A respite from Philly Tech Week kickoff rainouts

Those closest to me are familiar with this painfully, long-running inside joke: these elaborate outdoor Philly Tech Week kickoff events I organize always happen with comically poor weather. Philly Tech Week is an annual, open calendar of events on technology, entrepreneurship and innovation that I help curate with my company.

That string of rainouts changed in May 2019, when an afternoon shower gave way to warm sunshine.

A beloved events producer of mine turned to me that afternoon and proclaimed: “We have turned a corner and won’t have any more rained out kickoffs!” Given that that 2019 edition was something of a dry-run for 10th annual Philly Tech Week to take place in May 2020, that seemed like a thrilling prediction. In 2020, we would have the largest, best-planned, most interactive kickoff ever, with the help of perfect weather, as I had always envisioned. This memory made me laugh out loud this week because, last month, I hosted the second consecutive all-virtual Philly Tech Week due to the pandemic. Fatima, you were right, no more rainy outdoor kickoffs!

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Notes on “Revolutionary Networks: the Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789”

Colonial-era publishers in the United States were small, family-run businesses that spanned social classes, divided politics and drove forward discourse. Though tiny operations independently, they collectively shaped widespread opinion and developed into the fractured news environment we have today.

That’s one main theme from Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789, an academic book published by Joseph M. Adelman earlier this year by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Adelman adds a lot to the literature on the details of how publishing houses worked in this era. In truth, I sought even greater detail on the real operations but I so appreciated his inclusion of basic finances and revenues, and much detail on the people behind it. I found myself scribbling many notes down on what I’d like to further research for my own understanding of the history of my trade. Much thanks to Adelman.

My friend Everett kindly bought me this as a gift, and I quickly read through it back in February. This is one of many publishing and journalism history books I’ve enjoyed the last several years. Below find notes for myself. I encourage you to buy the book and explore the topic yourself.

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Resist flattening your neighbor

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Describing political perspectives on a left-right spectrum began with the French Revolution.

In the National Constituent Assembly of 1789, deputies most critical of the French monarchy began to congregate in seats to the left of the President’s chair. Supporters of the monarchy to the right. No assigned seating. Just a natural affinity for sitting near those with which you most agree. So developed the party of movement, and the party of order.

Left-right is a metaphor. It only means something because the concept developed widespread familiarity, and it’s a helpful framework for explaining complex identities. Helpful, at least, in that it neatly described a spectrum of opinion on that very specific question in 1789: where do you identify on this spectrum between movement and order during this open debate on the role of monarchy?

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The “Elements of Journalism”

(Image source)

Journalism is a practice largely influenced by those who learn the craft on the job. Despite its well-established impact on communities, there’s a very old debate about whether or how much formal training should be required.

In 1988, ABC anchor Ted Koppel said that “”journalism schools are an absolute and total waste of time.”

Into that fray, the Elements of Journalism has served a breezy foundation for modern journalism. The book, written by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, was first published in 2000, then revisited in 2007 and most recently in a third edition from 2014. I read it once many years ago. I returned to it again, after a conversation I had with Rosenstiel, and found it a helpful resource.

Below I share my own notes, though I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in journalism best practices. I bought copies for the editors at my own organization. It’s an easy and effective read.

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What is newsroom objectivity?

(This is an expansion of this thread)

When is a news organization being fair to a range of good-faith perspectives, and when is that newsroom retreating from a moral responsibility? When is a reporter taking a partisan stance and when is it a stance for justice?

With the rise of the social web in the last 20 years, this reevaluation of journalistic principle has been frequently described through the lens of newsroom objectivity. It reached a fever pitch in 2020, resulting in an important dialogue on objectivity and “moral clarity” in newsrooms.

This concept was the topic of a session in November 2020 during the virtual 12th annual Klein News Innovation Camp unconference I help organize. I’ve revisited the conversation, and I want to share what I took away.

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Notes from Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Talking to Strangers’

The social human species evolved to default to truth when encountering each other. That works well more than it doesn’t but in complex society it results in many unintended consequences.

That’s the heart of Talking with Strangers, the 2019 book by journalist-public intellectual Malcolm Gladwell. That year, I saw Gladwell speak about his research informing the book. Though I got a copy of the book then, I only just got around to reading it.

Like many others, I enjoy Gladwell and admire the journey he’s taken as journalist, extending into longform narrative nonfiction to push forward our understanding of the world. Below I share a few short notes for myself in the future.

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Hold firm your beliefs, let your opinions change

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Hippasus was a student of the Greek philosopher-mathematician Pythagoras 2,500 years ago.

Pythagoras, whom you may know for popularizing a theorem that is today named for him, taught that all numbers could be expressed as a ratio of two whole numbers. This seems obviously wrong to us today.

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Newsroom objectivity and “moral clarity” are not in opposition

(This is adapted from a Twitter thread)

No, newsrooms don’t need to throw out “objectivity’ as a principle. Yes “moral clarity” should mean something for news organizations.

This thread comes from my own experiences, plus this helpful conversation I had during Klein News Innovation Camp with Alexis Johnson, Tom Rosenstiel and Wes Lowery.

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Will the world be a better place to live in the future?

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

In 2018, Harvard psychologist and pop intellectual Steven Pinker wrote a book that made a lot of smart people very mad. He argued that, on the global whole, quality of life was continuing its trend of getting better for humans. It was the continuation on a theme from a book he wrote in 2011.

His argument was that we are so (understandably) focused on the immediate pain, suffering and injustice of the day that we feel heartless to zoom out and acknowledge broader trends. Diseases are eradicatedGlobal poverty is downLife expectancy is up. As Pinker often put it: We remember stories about airplane crashes but we ignore stories of airplane takeoffs. (In fact, there’s a movement among journalists to respond to that last point.)

Those aren’t trivial accomplishments for the world. Yet many intellectuals waved Pinker off as an overly-optimistic privileged pollyanna who went beyond his expertise. 

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A few quick personal finance lessons from Morgan Housel’s ‘Psychology of Money’

Finance is no science. It involves the tiny actions and feelings of millions of people.

Finance writer Morgan Housel published a tidy book last year called the Psychology of Money that does a fine job communicating the concept. I quite liked it, so I’ve shared a few quick takeaways I got from the book. Consider buying your own copy.

Here’s a 2018 blog post he wrote honing the topic.

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