Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Video Game Orchestra Review

First orchestra review written for the Video Game Orchestra on December 5, 2009 at the Berklee Performance Center. Also with a Q & A with Music Director Shota Nakama. Was only posted online; not published in print.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Businesses Benefit from Influx of Films, but Critics Question Tax Break, Disruption Irks Some Residents

Fenway News published a story I had been working on for a few weeks about the Massachusetts tax incentive that brought a lot of big filmmakers to Boston and other parts of the state over the summer. The story was published in the December 2009 issue. Below is the story copied from a Word document.

Businesses Benefit from Influx of Films, but Critics Question Tax Break, Disruption Irks Some Residents
By Meena Ramakrishnan

Main streets closed off to the public, sounds of explosions, and celebrity sightings have become common to Bostonians. While the film industry is based in Hollywood, the latest Massachusetts film credit has brought many filmmakers to Boston.
Over the summer, Ben Affleck filmed “The Town” in Boston and Cambridge, and Tom Cruise shot scenes for the movie “Knight and Day.” Production crews closed streets around Fenway Park, Copley Square and the North End. Both films wrapped shooting in Boston last month, according to Sam Baltrusis who blogs on the Loaded Gun Boston website.
“For the vast majority of movies, Massachusetts is very competitive,” said Nick Paleologos, executive director of Massachusetts Film Office, “Not only do we have a decent tax incentive, we have a very qualified crew base.”
This year, the state has seen a record number of media productions, including 13 feature films with production budgets that exceed $30 million, according to the July 2009 Department of Revenue (DOR) report. The film credit was first passed in 2005 and grants tax incentives to feature films, television series, documentaries and commercials.
As many as 3,000 jobs have been created in the state’s film sector, but more than half of the wages are paid to California residents who may earn over $1 million. The DOR report does state that productions with larger budgets are less likely to hire labor outside of Hollywood.
Paleologos said even though most of the film industry’s workforce comes from outside Massachusetts, the state collects taxes from the actors’ and workers’ incomes.
But some say the tax incentive puts a heavy a burden on taxpayers. According to the report, for every dollar the state spends in incentives, the return is around 16 cents. President Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said the tax break does not create enough jobs to offset state expenses.
“Of all the tax credits I’m aware of, this is probably the worst deal I’ve seen. We should admit that this is a terrible economic investment, especially in a fiscal and economic meltdown, and we’re cutting programs across the board. We can’t afford a $100 million project,” he said.
Widmer said the construction of film studios in Massachusetts would help to boost state employment instead of relying on labor from Hollywood.
According the Boston Globe, there have been several proposals for studios around Boston and Plymouth. Many agree that these ventures would not have been possible without the film credit. Construction for Plymouth Rock Studios planned to develop a golf course into a movie studio that would add to the state profits from the tax credit and stimulate employment. Plymouth Rock Studios predicted in an online video clip that Massachusetts would become “Hollywood East.” However, funding fell through weeks before construction was to begin.
Even without a film studio, some local businesses are benefiting. But according to a study conducted by UMass Boston Professor Pacey Foster, the businesses that benefit may only be those in the film industry. In an e-mail he said, “There has certainly been lots of job growth, particularly among the unionized trades who actually make the films. There has also been significant growth among local film service companies like camera rentals.”
In the Back Bay, local businesses like Brickyard VFX on Newbury Street have seen more clients since the tax incentive, according to Dave Waller, founder of Brickyard VFX on Newbury Street. Brickyard VFX assists films with visual effects and post-production work.
“[The tax incentive] really changed things around here quite a bit,” Waller said. “There are a lot of sort of unlikely businesses that have benefited from here. We’re able to hire additional people, which is something we like to boast about.”
Despite the benefits the tax credit brings, some residents do not appreciate the movie crew and celebrity presence around Boston. Lauren Dewey-Platt, who lives in the Fenway neighborhood, said in an e-mail that when “The Town” and “The Zookeeper” were shooting scenes, it was disruptive to residents on her street.
“It was highly disruptive for me because it all took place in front of my building, overnight between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., no less, when I and most of my neighbors were trying to sleep,” she said.
Dewey-Platt said all the benefits go to the state while neighborhoods and residents do not get any compensation for tolerating loud noises and street closings. And, not everyone gets excited about movie star sightings. She said, “Believe it or not, not every resident of the City of Boston is a celebrity sycophant.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

HEAT Receives Semester-Long Suspension

First story written for Northeastern University's school paper The Huntington News. This paper does not receive funding from the University and is privately owned by a group of students. The story is about an environmental awareness club that was suspended for signining something in the university's name without permission.


Monday, October 26, 2009

NU Sport in Society Center on Rush Limbaugh Bid

This story describes what Northeastern University's Sport in Society Center's role is on campus and in the Boston community. The director from the center had also commented in the Herald, ESPN, and WGBH on the Rush Limbaugh bid controversy. Limbaugh had been dropped from a group bidding on the St. Louis Rams.


