and now long-range missiles has been a precipitating factor in the current crisis. The US, for its part, has about 6,800 warheads overall. About 1,800 of which are deployed, according to 2017 data from the Federation of American Scientists.  


The American military would be dropping nukes on direct orders from a president with all the powers of his predecessors to use them at will with no check from any other branch of government. The weapons would strike a very small country that shares borders with Russia and China—two rival superpowers with huge armies and thousands more nuclear weapons between them. A couple of miscalculations involving unexpected fallout yield or an errant strike due to a jammed guidance system or any number of other unforeseen occurrences with incredibly dangerous nukes and it’s bye-bye Vladivostok and adieu Yanbian.


An unauthorized US flyover of Russia or China or the entry of a US fleet to their territorial waters during attacks on North Korea could also result in a nuclear response from either country—especially should the US lower the bar and start using nukes in combat again. And North Korea, with nuclear weapons that are hardly the most accurate or stable, could easily make mistakes that would draw Russia or China into a shooting war. Even though North Korea has stated that it is “only” targeting the US with nukes, according to Newsweek. The possibilities for error are endless in a conventional war, let alone one involving nuclear exchanges. So it’s easy to see how any use of horrific weapons of mass destruction can quickly put the entire world on the fast track to Armageddon.


For these reasons, and many more besides, DigBoston cannot stand on the sidelines and remain silent while the threat of a war that would exterminate the human race rises by the day. To do so would be an abrogation of our moral and ethical responsibilities—not only as journalists, but as human beings.


And if the planet is destroyed, journalists like us aren’t going to be able to report the news anymore, now are we? Nor will our audience have any use for it in the hereafter.


As such, this publication is joining the swiftly reviving movement to abolish nuclear weapons.


We plan to participate in the following ways:


  1. Open our pages wide to opinion articles calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons, as we continue to editorialize about same.
  2. Produce an ongoing series of columns, features, and investigative reports in the public interest exposing Massachusetts institutions involved in developing, producing, and/or profiting from nuclear weapons.
  3. Work directly on campaigns to abolish nuclear weapons with local, national, and international peace organizations—adding the name of our publication to the growing list of civic, social, religious, professional, and business organizations in tandem with the 56 nations that have already signed the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in saying that the only sane nuclear weapons policy is to mandate a world without such weapons.
  4. Help organize our colleagues in the news industry to join us in the fight to abolish nuclear weapons.


We’ll talk about more specifics over the coming months, but anyone with questions about our stance is welcome to email us at


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.


Image via Environmental Defense Fund
Image via Environmental Defense Fund

As Earth approaches several catastrophic global warming “tipping points”


January 24, 2018



Before writing more columns examining Boston city government’s emerging plans to cope with the effects of global warming, I think a quick review of what area residents are likely to face in the coming decades is in order. Because it’s important to disabuse people of the idea that we’re dealing with “just” a handful of significant problems over time—a rise in air temperature, an increase of extreme weather events, and a rise in sea level—that those problems are isolated to just Boston or the United States, that they are going to continue until the end of the century and then stop, and that there are some simple things we can do to prevent those problems from becoming unmanageable.


The reality is far more frightening. According to Mother Jones, “In 2004, John Schellnhuber, distinguished science adviser at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, identified 12 global-warming tipping points, any one of which, if triggered, will likely initiate sudden, catastrophic changes across the planet.”  


There’s been much research and debate since that time about which systems can be considered tipping points and which ones need more research before we can be sure, but the Environmental Defense Fund has a page on its website with an overview of the latest science. It’s called “Everything you need to know about climate tipping points” and you should read it in full. But here’s a quick summary of the tipping points that the Earth is passing or on its way to passing. Largely due to humans continuing to burn CO2-producing oil, gas, and coal decades after it was known to be suicidal to do so.


1) Disappearance of Arctic Summer Sea Ice

The poles are warming faster than the rest of the planet. In the Arctic, sea ice has been melting much more quickly than it used to for much more of every year as the average global temperatures rise year after year. Scientists are now predicting ice-free Arctic summers by mid-century. The less of the year that ice covers the Arctic, the less sunlight is reflected back to space. Sunlight that is not reflected warms the Arctic Ocean, leading to other problems and more global warming overall.


2) Melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Of particular concern to Bostonians because of our relative proximity to Greenland, the melting of its ice cap may continue for the next few hundred years until there is none left. Unlike melting sea ice that doesn’t add water to the world’s oceans, melting ice from land does. This will ultimately result in global sea level rise of up to 20 feet, and the process is underway.


3) Disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

This tipping point may already have been passed—with the West Antarctic ice sheet already starting to collapse. Like the Greenland ice sheet, it too is expected to take hundreds of years to finish melting, but when it does it could raise the global sea level up to 16 feet.


4) Collapse of Coral Reefs

With oceans already warming and becoming more acidic, the algae eaten by the coral that make up the world’s often huge and spectacular reefs is being jettisoned, resulting in coral bleaching. This process weakens the coral and hastens its death. Which is accelerating the destruction of marine spawning and feeding grounds globally with dire consequences for many nations whose economies rely on them—and for biodiversity. Scientists now predict that the remaining coral reefs will collapse before there is rise in the global temperature of 2 degrees from the old normal average. Most climate models show the world reaching that threshold before the end of this century.


Beyond these, there are several other expected tipping points being studied: the disruption of ocean circulation patterns from the massive influx of fresh water from melting ice (especially in the North Atlantic, which would play havoc with Boston’s climate), the release of marine methane hydrates (which would accelerate the global warming already being caused by the CO2 emissions considered the main cause of climate change), ocean anoxia (a process creating growing oxygen-deprived “dead zones” in our oceans that can no longer support most life, aka “bye bye seafood”), the dieback of the Amazon rainforest (caused by human activity like cutting down huge numbers of trees with devastating consequences for biodiversity coupled with the loss of a major CO2 sink), the dieback of the boreal forests (still being studied, but means the death of more vast forests in and around our latitude of the planet), the weakening of the marine carbon pump (the Earth’s oceans have been absorbing much of the excess carbon in the atmosphere, but through this process will become less effective at it), the greening of the Sahara (some positive effects would come from this, but many basic ocean life forms rely on nutrients from the desert sand blowing into the ocean and will be negatively affected by losing it), and the increasingly chaotic Indian summer monsoons (could result in extensive drought in one of the Earth’s most populous regions).


Other processes underway may also be potential tipping points, including the collapse of deep Antarctic ocean circulation, the appearance of an Arctic ozone hole (joining the existing Antarctic ozone hole in causing rising UV levels in the Arctic with various negative effects), the aridification of the US Southwest (as moisture moves to the upper Great Plains), the slowdown of the jet stream (which could leave more weather systems stuck in place for weeks at a time, including extreme systems like our recent polar vortex-induced cold wave, among other negative effects), the melting of the Himalayan glaciers (which help provide fresh water for much of South Asia’s population), a more permanent El Niño state (which could result in more drought in Southeast Asia and elsewhere), permafrost melting (which results in more CO2 and methane being released, accelerating global warming further), and tundra transition to boreal forest (with uncertain effects).


Adding the above to the general effects of global warming that we’re already experiencing—areas that got lots of rain getting less and areas that got little rain getting more rain storms for more of the year, hotter temperatures overall leading to an array of bad effects like tropical diseases moving north, and the “sixth extinction” of large numbers of species of animals and plants—and keeping in mind that this is happening everywhere around the planet, readers should understand that we’re not facing a localized crisis.


And remember, all the processes mentioned above are interlinked in complex ways that are absolutely not fully understood by our current science.


So Boston is not just going to “trial balloon and town hall meeting” its way out of this array of existential crises. Surviving even one of the major problems caused by global warming—like the flooding from rising sea levels I wrote about last week—is going to be very difficult… and very expensive. And who’s going to pay for it? Well, going forward, in addition to pointing out that we’ll have to devote an ever-increasing percentage of public budgets to these problems, expect me to call for the corporations that started and continue to profit from global warming—the oil, gas, and coal companies—to pay for cleaning up the mess they created. To the degree possible. Which might not be sufficient to the monumental tasks at hand.


