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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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 Couchsurfing.org 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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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.

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