What I did with my two-year term on Philly Startup Leaders

In late summer 2017, Bob Moore asked if I’d join the board of Philly Startup Leaders. I’d spent most of my early reporting career covering the nonprofit, and my organization Technical.ly had launched not long after that one.

Our organizational histories were quite co-mingled.  I had conditions and requests, all of which were in sync with Bob’s own plans in his new role as board chair. I began participating in an advisory role that fall amid considerable change, and I joined the PSL board formally in January 2018 for a two-year term. I came with my own plan and this month my formal term will conclude.

I’ve always found the organization important, a gathering of founders of companies in a city in need of just that. Here’s a review of how I believe I contributed to this nonprofit in my short tenure.

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More Americans are coal miners than local journalists

It helps to understand economic change by comparing stories.

Naturally the visualization of the soot-covered coal miner is an evocative image of blue collar industry. Almost immediately as that image became a tool during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, it became a political football.

To put the size of the coal industry in context, we were reminded that the middling fast food chain Arbys employed more people than the entirety of the coal industry. More journalists have lost their jobs than coal miners. To understand job losses in news-gathering, researchers asked, are journalists today’s coal miners?

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Local and national media: once no difference, and now the central difference of newsrooms

One of the many economic ripple effects of the global scaling of the web has been an enormous rift between place-based and place-less news organizations.

As recent as the early 1990s, the business fundamentals of the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer weren’t all that different. They were all advertising and subscription businesses that used a newspaper model as its strategy, leveraging thick newsrooms to gobble up a high comprehension of readers in its audience segmentation.

The web has transformed this into what seems very obvious to you today. Despite the geography in their names, the Washington Post is read globally for insight into U.S. government affairs; the New York Times is read globally by an affluent tribe that identifies with its brand and the Philadelphia Inquirer is read regionally by those who want to access that geography’s largest and most influential newsroom.

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Media Funders: Value the difference between Creation and Distribution

This post will draw a very bright line between the Creation and Distribution of verified information for communities, and argue for that distinction’s importance for understanding today’s news-gathering and journalism climate.

One of my favorite pieces of business-reporting conventional wisdom is that everything in the economy is cyclical. It just depends on how big the circle is this time.

That goes for business building. As early web entrepreneur Jim Barksdale famously put it, “there’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.”

Information gathering (what we roughly call “journalism” today) has been a strategy for businesses for half a millennia. In its early commercial forms, the act of gathering that information and the act of distributing it were essentially two different businesses. In Barksdale’s parlance, they were “unbundled.”

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I was given the ‘Community Leadership Award’ by the Urban Affairs Coalition

I was given a ‘Community Leadership Award‘ by the Friends of the Coalition, a young leaders group associated with the influential Urban Affairs Coalition.

Knowing UAC’s reputation, I would have already been proud, but I was also surrounded by impressive company. My longtime friend Helen Ubinas, an Inquirer columnist, also received an award. That’s us smiling together in the above photo.

In introducing me, Kevin Harden, Jr. cited my work over the last 10 years in local journalism and community organizing, with a special focus on our adding Generocity.org to our existing Technical.ly work. He thought Generocity’s work was of particular importance.

Thanks also to Brandon Johnson, Felicia Harris and the other Friends of Coalition members, and UAC Executive Director Sharmain Matlock-Turner and the entire UAC team.

Here are the simple remarks I jotted down and shared to a group of 100 or so, at a reception following UAC’s 50th annual breakfast.

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Try a ‘Laser Day Weekend’ for dropping projects

I let projects accumulate. Consider it enthusiasm.

That means I’ll let 100 draft posts bottle up on this blog. I’ll sit on too many drafts of newsletters. I’ll get a household project half-way done.

In truth, I consider this habit of mine a healthy one for getting things done: I’ll always get myself to take the first step of a project. Sometimes though something will linger too long.

To solve for that, every few months, I’ll try to protect some time and call for a ‘Laser Day Weekend,’ in which I shut down, delete, end, complete, finish or discard lingering projects. I take a very different mindset when my intention is to finish a thing.

Once I get on a role, I can pick up steam and get plenty done. Give it a try, the frame of reference helps plenty.

Ways I combat my amassing lots of unused clothing

Between family hoarding tendencies and being surrounded by company swag, I tend to collect more articles of clothing than I need. Fortunately, like most of America, I’m passed peak-closet.

I’ve built up some habits that gently help me keep myself under control.

Know your thrift store

Loving a nearby thrift store helps plenty. It feels good to donate, and then find something you love there.

One for one

I maintain a fairly rigorous donating of one item if I bring a new one in.

No seasonal switchout

I keep all of my clothes in a single closet, no seasonal boxes. That keeps me honest and offers a fixed constaint.

Month of purging

I occasionally do purges of a thing for each day of the month (meaning, one thing on the first day of the month; 15 on the 15th, etc.) and these put a lot of pressure on me to unload those freebie t-shirts that have piled up.

Must-use

Every year or so, I try the reverse hanger trick, in which I flip a hanger around for a garment I’ve used. If I go through an entire season and something hasn’t been worn, it’s got to go.

Does it ‘spark joy’

If not, toss it. That’s the tidying classic. I try to use it too.

Why we launched ADVANCE, a conference on smarter impact for nonprofit professionals

In 2015, my company began publishing a second brand: Generocity.org, which aimed to offer beat reporting on nonprofit and mission work in local communities, starting in Philadelphia.

We’ve learned plenty. Last week we hosted ADVANCE, a pilot one-day conference for Generocity’s audience of nonprofit professionals. The aim was to feature case studies and concepts that would help the 100 attendees advance their mission careers. Our keynote was Kickstarter cofounder and former CEO Yancey Strickler, who has a new book on a more just economy.

I helped introduce the day by setting up what our reporting has taught us about our audience, and this growing community of future-thinking impact leaders. Though a modest start, I think it’s important we piloted this conference.

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Journalism Thinking: a lightning talk at Ignite Philly

Geographically-focused acts of journalism are powerful. Professionals are increasingly rare because the business model that supported most of them has been supplanted. No one is doing the hard work of combating that. Let’s change it.

Following my journalism thinking essay, I’ve been looking to develop a more general-interest way to deliver the message. On Oct. 16, I gave my first try, at Ignite Philly, a local, volunteer-run outpost of a global confederation of big-idea events. (I spoke there in 2011 and 2013)

Find my notes and slides below, and I’ll add the video here when it’s eventually posted.

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