Still, it will be critical for Boston to join municipalities like New York City in suing the carbon multinationals Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and others for redress. While divesting the city from all investments in those companies’ stocks. And suing, and ultimately deposing, governments like the Trump administration that are aiding and abetting these corporations’ destruction of the planet.


Failing that, Boston and all of human civilization is literally sunk… burned… and perhaps ultimately suffocated. Dying not with the bang of nuclear war—itself a fate we also need to organize immediately to avoid given the federal government’s return to atomic sabre rattling—but with an extended agonizing whimper.


It’s up to all of us to stop that from happening.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.




Unless Boston builds proper defenses against global warming-driven sea level rise


January 17, 2018



So, Boston’s Seaport District flooded early this month during a bad snowstorm in the midst of several days of arctic temperatures. And nobody could be less surprised than me. Because I’ve spent a lot of the last quarter century closely following developments in the science of climate change. And the “bomb cyclone” that caused the flooding, and the polar vortex that caused that, are both likely to have been caused by global warming. Yale University Climate Connections just produced a great video that features several luminary climate scientists explaining why at Definitely check it out.


No question, though, that it’s good to live in a region where local government at least recognizes that global warming is a scientific reality. The city of Boston is certainly ahead of most municipalities in the US in terms of laying plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to become “carbon neutral” and to deal with some of the anticipated effects of climate change. Particularly, flooding from inexorably rising sea levels and increasingly powerful and frequent storms. Which the more reactionary Boston TV newsreaders still insist on calling “wild weather.” But its plans are largely just that… plans. And they are still incomplete and, frankly, woefully inadequate to deal with the magnitude of the crisis facing us all.


Boston city government has initiated an array of climate change initiatives, including Greenovate Boston, a section of the Imagine Boston 2030 process, and—most germane to this discussion—Climate Ready Boston. They are all producing very nice reports grappling with some of the challenges to humanity presented by global warming in the decades to come. But the reports are written by planners and experts who are clearly pulling their punches for reasons that remain somewhat opaque. And in doing so, any good that might come out of the reports and the policy actions that will result from them is essentially undone.


A look at metro planning on global warming-induced flooding is a good way to illuminate the problem in question. The Climate Ready Boston program released a 340-page report in December 2016 that was meant to be a comprehensive assessment of the threats presented to the city by global warming—with plans for possible correctives. It does mention the idea of building giant dikes, storm barriers, and retractable gates (which they call a “harbor-wide flood protection system”) across Boston Harbor as the method with the most potential to save much of the city from major flooding. Which makes sense since Mayor Marty Walsh signed a 2015 agreement with Dutch officials to work together to manage rising sea levels, according to Boston Magazine. And the Dutch are recognized world experts on giant storm barriers and hydroengineering in general, lo, these last few hundred years.


But there’s no firm commitment for harbor-wide defenses in the report. Yet it should be obvious that they are absolutely necessary if Boston is going to continue as a living city for even a few more decades. At least Amos Hostetter of the Barr Foundation—who is a major player in Boston’s climate efforts—put up $360,000 for the UMass Boston Center for the Environment to study their feasibility last year, according to the Boston Globe.


More concerning than its waffling on building big dikes, the big Climate Ready Boston report chooses to focus on the possibility of sea level rise of no more than 3 feet by 2070—although it allows that a rise of 7.4 feet is possible by 2100:



The highest sea level rise considered in this report, 36 inches, is highly probable toward the end of the century if emissions remain at the current level or even if there is a moderate reduction in emissions. … If emissions remain at current levels, there is an approximately 15 percent chance that sea levels will rise at least 7.4 feet by the end of century, a scenario far more dire than those considered here.



Similar caution is on display with an October 2017 Climate Ready Boston report called “Coastal Resilience Solutions for East Boston and Charlestown”—focusing on tactics to protect two Boston neighborhoods on Boston Harbor at high risk for flooding caused by global warming. Once again, the authors’ assumption is that global warming-related sea level rise in Boston will be no more than 3 feet higher than year 2000 figures by 2070. Even though such estimates—which we have already seen are conservative by Climate Ready Boston’s own admission—also indicate that we could face 7-plus feet of sea level rise or more by 2100. And even higher rises going forward from there. Because sea level rise is slated to continue for generations to come.


