I surfaced from my holiday to hear that Joe Ricketts, CEO of the news sites DNAInfo and Gothamist, has closed both enterprises a week after staff decided to unionize with the Writers Guild of America.

The abrupt move has shut down the sites entirely, so that even archived news stories are now unavailable.

I only wrote a couple of times for DNAInfo, but they were a place of welcome for me in New York and gave me valuable experience putting together local news stories through words and pictures.

Both the pieces I created for them, on New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read programme and the NYC Kids Food Festival, explored projects at the junction of literacy, culture, play, health and wellbeing – a place I still work today with Australian organisations like Metro South Health Board and the Griffith University School of Allied Health.

I’m grateful to the DNAInfo team for the kindness and collegiality they showed me on my visits to New York, and hope that all of their reporters and editors move on to better and brighter things.

Daredevil, Heroism, and Male Teachers

“You run around dressed like a moron, beating people up!”
“It’s not that simple and you know it!”

Daredevil Cast

I was pleasantly surprised by Netflix’s new TV show Daredevil, based on the Marvel comics character.

I’m a bit over growlyman vigilantes, but it has a great supporting cast, an interesting and vulnerable villain, plus a New York where there’s plenty of languages other than English being spoken.

With its gangland politics, comic book elements, and deliberately narrow colour palette, Daredevil is kind of like The Wire, but set in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy universe. If you took the superhero out of it, I’d happily watch a show where a plump, mouthy lawyer, a woman with a troubled past, and a weary journalist decided to take on a larger-than-life crimelord and his syndicate.

I never read much Daredevil, as a kid or an adult, but Mark White in New York got me to buy a Christmas issue of the comic a couple of years back. It was an unexpectedly thoughtful story on the limits of macho heroism and the importance of education.

I wrote about the comic, and about men working in education, over at Role/Reboot a couple of years back. You can read “The Man Without Fear: Heroism and Elementary School” now.

Guest Post: Marta Cabral, Teachers College, New York: Being in Wonder

This week I’m joined by an exceptional arts educator, Marta Cabral of Teachers College at New York’s Columbia University. Marta supports young children in creating art which is then exhibited in a gallery space, allowing her students to experience the roles of artist, curator, and exhibition guide. Her passion for student-directed learning and supporting the artistic expression of even the very youngest children is exceptional.

Here’s Marta on “Being in Wonder (Wonderings and Wanderings of an Early Childhood Studio Teacher)”:

Marta Cabral at MoMa NYC
Marta Cabral at MoMa NYC

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Matt at the Cultural Gutter: Commemorating Ernest Borgnine

Ernest Borgnine memorial at Tortilla Flats NYC
Photo from Ruth Fremson / New York Times

Ernest Borgnine died on 9th July.

At his booth in Tortilla Flats, a Tex-Mex joint in New York’s West Village, they’ve put up  a memorial shrine.

I’ve been there on pilgrimage. It was Borgnine’s birthday. There was free tequila, a colouring competition, and a game of bingo where the numbers had to form an ‘E for Ernie.’

Drunkenly, my date and I used poster paints, glitter and glue to liven up photocopies of Ernest’s face before the bingo caller ordered everyone to toast the aged star (“Here’s to another 95 for Mr. Borgnine!”).

Best. Date. Ever.

You can see my latest piece, commemorating the great man, over at the Cultural Gutter, a Canadian website devoted to disreputable art.

The joy of copywriting: taking on government garble

I recently took a contract putting stilted government language into plain speech.  I’m rewriting hundreds of web pages covering all kinds of public service – from pest control to parking and schools to recycling.

Public sector copywriting might not sound glamorous, but it’s fun to attack a mountain of jargon and break it down into something clear, friendly, and informative for a wider readership.

I meet a lot of students who want to make a living as a writer. Although there’s a few working on screenplays, many teens imagine themselves growing up to be novelists – solitary, self-reliant figures hunched over a desk, creating a masterpiece which will earn them Rowling megabucks.

Yet the joys of many writing jobs are not solitary but social. Journalism and copywriting both involve getting out, talking with people, communicating and learning.

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April update: Science tattoos, teen bloggers, copywriting, and comics

It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately as I ploughed through a swathe of writing assignments and tried (only partly successfully) to stay clear of the Internet.

I have a couple of articles out later this year for the Australian science magazines ScienceWise and Australasian Science, profiling scientists who featured in Carl Zimmer’s book Science Ink. Carl uncovered the weird and wonderful world of researchers who have their work tattooed on their bodies after he spotted a DNA helix inked on the arm of a respected neurobiologist at a pool party in the States. This led to a great book collecting photos of striking, beautiful and downright bizarre science tattoos from around the world.

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New York Harbor School: Interview with Founding Principal Nate Dudley

Back in October, I got in touch with the folks at New York Harbor School on the eve of their First Annual Regatta, a nautical event to celebrate the school’s work bringing a unique brand of maritime education to the city’s students.

Harbor School students at work in the waters of NYC

I discovered the Harbor School while auditing a course for Special Education leaders at New York’s Bank Street College back in February. I was impressed to encounter a US institution which brought together public education with a strong community commitment and a fearsome range of practical training including marine technology, commercial diving and aquaculture!

In my teens I was keener to skive off kayaking lessons and sneak out to Birmingham for shopping and pizza than get on the water. Now, at 31, I can only dream of the kind of maritime opportunities the Harbor School offers its students.

Nate Dudley, the founding principal, got in touch with me by e-mail to discuss the educational adventure currently taking place on Governor’s Island in New York.

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New York Harbor School: First Annual Regatta after 8 Years Leading Maritime Public Education

New York Harbor School's 1st Annual Regatta, October 6th 2011
Teaching environmental stewardship and maritime skills in the heart of the city

Thursday 6th October sees a unique school in the heart of New York launch a special celebration after eight years delivering teaching and learning from the city’s harbour.

New York Harbor School’s First Annual Regatta will take place at Governors Island, attended by guests from the city’s business and media.

Funds raised will support New York City’s only public maritime high school, which delivers an innovative curriculum blending environmental awareness, practical sea skills and hands-on learning.

We’ll be looking deeper into the work of New York Harbor School in a forthcoming feature on Books and Adventures. In the meantime, you can find out more from the school’s own site, nyharborschool.org

Australia’s Paint the Town Read Scheme Brings Communities Together

Dr Matt Finch with Behind the Book's Comic Workshop in Brooklyn, NYC
Dr Matt Finch with Behind the Book's Comic Workshop in Brooklyn, NYC

Tonight, Thursday 1st September, I’ll be the guest speaker at the opening dinner of Paint the Town REaD’s Annual Convention in Sydney.

You can find them online at their new home, http://paintthetownread.info/

To discover more about this amazing Australian community literacy scheme, read my recent piece on the website of New York literacy organisation Behind the Book: