PopTech Blog

Street Level Media: A Conversation with Beyond Bullets' Stephanie Skaff

Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, you’ll hear more about the PopTech Salon on Social Mapping in Chicago. We’ll also have an update on video artist Lincoln Schatz and Ceasefire’s collaboration, Cure Violence, a groundbreaking digital hybrid of public art and public health outreach designed to empower communities to take control of the violence epidemic.

In mid-May PopTech held a salon workshop to highlight Ceasefire’s innovative efforts to “intercept” gun violence and to discuss how new information technologies might help broaden the impact of these initiatives in various communities.

To continue our exploration, PopTech recently caught up with Stephanie Skaff, the project director of the Downtown Community Television Center initiative called Beyond Bullets. The project is using youth-produced media – and media production – as a critical component of gun violence prevention.

What follows are excerpts of several conversations that I’ve had with Stephanie in the last couple weeks.

Beyond Bullets just wrapped up a weeklong tour to a number of schools in New York City, highlighting the media that the team’s young journalists have recently produced as part of the second year of this initiative. How did it go?

The biggest story to come out of the tour was our MC, Ronald Merritt. Ronald is a 23-year-old filmmaker from Jamaica, Queens. He knows 36 people who have been killed. When he got a camera, that’s when his life changed.

Ronald Merritt

On the tour, kids would ask him, “Where do you live now? How do you go home everyday?" He still has to go home to the projects, where he lives, and deal with street life. But now that he has a camera, he has an identity as a camera guy. He used to be known as “Du da Shooter,” because he was always handed the gun when his friends needed a shooter. After learning how to use a camera, he changed his name to “Du U TV” and put down the gun.

Before he starting filming, he had never gone 5 blocks beyond his home turf. Now he’s obsessively filming, going out and talking to new people, and working everyday.

So these kids can see that it is possible to stop the violence in their communities because he’s an example of someone just like them who is doing it.

Ronald’s story illustrates an earlier conversation Stephanie and I had about the power of stories to help prevent the sort of violence that Ronald has experienced.

Beyond Bullets uses existing technologies to focus on the stories that highlight not only the devastating impact of gun violence but also the efforts of young people to be leaders in their own communities. Beyond Bullets shares these stories in a number of ways, using the production of those videos to empower young people, and then posting these videos online as well as screening them in communities that are most affected by gun violence.
We really need to tell the stories behind the statistics – to understand the suffering that comes from the deaths of the 30,000 people who have been shot and killed in this country. If you start to isolate stories, you can actually start to dig into the depths of this problem. If you tell a story about one mother who lost her child to gun violence, which leads to how that affects the brother and the sister and the father and the best friends, and the school, and the community center, everyone who was surrounded by that single person who was shot and killed.

I think having young people produce this media is really critical because you can get their perspective. Young people are disproportionately affected by gun violence, and they have a lot to say about it.

May 2010 Beyond Bullets tour

How do these stories get to the heart of the Beyond Bullets project? Tell me more about how this project emerged from an autobiographical film?
The project started in 2005 with a (DCTV) youth media student, Terrence Fisher, wanted to make a project about gun violence in his neighborhood in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. So he started making this film and in the middle of making it, his best friend, Timothy Stansbury, was shot and killed in front of him by a police officer. The film itself took on special significance for him. He finished the film, which was called Bullets in the Hood, and it did really well at Sundance and at the Tribeca Film Festival. He realized that although it did really well in the film circuit, his own community hadn’t gotten to see it. So he screened it in his own community. DCTV took their “CyberCar,” which is really a former passenger bus that was converted into a media production and exhibition vehicle. It has a video wall on the outside to screen the film. They took the film around New York City and up to Hartford, Connecticut. There were “talk backs” after the film to talk with teenagers about gun violence in their communities.

There were a number of reasons that film was successful. The primary one was that Terrence was a teenager, and it became a great outreach tool for other teenagers. Terrence’s voice was really critical in reaching out to other teenagers, mainly on youth violence in cities.

Beginning in 2008, Beyond Bullets received support from the Ford Foundation, the Community Information Challenge of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the New York Community Trust. The project has focused on building a national presence as well as fostering local partnerships to help extend the impact of youth-produced media, but also on highlighting the work of amazing individuals who are transforming their communities everyday. Tell me more about this.
The first year we were really focused on identifying the problem. I was really shocked to learn how normalized gun violence has become in communities. It’s become accepted. Now we’ve started to identify solutions.

We’re focusing on getting youth filmmakers to pick up cameras to tell the stories of local heroes like 22-year-old Shaina Harrison. She’s really quite an incredible young woman. She grew up facing a lot of the same choices that her peers were facing, without solid role models or parental guidance. She was around drugs, she was around gangs, she was around a lot of things that could have taken her on a different path but made deliberate choices to move beyond those things. She had teachers and leaders who saw something in her and gave her opportunities that her peers never got. She runs a program called “Reaction,” a group that meets once a week after school and basically reacts to gun violence in their communities. It’s actually become the most popular after school program – this is at the High School for Public Service in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. 100% of her students have graduated, and 90% of the students in the program have gone off to college. They come in to talk about their own experiences and they learn about gun laws nationally and locally. Hopefully, DCTV will start teaching her students to make documentaries so they can become their own anti-gun violence journalists.

Part of the real impact of Beyond Bullets is that the organization makes stories like Shaina’s, and the success of her particular strategies, visible to other communities as well. Stephanie and I spoke some more about the project’s outreach strategy and the direct community action component.
If we can get policy makers to the site, legislators, and other community leaders to the site, just in a way to confront the things that are happening in our city streets, then that in some way is a kind of intervention. But we’re not lobbyists, we’re trying to showcase the issue.

But really, local partners are most critical to our campaign. We want kids to be contributing [to the website] as often as possible. If we can get as many people as possible posting stories to the site, who have been affected by this issue, then that, in some way, can really help. So we have to get to the people that kids admire, and work with them. Give over our tools to people who work with these kids on a daily basis. They have the answers to their own communities. We want local partners to use the tools that work the best for them, and they don’t have to be managed by us.

So after your spring tour, what’s next for Beyond Bullets this summer?
Right now, we are focusing on New York City right now so we can really work on what’s going on in each of these neighborhoods and so that local communities can use our site as a resource.

Starting this summer, and into the fall, we’re going to be working with a lot of teenagers that have been affected by gun violence, or have grown up in communities that are affected by gun violence. And the more young people we can have picking up cameras instead of guns in these communities, the better: to become unafraid to talk about this issue, and become unafraid to document it, and stand up to it, the better.

The Beyond Bullets initiative is still in its early stages but it suggests the power of stories to make change. It also suggests the impact that aggregating these particular stories about young leaders whose hands-on approaches can truly impact their own communities. As the Beyond Bullets team of teenagers, cameras in hand, take to the streets of New York City this summer, PopTech will be checking in on their progress. Stay tuned for more.

No Soul for Sale: A Festival of Independents

In its second iteration as a participatory art festival, No Soul for Sale: A Festival of Independents celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Tate Modern in London. No Soul for Sale’s first iteration was in June 2009, at the X Initiative in the old Dia building, in Manhattan. The show itself is a collaborative effort by curators Cecilia Alemani, Massimiliano Gioni and artist Maurizio Cattelan.

No Soul for Sale

The festival is a collection of 70 different artist spaces, galleries, artist collectives and various art organizations that have distinctly independent ways of performing art around the globe. The participating groups vary in size and location, from Istanbul (PiST) to Australia (Y3K). As it was in the first iteration of the festival, all of the work was staged together creating a large patchwork of groups, filling the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with projects. Turbine Hall had taped outlines on the ground assigned to the individual spaces, so that viewers could read the names of the groups as they passed through. One of the participating groups, Kling & Bang (Iceland) had an installation called Tower of Now by Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir and Sirra Sigrún Sigurðardóttir, consisting of hundreds of strands of heat-sensitive roller tape suspended from the top of Turbine Hall and weighted down by Icelandic coins.

