Our Founding Fathers would have loved social media but questioned its future

The Founding Fathers would have loved and leveraged social media but been fearful of its future implications on privacy and speech issues, said a host of experts at an event on the impact of new communications patterns.

Earlier this month, I moderated a panel on the subject at the National Constitution Center featuring Jennifer Preston, a social media reporter from the New York Times, Kashmir Hill, a web law reporter from Forbes and Lori Andrews, the author of a related book which served as regular fodder for the discussion, which appeared on CSPAN 2, Book TV.

Find background and audio of the entire program on the NCC blog here. Watch the entire hour-long panel discussion on CSPAN here. (Alternate link here)

Thanks to Stefan Frank for organizing the event and including me. Below, I have a three-minute clip of the final question of the night, in which, after spending the evening speaking about the perils of social media, each panelist reminds us of the power and benefit. (I watched myself on my big ol’ home TV, which was amusing.)

Continue reading Our Founding Fathers would have loved social media but questioned its future

Local TV news is more entertainment than journalism and other notes from NBC 10 ONA Philadelphia Showcase [VIDEO]

More than 50 people watched a panel discussion in the 10! Show studios featuring NBC 10 staff Vince Lattanzio, Tracey Davidson and weatherman Hurricane Swartz.

Local TV news is, perhaps even more than other in the media business, a ratings game.

That’s a distinct takeaway I had, leaving NBC Philadelphia headquarters on City Line Avenue after the latest local ONA meetup featured the affiliate’s web strategy and news direction. More than 50 journalists, NBC 10 representatives, bloggers, freelancers and other media representatives had Yuengling and pretzels before seating in the 10! Show studios. The event was well-planned, well-run and well-received — though this writer is one of the local group’s organizers, outside of promotion, this event was entirely organized by NBC 10 social media editor Lou DuBois.

The event featured video clips from the WCAU station’s long history, presentations on the affiliate’s web and mobile strategies and then a panel Q&A session featuring the station’s tech trends reporter Vince Lattanzio, its consumer reporter Tracey Davidson and its weatherman Hurricane Swartz, moderated by social media editor and event organizer DuBois, who did a smashing job. It was a distinctly different (and so thoroughly compelling) event than our group’s other two programmed events like this, one with the Philadelphia Media Network and the other with public media outfit WHYY.

While the latter is a nonprofit and NBC 10 partner, the former also has to operate as a business with investors in mind. So, it was interesting to hear the suits talk so differently about the work they do.

Continue reading Local TV news is more entertainment than journalism and other notes from NBC 10 ONA Philadelphia Showcase [VIDEO]

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin history: ‘Nearly Everybody Read It,’ a 1998 book from Peter Binzen

The importance, sway and influence of one of the world’s most dominant 20th century newspapers was the focus of the 1998 collection of essays about the once powerful Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, edited by its former education reporter Peter Binzen, who also wrote Whitetown USA.

Dubbed ‘Nearly Everybody Read It,’ a riff off the paper’s legendary slogan, the 163-page book has nearly 20 essays from former Bulletin reporters and editors, including its first female and black correspondents. For 135 years, the family owned paper was a powerhouse among a rich daily newspaper tradition in Philadelphia.

A central story line of the book was the Bulletin’s battle with the Inquirer, its chief rival, and how, in the end, the Inquirer, considered by many to be the chain response to the family-owned operation, won. Through all the bluster, I thought there were four primary reasons that rang most true to me:

  1. The Bulletin fundamentally failed to innovate, remaining an afternoon daily as circulation fell with growing TV news audiences, increasing transportation costs due to traffic and changing news cycles.
  2. The Bulletin failed to develop the revenue to stay competitive, including a premature sale of its nascent TV station, denying alcohol advertising and other funding methods that kept it lagging behind the Knight-Ridder funded Inquirer.
  3. The Bulletin resisted aggressive editorial reconfiguration, following the investigative spirit of the 1970s that soared the reputation of the Inquirer behind editor Gene Roberts, and pushed out its own innovative editor George Packard.
  4. The Bulletin came up short in following the suburban trend, having its 1947 purchase of the Camden Courier Post denied by the U.S. Department of Justice for anti-monopoly concerns was a large blow.

As I often do when reading something relevant to the news and innovation conversations I so adore, I wanted to share some choice thoughts from the book.

Continue reading Philadelphia Evening Bulletin history: ‘Nearly Everybody Read It,’ a 1998 book from Peter Binzen

A Brief Timeline of the History of Daily Newspapers in Philadelphia

This Philadelphia daily newspaper family tree is framed in the Inquirer editorial board room at 400 N. Broad Street. Photo by Russell Cooke. Click to enlarge.

There were a dozen or more daily newspapers in Philadelphia at one time, I hear. Trouble is, I couldn’t seem to find anyone who could name what all of those papers were.

So I went and did some good old fashioned research — with some great direction from representatives of the following institutions.

Below, find a historical timeline of daily newspapers in Philadelphia, or at least what I could decode using four sources: primarily the Pennsylvania State Library newspaper collection [call number: Philadelphia] and the archives of the University of Virginia, with some help from a 1997 collection of essays called ‘Nearly Everybody Read It,’ edited by Peter Binzen (whose other book I recently read) and an essay from Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia member Gerry Wilkinson. (I compiled some other notes on the Inquirer here.)

Check it out below and offer any criticism or comment — I’m certainly expecting that this is incomplete, so any other leads are appreciated!

Continue reading A Brief Timeline of the History of Daily Newspapers in Philadelphia

5 ideas for hackathon projects

I attend a lot of hackathons, considering either I’m organizing them or sponsoring them or covering them. Though I hope to slowly change that a bit, I’m no programmer.