The story was also published in the November issue of the Fenway News.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MASSVote City Councilors At Large Forum

MASSVote is a Massachusetts organization that aims to educate voters, especially minority voters. They held a series of forums for the 2009 Boston Mayoral Race. I covered the City Councilors At Large Forum that was held at UMass Boston. I also have my first photo credit from this story, but clearly I need to improve on my picture-taking skills.

Here's a link to the online version posted on the Fenway News site:

The story also ran in the November newspaper edition.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Police In Fens Cause Concern For Gay Rights

This is my first crime story, and my first story published in a Boston paper. The Fenway News is a local paper for the Backbay neighborhood of Boston.

Attached is a link to the online version:

Also, this story has generated a few (now eight!) comments online.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Marin County Bike Race

This is also from the Marinscope about a bike race in San Rafael, CA. This story appeared in all five of their papers.

Carrera de San Rafael: Popular cycling event returns
By Meena Ramakrishnan

Coming for its seventh spin around the town, this year’s Carrera de San Rafael bike race will be filled with great food, live music, and of course, competing pro-cycling teams. The .65 mile clockwise loop in the center of Marin’s busiest downtown is a high speed race drawing riders and spectators from all over the bay area.

This popular cycling event began in 1998 when it was first known as the San Rafael Cycling Classic and continued until 2003 when it had grown too large and did not receive enough backing and support.

“It didn’t take place in 2004 and 2003,” said bike race coordinator Wil Matthews, “because it had actually grown too large for me to organize by myself. It gained a lot of national recognition and had a lot more depth than I ever expected, and I had to find some folks help out with the organization and once we had a good foundation we started back up again last year in 2006.”

The race resumed again as the “Carrera de San Rafael,” meaning “race or contest,” in 2006 and is here to stay, but not without a few changes. With the new evening time, this year’s race is going from sunlight to twilight.

“The race was run in the afternoon previously and that was good but it was kind of a day killer for the spectators. Having it in the middle of the day prevented spectators from doing anything else and also the heat could sometimes be a factor… So with the evening format, it’s easier for the spectators to come down,” said Matthews.

The new evening format also benefits the downtown merchants and businesses. In the past, closing the busy downtown streets for the races in the middle of the day has been unfavorable for store owners. But with the new evening race time, “it’s easier on the merchants because they won’t have the street closures in the morning. They’ll be able to have normal business,” adds Matthews.

This year’s race will include various local and state teams competing for first place in their categories. Lisa Hunt, director of local pro-woman’s team Value Act Capital, is excited to get back into the race.

“It’s great to support a local Marin team,” she says, “Wil does a great job with this race.”

With over 400 cyclists competing within their rankings, spectators are encouraged to come and enjoy the various pro-cycling races throughout the evening.

“This is a sport that can be enjoyed by the general public and families because it’s dynamic, and it’s exciting, and it’s healthy and it’s good entertainment,” says Matthews. “This isn’t an event that’s just put on for the cycling aficionados, this is put on for the general public to come and enjoy.”

Races begin at 3:00pm with the Junior Races and end with the Elite Pro Men’s Race, which starts at 7:45pm. The event is free, but VIP seating is available for $35. The Sports Basement Exposition will open at 2:00pm for viewing and sampling the newest health and fitness products along Fourth Street between Lootens Place and A Street. Free valet bike parking by the Marin County Bicycle Coalition is offered for those biking to the event, and parking is available in the two downtown garages on Third Street at C and D streets. For more information visit

Green Business Profile

This is a profile about a green business in Larkspur, CA that was published in the Marinscope in one of their five community papers. The image is a PDF of the hard copy. The words are too small, so I've pasted the text below.

