Friends of Media Nation reflect on the tragedy

I’ve seen a lot of worthwhile, heartfelt commentary written by friends and colleagues in the last day and a half. I’ve retweeted some, “liked” others, but I thought I should try to pull some of them together here. The following is a highly idiosyncratic list; the only unifying principle is that I am friendly with the writers. I’m probably forgetting a few, but I can always post more later. Click on the names to read their essays in full.

Amy Derjue: “As I’m about to get on the train or back in the car after visiting my Mom, she says she puts me in a bubble when I leave. In the bubble, nothing bad can happen to me when I’m out of her sight. It’s how she can deal with me riding the subway to work, living in a city, driving a car. We all put ourselves and our loved ones in these bubbles every day. Boston’s bubble doesn’t feel very strong right now. But we’ll be OK. We’ll keep going about our business and doing what we love because a life lived in all-encompassing fear isn’t life.”

Taylor Dobbs: “The bombs sounded like fireworks. The screams sounded like the cheers that had poured through my open window for hours. It wasn’t until I saw ‘explosion at the finish line’ on Twitter that I took out my camera bag, snapped on my zoom lens and ran out the door, shoes untied and sockless.”

Azita Ghahramani: “Finally, safely at home, I made the mistake of turning on the news to hear updates on what had happened. When someone reported that the first casualty was an 8-year-old-boy, I heard my son gasp. A child, not much younger than him, hadn’t been spared the nightmare my son thought he had narrowly escaped. That gasp is the other moment I’ll never forget.”

William Bradford: “I have lived in Boston for almost four years now and this was the first time I had decided to be a spectator of the marathon, and to partake in the revelry of Patriots Day. In truth, I did not really want to go downtown. When you stand butt-high to the average citizen, crowds tend to be an annoyance. But there were two of my people running in the race and I wanted to greet them at the finish line. It was to be a monumental day: the first time in race history that two people with dwarfism would not only be qualified to run the race, but also finish it. Or so I hoped. I am the Senior Vice President of Little People of America, the nation’s largest support and advocacy group for people with dwarfism, and it was a proud moment for our organization. I felt a duty to be there in solidarity. As it turned out, it was the solidarity of strangers, Good Samaritans, that bore me through a time of crisis.”

Josh Stearns: “I have no doubt that my sons will have to confront violence in our media and our world, but I see no benefit to introducing it at such a young age. Children under the age of six witness media coverage of disasters as live events, happening before their eyes (ears) and so to children, the ongoing repeated coverage feels as though the disaster is in fact happening over and over again. At a time when the news stories can shift from budget debates and bombings, the news is full of emotional landmines.”

Charles P. Pierce: “Ultimately, many of the lost and the confused and the separated found themselves and their loved ones at the Boylston Street end of the Public Garden. There was a general milling about and, for a moment, it almost seemed as though the spirit of the day had been recaptured, until you realized that a lot of this joy was about finding out your wife or your son wasn’t maimed, and until you saw the people sitting alone, their backs against the trees, staring up through the branches as if they were hanging prayers on every one of them.”

Lloyd Schwartz (added Wednesday): “More people have lost their lives at stampedes at other sporting events in other parts of the world. But I’m heartbroken about the eight-year-old boy killed returning to the stands after running into the street to greet his father who was crossing the finish line. For the new amputees, some of them runners. For the dancer who sustained critical leg injuries. For Boston. It’s heartbreaking.”

Steve Krause (added Wednesday): “I’ve heard a lot in the past two days about how tough Bostonians are … and how resilient. I don’t know if we’re any tougher, or any more resilient, than anyone else whose city has been torn apart by a terror attack. The dichotomy of all this is that the most depraved acts we can think of often result, in their aftermath, in some of the most astounding examples of human kindness and nobility of spirit. I’d like to bottle it up if I could and let some of it out down the road when the shock wears off and people return to acting the way they normally do.”

Michael Jonas (added Wednesday): “Yesterday, as was true a dozen years ago, the security drill struck me as a fairly desperate effort to bring at least a thin veneer of order and security to a world with risks we simply are not able to eliminate. But once the office buildings are secured, what about the shopping malls? Downtown Crossing at midday? My Red Line ride home? Or anyplace, for that matter, where a dozen people might congregate close together, an inviting ‘soft target’ for someone bent on the mayhem that transformed the scene at the Boston Marathon finish line in an instant from a celebration of human perseverance to a sidewalk killing field.”

(Not) tweeting from City Hall

OK, one quick one, then I’m out of here.

The Boston Herald today follows up its social-media story with more from Dave Wedge and Jessica Heslam and a column by Margery Eagan.

In order to bolster her argument that Amy Derjue, spokeswoman for Boston City Council president Mike Ross, is tweeting when she ought to be working, Eagan quotes something Derjue posted on Monday at 10:11 p.m.

I’m not here to defend Derjue, Mac Daniel or David Isberg, who have created something of an appearance problem for their bosses, even though I’ve seen no real evidence that they’ve been slacking off. (In fact, I think Heslam gets at the appearance problem nicely here.)

But quoting something a city employee posted at a time when she was clearly off-duty is out of bounds.

Tweeting from City Hall

Amy Derjue (from Twitter)
Amy Derjue (from Twitter)

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub has some big-time fun with the Boston Herald’s story on city employees who use Facebook and Twitter during work hours. Gaffin reproduces a photo of the Herald reporters who wrote the story, Jessica Heslam and Dave Wedge, from — yes — Heslam’s Facebook account.

“What are they using them for?” asks Gaffin. “What are they hiding? Ooh, insinuation is fun!”

Kidding aside, you have to admit that there’s an appearance problem with the way some city employees are using social media. Heslam and Wedge focus on Amy Derjue, a former Boston Magazine blogger who was hired earlier this year to serve as City Council president Mike Ross’ $39,000-a-year spokeswoman.

Derjue is something of a young-woman-about-town, and I follow her on both Facebook and Twitter. (If you page through her 340 Facebook friends, you’ll see a wide array of local media and political folks, including Gaffin, me — and Wedge.) Some of her posts make me cringe, and Heslam and Wedge dutifully provide some cringe-worthy examples. But I’ve never heard anyone suggest she wasn’t smart, hard-working and energetic. For what it’s worth, she has complained to me on behalf of her boss, which suggests dedication to her job.

More to the point, most of us — and you can be sure Derjue falls into this category — are never fully off work. If we’re expected to tend to business when we’re off-duty, then we have to be allowed some fun during the formal workday as well. And, as Gaffin writes, “Why, it takes sheer seconds to post something to Facebook or Twitter.”

An aside that may help illustrate my point. Yesterday John Robinson, editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., tweeted that he was being yelled at by a “legislator who resigned in disgrace.” When I responded at how impressed I was with his multi-tasking, he replied, “Yes, tweeting while yelling. What else am I supposed to do? Listen?” This was not a private conversation — it was seen by all 1,196 of Robinson’s followers and all 2,019 of mine. Welcome to 2009.

Ross tells the Herald that he hired Derjue in part for her social-networking expertise. And, indeed, Ross has a pretty lively Twitter feed and Facebook account. For Derjue to post to her personal sites while working on her boss’ would, as Gaffin says, take “sheer seconds.” You can question her judgment, but her social-media activities are not evidence of dereliction.

Derjue seems to have partly disabled her Facebook account (I could be wrong; Facebook mystifies and annoys me), and she hasn’t posted to Twitter since last night. No doubt she’s licking her wounds at the moment. I’m interested to see how she’ll respond.