Still, sitting around these events has led me to conceive of and, in some cases, suggest projects that never actually happen. Maybe they someday will. Here are some that have crossed my mind:

  1. What Neighborhood am I in? — For Philadelphia, GIS shop Azavea has a map layer for Philly neighborhoods (which are not formal political boundaries) though I’m not yet sure I completely agree with them :-). Still, that’d be a good start to a tool that could (and should) easily be brought to other cities. Give an address, intersection or your current location to find out what city neighborhood you’re in. (I’d love for this to perhaps also combine other map layers like political representative, city services including trash days, neighborhood groups and other information) **There could be a tab breaking down zip code or neighborhood-specific Census information like rental/homeownership, crime, etc. (Other ‘hood lists exist)
  2. Parking flow chart — I thought it might be cool to have a little yes/no web app that would help drivers to decide where they can park in given situations. The GPS tool could follow parking regulations and have yes/no functionality: “are you 25 feet from a fire hydrant,” “is a weekday,” or whatever.
  3. ‘Fuck You’ world map — Translations and pronunciations of ‘Fuck You’ (or, OK, perhaps a few phrases) in as many global languages as humanly possible. Helps to see different native or national languages and learn a simple phrase.
  4. Easy budget visualization tool — Lots of governments have PDFs or deep budget information. Some even offer some visualizations themselves, but I wonder if there could be some tool that could suck up some of that information and offer more interactive, variable and more easily updated online displays to be shared more readily.
  5. Neighborhood news tool — For specific-enough neighborhoods or parts of the city (i.e. “West Oak Lane” or “Southwest Philadelphia” we could create RSS feeds pulling from a variety of sources.
  6. School approval heat map — Erika will know this better than I do, but I’d bet there’s a map layer of school locations (or one could be created), though catchment is less available and more interesting, and the AYP or perhaps test school averages could be used to visualize the success of schools in different neighborhoods.
  7. Transit black holes — A visualization of SEPTA bus/train/trolley routes (and/or frequency) and display what areas are least served.

I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: a Social Network Constitution and concerns around privacy

The groundwork of privacy, anonymity and free speech is being set now with evolving jurisprudence and legislation surrounding the concept of social networking.

That is the overarching theme, as I read it, in I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did:  Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, a new book from Lori Andrews, law professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Ahead of moderating a panel at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia featuring the author and two other esteemed panelists, I read an advanced copy of book.

Details of Thursday night’s event here.

It’s a book worth reading, dense with stories and examples of the gray line of privacy and the constitutionality of the social web. Below, I share some of my favorites bits.

Continue reading I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: a Social Network Constitution and concerns around privacy

Balancing legacy and money in professional sports has lessons for the rest of us

The legacy of your work has a value harder to compare with pure money, so we should try our best to incorporate that in our professional decision making.

I’m not a professional athlete. That may surprise many of you.

Still, without any real awareness of the experience, I find myself scratching my head whenever a big name, well-paid professional athlete chooses more money over legacy. In most cases, it seems ill-advised.

I understand that with injuries threatening livelihood, athletes are smartly coached to get what upfront money they can as soon as they can. And I understand that there is often a mind-boggling amount of money on the table, but they seem to be facing on only one axis of success.

When Albert Pujols signed a quarter of a billion dollar, 10-year contract with the major market Los Angeles Angels, leaving the devoted St. Louis Cardinals after 11 seasons, I wasn’t surprised. (In fact, the Pujols’s wife seems more surprised, saying they had never wanted to leave St. Louis but the club wouldn’t offer a long enough, guaranteed deal.)

But if the celebrated and beloved Pujols becomes a target for boos and taunts, he’ll have to assess how much money an attack to his legacy is worth.

Continue reading Balancing legacy and money in professional sports has lessons for the rest of us

What would the Founding Fathers think of Facebook?: I’m moderating a panel at the National Constitution Center on privacy and the social web

I’m moderating a panel on privacy, security and democracy concerns surrounding the social web at the National Constitution Center in Old City, Philadelphia next Thursday.

You should come. More details here. It costs $10 for non-members.

Why politicians cheat: five reasons that should leave us unsurprised by campaign affairs

When the inevitable annual news story comes out about the latest politician having cheated on his wife, people question why leaders cheat.

There are some obvious reasons to me:

  1. Long campaign hours — Same as workaholics, being away from home offers a lot of opportunity for philandering.
  2. Lots of people interaction — When campaigning and legislating, you deal with a lot of people.
  3. Charismatic, passionate leaders — Elections attract people who often have the attractive qualities.
  4. Sense of entitlement — Those who do good, big work (like legislators) can easily convince themselves that they’re owed a little wrong.
  5. You’re the boss — In interviews and campaigning and voting and such, legislators are taught to make and stand by their decisions. Not all of them are the right ones.

How the sources for story ideas change for a niche news site through three years

In three years at Technically Philly, I’ve noted a change in the sources that bring me the ideas for the stories I do. It made me think if it’s a trend that other niche media follow.

In order to develop a baseline, I did some estimating and created some crude graphs roughly looking at where my story ideas have come from in each of the first three years of operation.

In late 2009, I was interested in projecting out what types of content a hyperlocal news site might aspire to have, and this feels like a sensible follow up. I should be clear, of course, that these numbers are entirely made up, based on nothing more than a brief perusal of archives and memory.

In short, the two biggest trends I feel have happened are that (a) we rely considerably less on other media than we did when we started and (b) many, many more people reach out to us directly than in the beginning. OK, that may seem obvious.

Perhaps more interesting is my overall assessment that, despite what I might want to believe, relatively few stories are based purely on a hunch, a thesis or an idea of mine. They happen — and I’m proud when they do — but, like journalists have always been, my role is still more to give context and connect dots.

Find the graphs and breakdowns below.

Continue reading How the sources for story ideas change for a niche news site through three years