Tower of Now
Tower of Now by Kling & Bang and Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir and Sirra Sigrún Sigurðardóttir

The organizations selected for this festival hold a couple things in common, the most important of which is that they are all using innovative social formats for moving information around. Some of the non-profit spaces like Rhizome are globally dedicated organizations. Rhizome’s particular interests are in spreading digital culture and providing formats for digital artists to present their work online. The project they produced was entitled “Mail Nothing to the Tate Modern” in collaboration with David Horvitz. The concept was that people were invited to take a predesigned mailing slip Rhizome provided and mail an empty package to the Tate Modern then give Rhizome the tracking number. The tracking numbers are posted online creating a portrait of international mail systems.

Mail Nothing
Mail Nothing to the Tate Modern by Rhizome and David Horvitz

The way groups self-represent in these types of settings, sheds a light on how they operate within the circles of aesthetic information distribution. Many of the participating entities sent in informative literature about themselves or projects they produced. Several projects were sponsored works by single artists produced by the participating groups in the show. There was a dedicated space in Turbine Hall for performance events and presentations, which a good portion of the groups utilized. Some of the groups curated a few works by separate artists, or asked a group of artists they usually work with to participate on a larger collaborative piece. However the participating groups worked it out, there is a reoccurring sense in No Soul for Sale, that the exhibited works of art themselves are seen more as a creative democratic process than a presentation of aesthetic goods, which many art fairs and festivals end up being.

It can, and has been said, that these newer interactive forms of artistic production are the future, especially in relation to how many non-profit or alternative art spaces are beginning to distribute art to the rest of the world. This may be a way of marginalizing what is so important about works like these. The works presented in No Soul for Sale are not the way art will look in the future; it is what art looks like right now, and in some cases a few years ago. It is vitally hard to keep up with what all of the different artists in all of the different venues around the world are doing. We have a chance of seeing many of these different ideas together when they are presented the way they are out at Turbine Hall.

For a list of other participating entities, or to find out more about this show, go to:
No Soul for Sale: A Festival of Independents
Tate Modern

Introducing Emily Qualey; Last Post from Kristen

The PopTech community is an extraordinary one—filled with people whose words are as strong as the actions they take toward creating a better world together.

It has been my great privilege to serve as your chief blogger here on the PopTech blog, as part of my role as the Director of Community for PopTech. In the past year, we have made great strides weaving online threads of interaction as ephemeral as continuing Twitter conversations, as serious as in-depth guest blog posts that examined new work in the social good sector.

The small staff of PopTech (we are a dozen, a generous baker’s dozen all in) is comprised of fascinating and talented people that I respect as colleagues and in many cases, as friends. Andrew, Leetha, Beth, Louis, Keryn, Fil, Jen, Ollie, Heidi, Cordelia, Sarah, Annie, Dan, Colleen, and Emily—happy to have worked beside you.

As a staff, we often point to the Social Innovation Fellows as inspiration on a daily basis for our work, and one of the greatest parts of my PopTech role has been to interact with them as they rocket skyward. I hope they know I am their biggest fan and ally in the challenging work they have chosen.

I am now moving on to new projects and adventures, but know that I remain part of the PopTech extended family—I will see all of you at the PopTech 2010 conference in person or on Twitter—and I continue to watch this field that you are shaping into a force for good.

And now, let me introduce Emily Qualey, who knows the PopTech community well and lives in Camden, Maine. She has been part of the PopTech conference team for years, and more recently, has made the PopTech Tumblr blog a very exciting online reflection of what we are watching and find exciting and interesting.

Emily Qualey

Please welcome her as your guide to PopTech online; she will be a wonderful one as we move through an exciting summer of new videos, content, and events on our way to the October conference.

Most especially, thank you for all your smart comments, thoughtful suggestions, and excellent, quiet work building this community of ours into a strong network we are all proud to be part of.

Recap of the PopTech Social Mapping Salon

Yesterday, PopTech convened a salon and workshop in Chicago on social mapping and social change.

