Giving back by getting out: IC Charity Miles hosts first 5K

Tal Aizen knows firsthand the impact an organization like the Wounded Warrior Project can have. Soon after joining the Israeli army last year, a back injury left him in a wheelchair for six months.

“I was lucky. I got sort of fixed,” Aizen said. “These guys are missing legs. They need the help.”

Aizen was released from the hospital last July, and thanks to a back surgery he can once again walk and run. The Wounded Warrior Project is one of more than two-dozen charities on the Charity Miles smartphone app, which tracks a user’s distance to determine the amount of money a sponsor will donate to a cause. Biking earns 10 cents per mile, while running and walking earns 25 cents per mile.

“I wish I could go back to my job there [in Israel],” Aizen said. “I miss the guys there. I miss everything. The running deal is sort of helping me overcome it all.”

A personal story also inspired Gene Gurkoff, the founder of Charity Miles. He ran marathons for nine years to raise money for Parkinson’s research in honor of his grandfather, who has the disease.

I always wanted companies to sponsor me but I could never get them to do that because I’m just an amateur athlete,” Gurkoff said. “But I figured if I could get enough people together then we could all become sponsored athletes, just like the pros, but for charity.”

IC Charity Miles is one of the first college campus organizations to base their mission around the app since it was founded two years ago. It held its first 5K event Sunday on the trails of the South Hill Natural Lands.

“I just think it’s amazing what [IC Charity Miles Co-Presidents] Rachel and Kelly have done to step up and lead the charge at Ithaca,” Gurkoff said.

Giving Back While On-the-Go

The trend of ‘mobile philanthropy’ has been increasing rapidly in recent years. In the U.S., one in three people use a mobile device as their primary source for accessing the Internet. And globally, PayPal reported the total value of mobile donations through their service in December 2012 was 242 percent larger than in December 2011. Dozens of apps like Charity Miles can be downloaded to support non-profits while on the move.

Some have criticized movements on mobile devices and social media as a form of ‘slacktivism’ – slacker activism – that may be easy to take part in, but ultimately disconnects people from the cause and real volunteer service. But for ICCM founder and co-president Rachel Gray, the app also promotes awareness.

“It does have the big name charities, like for Alzheimer’s or Leukaemia and Lymphoma, but there are so many charities I had never heard of, like Red White and Blue,” Gray said. “You’re donating your time to this charity through running, and you’re getting fit while doing it, but at the same time I think it’s a way to spark interest.”

Gray points out that users can watch short videos each time they choose a different charity to find out more about what they are supporting, and then become more involved if it is something they are passionate about.

Running… Low On Battery

The app is not without some minor drawbacks, however. The GPS-tracking feature drains battery power faster than normal usage, which can be a problem for longer walks and runs. And, unfortunately, those without smartphones currently cannot take part in the fundraising. Still, IC Charity Miles members like Marissa Fortman think it is important to support the cause.

“The whole data plan thing is [expensive], but if you have it and you’re going to be walking or running around, it’s so easy to just turn it on and do it,” she said. Fortman stood as one of the volunteers directing 5K participants at each quarter mile mark.

Gray said the group plans to expand efforts in the Ithaca College community in the future. Their goal is to hold a 5K at least once a semester, and are already thinking about hosting a “Turkey Trot” for the fall and branching off to form a running club for students to join.

IC Charity Miles meets Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. in Friends 304.


Harassment: Highlighted this week, happening every week

Today marks the end of the International Anti-Street Harassment Week, but the struggle continues for many who, for one ‘reason’ or another, are targeted and bullied. Whether it be through words, intimidation, or physical violence, this type of unacceptable behavior happens every day.

The week, sponsored by StopStreetHarassment.org, was created to bring these issues more directly into the public eye, as well as share potential solutions to prevent abuse and keep everyone accountable.

One example of abuse they cite on their website: a 2013 study of 93,000 LGBQT individuals in the European Union found that half avoided public spaces sometimes because of street harassment and most reported high levels of fear in locations like restaurants, public transportation, streets, parking lots, and parks.

