Ad Venture

In the Winter issue of Boston College Magazine, I profiled the three founders of Jebbit, an internet startup that’s hoping to rethink the way we interact with ads online. Here’s the gist:


Tom Coburn is charming, and if he had gone through with his education plan—a biology major, graduation in 2013, followed by medical school—he surely would have developed a lovely bedside manner as a practicing physician someday. But today the redheaded 22-year-old Hopkinton, Massachusetts, native is one of Boston’s youngest CEOs, and on this autumn morning he’s targeting that charm instead at the construction workers building the brand new office space for his online startup, Jebbit, in the Landmark building near Fenway Park. Riding the elevator in the building’s historic tower, he chats easily with the hard-hat-wearing worker three times his age. The elevator doors glide open to reveal stunning floor-to-ceiling windows . . . and one of Jebbit’s programmers dangling like an orangutan, by one arm then the other, from the steel girders on the ceiling. The programmer grins goofily down at his colleagues slouched on a gray sectional sofa below him, their baseball caps turned backward and laptops on their laps. Coburn shrugs and smiles as he continues with the tour.


The construction worker chuckles and turns to Coburn: “I’ve been here a week and I still have no idea what it is that you guys do.”

“We’re in online advertising,” Coburn replies.

That’s certainly one way to describe it. Coburn’s company, Jebbit, is attempting to completely rethink the way we interact with ads online, and since sharing a first-place finish in the undergraduate Boston College Venture Competition (BCVC) in 2011, it’s gotten some significant traction. The past few years have been a bit of a blur for Coburn and his cohorts: They’ve been accepted to two of the country’s most competitive startup accelerators, raised $1.8 million in funding, found partners in brands such as Coca-Cola, Bose, and Ralph Lauren, and been named to the Boston Globe‘s “25 Under 25? hot list. Jebbit today has 13 employees, 10 of whom are under the age of 22 (and nine of whom occupy the same Cleveland Circle house). Last year, Coburn and two cofounders—chief technology officer Chase McAleese (also a member of the Class of 2013) and COO Jonathan Lacoste ’15—left Boston College before they could graduate to pursue Jebbit full-time.

Find the rest of the piece here.


I had a lovely time chatting with Maura Johnston and the BC community during the first ever Boston College Google+ Hangout earlier this week. Maura and I answered questions about social media’s impact on journalism and reporting in the digital age.

Taming the Beast Within



How do you solve a problem like pedophila? It’s a disorder without a cure–and one that, quite frankly, few people ever want to think about. But for my latest piece in Boston Magazine, I interviewed people who work with this population and are using medical interventions to help control their patients’ unwanted and inappropriate sexual desires. The method of choice is the drug Lupron, a injection that’s been dubbed “chemical castration,” and helps lower the sex drive and unwanted urges in patients. The problem, of course, is that it’s not widely used, and public support for the treatment is practically non-existent. I explore the ethical land mines that doctors who treat these patients face on a regular basis, and what it could mean for the public if we decide to treat these men with these drugs.

Losing Aaron



Three years ago this month, the internet activist Aaron Swartz was arrested for downloading JSTOR files from MIT’s campus. A year ago, he took his own life.

When he died, the world lost a brilliant young man. Aaron’s father lost a son. In this month’s issue of Boston Magazine, I tell Bob Swartz’s story.

[Losing Aaron]

Photo by Mark Fleming

Six Heroic Saves


Hippocrates was among the first to identify the importance of the doctor-patient relationship, and today it remains an essential tenet of medicine. So as we looked to put together our Top Docs issue together this year at Boston Magazine, we realized it made sense to look at the health care professionals who did such incredible work in the wake of the marathon bombings. I wondered: What bonds were formed in the first few hours after the blasts? Fortunately, I was able to find six tremendous doctors and seven patients who were willing to share their stories. You can find them all here online.

You can see my interview on Fox25 here as well:

Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

Giving Up the Gun


This summer, as the number of shootings ratcheted up across the city of Boston, and there was a growing unease in many of the city’s neighborhoods that the spike in violence was being ignored, one nonprofit was doing their best to reorient the conversation. The group Citizens for Safety has been working to stop getting guns into the hands of would-be shooters for more than a decade. Their anti-gun trafficking efforts are important here in Massachusetts, a state whose strict gun laws can only do so much, particularly when lax policies elsewhere enable guns to be brought here illegally across borders.

“I always say, ‘We don’t have a gun problem in Boston, we have a gun trafficking problem,’” says Nancy Robinson, who heads the group. And when she began looking at one of the sources of that problem she came to a startling realization. Women were frequently being used to traffic guns because of their clean records. They were often caught holding or hiding guns in exchange for money, drugs, or protection. And while programs existed to help women who struggled with other life-threatening issues: domestic violence, drug abuse, or sexual trafficking, for example, no such program served to help women deal with the reality of guns. So Robinson created Operation LIPSTICK, an acronym for Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killings.

I profile the groups’ effort in the November issue of Boston Magazine.

A Mayor in Full



The October cover package in Boston Magazine is devoted to Mayor Thomas Menino, who has been in charge for two decades here in Boston, but is stepping down from office at the end of this year. We look at old Mumbles from a variety of angles, but I was assigned two of the most fascinating ones. On the subject of race, Menino’s legacy is somewhat mixed. Yes, we’re a far less racist city than we were in the past, something that Menino roundly touts as one of his largest accomplishments. But there are still divisions, and many in the city feel that real parity on issues of poverty and education have not yet been reached.

Whereas Menino’s position on race may be left to the history books, there is little question that his stance on LGBTQ issues is solid. As supporter of gay rights since he first entered politics, he’s never wavered on his positions, and it’s something that the gay and lesbian community cherishes.  “We would not have same-sex marriage in America if not for Tom Menino,” one advocate told me. “Boston has been an incubator for those ideas.”