What’s weird about such methodological conservatism is that a 2016 paper in the prestigious science journal Nature co-authored by a Bay State geoscientist says the lower figures that all the city’s climate reports are using already look to be wildly optimistic.


According to the Boston Globe:



“Boston is a bull’s-eye for more sea level damage,” said Rob DeConto, a climate scientist at UMass Amherst who helped develop the new Antarctica research and who co-wrote the new Boston report. “We have a lot to fear from Antarctica.” … If high levels of greenhouse gases continue to be released into the atmosphere, the seas around Boston could rise as much as 10.5 feet by 2100 and 37 feet by 2200, according to the report.


What’s even weirder is that the same UMass scientist, Rob DeConto, co-authored a detailed June 2016 report for Climate Ready Boston called “Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Projections for Boston: The Boston Research Advisory Group Report” with 16 other climate scientists that look at an array of possible outcomes for the city—and include a discussion of the higher sea level rise figures mentioned in the Nature paper. The report concludes with an admission that current science doesn’t allow for accurate predictions of climate change in the second half of the century. All the more reason, one would think, that models predicting higher than anticipated sea level rise should not seemingly be dismissed out of hand in other Climate Ready Boston reports.


The Globe also reported that a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says Boston can expect a sea level rise of 8.2 feet by 2100. Both 8.2 foot and 10.5 foot estimates are higher than the 7.4 foot estimate that Climate Ready Boston says is possible by 2100, and well above the 3 feet that it is actually planning for by 2070.


The same team that produced the larger Climate Ready Boston report authored the East Boston and Charlestown report; so they are doubtless quite well-aware of all this. Which is evident in this sentence about the (insufficient) extensibility of their proposed neighborhood-based flood defenses: “If sea levels rise by more than 36 inches, these measures could be elevated at least two feet higher by adding fill, integrating structural furniture that adds height and social capacity, or installing deployable flood walls. With this built-in adaptability, their effectiveness could be extended by an additional 20 years or more.”


The point here is not that the Boston city government is doing nothing about global warming-induced flooding. It’s that the city is potentially proposing to do too little, too late (given that most of the flood defenses it’s proposing will remain in the study phase for years, and many will protect specific neighborhoods but not the whole city when finally built), for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Though it’s probable that those reasons are more political and economic than scientific. Avoiding scaring-off the real estate developers and major corporations that provide much of the current city tax base, for example. The kind of thing that will make life difficult for politicians who then make life difficult for staffers and consultants working on global warming response plans.


Regardless, if experts like the Dutch are basically saying, Boston really needs to build the biggest possible harbor-wide flood protection system to have any hope of surviving at least a few more decades, then we can’t afford to do one of the more half-assed versions of the big cross-harbor storm barrier plan mentioned in the original Climate Ready Boston report—or, worse still, fail to build major harbor-wide defenses at all. If major studies by climate experts are saying that 3 feet of sea level rise by 2070 and 7.4 feet by 2100 are overly optimistic figures, then we need to plan for at least the highest reasonable estimates: currently, the NOAA’s 8.5 feet or, better yet, the Nature paper’s 10.5 feet for the end of the century. It’s true that we could get smart or lucky and avoid those numbers by 2100. But what about 2110? Or 2150? Or 2200? Sea level rise is not just going to stop in 2070 or 2100.


Are city planners and researchers willing to gamble with the city’s fate to avoid sticky political and economic fights? Let’s hope not. For all our sakes. Or the recent Seaport District flood—and numerous other similar recent floods—will be just the start of a fairly short, ugly slide into a watery grave for the Hub.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.




