How I graduated and watched my peers have a real impact

The effects of Zunegate. Cartoon courtesy of PennyArcade.com. Link in-text.

Shannon McDonald unwittingly speared a wide, if brief, revisit to a conversation about race and prejudice in one of the largest police forces in the country. She is 21-years-old.

It was early December when Neal Santos, another friend of mine, was ensnared in his own media firestorm. Ever hear of Zunegate?

Santos, the assistant online editor of Philadelphia alternative-weekly CityPaper, spotted then-President-elect Barack Obama using a Zune mp3 player on a treadmill in a Philly gym. He reported it and chaos ensued.

Every tech site in the country wanted to beat that story. Folks at the Wall Street Journal, Wired, PCWorld and MacWorld were on it.  It got around on Podcasting News, iPhone Savior and was animated on Penny Arcade (as depicted above).

These are just two cases of a trend that excites me, scares me and motivates me. Young journalists, some with whom I’ve graduated, many with whom I’ve worked and all of whom I respect, are making an impact. Not always in the ways they want, but, Christ, it helps to understand that, wow, this is real now.

The national BarCamp for NewsInnovation was held in Philadelphia on Saturday. It all started with a blog post by my great buddy Seany Blanda, who is also organizing the whole jawn, bringing on sponsors and collecting more than 300 visitors, some coming from as far as Florida and Oregon.

I wrote how the Philadelphia media scene looks bleak for young journalists, and, well, it is.

So, we’re all trying to do something about it, for the industry, for Philadelphia and for ourselves.

When she isn’t being called a “liberal POS” cop-hater, Shannon is running NEastPhilly.com, a community news site for her native Northeast Philadelphia with belieavable hopes for launching a related, quarterly niche print magazine in spring 2010. She had an exclusive interview with a district attorney candidate and next month is partnering with WHYY, the city’s NPR affiliate, to host a panel discussion for three city controller candidates.

Sean and I are working with fellow freelancer Brian James Kirk to grow TechnicallyPhilly.com, a news site for the region’s technology community.

Kirk recently won a statewide first place Keystone Press non-daily award for a story he wrote on an HIV/AIDS activist for Philadelphia Weekly. He also, I’m happy to report, got an honorable mention as a runner-up for Philly’s Hottest Nerd.

For TP, Kirk, Blanda and I keep being stunned by how many wonderful, inspiring tech-related stories are going untold. And, people keep telling us that they are thrilled we’re doing what we’re doing. …Real people.

It is quite strange to suddenly be a professional journalist and be surrounded by smart, young people who are actually becoming players in a big market and in big ways. I am thrilled to be surrounded by this class of writers, designers, reporters and photographers who want to challenge each other and develop the often forgotten fourth largest media market in the country.

I can only hope to catch up and keep up.