Philadelphia’s ‘blogger tax’ controversy speaks to state of blogging, future of media

I am not going to write about the brief media blitz that surrounded the controversy of the City of Philadelphia enforcing its business privilege license requirement for bloggers.

My good friend and Technically Philly co-founder Sean Blanda already handled well my perspective.

(Quickly, Philadelphia, like many municipal governments, requires a license to do business in its environs. An unnamed amount of bloggers who declared on federal tax documents some form of revenue from their publications were compelled to pay for a $50 yearly or $300 lifetime license, the latter of which both Technically Philly and NEast Philly acquired as we brought on revenue. Philadelphia CityPaper reported that the city had begun reaching directly out to bloggers demanding they pay up, a reality first noted on web forum Philly Speaks and, admittedly, ignored by us at TP, and the whole concept exploded. Soon, far flung media outlets were implying that the city’s license — which is required of anyone doing any kind of business in the 135 square miles of Philadelphia — was for bloggers only. It isn’t. And anyone solicited by the city had advertising or had otherwise declared related income federally. So, considering much of the revenue was limited to tens of dollars, it may have been a foolish chase, but certainly not illegal or unfair.)

Instead, I wanted to share two thoughts on the future of blogging that came out of this controversy.

First, blogs, or any online-only venture, can be business.

There was a time when municipal governments wouldn’t know what the hell a blog was. Or what they did. There was a period of transition when they didn’t care. But that’s all changing.

We at TP are less blog by conventional assertion, but are certainly a blog format, and we’ve interviewed Mayor Michael Nutter and David Cohen, the number two man at Comcast, and investment celebrity Josh Kopelman.

Our coverage is real and, though perhaps meager, so is our revenue. That’s a real change and says something about where blogging has come in less than a decade.

Secondly and perhaps more novel is the mechanism through which people found out this news. I was contacted by no fewer than 12 friends, family members and colleagues about this controversy. Only two — yes, one of five — duplicated the same source.

It helps that this story went a little batty pretty quickly, but I was so taken by the six Gchats, two tweetss, one email, one Facebook post, a couple Google Reader finds and, yes, even a text message. All, aside from a duplicate Gchat, referencing a different source.

  1. Two Gchats for the original CityPaper story
  2. Gchat about the Philebrity write up
  3. Gchat about the Slashdot link
  4. Gchat about the Time magazine slice
  5. Gchat status about the Guardian story (which quoted Blanda)
  6. Tweet about the NBC Philadelphia short
  7. Tweet about the Washington Post item
  8. Facebook message about the CNN story
  9. My Google Reader feeds displayed the Inquirer City Hall blog version
  10. My Google Reader feeds offered the Phawker aggregation of the New York Magazine and this blogger
  11. Email about the Washington Examiner post
  12. Later, I saw a tweet to this Redlasso cut of a Fox 29 clip

So, to recap: blogging has gone beyond mainstream to just straight normal (now pay up) and media is so damn diffuse that it’s easy to rip someone off on their story, get the clicks and be sure that no one has to ever send the same link twice.