Whitetown USA: 1968 book on the ‘silent majority’ of poor urban whites by Peter Binzen

Sitting with Whitetown USA author Peter Binzen and PlanPhilly Editor Matt Golas.

Prideful, working class white ethnic neighborhoods in cities have been ignored and poorly represented for at least a half century, goes a major theme of Peter Binzen’s 1968 Whitetown USA dissection. [Google Books here.]

Written by a former Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper reporter with whom I was thrilled to have lunch last month, the book attacks the principle that whites are a monolithic group of privilege. Binzen, a former education reported, focuses heavily on the school system in the book to tell a tale of why working class and even upwardly mobile middle class whites were opposed to affirmative action and other social welfare programs perceived to help blacks.

The first third of the book features the similarities of Whitetowns from cities across the country: white neighborhoods often with many recent immigrants that are working class, prideful of place, protective, provincial, conservative and often seen as bigoted. The rest dives deepest into Kensington, a decaying industrial corridor then and a decayed shell today, and its adjacent Fishtown, a smaller, more residential neighborhood where I now live.

As I often am eager to do, I wanted to share some of my favorite passages and thoughts from the soft cover copy I tore through:
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Prediction: my children will care less about technology than I do

These are not my kids. I don't even have kids. This is a photo I found online of a bunch of kids using laptops. It's meant to be mildly representative of where we are today, in shoving digital technology in everyone's hands.

Two premises:

(a) Generations are cyclical.

(b) Technology is everything we were alive to see invented.

If my peers today are a part of an incredible age of change and innovation, when what is new is what matters most, I believe that my children’s generation in 20 years or so, will be characterized by rebelling against what is new — if that doesn’t happen sooner. (I don’t have kids yet, but I might have ‘em someday and so I’m talking broadly)

What is considered technology today — things like web-based communication, geo location-centric discovery and adaptable information gathering — will not be abandoned necessarily (because those will be everyday tools 20 years from now) but I do believe consumer interest will go elsewhere from the newest and latest around technology in as obsessive a fashion. New ideas fuel consumer interest, but I suspect my kids won’t care about technology in the same way we do today.

What will replace technology, well, I’m not quite sure yet.

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Urban imperialism: lessons from city boosterism of the 19th century for urban renewal today

Creede, Colo. in 1880

Metropolitan boosters — men employed in the late 19th century to encourage Americans to move west to burgeoning cities — have been of interest to me lately.

I’m interested in how that concept can be brought to modern concepts or urban renewal. I came across a portion of an essay in ‘A companion to the American West,’ collected by William Francis Deverell [p. 513]:

Integral to the hinterland and ‘instant city’ models of nineteenth-century western urban history has been the figure of the urban booster. Cities in the west have been promoted, hawked and downright lied about on a scale rarely matched elsewhere in the nation. Boosters in cities on the make — Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century, San Francisco in the 1860s, Denver in the 1880s, Seattle in the 1900s, Los Angeles and Oakland in the 1920s — spared little effort in luring the investment capital, industry and residents necessary to ensure sustained economic development. Western boosters and their allies engaged in what one historian calls ‘urban imperialism,’ an endless quest for control of the markets and economic bonanzas that guaranteed real estate profits. Booster scholarship has tended to focus on the art of promotion and to see cities as products less of social construction than of capitalist fantasies. But behind boosters is the most interesting feature of western cities: urban growth as an end in itself, an economic logic fundamental to capitalism, was elevated by western boosters to the level of civic religion. In some cities, for instance, space was rarely scare but capital was. In places like Los Angeles and later Dallas and Phoenix, this led boosters to cultivate real estate markets and encourage an urban morphology that spread development horizontally across vast distances. In other cities, an opposite geography was at work, and a great deal of scare capital went into creating very expensive space. In Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, immense amounts of capital were devoted to filling tidelands and wetlands that allowed the cities to grow…

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When you buy something, you are voting for its existence

Most of us (myself included) could do a better job of more often recognizing that when we buy something, we are also, in a way, voting for it. Cost analysis should include an awareness of what message you’re sending when buying something or going somewhere (I want this beer/farm/news site/bar/zoo/restauant, etc. to exist.)

Purchase power has always been a way to show support, but when we increasingly buy that which is not tangible, it may be even more important to incorporate that support into the price point.

As the music industry has fought online pirating, it has seemed to have the most success in arguing to consumers that buying music (an mp3, a CD, etc.) not only ensures a better experience, but purchasing also is a way to support, and tacitly “vote,” for a favorite musician — whether they are getting the biggest cut of the pie or not.

