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What Else Did We Get Wrong?

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One of the most riveting books I’ve read in the last few months is Jan Brogan’s The Combat Zone: Murder, Race, and Boston’s Struggle for Justice, a thorough investigation of the 1976 murder of Harvard football player Andrew Puopolo in Boston’s red-light district, and the social, racial, and criminal justice issues that swirled around the case. Particularly at issue in the trial—and the overturned murder convictions of the three Black men accused of the crime—was the prosecution’s use of
race-based peremptory challenges to ensure an all-white jury. The appeal in the Puopolo case proved a landmark in abolishing that practice.

To create the context for Puopolo’s murder, the trial, and the hot-button issues it raised, Brogan sketches out the racial climate in Boston at the time, which was particularly ugly in the aftermath of a 1974 court decision mandating the desegregation of Boston’s public schools. The virulent and violent white backlash over “forced busing” raged on 3 years later as the Puopolo trial began.

Brogan generally does a good job at setting the scene, although she makes one grievous error, perpetuating the myth that the judge in the desegregation case decided arbitrarily to exclude the suburbs from the busing plan, leaving the city’s two poorest neighborhoods to sort out the city’s school segregation problem. The much-vilified Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., in fact, was sandbagged by the Supreme Court just weeks before he handed down his decision, barring him from including suburban schools. It’s a crucial distinction that was lost on enraged Boston residents then (and the many who still harbor resentments today over busing’s alleged long-term effects on the city’s schools), and it will be lost on Brogan’s read­ers now if they don’t know what really happened.

It also begs the question: What else does the book get wrong?

At Streaming Media, we’ve done what seems like innumerable articles, webinars, and conference sessions over the last 3 years projecting a “new normal” in which producers of live events who recognized the value of streaming during the height of pandemic when streaming was their only option for connecting with their desired audience would make streaming SOP even when pandemic-related restrictions ceased to necessitate it. And Streaming Media was far from alone in making such predictions. Many in this industry—particularly those of us engaged in producing live streams—expected hybrid live events that serve an on-site audience while not excluding the potentially vastly larger far-flung streaming audience to become commonplace and all but a no-brainer to those pre-pandemic non-streaming holdouts who’d finally discovered what they’d been missing.

But based on what I’m hearing from a wide array of streaming producers, the heightened demand for streaming live events that we expected to be a natural outcome of its COVID-era ascendancy is either evaporating or simply hasn’t materialized. Likewise, the anticipated trend of event producers continuing to leverage the efficiencies and savings of remote production and virtual events has fallen far short of expectations as well. Meanwhile, reports of a confounding retreat into on-site work and shrinking opportunities for remote workers continue to emerge.

It’s hardly an encouraging sign when the two Streaming Media columnists who are actually engaged in streaming production as a primary business—Anthony Burokas of The Producer’s View fame and The Video Doctor’s Robert Rein­hardt—have called out precisely this trend in recent and current columns. (See this issue’s The Video Doctor column on page 10 and Burokas’ November-December 2022 column The Pendulum Swings).

Clearly, it’s too soon to declare the promised New Normal a non-starter or to proclaim a return to pre-pandemic, on-site, on-prem notions of normalcy. But presuming the inevitability of a New Normal we thought would have manifested itself by now seems to have been misguided or simply overly optimistic.

Granted, this was the first global pandemic for all of us who weren’t in 1918–1919. But when it comes to reading the post-COVID tech tea leaves, it does make one wonder: What did we get wrong?

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