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D.C.’s New Business Man

Back in the early 1800s, a French writer toured the embryonic United States, just a few decades after independence. It fell to this foreigner, Alexis de Tocqueville, to define the foundations of our country in his ever-fresh travelogue, “Democracy in America.” As James MacGregor appeared over the rise of the steps at the Georgetown Four Seasons, seemingly scripted for J. J. Abrams’ latest saga, I wondered whether I was looking at a modern-day Tocqueville, a new foreigner in a crisp blue suit come to tell the tale of the emerging Washington, D.C. Once-challenged neighborhoods like Shaw, NoMa and even Petworth (although more slowly) are at the forefront of what seems like the overnight birth of a new city, filled with entrepreneurs and young adults – not just passing through as they scratch the itch to dabble in politics, but planting roots and building careers. It is a town where start-ups like 1776 and WeWork expand, it seems, as quickly as developers can throw up new buildings, and where whole neighborhoods along the Anacostia and the Southwest Waterfront are not so much gentrifying as metamorphosing. And here to make sense of it all is James MacGregor, the 40ish father of two who hails from Toronto and comes via stints in America’s heartland (Louisville) and, for the last dozen years, in the start-up meccas of San Jose and San Francisco. He’s come east to tell a great tale. One of growth and resurgence. “Get 100 miles outside D.C. and everyone will tell you that D.C. is only about political gridlock and politics. But actually it is not. That might be the federal government, but the business community is engaged in getting stuff done.” Not a bad party line for someone who has been in D.C. for about six months. But his D.C. boosterism is just getting started. He dismisses comparisons between the Silicon start-up land he just left. “Everybody seems to want to be the next Silicon Valley. There is a lot of stuff there that makes Silicon Valley what it is. It is a thing to strive towards, but, if that is the end goal, that is not going to work.” Instead, what MacGregor sees is a story that is just starting to unfold, built on a number of industries. And he is here to make sure it gets told, because MacGregor is the new publisher of the Washington Business Journal. He inherited the job from Alex Orfinger, the long time WBJ publisher who moved down the hall to take on broader duties for the WBJ parent company (owner of 40 print titles and a bunch more online, nationwide). And MacGregor thinks there is a better story to tell in D.C. than on the other coast. “It’s actually hard to cover the tech giants like Facebook or Google. So to really cover them you cover others things, like real estate deals.” And that, he believes, is the heart of any business story, the people and the deals, mostly in real estate. And if it is about people and deals, MacGregor thinks D.C. offers a far richer story than the West Coast. MacGregor’s journalistic mantra: follow those two and you have a road map for what is happening. He has spent much of the first six months just getting to know both. “When you eat out as much as I have to, you have to police what you eat,” MacGregor offers as he orders three eggs and grilled tomatoes, hold the toast. The WBJ currently has a staff of 43, with about half devoted to editorial coverage for a paper that has circulation of 16,000 and 2 million hits, with a quarter of those unique visitors to the website in March. As publications go, that is rather modest, but you won’t hear MacGregor singing print’s swan song. “Digital actually made us do print better, to make it more engaging for the reader. It does not have to be a race to a bottom. In fact we have spent a lot in redesign and improved the quality of the paper. We made investments across all platforms.” Rather than the traditional competition, what worries MacGregor is the competition he can’t see, the challenges coming around the corner, that individual blogger whose posts about tech or health or one of the other emerging business hubs in town suddenly catch fire, build a following and take WBJ’s audience away. The real challenge, MacGregor says, is that the barriers to entry are now so low that serious competition can emerge overnight out of nowhere. Partly in preparation for that, MacGregor believes the WBJ needs to leverage its unique position. Currently, he sees a false separation between Maryland, Virginia and the District. MacGregor describes the Journal’s duty as being to foster a sense that “a rising tide will lift all regional boats.” To that end, he believes the Journal needs to lead the conversation about what is important to local businesses. Thus, a third leg of the Journal strategy: holding breakfast sessions and other events across the region, focusing on growth, real estate and development and the challenges in each jurisdiction. “If we do it right, we are going to get to the end of the year and there will be four things across all of these jurisdictions that are really important to business. And we can know what they are and perhaps how to tackle them.” Add to those breakfasts, the panel discussions, which he hopes are not only events for those who attend but will generate news and stories that the Journal can then repackage (along with revenue). WBJ is averaging about 30 events a year. So MacGregor’s WBJ is not going to be a passive chronicler. He intends to make it a force to enhance, encourage and facilitate development and business growth. It is almost planting the seeds of the stories the Journal will get to reap later. He smiles as he recalls exactly that role, how he heard from people who wanted to start companies and used the Journal’s Power 100 list to call people up, get advice, then exploit those connections to establish thriving businesses of their own. MacGregor is still in the honeymoon phase with his new city. But he says that the final decision to come to Washington was not really his. After hearing about the job, he and his wife came to check out D.C. They arrived for one of those glorious fall weeks, a Destination DC-kind of trip, he recounts. They toured around as the leaves were changing, looked at some neighborhoods and tasted D.C.’s growing wealth of great restaurants, getting around on Capital Bikeshare bikes. MacGregor had been to D.C. sporadically. He knew the great story brewing here and the strength of the publication Orfinger had built. At their final dinner, when Orfinger asked what they thought, it was MacGregor’s wife who answered for both of them: “Sign us up. We are in!” And so MacGregor blazed the family’s trail to D.C., with his wife and two young children joining him at the end of the school year. Now he will have two families to watch grow: his own and that of his newly adopted home.