If a DigBoston article inspires you, take action to right wrongs


January 3, 2018



As each new year arrives, DigBoston staff—and journalists in general—like to offer some thoughts for the 12 months to come. These missives often take the shape of admonitions, wish lists, or resolutions, and the subjects covered can be literally anything that comes to our minds. So they’re typically fun to write. But now that I help run a metro weekly newspaper, I find myself thinking a lot about the mechanics of how news media works, how it’s used by our audience, and the role it plays in our troubled democracy.


And I feel that this year it’s worth saying something that may seem obvious at first glance, but isn’t: Good journalism isn’t meant to be passively consumed. It’s meant to be acted upon.


As a journalist, I spend a lot of my time writing articles about social and political ills affecting area communities—as do many of my colleagues at DigBoston in one way or another. We do this not because we expect someone to stick gold stars on our foreheads, but because we sincerely hope to inspire our readers to take notice of the real-life problems Bostonians face day to day… and take action to resolve them. We think that this is precisely the role that journalists must play in a democracy, if we’re serious.


What journalists cannot do—as I put it to a critic of one of my recent pieces—is, having led the proverbial horses of our readership to the water of knowledge, shove their heads into the trough and make them drink to the point of wanting to effect social change.


So it’s up to the public—you, reading this newspaper or consuming any news media of any type—to either act upon what journalists say, or not.


Just remember that without readers getting active on issues journalists raise, nothing much happens in a political economic system that’s spiraling downward toward oligarchy. Especially in this era of information overload.


Which is why I’d like to encourage DigBoston readers to do the following three things with our journalism—be it our news features, columns, investigative reporting, or critical arts and entertainment articles—going forward:


1) Learn More

After first reading an article that’s trying to redress a societal grievance, process it awhile. Then, if you decide that it’s really speaking to you, return to it again. Note the issues at stake, go online (if you’re not already), find other articles that relate to those issues, and read them for more background. Advanced readers may also look for related academic articles and books for a really deep dive.


2) Survey the Field

Once you have a better handle on the issues, look up the people mentioned in Dig articles and/or the organizations they work with, and determine who seems to be trying to right whatever wrongs are under discussion. Find their websites and social media presences. If you go to our website, we’ll often provide links; so you can just click and easily find the information you need. But if we don’t, just google the people and institutions that look to be on the side of the angels. After that, don’t forget to take a look at any “bad guys” mentioned too. Maybe you’ll decide that there’s no harm, and therefore no foul. And that will be that. But if you agree there is a problem that needs fixing, and think that you’re just the person who should help fix it, then proceed to the final step.


3) Act

If you decide to get involved in a fight we write about in DigBoston, you’ll typically have two options. Either find an advocacy organization (or sometimes a public figure) that is mentioned in the article you’re reading, contact them (any good organizer will make it easy to do so), and ask them how you can plug in. Or, and this is the tougher route, if you’re really inspired to get active on an issue mentioned in one of our articles, and no one seems to be working on it yet, consider starting your own advocacy organization. Even if the group is a simple neighborhood committee consisting of family members and neighbors, that’s a great start. Particularly if the issue of concern affects you directly at the local level. If that seems like more than you can handle, then do whatever you can do out of the gate. Write an outraged email. Call up some big bad you read about, try to get them on the phone, and give them a piece of your mind. Donate to an advocacy group you think is doing good work. Vote for a politician that you think is a champion on your issue, and decent overall.


Once you’ve taken that action step, you might find it gives you a sense of accomplishment. If so, take another one. And another. And soon enough, you won’t just be reading the news… you’ll be making it. Which would please all of us at DigBoston to no end. Because then we’ll really know that we’ve done our job by turning a passive spectator into an active participant in the revival of our democracy. And we’ll know that 2018 will be a good year for our brand of community journalism in the public interest.


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.





Let them call us rebels, and welcome…


December 27, 2017



If you had asked me 14 months ago if I thought that I’d have a shot at taking over the management of DigBoston with my partners Chris Faraone, John Loftus, and Marc Sneider, I would have said “nah.” Yet six months ago we did just that, after effectively running the paper for the previous six months. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to publish the only remaining alt newsweekly in a major American city. In a difficult period when the fate of our democracy is at stake.

So my year in review piece has to be a look at what we’ve done with that chance—aside from completing the obvious task of producing 52 issues of hard-hitting locally focused journalism this year.

For starters, we know that DigBoston can only succeed as a collective effort. And as a first order of business, we set about contacting dozens of folks who had already worked with the paper in the past to tell them that we were ready to set Dig to rights, stabilize our operation, and begin expanding. These things we have done.

Second, we carried on the tradition we had from working on the nonprofit Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism of building alliances with other publications. Which is why you’ll note we’re running articles simultaneously with those allies on a regular basis. Journalism in the 21st century is not going to succeed with news outlets that view themselves as isolated islands. We believe the only way to move forward is to stop being territorial, build bridges of mutual aid and solidarity between like-minded media enterprises, and figure out ways to work more closely together over the long haul. The better to expand all of our reach and scope.

Third, we began recruiting new talent. We even put out a call for interested native working-class Bostonians to join our reporter pool—whether they are trained journalists or not—and will shortly begin training up untrained applicants who answered that first of what will be an ongoing series of calls. Because we do not think it’s possible to cover local news properly without fielding a solid number of journalists who were born and raised in and around Boston. And if there aren’t enough trained journalists that meet those criteria, then it’s our responsibility to teach them.

Fourth, we are not interested in the recent fad of “engagement” in journalism circles. It’s artificial and doomed to fail like all the other initiatives coming out of what some correctly dub the “foundation-industrial complex” and the academic centers it lavishes money on apropos of nothing. We are part of the communities we cover and believe that we cannot be good journalists if we’re not in constant communication with those communities. So you’ll see us at more and more public events, and notice us cooking up different schemes to be helpful to our audience in more concrete ways with every passing month. Such practices also have the salutary effect of helping us meet more talented folks from all over the city. Ensuring that our organization becomes more and more diverse by every metric—a specific goal of ours—organically over time, rather than in some forced, scripted, and ultimately ineffective fashion cribbed from the pages of some disingenuous HR manual somewhere. As with certain governments and corporations we could (and often do) name.

Fifth, we are pioneering a hybrid news model linking our nonprofit and for-profit wings that is helping us solve the difficult problem of how smaller community news outlets like DigBoston can afford to produce expensive but vitally important investigative news reporting. With more punch and élan than the remaining major news outlets are generally capable of in this era. Our concept is straightforward. We simply continue to run the aforementioned Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism that we launched two years prior to taking over this newspaper—raising donations to pay directly to our growing army of highly experienced talent to produce long-form investigative features and series. And publish them in DigBoston, which couldn’t pay for as much journalism without that arrangement. BINJ syndicates those stories free of charge to other news outlets in our network. We’re also working to spread this hybrid model around the country. In the interest of doing our bit to stop and ultimately reverse the rolling collapse of the American news industry… due in part to lack of ready money for news production.


Sixth, we remain fiercely independent. We are not beholden to the powerful interests that appear to be doing their best to run American democracy into the ground. And we don’t think it’s possible for honest journalists to approach our work in any other way.


Seventh, we continue the alternative journalism tradition of seeking to be fair and accurate in all our reporting. But we join other American alt weeklies in criticizing “objectivity”—the idea that journalists can somehow remove our opinions, and therefore ourselves, from our articles. Because we don’t believe that it’s possible or desirable to do so.


Finally, I think we’re doing our best to run DigBoston like a big, riotous, but deeply caring family. My partners and I certainly wouldn’t have it any other way, but neither would the incredibly talented staff we’re assembling from all walks of Boston area life. And it is they who make this whole mad, yet utterly necessary enterprise in the service of a democratic society possible. So here’s to them! And here’s to DigBoston! And here’s wishing all of our growing crew—and all of you—a very happy new year! Up the rebels!


Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.



Making can be cool, but conscious making is cooler


December 19, 2017



For many of us living in and around Boston in recent years, it has become common to see lots of communications from makerspaces around holiday time. Which is totally understandable. Such creative centers produce neat things year-round, so it’s only natural that their members would turn to producing gifts like busy elves (and holding workshops about how to produce gifts like… um… smart busy elves) as fall turns to winter.