During the day, workshop participants—including leading thinkers in mobile, geolocative services, social good, and philanthropy—discussed how their respective systems of organizing information and intervening in their local communities might fit together.

The day began at Google Chicago, where PopTech’s Executive Director Andrew Zolli and Executive Director of Ceasefire Gary Slutkin welcomed participants.

PopTech Social Mapping workshop

Filming took place for video that we will share with you in coming weeks.

PopTech Social Mapping workshop

The conversation spilled into breaks, lunch, and the late afternoon to talk strategies and behavioral modifications.

PopTech Social Mapping workshop

Peter Durand, who is a favorite part of every PopTech conference—he illustrates ideas from speakers on the stage—recorded all of the workshop presentations and salon talks graphically. He tells us why he wanted to be part of these discussions since last fall, and what he learned during the day:

PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Josh Nesbit, another workshop participant and the founder of Frontline SMS: Medic, told us what he thinks is important to remember in these conversations, and what he wants to learn more about:

In the evening, a salon convened at the beautiful Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts with speakers Ceasefire Executive Director Gary Slutkin, information designer Laura Kurgan, and Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi Patrick Meier.

PopTech Social Mapping salon

The audience asked smart questions (this is Justin Massa of Movesmart.org), and the panel talked about what they learned during the day from each other,

PopTech Social Mapping salon

and the conversation continued afterwards,

PopTech Social Mapping salon

with PopTech speaker alums and Social Innovation Fellows in attendance (here, PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Hayat Sindi speaking with PopTech’s Director of Fellows Leetha Filderman),

Hayat Sindi and Leetha Filderman

and we look forward to the next gathering of thinkers and leaders active in their communities, causing social change.

PopTech Social Mapping salon

Look for the speaker videos and more from this week in Chicago soon, and thank you to everyone who participated in yesterday’s vibrant discussions.

View graphic facilitation of the workshop and salon by Peter Durand of Alphachimp Studio Inc.

Video: Rinku Sen on Locating Justice in America

This week we are releasing Rinku Sen’s PopTech 2009 talk. Sen, who is the president and executive director of the Applied Research Center and a leading thinker on racial justice, speaks about what a “post-racial America” really means.

The good news, says Sen, is that most people don’t intend to be exclusionary. More often, Sen suggests, racism is structural – embedded in society’s institutions and norms.

Rinku Sen: Locating Justice from PopTech on Vimeo.


Sen draws on an example from her recent book, The Accidental American, Sen tells the moving story of a Moroccan immigrant who started an organization that fights for justice for all New York City restaurant workers. As Sen puts it, such a willingness to address the structural aspects of racism “is at the core of a compassionate, inclusive, effective society.”

The Applied Research Center has created a toolkit for advancing equality for all in the Green Economy.

You can also check out Van Jones, who appeared at PopTech 2007 to talk about the need for an inclusive environmental movement that makes connections between urban poverty and environmental problems.

What does it mean to you to live in an inclusive society?

Speakers at Tonight's Social Mapping Salon in Chicago

Tonight, we are hosting a salon (a first for PopTech) on the theme of “Social Mapping and Social Change” at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in Chicago.

The salon is full (you can sign up for the waitlist on the invite), and we will have video and images after the event. Follow the @PopTech Twitter account and the hashtag #socmap for more during the salon (6:30-9:00p CST) tonight.

PopTech Executive Director, and host of tonight’s salon, Andrew Zolli spoke with Chicago Public Radio yesterday (audio) about the topics being discussed today at a private workshop and tonight at the salon—mapping technologies and timeliness, how social information can create change.

Tonight’s speakers include:

Katrin Verclas of MobileActive (this is a video of her from December 2009 talking about her work with Nokia):

Patrick Meier of Ushahidi (read excerpts of his thoughts on social mapping, below is a video on Ushahidi’s efforts in Haiti taken April 1, 2010 at the Where 2.0 conference):

Gary Slutkin of CeaseFire (this is a 2008 video from a Volvo For Life documentary series):

And the evening will conclude with an audience Q&A session.