The Taming of the Internet

The last week of February was pretty monumental in the world of free speech. Let’s start with the win for the public soap box, the cacophony that is the internet. The rules will be challenged and fought and likely evaded but the FCC voted to approve net neutrality, federally prohibiting internet providers from controlling the speed with which any particular content goes down their pipes and, in the process, saying what has been obvious for a long time – the internet has become a utility, an integral part of our society and should be managed that way. This is huge for all those who are not going to be held at ransom by the internet service providers (ISPs) who would have been able to extract fees to guarantee easy flow. But more significantly, the decision ensures that commercial interests of ISP’s do not trump the American exceptionalism that is Free Speech. There is an old cliché from the age of newspapers that the press is indeed free, but only for those who own the presses. The internet changed that, and empowered such forces as the Tea Party and Facebook. It is loud, unruly, chaotic. And that is what makes it wonderful and terrifying at the same time. When All Things Media spoke to FCC officials last year, they were wary of passing regulations that would play too heavy a hand in shaping the future. With Net Neutrality they didn’t have a choice – they either would give the ISP’s the power to control their pipes (one argument being they needed to be able to control the flow to guarantee equal access) or give the content creators unfettered access. The FCC knew it would get battered whichever way it went. But it took a stand and did what so many people say agencies never do – its job. Which brings us to a perhaps equally wise lack of spine. Within a week of the FCC’s vote on Net Neutrality, Google – the de facto sorter of the internet – took steps to make it harder for “adult” blogs to be found on its blogger platform, forcing them to go private. Three days later it backtracked after a deluge of comments saying it would just reinforce the existing warning page. But non-commercial “adult blogs” could continue essentially unbothered. In trying to valiantly protect the innocent, Google suddenly found itself in the strange position of becoming not just the conveyer of free speech but suddenly its arbiter. It was a noble attempt but someone at Google must have looked into the abyss of what the internet Goliath was about to step into and thought better. It was a wise choice. It is enough to have the all-powerful algorithm essentially decide what we all get to see without the added headache of becoming cultural cops. That’s a role would make the FCC’s current situation look palpably enviable.

Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Has Beamed Up

When our friends or mentors, our parents or children, lovers or acquaintances, famous people we know personally not at all, or even our pets die, we weep, we mourn, we grieve, we gather in ceremonial aspects and places and sing and weep some more. When a Vulcan dies, Vulcans do not weep. That would be illogical. Mr. Spock, first mate of the Federation Starship Enterprise, died last Friday morning. The whole world wept. Mr. Spock might have disapproved. Leonard Nimoy, the actor who portrayed the inscrutable, pointy-eared Vulcan for three seasons and a number of films, would no doubt have been amused by the reaction, but not surprised. Nimoy, who died at the age 83 of pulmonary issues, long ago accepted that the resolute, often forbidding but immensely steadfast Vulcan would be a kind of alter ego, complete with Federation uniform and all the accumulated Star Trek minutia. that would accompany him to the grave in the kind of pop cultural mind-melt practiced by Vulcans when they wanted to really get to know someone well. Not to mention the “live long and prosper” sign off with a whiff of hippie happiness and the hand sign which resembled an intellectual’s version of the hand jive. Nimoy, the son of Ukrainian Orthodox Jews, aspired to an acting career early on and had one, although a fair to middling one, until 1966, when he snared the role of Mr. Spock, the second-in-command of the Enterprise under Captain James Kirk on “Star Trek,” a series envisioned and made real by producer-writer Gene Rodenberry, whose mind-set seemed often to come straight from the counter culture of the times. The series in which Nimoy was the only alien on the ship that featured an American melting pot of a gorgeous African American, an Asian officer, a Russian and a Scot engineer with a Scottish accent as thick as Sean Connery’s chest, sent its crew into places “where no man had gone before” by way of warp speed that let the Enterprise time-hop, jump in and out of worm holes (and black holes), and encounter all kinds of planets filled with aliens, left over earthlings starting over, and little things called trebles. It championed a brotherhood of man among a universe filled with aliens, warned against environmental disasters and preached—sometimes with tasers at the ready­­—tolerance. It was also a kind of mind-blowing fun that seemed to have been produced in someone’s back yard. It didn’t matter. Although the series lasted only three years—enough to go into syndication where it took in aspects of a cult—it re-emerged in film form, big expensive Hollywood blockbusters. Spock, in fact, died in one of them only to re-emerge in another. Other series appeared, such as "The Next Generation," with a new captain, a bald and more cerebral “Make it So” Jean-Luc Picard, played by the Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart. There were comic books, more movies (including a current series that so far number two), cartoons and books. Star Trek got into our heads—soon Trekkie conventions, in which hordes of people dressed as characters from the series showed up, shared stories, exchanged knick knacks and generally took advantage of the opportunity of never having to grow up. Through it all, Nimoy never quite shed the shadow of Spock, and then finally stopped trying as in two books he wrote: “I am Not Spock” and “I Am Spock."

Old School Is Back

Dear Buzzfeed, Suck it. So, Mr. I’m-too-sexy-for-the-internet: How does it feel to have a grandma teach you to suck eggs? Yeah, you. “So what am I going to do with the $50-million infusion of venture capital, and a valuation that puts me somewhere near $850 million, all for cats and stuff.” Meet the “it” kid in town. The cool thing everyone has been talking about. The one that is so retro it is avant-garde. The one that said nanosecond attention spans be damned. How about seven hours’ worth? And just people talking? Oh, baby – old school is back! Radio. Yes, radio – that medium so old that its college roommate was the dial telephone. Or, more precisely, radio in the replayable form of podcasting and one series in particular called “Serial”: the eight-part investigation into a Baltimore murder, the young man serving life in prison, the former friend whose testimony put him away and the questions surrounding the case. It was so popular that 1.5 million people reportedly tuned in each week. But more than numbers, it was buzz. Old media – a great story well told without pictures – was a hit, even with the clickbait-addicted generation in their 20s. When asked what he thought, one member of the social media glitterati almost went into a trance: “I binge-listened!” Forget binge-drinking, binge-listening! For All Things Media, the significance of “Serial” is its defiance of all the woe-be-us punditry condemning the state of media today. Yes, there is a lot of very poor stuff out there, but there is a lot of imaginative content being created. And radio, the medium that was written off as dead half a century ago, has become a hotbed for innovation, much of it harkening back to traditions of old. If you haven’t listened, try NPR’s “TED Radio Hour” or “Radiolab” or “This American Life,” the show that spawned “Serial.” So while Jimmy Fallon was turning the “Tonight Show” into a late-night goliath string of YouTube segments, the buzz at the end of the year was a good old-fashioned murder mystery, told with sound alone in 30-to-50-minute bites by Sarah Koenig. It succeeded very simply because it was worth listening to. And in the age of free, it turns out people are willing to pay for something that they perceive gives them value. In this case, listeners replied virtually overnight to a request for support by bankrolling season two of “Serial” with donations. That is nothing new. That is public radio’s model. What was different: the audience includes people who have never even thought of a radio as something they might actually buy. Why would they? The internet is free, after all. Now the hard part comes…can Koenig and her team do it again?

