How to make friends, build connections in Philadelphia (or any city)

Young people who move to Philadelphia sometimes ask me how to get better connected in Philadelphia. And the figures suggest there is a growing number of them.

I’ve found myself offering up the same handful of suggestions more than a few times.

  1. Attend Young Involved Philadelphia events — The group is a great hub of smart, hungry, young Philadelphians. Your city probably has one like it.
  2. Join the Philadelphia Sports Network or another recreational sports league — These groups are great at bringing people together around sports, and most cities have something like them.
  3. Join your neighborhood civic or block group — Most neighborhoods that are attracting new Philadelphians have active community groups that improving the city and connecting the civic minded. If your neighborhood doesn’t have one, then start one.
  4. Find an online community that fits your interest — Whether it be sports or technology or drinking or your part of the city, someone is probably writing and hosting events that will attract people like you. If not, start one.
    They’ll find you.
  5. Rock social media — There are probably smart people on Twitter in your city. Find them. Engage with them. Ask them to grab coffee. And, hey, don’t ignore online dating if you’re looking for that.
  6. Embrace an institution — Maybe your university has an alumni group in your new city. If not, find a museum, advocacy group or another institution that has a young friends group or something else.
  7. Volunteer — Find a nonprofit, political group or mission group that has value to you. Volunteer and find people like you.
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Pen and Pencil Club: I’m a member of the country’s oldest journalism club

My first trip to the Pen & Pencil Club on Jan. 28, 2009. Photo by George Miller

After more than three years of visiting and even longer being fascinated by its role, I’ve become a member of the Pen & Pencil Club, the country’s oldest press club, dating to 1892.

The private club, in a narrow shotgun building between parking garages on a narrow alleyway, requires sponsored membership, and following months of recent scheduling conflicts, Swarthmore Professor, former Daily News photographer, Pulitzer Prize winner and friend Jim MacMillan helped sign me into the club on Monday, March 26.

I’ve happily gone a few times since, each time with a friend in the press, and I’m eager to become more of a regular, being respectful of the club’s long history and existing members.

From awards and a journalism open house to coworking, media criticism and more, I’ll be interested in learning what leadership hopes to do with the famed P&P, following a recent renovation of its ground floor.

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5 things that Philadelphia tourism groups should do

I think the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. is cool, like many other organizations dedicated to representing big, beautiful cities. Let me know underscore, I am proud to have GPTMC and their ilk representing Philadelphia.

Still I also think a lot of other people are doing similar work and GPTMC and their peers could do some cool partnerships:

  1. Give your city swag to Couchsurfers and AirBnB users — Restauranteurs court the most prolific Yelp users by hosting taste sessions. Similarly, tourism agencies should have an annual parties for the most active hosts on sites like and AirBnB. These people are natural spokesmen and interact with travelers who spread the word about where others should visit. A welcome bag with cheap swag, fun maps, some basic information in little bag. Keep it simple, give a few dozen bags to a few dozen surfers. It’d be a small gesture with ramifications.
  2. Make a Wiki list of volunteer tour guides for specific topics — Use your social media connect to drum up a few passionate residents of your city who might be willing to offer an hour or two to show off specific parts or corners of your city in a way that tour businesses can’t. Someone would love to show off about the restaurant scene or the tech scene or a specific neighborhood or the post-industrial collapse and revitalization of a given community. Whatever. Create an army of in-person boosters.
  3. Lobby for changes to I-95 corridor signs — Whenever one drives northbound on interstate 95 from D.C. and Baltimore, one sees highway signs making clear that that road leads to a major city called New York. It’s a method of orientating travelers, but it underscores that Philadelphia is not seen as a destination. That’s a problem and, well, just plain inaccurate.
  4. Be the magic hand of changing Philadelphia’s influence globally — GPTMC is particularly adept at fun splashy advertising and displays of the city. They do a great job. Most of them — including the ‘With Love’ campaign — are everything I’d want in a regional campaign, however I’m always sensitive to the idea that the best sales technique is one you don’t make. That is, tourist maps in travel agent offices in the Netherlands that include smaller cities but not Philadelphia are perfect examples of what I think do a lot to make the city seem less influential.
  5. Hire city boosters to change perceptions elsewhere — OK, this is a bit more outrageous, but I’m so taken by the stories of 19th century urban boosterism, that I’d be fascinated to see how it might exist today.

What they already do that I love:

  • Provide videos and photos of the region for others to use
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‘What if Northeast Philadelphia seceded from the city?:’ Philos Adelphos Irrealis submission

Photo courtesy of Jim MacMillan.

A submission I made to a book anthology out of the noted Kelly Writers House has been accepted.

The collection, called Philos Adelphos Irrealis, was meant to portray various states of Philadelphia that never came to pass — in 200 words or less. I focused mine on the aborted effort in the late 1980s for Northeast Philadelphia to secede from the city and form its own municipality.

After some discussion with a dear friend, I decided to show something that might not have happened if that secession occurred. I also decided to do what I knew best (and what I thought would be unique to the collection): offer a submission in traditional newspaper style.

See the submission below and head over to the University City staple to purchase a copy for $5 to get a variety of local writerly takes on the prompt.