Yesterday, PopTech staff spent the afternoon filming members of the Ceasefire community at work in their communities—we’ll share that footage with you in coming weeks.

filming in Chicago

Eddie of Ceasefire

We look forward to seeing everyone tonight and continuing the discussions started this week with you in this space soon.

Questions you would like asked at tonight’s salon? Please leave them in the comments below.

Reuniting Children and Families in Crisis Situations: The RapidFTR Project

Jorge Just of RapidFTR spoke with us briefly at yesterday’s ITP Spring Show 2010 at New York University (show continues this evening) about RapidFTR, a project that “helps aid workers collect, sort, and share photographs and information about children in emergency situations so they can be registered for care services and reunited with their families.”

Find out how the project began, why UNICEF asked the team to realize the concept, and how you can help.

As we continue to think about social mapping for the PopTech “Social Mapping and Social Change” salon this Wednesday in Chicago, RapidFTR is an excellent example of a project mapping people in crisis situations—in this case, displaced children, that benefits from a shared technological resource.

Thoughts on this project? Let us know in the comments.

Social Mapping Thoughts from Patrick Meier

As we prepare for the PopTech salon “Social Mapping and Social Change” in Chicago next Wednesday (there is currently a waitlist, and the event will not be streamed, but look for a blog post afterwards and tweets with the #socmap hashtag on Twitter), we are thinking about how social mapping might be defined.


One of the salon speakers, Patrick Meier, is the Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi (PopTech Social Innovation Fellows Erik Hersman and Ory Okolloh are part of the Ushahidi leadership team).

Patrick has blogged extensively on the topic of social mapping; here are a few relevant excerpts:

“From Social Mapping to Crisis Mapping,” December 15, 2008

Social maps are not drawn to scale and are not meant to be complete. The relative size of the symbols representing available resources and infrastructure may denote their importance to a community. Likewise, the relative distance on the map of these assets may also denote how accessible or inaccessible they are to the local community.

Social mapping excercises may capture tacit knowledge of conflict triggers that would simply not surface clearly using a computer-designed map. These maps provide “The View From Below” as opposed to the top-down myopic perspective of “Seeing Like A State.”

“Towards a ‘Theory’ (or analogy) of Crisis Mapping” August 25, 2009

Crises are patterns; by this I mean that crises are not random. Military or militia tactics are not random either. There is a method to the madnes—the fog of war not withstanding. Peace is also a pattern. Crisis mapping gives us the opportunity to detect peace and conflict patterns at a finer temporal and spatial resolution than previously possible; a resolution that more closely reflects reality at the human scale.

“Ushahidi: From Crowdsourcing to Crowdfeeding” March 27, 2009

…Second, local communities are rarely dependent on a single source of information. They have their own trusted social and kinship networks, which they can draw on to validate information. There are local community radios and some of these allow listeners to call in or text in with information and/or questions. Ushahidi doesn’t exist in an information vacuum. We need to understand information communication as an ecosystem.

For more, we look forward to next Wednesday’s conversation and Patrick’s talk at the salon.

How to Make a Magazine in 48 Hours

Editor’s note: Sarah Rich is a co-author of the book Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century and an advisory board member of PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Emily Pilloton’s organization, Project H Design. For more coverage of 48 Hour Magazine, see the team interview on Gizmodo and post on Big Think. The theme for the inaugural issue will be announced Friday, May 7th at 12p PST.

When the most common statement made about your industry is that it’s dead, there are two options: get out or make change. Of course many people in the magazine business choose a third option: stay in and complain about how bad things have gotten. It’s much easier to commiserate than to try to create something new; fortunately, sometimes one leads to the other.

48 Hr Mag

48 Hour Magazine was born out of a kvetching session a few months back among a small group of San Francisco writers. The three of us—Mat Honan, Alexis Madrigal and myself—all have one foot in the print world and the other on the Web, and we share a fervent interest in the future of media.