April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month — sexual assault is a large component that harassment can quickly lead to.

Earlier this week I took part in a tweetchat to bring further awareness and collaborate on ways we can spur a dialogue that will foster a safer environment. Check out my interaction here.

What instances of harassment have you been witness or victim to? Share your insight below, along with any advice you have for how to stand up to harassment.

Important points in today’s ‘State of the Media’

Journalism, and more broadly media in general, have undergone tremendous changes in the last decade, which Pew Research has captured in its release of the State of the News Media 2014 report. Technology has dramatically shifted the landscape of the news industry, namely the platforms on which information is disseminated. The earlier stages of this shift certainly evoked a bleak outlook for journalism: newspapers once thought resolute for so many previous decades suddenly perished in a matter of short years. There was much room for cynicism.

Since then, however, the prognosis has improved drastically. Digital pioneers and newfound platforms have not only begun to fill the void of these out-of-print entities, they are yielding real economic gains and employment opportunities.

Thirty of the largest digital-only news organizations account for about 3,000 jobs and one area of investment is global coverage

Vice Media has 35 overseas bureaus; The Huffington Post hopes to grow to 15 countries from 11 this year; BuzzFeed hired a foreign editor to oversee its expansion into places like Mumbai, Mexico City, Berlin and Tokyo. The two-year-old business-oriented Quartz has reporters in London, Bangkok and Hong Kong, and its editorial staff speaks 19 languages. This comes amid pullbacks in global coverage from mainstream media.

This is good news. For a while it was thought that ‘churnalism’ was the wave of the future. Quality journalism is beneficial to society, but oftentimes, as with international or long-term investigative journalism, perhaps the most expensive. This aspect of the report shows that all hope is not lost for expanding journalistic horizons.

Of course, at least for me, and my interest in pursuing broadcast journalism, the impact on news television piqued my interest.

Local television, which reaches about nine in ten U.S. adults, experienced massive change in 2013, change that stayed under the radar of most

 Nearly 300 full-power local TV stations changed hands in 2013 at a price of more than $8 billion. The number of stations sold was up 205% over 2012 and the value up 367%, with big owners getting even bigger. If all the pending sales go through, Sinclair Broadcasting alone will own or provide service to 167 stations in 77 markets, reaching almost 40% of the U.S. population.

David Smith, the CEO of Sinclair, was even quoted saying he would like to have 80-90 percent of the viewing audience if he could get his hands on their broadcasting. The influence of these fewer and farther between owners, their money, and also the squeeze on resources for local TV stations to produce and share content, is unfortunately an area of concern that I will continue to watch closely.

What do you think? Is U.S. media headed in the right direction? Check out Pew’s State of the News Media 2014 report to see how your news consumption preferences are faring.

Four buildings have been condemned after the massive fire on March 18

Cause of Ovid fire, community response surprise residents

Residents in the town of Ovid finally have an answer to what caused the massive fire on Main Street the night of March 18: an 11-year-old boy with a lighter.

According to Seneca County Sheriff’s investigators, the boy was playing with the lighter behind the New Dragon Chinese Restaurant when he accidentally set trash on fire. Propane tanks nearby quickly turned it into a severe blaze, causing severe damage to the restaurant and three surrounding buildings that have all since been condemned. Fortunately no injuries were reported.

At least ten residents were displaced when seven apartments above the businesses were also gutted. A firewall between the Chinese restaurant and thrift shop in the building next to it was somewhat spared. The shop’s insurance engineer is inspecting the property today to assess whether it can be salvaged.

Sixteen-year-old Cheli Austin lives in the apartment just behind Italian Kitchen, one of the affected businesses. She was returning home from shopping that night when she saw the blaze.

“It was just flames everywhere,” she said. “It started around five at night and went until four in the morning.”

Austin visits both restaurants frequently and said she knows the owners personally.