2014 Is So Last Year

Goodbye 2014 - Hello 2015 Rather than look back, I thought perhaps a way to start 2015 was to look forward and see some of the fun that might be to come. So here are 10 big media things to keep an eye on: 1. Local Television 2014 ended with a big shuffle. Sinclair Broadcast Group took the reins of WJLA and longtime news director/station guru Bill Lord headed out that door and straight up Wisconsin to the ailing WUSA. Can he repeat his magic farther up the dial? How will WJLA fare under new ownership with a news operation that takes its marching orders from a centralized news hierarchy? 2. The Washington Post There’s a lot of new energy now that the Age of Bezos has dawned. New culture, new publisher (Fred Ryan, the former general from WJLA and Politico) and new building will generate plenty of armchair analysis. 3. Social Media Bloopers What will be the next great faux pas to enliven our humdrum lives? It’s been a while since a Weiner popped up, and everyone has now learned that you don’t dis the Obama gals. But it is the gift that keeps on giving. More to come, guaranteed. 4. Radical Fundamentalists What will they come up with next in their unfortunately very effective media strategy, and will legitimate governments finally figure out a way to counteract them? 5. Net Neutrality This is the single most important issue facing anybody who uses the internet for anything. The outcome, to be decided this year, will define all our worlds. 6. Hometown Machiavellis Will Frank Underwood and Olivia Pope, the lead characters of the shows “House of Cards” and “Scandal,” continue to give us Washingtonian the guilty pleasure of thinking that we are indeed smarter than everyone else (oh, come on, don’t deny it)? 7. The New Republic TNR is dead, long live TNR. Can the Facebook-billionaire owner really reinvent the icon of American liberalism after its very public self-immolation at the close of 2014? 8. CNN President Obama joked last year that CNN was in search of its dignity. The big question for 2015 is whether it can find its identity. The Network of Record has been best known more recently for its endless coverage of events long after there is nothing to say (along with the uninformed wanderings of a misanthropic cook). 9. Voice of America Less on the radar but still important: What is the future of VOA? Elements in Congress seem intent on making it a propaganda agency, while the journalists who work there are committed to journalism. The venerable agency’s survival is by no means assured. 10. Colbert Finally, the biggest and most pressing unknown in all of American media for 2015: Colbert. What will he look like now that he has shed his Comedy Central persona and moved into his new CBS chair? And just as important, can he challenge the Grand Wizard of Late Night, Jimmy Fallon? ATM is all a-Twitter to see (or at least something social).

With Record Crowdfunding, Jibo the Robot Ready to Join the Family

Meet Jibo, the “world’s first family robot,” an innovative gadget designed by robotics experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A futuristic device created by Professor Cynthia Breazeal and her team of media tech specialists, Jibo is unlike any other household gadget. Move over, Siri, Jibo is now part of the family. Standing at just 11 inches tall, Jibo is an interactive storyteller, messenger, photographer and personal assistant. It even has the ability to learn and recognize the different voices and faces of family members under the same roof, to create a more helpful and personal experience than other gadgets. It’s sleekly designed and packed with artificial intelligence algorithms that allow it to learn and adapt to people’s preferences and habits. It can take photos and videos, deliver hands-free messages and even read and tell stories. Using recognition software to learn and track faces of family members, Jibo provides an advanced version of video calling, almost as if you were really there. It uses natural cues, such as body movement and speech, to know where to look during a video call and moves as if it is part of the action in a room. Its hands-free message delivery system uses the same face recognition software to ensure each message is delivered to the right person. Designed to provide companionship while assisting its owner in coordinating and managing daily activities, this six-pound gadget wirelessly connects to the internet and will “support the unique needs to a human being as we interact with it – to empower us to succeed, thrive and grow with technology like never before,” according to Breazeal’s recent blog post about Jibo. After just a week into its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.com, Jibo, Inc. has raised well over $1 million from nearly 2,500 backers. The campaign, with the initial goal of $100,000, was fully funded within just four hours. Because of its astonishing crowdfunding results, this little gadget now holds a record for achieving “top rank” status among the website’s 15 most funded tech projects of all time, and in just four days, according to the Jibo team. Currently, it is the most funded product that is active on the website. Since it reached its $1-million stretch goal, the company plans to release a free bonus collection with each purchase, complete with special animation and extra movements that Jibo can execute in the home. If it reaches the $2-million mark before the last day of the campaign on Aug. 15, the company said they will release another exciting bonus collection for their customers at no additional charge. The home robot will cost $499 in the consumer version and $599 for the developer version, which will allow engineers and developers to optimize Jibo’s capabilities on its open platform. The initial release is scheduled for early 2016. Click here for more information on Jibo and the record-setting crowdfunding campaign.

All Things Media: an Open Letter to the Media — Give Me (Him) a...

Dear media, Really? I mean, come on. I get it. President Obama is an easy mark. He is not exactly riding a wave of adulation at the moment. There are legitimate questions about how his team is handling an array of the tumultuous issues that have made this summer anything but lazy. These issues have not been easy: from the domestic maelstrom of Ferguson and the coming water wars of the West to the monstrous Islamic State that has now defined itself in its barbaric murder of Jim Foley, the unrepentant would-be Soviet-reconstituter Vladimir Putin, the embarrassment and neutering of the Secretary of State over Gaza and an Afghanistan that seems poised to fall even further apart if that were possible. So, I say again: really? I understand that news organizations pay a lot of money to camp their staff out on Martha’s Vineyard to cover the President. They have to. A news executive once described covering the President around the clock: “It is a death watch. We have to be there just in case he dies.” They also have to justify that expense by actually covering the President when his staff decides he should break from his much needed vacation to make news. But . . . really? There are, indeed, those who have problems with everything this President does -- from policy to his simply being President. Whatever your political stripe, there are legitimate issues that deserve to be raised. But this has now gotten silly. After the President delivered his clearly heartfelt remarks about Foley (Could anyone actually feign anything in response to that barbarism?), major news organizations reported that Obama was back on the golf course barely 20 minutes later. Then, Twitter took over. Implied: could this man be so heartless to talk about this death and then go share a few chuckles on the links? What a monster! CNN even had five minutes of silent footage from a distance of the President playing with three others. And look: he was chuckling and taking a few swings. Wherever you stand, this is ridiculous. And it is unfair. Look at Obama’s hair. It has gone white. ATM would suggest that nobody other than another former President can comprehend the stress of that job. I am actually glad my President (any President) is trying to get away for at least a few days. If that means pretending there is nothing but an infuriating white ball for a few hours, ATM wishes him well. While the President has forfeited just about all rights to privacy outside an enclosed space, the core of all journalism is responsibility. The framing of this golf outing as juxtaposed with a statement on an unspeakable tragedy by responsible journalists does a disservice to the audience and the industry. Leave that to the ranters who prowl the internet. They do that kind of stuff far better than you. So, I ask again. Really? Give me (him) a break. Yours in dismay, ATM

Privacy: A Quaint Notion

Poor Jennifer Lawrence. Her nude photos posted, blasted, shared, across numerous websites. A naughty snap secured on that mysterious thing called the cloud. And the digital thugs who ripped it from the nether regions of some server somewhere. Foul, foul, foul! But hang on, Edward Snowden is hailed as a hero for making public classified information from the NSA showing that the top secret agency was spying on Americans. Is there a difference between the two cases? Are both Snowden and the faceless server-Peeping Toms villains? By now, half of readers are screaming that the two were completely different - one was a private invasion and the other a public good. The other half are cheering. But that is the point - our media is not just changing what we can share and how we share - but our very concepts of what privacy means. And if you are not thinking about that every time you use the Internet, or take a pic and post anywhere, caveat emptor! “There is no such thing as privacy anymore!” exclaimed one of the country’s leading privacy experts, who asked not to be named, when asked about how she would define privacy today. “Only a fool would still think that you could put anything anywhere connected to the web and truly believe it won’t be gotten by others.” Privacy. Such a quaint notion. In the old days JLaw would have either taken photos with a Polaroid, had the film developed (yes they could have been stolen then but then she knew she was giving the naughties to them and crossing her fingers they wouldn’t look) or used a digital camera with a chip that you then put on your computer and printed. To get the pics you would either have to steal them from the photolab or break into her house. Privacy was an easier concept - and invading that privacy was so much more clear cut. Now beware. Snapchat, the photo messaging application, was supposed to guarantee privacy. You could share a picture privately with a friend and not worry about it being more than that because it disappeared in a few seconds. Gone forever. Well at least that was how it was meant to work. Then it was revealed that those revealing Snapchats lived on far, far longer. And if they lived on longer, then they could be JLaw’ed. Nothing is sacred. For those of you inclined, Google tracks your porn searches. Moreover, check the cookies on your computer and realize what you gave up by just turning on that desktop/laptop. You will be amazed how many companies you have never heard of and to whom you did you did not give consent to access your computer, have planted their tracking code on your device. ATM suggests periodically cleaning out all website data, at a minimum. If you have allowed a phone app to use your location info - you are now essentially carrying the same thing as an ankle bracelet used to track felons. You are not the only one who can launch the “find my iPhone.” But perhaps there is hope. A recent Pew study says that people are far less likely to share their political views on social media when they think a majority of others might disagree. So at least we seem to be keeping our political thoughts to ourselves a bit. So maybe that’s the secret. If you want to keep it private - pass that note in class. Or just don’t take those photos in the first place. But in the meantime, we are all Jennifer Lawrence, just without the fame and the hacked photos, at least as far as we know. Amos Gelb is the founder and director of the Washington Media Institute.

All Things Media:

I never took Sara Just for a masochist. The incredibly smart, able, talented and – by the way – thoroughly nice ABC News senior executive was just named the head of the venerable PBS NewsHour. In today’s media, venerable is not a good thing. Venerable is revered. Venerable means gravitas. Venerable means nobody is watching anymore, which, regrettably, is increasingly the case for the NewsHour. There was barely any notice paid to the pronouncement that the revered Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff would assume the co-anchor chairs. And Sara Just is going to save it –- although she coyly is not saying how. But what is she trying to save? It is a completely new news ecosystem that seemed to have changed enough already the last few months and then decided it was only just getting started (a cap doffing to Al Pacino’s immortal diatribe in “Scent of a Woman”). Just announced: Gannett is breaking the newspapers off from everything else. Why? The first Silver Line train to Gannett’s headquarters in Reston must have been carrying a magic vision of the future. Recently announced: Tribune papers doing something similar. That mess many know about. Previously announced: Digital First – the force that was going to drive local papers truly into the new age decided to simply shut its doors. Literally out of the blue. Mashable/Buzzfeed – two distinctly non-general news organizations – deciding that the future is in good old-fashioned journalism and are hiring staffs. The most venerable New York Times slitting its own wrists in a leaked internal memo saying that its digital strategy simply did not cut it. The oddball Vice Television is beefing up to become one of the major forces in international reporting. And yet, venerable refuses to give up. About a year ago, the venerable Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism issued a much-promoted report called “Post Industrial Journalism.” Its authors, C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky wrote in their opening paragraph: “much of [journalism’s] future is already here and… there is no such thing as the news industry anymore.” Could they have been more wrong? Once more an incident of venerable over-thinking its own importance. So, what does Sara have up her sleeve? Nothing short of rejuvenating the term “venerable.” If she succeeds, she will offer a road map for all media trapped by its own history. If she doesn’t, well, don’t let anyone call you “venerable.”