Our original idea was simple: Create a magazine from start to finish in two days. In the vein of rapidly produced and one-off publications, we were inspired by Strange Light, Pop Up Magazine, Ash Cloud Tales, and The Whole Earth Catalog. The implications are more complex. By its very nature, this is a project that would not have been possible even five years ago. While the final product—a printed magazine—is centuries-old, the process behind it uses none of the traditional tools of print. 48 Hour Magazine is a product of online tools, social networks, crowdsourcing, remote collaboration systems, and DIY creative services. We are operating with complete financial transparency and even physical transparency, by posting a live streaming video feed of our headquarters during the 48 hours of production.

So how does it actually work? On Friday, May 7, we will announce the magazine’s theme. Submissions will open and for 24 hours, anyone can submit writing, photos, illustrations or graphics through 48hrmag.com. At the end of 24 hours, on May 8, submissions close and our team of editors and designers will spend the next 24 hours selecting, designing and laying out the best content for publication in the magazine. At the end of the full 48, on Sunday, May 9, digital files get sent to MagCloud, where they become a print-on-demand magazine that travels to readers in the plain old mail.

It’s worth breaking down some of the key moving parts of the virtual machine that will crank out 48 Hour Magazine:

Website and Content Management System: We were lucky enough to get Dylan Fareed, a very talented web designer and developer, to build a custom CMS for this project. The robustness of his system will become clear as the project moves forward.

Twitter: Twitter was absolutely vital for getting the word out to our followers. It was the only publicity vehicle we used, to overwhelming effect. All six team members are pretty dedicated users and have strong networks.

Heroku: From what our web developer tells us, this hosting service allows us to keep our website humming with all the fancy submission bits without buying any servers or even a monthly account.

Magcloud: We’ll be using the print-on-demand service Magcloud. You upload a PDF and out pops a magazine on the other end. They handle printing, shipping, and sales.

Spot.us: Spot.us is a revolutionary new media project that began as a vehicle for crowdsourcing investigative journalism stories in the Bay Area. They have been expanding both geographically and functionally, and as a partner to 48 Hour Magazine they serve as a financial engine that allows us to take in all funds transparently and publicly.

UStream: To keep things lively, this online video service will stream all the action at the 48HR HQ, which will be housed at the offices of the stalwart magazine, Mother Jones.

Whether this collaboration will catalyze any kind of massive change remains to be seen, of course, but the concept has undoubtedly struck a chord. One week after publicly announcing the project, we have over 6,000 people signed up to be notified when submissions open. Our team—now totaling 6 members, with the addition of Heather Champ, Dylan Fareed and Derek Powazek—has our work cut out for us. We envisioned a manic production process, and that’s exactly what we will get.

We’d love to see some contributions from the PopTech community! You can add your name and email address to our list at 48hrmag.com to be notified when the theme is revealed and submissions open.

Video: Kyna Leski on Creative Processes

At PopTech 2009, architect and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) professor Kyna Leski spoke about the craft of architecture as an art form:

Leski encourages her students to pull away from assumptions about the creative process and instead learn to develop their own artistic sensibility by “knowing the world.” This occurs, Leski suggests, through the acts of gathering, seeing, and grasping.

During her talk, Leski spoke about an exercise she had her students do: taking a painting by Paul Klee and had them build the third dimension of the image using only white glue and white museum board. One student assigned height to the gradations of color so that his project, when held up to the light, closely resembled the work of Paul Klee.

Leski used this example to introduce her understanding of the creative process, suggesting that it relies on the process of discovery. For more on Leski’s teaching, you can check out her recent book, called The Making of Design Principles, which explores the first semester design studio at RISD.

As part of her teaching, Leski has expressed her “Ground Rules for Navigating the Creative Process.” These include:

- The creative process hold internal guides for a project’s development and guides an individual’s growth as well.
- Only by committing yourself to the authority of the work can you develop as artists.
- There is a power to limits.
- The whole cannot be seen from a single point of view.
- Words are essential to developing a consciousness of the creative process … an intimate felt experience of a “material language.”
- Everything is connected, somehow, from the astronomical to the metabolic.

These principles suggest an avenue for thinking about the impact of design throughout our lives.
What design principles do you think guide your view of the world?