For local, small businesses (yes, niche media too), the pitch has to be the same. We need to offer value to consumers, yes, but ultimately the audience needs to also see any purchase — whatever that is — as a sign of support.

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Choosing local impact or broader scale

Choosing between local impact or broader scale is a vital differentiation in our professional paths.

My buddy Daniel Victor was named the new social media editor of nonprofit public affairs news outfit Pro Publica, and so I reluctantly bade him farewell from his brief few months at Philly.com and with the local ONA chapter.

Having developed a good friendship with Victor, I’ve followed his exciting and deserved fast-paced climb up the journalism ladder: from Harrisburg, Pa. newspaper the Patriot-News to D.C. news startup TBD to regional powerhouse Philly.com to investigative, foundation-supported journo-brand giant Pro Publica. Knowing my personality, I took some time to think about whether spending the past few years building a very local, very niche outlet like Technically Philly was the right fit for me.

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Is your news organization a fire hose or a block party?

News organizations should recognize themselves to be either a fire hose or a neighborhood block party and, if particularly robust, they should have both and discern the different strategies for each.

After joining an Aspen Institute Roundtable in D.C. back in June, I met up with NPR Project Argo’s Matt Thompson, who I teamed up with around CAT Signal a few months earlier. As we tend to do, we got lost in a long and rambling conversation that came to a philosophical point from Thompson: not enough news sites recognize what they are, simply a fire hose, spreading their audience to what is interesting and important.

First, two quick definitions in this context: (a) a fire hose site has relatively large traffic with more drive-by readers and (b) a block party site has relatively less traffic with highly focused and more loyal readers. In our conversation, Thompson introduced the ideas of fire hoses. I started thinking about block parties.

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iPhone: my first personal smartphone and the first 15 predictable free apps I downloaded

My first smartphone arrived at my door yesterday.

Considering it’s late 2011 and I report for a technology news site, you can be sure that I got a lot of crap for it being only my first. Of course, as I explained, in 2009 I was a struggling freelance writer so I had trouble enough affording my prepaid burner phone. Late that year, I joined a family plan with my sister to cut costs even more and took the basic level phone: a sturdy Samsung texting phone.

Only now, two years later, was my contract ready for an update. Considering I had already made my jump into the Apple world, I bought into the hype, and spent more than $300 on the iPhone 4s. Of course, because I cover technology, I already had a clear idea of what I would be doing with the device and had played with them for years — though that made my awe no less substantial as I played with mine.

Still, I quickly added a slew of free apps that seem to me to be the staples. Below, a list of the free apps I first added to my phone, and expectations for getting more crap:

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How foundation funding could be protecting a journalism pay bubble

A journalist salary bubble may still be lurking somewhere beyond the newspaper right-sizing of the past decade.

We at Technically Philly are in the process of hiring our first reporter — to begin as an independent contractor expected to make something like $30,000 in a 12-month period. That’s a respectable, entry-level salary for a young, hungry reporter in a big market.

Unless you think otherwise. A freelancer friend of mine gave me a little grief, said she had a $30,000 salary when she started in 2004, expecting the total to have gone up in the ensuing years. I tried to remind her that in the years since she started, the momentum on subscription declines and advertising reductions have accelerated, not to mention a recession that stalled, if not shrunk, salary growth.

In short, her argument seemed to redouble my confidence that our small startup, for-profit technology news site was doing alright to budget $30,000 for a young reporter who would focus on reporting, social media and outreach. Her argument did something else though. It made me think there may still be shocks left in this generation-long restructuring in news from higher-yield print monopoly to lower-yield, online competition.

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OpenDataRace: talking on WHYY NewsWorks Tonight about the OpenDataPhilly.org contest

Near the close of the OpenDataRace, a popularity contest for data sets that affect nonprofit missions, I was asked onto NewsWorks Tonight, the daily, local drive-time news radio show from NPR affiliate WHYY. We recorded the segment last week and it aired Monday.

Read more about the contest here, see the data sets and register to vote here and listen to the NewsWorks segment below.

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I was on the program back in June to talk about the open data movement and other initiatives here. I got some fun comments from friends, like this one.

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Jealousy can motivate you to achieve success: Story Shuffle 9 (Jealousy)

How jealousy and other bad qualities can be shaped to help motivate you to reach your goals was the focus of the story I told at Story Shuffle 9, with a jealousy theme.

Listen to my story below or find it here, along with the other stories.

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