Making It All Click

With dizzying energy, Jack’s Boathouse owner Paul Simkin teaches students to move with the latest technology as the director of Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts, located in Georgetown. In his own way, he instructs them to stay current and focused on the big picture. Because of the many media outlets in the nation’s capital and the digital media explosion, the center was established to meet the needs of 21st-century creatives. The center offers professional studies certificates in 3D animation, audio production, digital filmmaking, graphic and web design, digital photography and web development. The approximately 300 students enrolled in the programs are registered as full-time students or take classes at night as part-time students. The other programs include locations in Atlanta, Ga. and Waltham, Mass., west of Boston University’s main campus. In addition to his work as a photography professional and educator, Simkin also manages and owns Jack’s Boathouse next to Key Bridge. Simkin, who bought the boathouse in 2006, rents out approximately 70,000 boats per year, he says. An avid kayaker, the Chicago native says the idea to buy the boathouse came to him while taking a conference call in the middle of the Potomac River. As with anything in Georgetown, there is a historical context. Boston University’s CDIA D.C. campus is located in the Foundry building on Thomas Jefferson Street, in the space formerly occupied by the Foundry Cinema, which closed in 2002. The original Foundry building dates back to 1856. The center’s spaces consist of administrative offices, computer labs and photo studios. Simkin’s office is on the ground level next to the C&O Canal, but the first thing you might notice is the skeleton that he uses as a coat rack. Equipment is everywhere. He has not yet fully moved in. One characteristic about Simkin is that he seems like he’s ready for anything. “I can go anywhere in the world and shoot anything with that,” says Simkin, as he points to a pile of photography equipment. Even though students pick one major on which to focus, multidisciplinary study is the name of the game. “If you can show that you can put a site together, that you can put the illustration for your intention, whatever it is, you’re worth a million dollars to [people],” said Simkin. “It puts you light-years above all the other people of a similar ilk. That’s what we’re dedicated to.” For Simkin, it is important to balance the practical and creative aspects. “That creates a problem,” says Simkin, “because we aren’t teaching people to fix air conditioners and transmis- sions. We’re teaching art. So, on the one hand, we’re train- ing people to make money, but on the other hand we have to nurture a vision in someone.” Instruction — and Structure While at the center on Friday, Paul was approached by one of his students, Nouf Mallouh. She was working what the center calls her “Practicum.” Practicum is a student’s final project that requires them to provide work for non- profit, socially responsible organizations, which otherwise would not be able to afford such highly skilled digital work. Mallouh is from Saudi Arabia. She’s studied both graphic design and photography at the center. For her practicum, she is working with the Literacy Lab, a non-profit organization that teaches reading to low-income students in Washington, D.C. She has a series of about 50 photos from a recent shoot and wanted Simkin’s opinion. As Mallouh goes through the photos, Simkin gives both positive and constructive criticism. “Nice shot,” he says. “That’s a beautiful shot. Thank you. You’re very good at capturing faces. Take a compli- ment when you get it. She’s mugging for the camera. Next, please.” Simkin gives Mallouh a lot of tips about where to crop photos but compliments her ability to capture faces and hands. After about 20 minutes, we leave the computer lab. Moments like those are what make the job for Simkin, who became director of the center in September. “One condition I made when I accepted the job was that I get to do stuff like that,” Simkin says. As the center’s director, Simkin might not be expected to be as available to his students as he is and that he would leave that sort of work to professors. “When they kick my ass like that, it makes me a better photographer,” Simkin says. “She had a very good sense of feeling, of kids. I freeze up around kids. I can’t just get in and be tight and be part of a scene. She has a natural incli- nation for that. So, I get to see a point of view that I would otherwise miss.” “I really couldn’t imagine a better mentor,” says Erin Schaff, assistant director at CDIA’s D.C. campus, and who views Simkin as a great resource for photography students. Schaff, who is from Red Hook in upstate N.Y., graduated from Kenyon College in May 2011 with a B.A. in political science and came to Washington to pursue a career on Capitol Hill. After working in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and other jobs, Schaff began working part-time at Jack’s Boat- house in June and fell in love with the river. “I had a full-time job, and I quit to work for him full-time,” says Schaff of Simkin. “It was kind of a big leap for me, because everything was kind of stable. Everything was going very well in the direction I thought I wanted to be going. So, it was a big leap, but it has totally been worth it.” As someone who runs two large operations, it is no surprise Simkin needs someone to help keep him organized. Schaff provides that structure. Never Getting Old Boston University began opening its three CDIA campuses as film photography was being replaced by digital as the de facto medium for professional photographers. “When we started five to six years ago, it was the end of film,” Simkin says. “It was the end of the dark room. These folks had the vision to make great photographs but at the same time to realize the end was there -- and that it was not a defeat. It was a great opportunity to make great art.” The school was founded on the principle that technology is constantly changing. This means that the center’s curriculum is continually changing. The center’s classes resume in January. “Two years in digital stuff is huge,” Simkin says. “So, if we just stuck to the same one [process], we’d be in big trouble.” This dedication to technology has been a constant for Simkin. When he was 24 years old, he was work- ing as a photo editor at the Associated Press. Then, he made a decision about photography. “I’m editing photos, when I see these dark room guys. These are guys in white jackets who would print photos,” Simkin says. “I ask one of these guys, who were about as old as I am now, ‘How much back- ground is there to being a dark room guy?’ It turns out that the guys were photographers earlier, and they had shot on 4 by 5, the kind of stuff you’d shoot Marilyn Monroe with in the ’50s and the ’60s. Those pictures were great. The quality was great. So, when the 35 millimeter [film] came out, they didn’t want to shoot 35 millimeter, because it was so small and the pictures were grainy. They held on to their 4-by-5 view of things, and then the world passed them by. And they were printing my pictures.” “I made the decision I was never going to get old as it related to the image." Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts will be partnering with the Georgetowner for its fourth annual photography contest. Email submissions to photography@georgetowner.com by Jan. 8. Winners will be honored at a Jan. 17 reception. For more information, visit www.Georgetowner.com. [gallery ids="101088,137699,137684,137695,137690" nav="thumbs"]