'Perfect' Firm Joins Growing List of Green Businesses

By Meena Ramakrishnan

Twin Cities Times
As a forerunner in the nation’s environmental revolution, Marin County has always strived to convert the brown to green. From hybrid cars to organic food, Marin businesses have also joined forces to conserve natural resources and save energy.
The Marin Green Business Program, started in April 2002, recognizes and promotes businesses and government agencies that volunteer to operate in a more environmentally responsible way. To become a certified green business, businesses and organizations must comply with environmental regulations and take steps to conserve natural resources and prevent pollution. As of April of this year, 187 Marin businesses had joined the growing program.
Dana Armanino, head of the Marin Green Business Program, said of the program’s success: “The county itself is a fairly right ground for green measures and practices. A lot of residents participate and those residents also operate and work in businesses, so they bring those into their business operation.”
Green businesses can also participate in the Sustainable Partners Program as the next level of certification. Armanino said, “It encourages them to take even more environmental measures — measures that benefit the community and their employees.”
Joining the growing number of green businesses in Marin, Perfect Timing Personnel Services is the first full-service staffing agency to become a certified green business. Since joining in June, Perfect Timing has significantly reduced waste, promoted recycling and spread the word in the business community.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to use less in the office,” said Debi Geller, regional account manager for Perfect Timing. “We cut down on our paper dramatically. We’re just really trying to use fewer resources.”
Along with paper reduction, the business has also replaced paper and plastic eating utensils with dishes and silverware, installed energy-efficient light bulbs and decreased time on the road. “We do the best we can not to send people on a long commute. We’re trying to keep them off the freeway as best we can,” said Geller.
Continually meeting environmental regulations and implementing earth-friendly practices has made Perfect Timing a model for other businesses to follow. Geller says the staffing company strives to inform clients and promote green businesses. “Our clients are businesses, and we’re able to give them a plug to make people interested.”
In its quarterly newsletter — which made the switch from paper to electronic — Perfect Timing has even included “The Green Spotlight” as an outlet to encourage other companies to make the change and recognizes those that have in the “Green Businesses of the Month” section.
“Not only is Perfect Timing interested in adding more green companies to its client base,” said Geller, “but it’s also interested in spreading the word about the county’s program to other businesses as well.”Even simple changes in the office can have a huge impact on the environment. “It’s the responsible thing to do,” said Geller. “It’s really about making a difference in people’s lives and it benefits everybody.”To learn more visit and

NEPA Story on Salem Newspaper

This was from the New England Press Association about this editor from Salem, Mass. that talked about using editorials and opinion pages to encourage community feedback and involvement.

16 NEPA Bulletin March 2009
by Meena Ramakrishnan
Bulletin Correspondent
“Despite press layoffs, it is a great, opportune time
for opinion pages,” Nelson Benton, editorial page editor
of The Salem (Mass.) News, told an audience of 16 people
at the “Involved Editorial Page” workshop Friday,
Feb. 6, at New England Press Association convention in
the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.
Benton, who writes a weekly column on North Shore
politics and has been with the Salem News for 36 years,
discussed using the newspaper as a forum to help bring
about discussion in the community. Newspapers are an
important way to learn about your community, and letters
to the editor are a foundation of a paper, he said.
Early on in the discussion, Benton said the workshop
would be informal. He interacted with the audience,
giving advice, suggestions and examples from his editorial
What makes a good editorial page is to keep an open
mind and have other sources besides that day’s paper, he
“It’s our job to make people think and make people
respond,” he said.
Benton posted editorial and op-ed pages from the
Salem News to an easel to show how the paper is more
appealing to readers with graphics placed beside editorials
and letters to the editor. An example was a letter
about a controversy involving the Salem power plant
paired with a picture of the plant.
“You can use a syndicated graphic for someone local
writing about something national,” he said. “You never
know where you can find those kinds of illustrations for
the letters and for the columns.”
Benton said that, when writing editorial pieces, make
your opinions pointed and stand behind them.
He told the audience a story that took place in the
Boston Park Plaza Hotel’s ballroom about an editor at
his paper who had written an unflattering opinion
piece. The subject of the piece came to the NEPA convention
and demanded to know where the editor was.
Benton later found the editor hiding behind a column
in the ballroom.
“You may very well run into the person you talk
about, and you have to try to defend what you wrote,”
Benton said.
The editorial pages can also be used to discuss errors
made by the paper, reader complaints, or even to break
news, Benton said.
“Sometimes there are arguments over where things
should be run, but that’s a legitimate place as more
places in the paper shrink,” he said.
In the second half of the workshop, Benton discussed
restricting letters to the editor and censoring comments.
The guidelines he gave were to remove personal or
libelous postings and to give signed opinions more
prominence than anonymous ones, both in print and
One audience member said he does not allow reader
comments about cancelling subscriptions or suggesting
that he be removed from his position, and said “the
readers could argue about what they want but couldn’t
target his job.”
That prompted other members of the audience to say
what they would do in that situation. One person said
such comments don’t bother him too much. Another
talked about being told she came from a “tin-hat planet.”
Benton said it boosts your credibility to allow more
people to attack you.
Comments to the Salem News are also posted on its
Web site, allowing readers to respond online, a good tactic
when there is less and less room in the paper, Benton
“Our message is to provide people with different
ways to get their word across,” he said.
On the Web site, the newspaper has begun posting
online polls and blogs. After the most recent presidential
election, the paper hired a conservative and a liberal
columnist to blog while they were watching the inauguration.
The Salem News also airs a monthly local access cable
television show for an hour each month that is prerecorded
and posted on the Web site. The show covers
local news, business and feature stories on the North
The last question asked at the end of the workshop
was how Benton had stayed involved in the news business
for 40 years.
He said: “I love doing what I do and find it very
interesting. I love the interaction with people and writing
my opinion. I’ll probably stay as long as they have
Meena Ramakrishnan is an undergraduate student in
the Northeastern University School of Journalism.
Art, reader comments enliven editorial pages