Congrats to Dan Gillmor

A year and change after announcing his departure from the San Jose Mercury News, Dan Gillmor announced the formation of the Center for Citizen Media yesterday, a nonprofit think tank with a focus on the “grassroots media sphere” and “citizen journalism.” The center starts out with two partnerships–one with Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and one with Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. That also makes Dan a double fellow–an I.F. Stone Teaching Fellow (Berkeley) and a Research Fellow (Berkman).

Institutional support from organizations like the Center for Citizen Media won’t singlehandedly make or break the case for citizens being taken seriously as part of the global flow of news, but it will raise the profile of citizen journalism and bring some much needed balancing perspectives to discussions of the rights of bloggers. This is very good news indeed.

Holiday music roundup

Two years ago, I put out a series of reviews of Christmas CDs, one a day for about a week, focusing on CDs that weren’t the usual Jingle Bells/White Christmas fare. While I’m not in a position time- or inclination-wise to repeat that feat this year, I thought I’d throw out a couple of pointers to some interesting holiday tunes I’ve found this year.

blind boys

First, thanks go to Hooblogger and friend Zalm, who has been doing some really intense Christmas music posts this year: a series of posts on songs of hope, peace, and joy, with love yet to come, and a pair of iTunes mixes for the season. Thanks to his posts, I was encouraged to go back and revisit the Christmas album that the Blind Boys of Alabama put out a few years ago, which has some extremely cool moments.

alligator records

Second, as I noted earlier, there is some humor in having a holiday that is protean enough to embrace the concepts of peace, redemption, hope… and “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’.” Holiday collections that reflect the latter side of Christmas include the Alligator Records Christmas Collection, with some really great blues, Cajun, and R&B tracks; the killer Stax/Volt compilation It’s Christmas Time Again, with contributions from the Staple Singers, the Emotions, and the inimitable Isaac Hayes; and even Yule Be Miserable, a Verve compilation that features Ella Fitzgerald’s sassy “Santa Claus Got Stuck (In My Chimney).”

phil spector

For slightly classier Santa-flavored music, there’s the album that Phil Spector masterminded, A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector. Featuring the debut of the classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (later memorably covered by U2 on the first Very Special Christmas compilation), this is a spectacular slice of the 1960s sound in the service of the season, featuring the signature Phil Spector girl groups and Wall of Sound. Too bad about that trial, which compels me to note that the spoken word outro from Phil at the end over “Silent Night” now sounds far creepier than originally intended.

new york ensemble

And if, like me, your Christmas isn’t complete without a big slice of early music, you could do far worse than to seek out A Medieval Christmas, a slightly obscure but highly worthwhile album by the New York Ensemble for Early Music under the direction of Frederick Renz. A heady brew of chant, early polyphony, and instrumental tunes, the album brings some medieval boisterousness as well as meditative grace to the season.

The Pops, Jesus, and Santa

Singing with the Boston Pops has been a mixed blessing this season. I’ve had to confront my lack of holiday spirit head on, but I’ve also been given plenty of exposure to the lighter side of the season–the side that is about excited children and Santa and cheery singalongs.

It’s sometimes difficult to reconcile all of the facets of Christmas. Yes, Christmas is traditionally among the most depressing times of the year; yes, it’s a solemn religious holiday that observes the birth of Jesus, the arrival of a baby who would die on the cross as a replacement sacrifice for our sins and be raised from the dead in the promise of our ultimate redemption. But it is also, and perhaps equally fundamentally, a season of hope and love. The knowledge of Christ’s ultimate destiny deepens that sense of hope and makes it more poignant, rather than diminishing it.

As for Santa Claus: Tony Pierce has had some very pointed things to say on the subject of the Big Guy with the Beard over the years. Certainly the focus on Santa to the exclusion of Christ is a mistake. But I think it’s also a mistake to exclude Santa, who provides a focus for the secular parts of the holiday in a context of love and acceptance. Yes, there is some greed that creeps in around the edges. But if you could stand on the stage at Symphony Hall in Boston and see the look on the kids’ faces when Santa Claus enters the hall, you’d see no greed. You’d see excitement, and joy. And happiness. And I’d rather see that by having a Santa–a proxy for hope and love–come into the hall than some actor dressed as Christ, or worse as Mary carrying a babydoll. If we must risk cheapening something with pageantry, let us cheapen the Victorian image of Santa rather than the cosmic mystery of the Redeemer.

Tis the season… for outages

I always remember Christmas as one of the most peaceful times in the blogosphere, and my stats back me up. So why does it seem that major blogging services are dropping like snowflakes right now? On the heels of the Six Apart outage comes a daylong outage at Kinja, the aggregator that powers the consolidated Hooblogs view (and, apparently, the Add to Kinja graphic in my sidebar. Ooops).

I think these folks could use some IT service management software. But that’s just my professional opinion.

(Disclaimer: I’m employed by iET Solutions as a product manager.)