“They’re [doing] good,” she said. The owners of the Chinese restaurant are staying in Waterloo with assistance from the Red Cross until they can relocate. Austin describes the food they made with one word: “Amazing. I miss it already. I ordered the sesame chicken dish a lot.”

The unnamed 11-year-old boy has been charged as a juvenile with arson in the fourth degree, given he recklessly started a fire, but did not set the fire intentionally. The sheriff’s office stated the case would be referred to family court. If found guilty, the boy could be sent to a juvenile detention facility, placed on probation, and/or given counseling or treatment.

Unprecedented destruction for the small town

Several long-time residents said they have never seen any structural devastation come anywhere close to this month’s fire damage since they have lived in Ovid.

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All the affected buildings are insured; both the Chinese restaurant and thrift shop have signs posted in their windows stating they plan to re-open after recovery.

Paul Walborn, who owns the barbershop just across the street, still worries about the length of time it will take to demolish and rebuild the businesses.

“I hope it doesn’t take a long time,” he said. “It’s an eyesore. A lady just stopped right in the middle of the traffic, and [her car] almost got hit in the rear end…They stop and they look. That’s not good.”

 United recovery in the community

A relief fund was set up at the local Five Star Bank, and multiple events have been planned to help the displaced fire victims. On March 27, the Ovid Federated Church dedicated this month’s community dinner, though it is technically free, to collect donations for the fund.

“We have helped some people with clothing already,” Pastor Diane Walker said. “Once they get into a permanent place of residence, we’ll help them with household goods. We’re working on sorting things as the come in and make them available.”

Right now, she said, cash donations will help the most until those specific needs are identified.

The Eagle Hotel in Lodi is hosting a benefit concert, “Rebuild With Love” on March 30. Adults are being asked to donate $5 (children 13 and under free) for admission to the event, which will include music, food and an auction.

A spaghetti dinner is scheduled for April 6 at Riley’s Place in Willard from 2 to 6 p.m.

Why our minds are wild when wired (and how journalists can tame them)

Let’s face it: our attention spans have gotten drastically shorter with the advancement of technology. I haven’t even gotten to the reasons why, and you may already be thinking of clicking away from this page. But hang in there! Here’s what you need to know:

1. Instant Gratification

The Internet provides us with information almost instantly, and if it’s not there (or easy to find), we go elsewhere. So, make your point and make it quickly. On webpages with 111 words or less, readers only read an average of 49% of the text. That goes down to 28% for 593+ words.

2. Layout Optimization

Readers tend to read in an “F-Shaped” pattern (i.e. scan the first two bars of content horizontally, then skim down vertically) so prioritize content according to this format.

3. Click. Stayyy. Gooood Reader

I like to draw the analogy that Internet users are like puppies: they’re excited, over-stimulated, and need a little training. Easy, non-cluttering visuals — like large banner images at the top of a page — not only ease a visitor’s mind, it encourages them to scroll to get to the content they want. And once they start scrolling, they are more likely to continue scrolling.

4. App-ly the Tap/Click Culture

Two apps I really like are Tapestry and MAZ. Tapestry encourages users to pay closer attention, because once they click to the next page of the story, there’s no going back. MAZ is a digital magazine platform that allows for interactive content (videos, webpages, etc.) to be viewed without leaving the original magazine.

For more details on this presentation, check out the slideshow above!

NBC highlights LGBT persecution during Sochi Olympics coverage; overall trend continues

Media coverage devoted to LGBT issues in Russia decreased significantly. Nearly 40 percent was concentrated during Feb. 6-7.

Media coverage devoted to LGBT issues in Russia decreased significantly. Nearly 40 percent was concentrated during Feb. 6-7.

Earlier this week the Winter Olympics came to a close in Sochi, and the final numbers were tallied for the amount of time NBC and its affiliated networks devoted to LGBT-related protests in Russia. The result: 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 42 seconds.

