Niche news site membership model perspective brought back to life from 2009

The internet doesn’t forget. So I often stockpile perspective (links) for the future.

In 2009, we at Technically Philly were digging our heels into looking at how diversify revenue for a local community news site. In the end, the largest driver turned out to be events, specifically the annual Philly Tech Week we organize. Before then and after some advertising, jobs board and light underwriting revenue, we toyed with donations, gettingsome prominent support and the requisite pushback.

In all the experimentation back then, I saved some great insight, much of which has been relevant lately. As we move back to a new form of that older conversation, I wanted to share a few takeaways from my reading back in 2009.

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Either build the news site for the mission or build the mission for the news site

Updated I gave a presentation similar to this theme to a pair of college classes recently, one of which resulted in these takeaways.

To have a news community ‘succeed,’ it needs to either be built around a mission or the mission needs to be built into its community.

That means, if, for the foreseeable future, a more competitive, newly web-based news and information environment best attracts audience by way of connecting a community to a mission, those best suited to succeed will have one.

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What is missing from my formal will

Afterlife planning and the legal profession that supports it seem to be lagging behind our cultural realities.

Last year, I did something that I don’t think many, if any, of my friends, peers and similarly-aged colleagues have: I paid a lawyer to draft me up a formal will. Something seemed missing, though, as I went through the process.

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This is what goes into a functioning news ecosystem

A functioning local news ecosystem, one that has mechanisms to ask tough questions and serve as a hub of a common set of facts for a region, seems to have some straightforward ingredients.

What traditionally drove a functioning modern news ecosystem (20th century)

  • PROFITABLE – Funding mechanism (advertising)
  • AUDIENCE – Mass dissemination tool (front page or TV news top)
  • COMPETITIVE – Connected network of reporters (newsroom) and competing mass audiences
  • IMPACT – Investigative journalism (ideological and financial subsidy)
  • DEPTH – Robust, focused news coverage (niche newspaper beat reporting)

What this might look like in the near future (and in some ways now)

  • PROFITABLE – Funding mechanism (patchwork of profitable sites, technologies, new orgs with journalism DNA and more focused legacy, philanthropic outlets)
  • AUDIENCE – Mass dissemination tool (top-level aggregation, applications) to service fractured landscape made up of far smaller, much deeper niche communities
  • COLLABORATIVE – Connected network of reporters (news coworking), link building, partnership-driven, fewer big players, more smaller oens
  • IMPACT – Investigative journalism (new nonprofit organizations, journalism DNA), bigger audience for community-focused efforts
  • DEPTH – Robust, focused news coverage (crowd sourcing, social media, niche blogs and indie sites)

So looking at your market, what is lacking? Set about serving that role.

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Journalism is still letting revenue models slip away: my greatest fear for the future of news

Revenue models for local journalism are still quickly being siphoned off from prospective journalism creators of the future.

We’ve had no shortage of hand-wringing around the future of news in recent years. As I see it, simple access to news and information won’t be the problem of the future, since publishing keeps getting easier which adds to the number of sources (though creating the infrastructure to have a broad set of common facts locally might be. Still that’s another issue for another post).

Instead, I am far more concerned about the future of local journalism. (I am not talking about international war reporting or national politics, as those audiences can be relatively so large that I trust in niche players, like Propublica and the New York Times finding a foothold). Instead, I’m talking about state houses, city halls, niche communities and neighborhoods.

The loss (or failure to recreate) journalism in those places is my greatest fear for the future of asking tough questions and what professionally keeps me awake at night more than almost anything else.

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Junto presentation on social entrepreneurship in Philadelphia

I’m still on something of a speaking tour talking about the idea that Philadelphia has a real reason to be seen as a hub of social entrepreneurship. -Which means I need to update my slides.

This post led to this chat, which informed this event, which followed speaking at a Junto on the matter, video of which can be seen below, which was followed by still another event. And other organizations have reached out about continuing to push forward the conversation.

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What the suburbs will be 20 years from now

Now, the stereotype stands that the suburbs are about wealth and the cities are about poverty. The suburbs are white. The cities are black (or Latino or some other non-white group).

The reality has always been more complicated — cities have always had white populations, both rich and poor — but this is a question of our national shorthand, and I believe that in the next 20 years or so, that perception is going to change.

It’s going to have to change because reality eventually catches up to perception. Poverty is sadly surging in the suburbs, part of a wide diversification outside of cities, which, though still facing legacy violence and education issues, largely appear on a road of recovery. More poor people live in the suburbs than cities or in areas called rural, a fact that came true starting in 2005.

Simply put, in the next generation, the divide will be simply more about space: the suburbs will have space, the cities will not. Of course, it’s a simplification. I know homes in Philadelphia with big yards in the Northeast and northwest, homes with pools and driveways along the dense riverwards and deep in West Philadelphia. But that’s not the point.

The point is what the stereotype will be. And when crime, demographics and poverty aren’t the issue, what else could be?

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5 reasons I bought a house

Art lovingly stolen from Brit Miller because it came up high on search. She's a great Philly-based artist. Buy this. Link below post.

For all the reasons that home ownership among young people is declining (declining marriage numbers, shortening work and location tenures), there is a lot of coverage challenging it being an American virtue.

Like any major investment, home ownership isn’t for everyone, but, with the bias of being a proud homeowner myself, I was moved to add more perspective to Slate’s recent piece showing that if only because of increasing rent prices, buying a home makes perfect sense now.

  1. Home ownership is a cost saver — Though that big down-payment makes it hard to believe, even beyond the mortgage interest write-off on your taxes, by paying into an asset, rather than rent, you’re building equity.  Additionally, moving comes with new costs. You can travel and even, in the end, rent out (responsibly!) your home, but always have a meaningful asset.
  2. Home ownership can be a safety net — Like my friend Jen Miller told Marketplace, I didn’t overreach. I bought a small Philadelphia rowhome in a modest neighborhood, refinanced twice to a 3.5 percent, 15-year mortgage and now rent out the back bedroom to a friend (I am determined to get out debt and never saw home ownership as something to avoid because of it). With relatively low property taxes, no matter what hard times I fall on, I could have a place to live for the rest of my life. Though it’s far off, I do sometimes think of the value of having a mortgage-less home when I am struggling, out of work or retired on a fixed-income.
  3. Home ownership is a learning experience — There are other ways to dive deeply into maintenance, mortgages, loans, taxes, refinances and more, but I’m not sure of many more effective or challenges ways to do that. Though I was a few years into my professional career, the home ownership process has made me better understand the world, or at least a small slice of it.
  4. Connect with a community — Personally, I value deep ties with the place I live. By putting money where your heart is, there are few more effective ways to show your neighbors that you’re in it for the long haul and are betting that this is a place worth living. Specific to my neighborhood and my city (with a long history of home ownership), I believe in its upward trajectory, so it was the right decision. Also, as a side effect, it feels good to be a small part of building and bettering that place you live. It has transformed my view of where I live.
  5. Home ownership doesn’t determine where you live for the rest of your life — There is an understandable fear that making such a large purchase will mean you can never leave ever again. It is true that home ownership is better for those who understand where and who they want to be in the future, and it is true that the past few years have left people in trouble with fat mortgages they can’t pay off with their home’s declining value, but the mistakes of the past can make us smarter today. With low interest rates, now is the time to buy smartly and, if the time comes for you to move on, it can perhaps be an investment property or something to sell. Even a small loss can come with lessons and the realization that thinking about the cost of rent, perhaps you didn’t make out so badly.

Art by Brit Miller here.

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Focus and causality: two lingering lessons from Steve Jobs biography

Two themes run across the dense and well-timed Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson that came out last fall.

The unfaltering focus and dependable insensitivity of Jobs, so, having just finished it myself, I’ve been left trying to find causality: did those two qualities make him a better CEO and Apple a better company?

For focus, I believe it’s unquestionable: make fewer products and make them better. It’s the complete opposite of the market share angle of, say, spaghetti sauces. The second has me more uncertain, particularly when the success of Jobs is seen as motivation to drive employees to the edge.

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