Armor All


In the October issue of Boston Magazine, I have a piece that looks at the new body armor that was designed specifically for a woman’s body. Yes, this is something that is only happening now. And yes, “it fits like a prom dress,” according to the female soldiers who wear it. Here’s the piece online.


The Cure

dpt_vcsFor the September issue of Boston Magazine, I profiled a group of venture capitalists who are trying to rethink the way we find and fund healthcare innovations. Third Rock Ventures identifies promising therapies, often while they’re still in the lab, and then builds companies around them. They’re placing big bets on innovation, and helping to invigorate the biotech economy here in Boston. Check out the piece online here.

Sexual Assault in the Coast Guard

US Coast Guard Base Boston

In the July issue of Boston magazine, I wrote a story about sexual assault in the Coast Guard. I began reporting the story over two years ago, before the Invisible War and Congressional hearings pushed military sexual trauma into the headlines on a seemingly weekly basis. In the piece, I tell the story of Coast Guard E-3 seaman Panayiota Bertzikis, who says she was raped while serving in the Coast Guard in August, 2006. In the years since her attack, Bertzikis founded the Military Rape Crisis Center, and has become one of the country’s loudest voices against sexual assault in the military.

Over the past several years, as Congressional legislation has begun helping victims in other services, Bertzikis and the her team at the MRCC have collaborated with other advocacy groups to call attention to the Coast Guard’s precarious situation. Because their organization falls under the Department of Homeland Security, Coasties, as they’re called, are not provided the same legal protections as other service members who serve under the Department of Defense. So Bertzikis and her colleagues have taken the issue to Congress, and started a petition to ensure the Coast Guard falls under same protections granted to the other branches. They are urging them to submit annual reports on sexual assault that includes anonymous surveys, and they want support for survivors at every Coast Guard installation. “Many survivors and  civilian service providers report that phone calls and emails to the SARC in Boston are often not returned leaving the survivors alone, scared and vulnerable for repeat attacks,” he petition states. It was their work in part that resulted in the introduction of the Coast Guard Strong Act, which will put the Guard under the same protections as the other branches of the military. It was recently incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, which is still awaiting Senate approval.

While this bill and others have worked their way through Congress, the Military Rape Crisis Center’s blog, My Duty To Speak, has served as a forum for service men and women from all the armed forces to share their experiences with sexual violence. Though the submissions are often anonymous, together they create a portrait of what life is like for a service member attempting to find justice. Scrolling through the Coast Guard postings throughout my reporting offered a glimpse into just how precarious that isolation can be, and can make one dizzy with frustration. And thanks to her work on behalf of Coast Guard victims, Bertzikis has been receiving many more submissions from the branch as of late:

On November 4, 2012, an active duty Coast Guardsman wrote that they had faced retaliation for seeking treatment for rape: “The investigation came back as not enough evidence to move forward,” they write. “Everyone found out and called me a liar for crying rape. I was told that because I was the one in the loony bin and not my rapist that something was obviously wrong with me.”

On January 10, 2013, a Senior Chief in the Coast Guard wrote seeking advice from blog readers. He said that after exchanging e-mails with a rape victim who considered him a mentor. Despite the fact that she did not mention her rape in e-mails, “After her command discovered e-mails between the rape victim and me I was forced to cease all communications with her,” the Chief writes. “I am angry with the Coast Guard for putting me in a situation to choose between an organization that I love and a shipmate that was raped.”

On February 20, 2013 a non-rate officer wrote in to share her experience, saying that while she had heard about rape problems in the military, her recruiter had told her that it was “all DoD problems and that the Coast Guard is the ‘most women-friendly’ branch of service.” She then writes: “My sexual assault happened on December 22, 2012.  I was awaken [sic] by a Petty Officer first class with his hand down my pants. I screamed. He ran out. When I was asked about my scream I lied and said that I was having a bad dream. We have at least two women here that are here because they have been raped…Several often make fun of them…The Chief and others often hear the jokes but not once put an end to them.”

On April 5, 2013 a Coast Guard seaman wrote in to report that they were raped twice and still serving with their rapist. After struggling to deal with flashbacks, they reached out to a local rape crisis center who said they had no Coast Guard contact in their state, and sent her to the National Guard sexual response coordinator instead. “One day I got a sudden burst of bravery and called the Coast Guard SARC in my district but since I refused to give my name I was hung up on,” she writes. “Picking up the phone and saying: “Hello. My name is so and so and I do not know you but I want to report a rape” is freaking hard! …[W]hy was the National Guard able to talk to me when I did not feel comfortable sharing my name but not the Coast Guard?”

And on August 9, 2013, a rape victim wrote to express frustration that she didn’t get support from her victim advocate. “The Coast Guard does not allow non-Coast Guard victim advocates to serve as victim advocates. I requested Panayiota as my victim advocate and the Coast Guard denied it. Instead they gave me 3 different victim advocates within a year. By the time I felt comfortable with one they gave me a new one.  The irony of it all is that at times they did not know the answers to my questions and they’ll ask me to ask Panayiota and then requested to know what Panayiota has said so that they can know for future victims. Even though Panayiota was not allowed on base with me and at the hearing she was the only one that was stable in my life and the first person I emailed or called after getting any updates about my case.  All of the victim advocates were very nice people but I felt that they were not trained enough. Every other branch of the military allows non-military members to assist rape victims why doesn’t the Coast Guard?”

It was my hope that through this article I’d be able to help share those stories with the public. Fortunately, Slate picked it up, and it stimulated some great conversations online. Here’s hoping that the Coast Guard shipmates get the support they need, and soon.