The network aired more than 1,500 hours of coverage over the course of the Games, and while it may not seem like a lot (roughly 0.13 percent), this is still significant. However, the bulk of the coverage — nearly 40 percent — was devoted during the first two days of the Olympics on the heels of media attention saturated by the anti-LGBT propaganda law in the weeks leading up to them.

This largely falls in line with how controversial narratives have played out in mainstream media in previous years. Just as the Games began, a previous blog post focused on protest coverage in previous Olympics to give more context to the analysis.

What did you think of the Olympics coverage? Click here more information on the Human Rights Campaign’s in-depth analysis on the 2014 Winter Olympics for LGBT coverage

Give more to pay less: How volunteering can reduce higher education costs

Going to college and earning a degree is an aspiration for many students and their families across the U.S. Yet, unlike in many other countries around the world with reputable higher education institutions, the cost of attending American universities remains simply out of reach. But a new organization is working to change that by sponsoring students willing to volunteer.

SponsorChange finds sponsors willing to take on student loans of individuals in exchange for their manpower and time equity that goes toward a particular cause. SponsorChange’s cofounder, Raymar Hampshire, says the work experience itself is also benefecial, especially for recent graduates who are underemployed.

Overall student loans now stand in excess of $1 trillion. In the Class of 2013, seven out of ten students graduated with education-related debt, averaging $30,000 each.

Courtesy: Washington Post

Courtesy: Washington Post

The cost of a college education is rising two to three times the rate of inflation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


What do you think? Would you consider volunteering time to an organization to help pay down student loans? Is this just another way for the wealthy (aka “sponsors”) to push their agendas via the indebted? Post your comments below.

Final vote pending for Collegetown rezoning amid community concerns

The proposed Collegetown rezoning is on to the City of Ithaca Common Council for a final vote after unanimously passing the Planning and Economic Development Committee.

The measure – a drawn out and still contentious plan for some – seeks to rezone Ithaca’s most dense neighborhood using form districts that will regulate features such as roof pitch, glazing, porches, and size of plain exteriors.

The plan calls for a total of six districts: two Mixed Use (MU) districts, which includes both residential and commercial spaces, and four Collegetown Residential (CR) districts. Much of the concern lies with the transitional CR-4 district with the closest proximity to the MU districts.

Draft: Collegetown Area Form Districts

Under the rezoning proposal, Collegetown will have six newly formed districts: two for a mix of commercial and residential uses in the center, and four surrounding residential districts.

Tom Hanna, one of Collegetown’s long-time residents, has voiced concern over the potential for consolidation by big developers under the law.

“We specified to the city [a concern for consolidation] in the CR-4 zones,” said Hanna, a ’64 graduate of Cornell University and Collegetown homeowner since 1970. Hanna also serves as a member of the East Hill Civic Association.

“If you look at the way we’ve written this law…this is clearly going to end up encouraging individual property owners like myself and others to consider selling out to major developers, rather than try to go through and develop the property ourselves.”

Hanna cites the low vacancy rate as a factor that keeps rent prices higher and worries the new policy will further increase the cost of living with a “gentrification” effect. The Cornell Daily Sun published his editorial on the issue in its Guest Room column last week.

“Everybody wants to be in Collegetown,” said Galal Cancer, a Junior Applied Economics and Management student at Cornell. He agrees that the city should make it a priority to keep Collegetown within the range of students’ budgets.”

“While the plan does not specifically address the goal of affordability, it does clearly address the goal of supplying quality, safe housing,” said Seph Murtaugh, the Chairman of the Planning and Economic Development Committee.

Parking at a Premium

The rezoning measure also eliminates parking requirements for the multi-use districts and, if parking-management plans are approved, the CR-4 district.

Factoring in space for parking can be costly for developers and, according to Murtaugh, is not as necessary with increasing use of alternative transportation.

“The parking requirements can really inhibit growth and density,” he said. “I think we feel comfortable eliminating it in the center of Collegetown.”