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Number of Views:19113

News coworking in Philadelphia: Knight News Challenge app on the future newsroom

In all of regions, there is a great need to envision the future of the metro newsroom, which feature smart, engaged reporters on a variety of beats able to work together to better inform other residents and keep government honest.

In a fractured media ecosystem, the newsroom of the future is coworking for independent media. Reporters and editors together — freelance, niche sites and more — sharing and pushing forward the coverage and conversation among news creators in a given market.

I submitted a Knight News Challenge grant application on that very subject. See it here or on Google Docs here.

It wasn’t accepted, so that may slow the implementation of this, but I’ll work on it regardless.

I’ve been turned down by the News Challenge before.

In 2009, my colleagues and I submitted a business services pitch that was, though well founded, too large and convoluted to carry much weight. By the time it was re-formed as News Inkubator, it included something like this new pitch. Then again in 2010, we submitted a pitch for a shared community director called Cobblestone.

The third time just gives things a more rounded edge.

For news coworking, while others have talked about the idea, no one appears to be taking on the broad collaboration conversation with it. Launching an effort like this could tie into local chapters of ONA and Hacks/Hackers, it could bring the famed Pen & Pencil Club onto a more national stage and could be a chance to tell the long-tail story of Philadelphia journalism — maybe a historic directory like this and a museum of great work.

More to come on this.

Number of Views:5792

How the web continues to shape campus life: Temple Review

More than 20 years after the Internet and web-based technologies stormed onto college campuses, the life of a university student is still rapidly changing.

So goes the focus of another feature I did for the newly rebranded Temple University alumni magazine.

Read the story here or see the sleek new design here [PDF].

As usual, below I have some background and interview extras that I cut from the story.

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Number of Views:8793

Online News Association national conference should come to Philadelphia: here are 10 reasons why

I have been blessed to attend the last two national Online News Association conferences, one in D.C. and last year’s in Boston.

This year, the celebrated, 13-year-old organization will host its annual event of more than 5,000 members in San Franciso to offer some geographical balance to the affair. There is some call for a Midwest event in 2013, which might make sense, but whether it’s next year or in 2014, the conference, expo and meeting of the minds of news innovation should happen in Philadelphia.

Updated: Apparently Philadelphia is booked for 2014. So, uh, 2015?

I’m part of a small group in Philadelphia lobbying for the effort, which includes a formal application process, and that application is being submitted. Still, I felt it worth sharing what appears to me to be the clear reasons why this would be an easy decision.

Here are 10 reasons:

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Number of Views:6684

Hosting free events: why charging a small sum can add more value

The 2012 BarCamp NewsInnovation was the first to have a paid entrance -- $5 -- which lowered RSVPs and raised attendance from 2011, which likely took on a much larger casual interest from being listed on the Philly Tech Week website. *Also, 2011 and 2012 featured hackathons, which added some attendees overall. These figures do not include them. **I added this graph to this post AFTER the last BCNI.

Later this week, I’ll help organize the fourth-annual BarCamp NewsInnovation.

It will again be, in my biased opinion, among the most meaningful media un-conferences in the country. We’ll have an open news hackathon again, ProPublica social media editor Daniel Victor will talk strategy and representatives will talk shop from legacy media powerhouses and independent news startups from throughout the eastern seaboard and beyond. That rocks.


Beyond all that, the biggest change in format is that, for the first time, we’ll be charging $5 for admission for the day-long event, which includes breakfast, lunch, happy hour and appetizers, in addition to concepts and conversations of note.

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Facial detection can be blocked by changing the spatial relationship of your features: notes on event with artist Adam Harvey

Painting like this on your cheekbones is more likely to throw off facial detection technology than other methods, according to a thesis from artist Adam Harvey. Image courtesy of Harvey

Facial detection can be blocked by changing the contrast of and spatial relationship between key facial features.

So, though growing a beard might throw a casual human glance off, the growing process of computerized recognition is rarely tricked, because it focuses primarily on the T made by your eyes and the bridge of your nose. You’d be better served by painting on your cheekbones like above, a discovery that was part of a masters thesis from artist and photographer Adam Harvey. Harvey does research on tricking facial detection technology.

That discovery was among the coolest lessons I took from moderating a Q&A seminar hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences as part of the kickoff of the Philadelphia Science Festival. Called Hiding in Plain Sight, it was also one of a number of events done in partnership with the second annual Philly Tech Week, which I’m helping to organize this week.

There were others — Harvey noted that he focuses on facial detection, instead of facial recognition, because the former has to happen first. Roughly 40 people listened, if only in part, to Harvey’s compelling presentation and his answers to questions from me and the audience, seated in a crowded Frankford Hall last Friday. The major kickoff event followed.

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Number of Views:4802

Philly Tech Week presented by AT&T: the second annual celebration of innovation

More than 80 events celebrating technology and innovation in the Delaware Valley are taking place over the next few days as part of the second annual Philly Tech Week presented by AT&T and organized by Technically Philly.

We first introduced this second year last fall. I am enormously proud to follow the work we managed last year.

Number of Views:3491