However, if you’re someone who thinks critically about social institutions and their interaction with technology, then you might join me in feeling some concern about the trajectory of these spaces. Which boils down to this: Do makers and the makerspaces they found think about why they make, and for whom they make? Obviously, it varies from maker to maker and space to space, but my observation has been that the maker movement could do much better on that front. So I thought I would run through some of my apprehensions on that theme and make some suggestions for reform. In the spirit of holiday giving and all that.


There’s no question that makerspaces have been a boon to society in many different ways. Described by the Somerville nonprofit makerspace Artisan’s Asylum as “community centers with tools,” these logical outgrowths of the hacker and DIY cultures—and the older crafter culture, amateur radio culture, and cultures around magazines like Popular Electronics and Popular Mechanics—have grown to become a significant social force in the last decade. Particularly in places like the Boston area that have lots of colleges producing lots of engineers, scientists, and artists.


But it’s important to remember that—as with science, technology, and art in general—there is a problem with pushing “making” in the abstract without thinking about its social and political consequences. Because tools and techniques may be inherently neutral, but people and the institutions we create are not.


Including makerspaces. So it’s worth being aware that, according to PandoDaily, in early 2012 O’Reilly Media’s MAKE division —publisher of Make magazine, perhaps the best known popularizer of the maker movement—announced that it had won a grant from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to participate in the agency’s Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach (or MENTOR) program. The money was to be used to start 1,000 makerspaces in high schools around the country.


Now DARPA may be most famous as the super clever agency that brought us the Internet. But it worked on that project in part—protestations from its fans and allies taken as given—to help solve the insoluble problem of how to keep America’s military, research, and control centers in communication with each other after an all-out nuclear war. And somehow help our government survive the unsurvivable.


It is also the super clever agency that has brought us an array of very nasty war machines in the last six decades. Notably, according to Air & Space magazine, the Predator drones that have killed hundreds of innocent people around the world—including many children—in recent years at the behest of presidents from Bush to Obama to Trump. Because they’re just not as accurate as our military and political leaders would have us believe. And because those leaders don’t really care about what they call “collateral damage” when they’re prosecuting what human rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights claim are extralegal assassination campaigns.


As it turned out, the DARPA MENTOR high school program never really got off the ground because it lost its budget in President Obama’s big “Sequestration” budget cut of March 2013. And it’s certainly worth mentioning that the program sparked protests from within the maker community.


But DARPA continues to participate in a variety of science and technology events aimed at high school kids—notably the young robotics crowd that overlaps with makerspaces.


And DARPA is also aiming events squarely at makerspaces… and some makerspaces are definitely participating. For example, according to the DARPA website, this November the agency held the DARPA Bay Area Software Defined Radio (SDR) Hackfest at NASA Ames Conference Center in Moffett Field, California. The relevant webpage explains that “Teams from across the country will come together to explore the cyber-physical interplay of SDR and unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, during the Hackfest.”


“Unmanned aerial vehicles” is another term for drones. Two of the eight teams invited to participate along with teams from military contractors like Raytheon were the Fat Cat Flyers from Fat Cat Fab Lab, a volunteer-run makerspace in New York City, and Team Fly-by-SDR from Hacker DoJo, a nonprofit community of hackers and startups in Silicon Valley… which is also a makerspace.


Whatever you in the viewing audience think about the Pentagon in particular and the American military in general, we can all agree that there are moral, ethical, social, and political questions that must be asked in a democratic society about the intersection of maker culture and makerspaces with those institutions.


For that reason, I think it’s critical that makerspaces raise and address such questions on an ongoing basis. That they maintain a scrupulous policy of transparency regarding who they work with and why. And that they hold classes and public forums on the moral, ethical, social and political dimensions of why makers make and for whom they make. Something you really don’t see much of at makerspaces at present. But should.


Anyhow, I’m keen to engage with the maker community on this topic and flesh these ideas out more. Folks interested in discussing the issues I’m raising at more length can drop me a line at


A shorter version of this column was originally written for the Beyond Boston regional news digest show—co-produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and several area public access television stations.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.