Murtaugh also pointed to other available parking nearby, including the Dryden Avenue garage that has been operating on average at only 50 percent capacity. A citywide Parking Director was recently hired to address policies as well.

Seven Years In the Making

In 2007 the City and Cornell University commissioned Good Clancy Associates of Boston, Mass. and two sub-consultant firms for a total of $180,000 to evaluate Collegetown and make recommendations for future development. After some additional modification by the Planning Committee, “The 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan & Conceptual Design Guidelines” was published.

In 2011, owners of affected property halted the plan’s implementation after challenging the parking exemption.

“There have definitely been criticisms of the plan,” Murtaugh said. “I think that the city staff will continue to monitor it…if we find that the plan requires tweaking in some way, if we have to change it to respond to local realities, I think the Planning staff and Common Council will make those changes as necessary.”

Social media: the new frontier of journalism

With the exponentially accelerating advancement of technology nowadays, journalism is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and exciting professions to be working in. Journalists have always depended on sources and tips for stories. But an unprecedented amount of new information and potential sources have become accessible with the emergence of social media.

One of the developments Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, validates is the need for what some may call “backpack journalists”. The surge of citizen journalism emerging through social media has challenged the professional journalism industry to “transcend the desktop,” as Gilmor puts it, and actually take advantage of every feature our devices have to offer. It’s not necessarily that every person employed by a news organization has to be a trained videographer, but instead simply needs to have an eye for anything they come across in everyday life that may resemble news. Whether it’s in the form of video, audio, or photographs, mobile phones and tablets afford individuals the chance to capture the spontaneous and the unfrequented.

Gillmor also touches on how linking can add depth to stories. Not only does sourcing add authority to a piece by revealing where information was obtained, but also works in the best interest of the reader by directing them to material that provides greater context (e.g. transcripts or data) and perhaps even encouraging them to dig deeper on their own.

If this were a one way street, I might end this post by saying, “Now go grab your phone, get out there and find some news” and leave it at that. But, of course, social media has also fostered a robust dialogue between journalist and audience to offer feedback and new ideas. So, help me out here readers. What are some prime examples you’ve seen of social media’s impact on journalism? What are your thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of this? Comment with your opinion, reflect on your experiences, maybe even share a link or two!

Tech Etiquette: the Dos and Don’ts of Online Reporting

Journalists on Twitter can reap major benefits from the service, but should also beware of pitfalls. (Photo Credit: AP)

Journalists on Twitter can reap major benefits from the service, but should also beware of pitfalls. (Photo Credit: AP)

The online world of social media is something of a mine field. With an ever-shrinking sense of privacy and ever-growing need for connecting via the World Wide Web, knowing what benefits or hinders an online reputation can make or break your personal brand.

Alexandra Chang — a former technology writer for Wired magazine in San Francisco and current freelancer in Ithaca, New York — recently shared her online wisdom with journalism students of Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications. Here are some of her recommendations for behaviors to actively engage in, as well as those that should best be avoided:

  1. Be personal in professional areas. Content reflects how you want to be perceived.
  2. Create lists of reporters within your beat and try to engage with them in a thoughtful way.
  3. If you’re searching for sources on LinkedIn, opt for the anonymous setting. Users can see who views their profile.
  4. Use Twitter in a genuine way, even though it’s not the most genuine platform.
  5. The Internet is often a less than ideal place for civility. If you get heatedly attacked on Twitter or anywhere else, the best policy is to simply ignore.
  6. Create a brand for yourself through tone and how you present content. Social media is not just there for people to follow you professionally, but also to get to know you.
  7. Have a presence on Vine and other similar platforms, but remain conscious of the fact that they are still used more primarily for comedy than news at the moment.

Some other interesting tools that were revealed include Twiangulate.com (a website that allows you to find new people that follow several accounts related to your beat or interests), Qwitter.com (a site that tracks who unfollows you on Twitter), and Paper (the latest iPhone app from Facebook that offers users a “newsier” newsfeed).