Journalists as a ‘community directory of last resort’

Journalists fill such a unique role in communities. As a mirror, we show the best and the worst. We also often serve as a kind of directory of last resort.

I want to tell you something incredible, yet familiar, that happened recently.

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How to contribute to your community during covid-19

We are living through a pandemic. Someday I am going to look back and question if I did enough.

To be clear, no, almost certainly, no I have not and will not do enough. But I did want to push myself to gather what I have done. Perhaps it might be good for each of us to challenge ourselves on what more we could be doing in this strange war-time.

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Sometimes you have to go backward

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

I was hanging a drop ceiling in my basement with my father-in-law a back in November. The materials and approach of suspended drop ceilings haven’t much changed since the 1960s. You run long beams perpendicular to shorter cross beams. Those hang from the structural ceiling to support tiles that serve some aesthetic purpose. It isn’t complicated. 

But a half-day into the project, a series of minor decisions had created a major problem. My precise measurements were thrown out. A crucial structural beam was now blocked by my gas pipe. To maximize ceiling height in my home built in the 1890s, I had ignored the recommended distance between my drop ceiling and the rafters. I had a plan. But to make other accommodations, that plan faltered. We tried a few hacks to correct the issue but it got worse.

It wasn’t square. It wasn’t sound. We had a mess.

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More notes on what I’ve learned about writing

Every year or so, I’ve gathered enough of a collection of notes and perspective and general writing about writing that I want to share here. This is especially geared toward creative and fiction writing, which is decidedly not what I am professionally trained in.

But I’ve always thought of myself as professional writer first, and so I routinely invest time in reading about process.

Below find some links and perspective that I share here likely more for me than anyone.

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Thoughts on tax status and journalism

Journalism is the messy art of connecting that which is true with that which can be understood. I’ve defined it in other ways before. However you define it though, practitioners like me tend to assume it is important. We work to maintain it.

In the past few months, I’ve taken a critical look at that assumption, that journalism matters. One way I’ve done that is thinking about the types of organizations that produce whatever it is that journalism is.

In periods of economic change, when institutions or processes or elements of culture are lost, challenging the assumption of importance matters. It’s a crucial step. Are we trying to hold on to this thing because of tradition or because something functionally has import?

Political philosophy is rich with debate over what crucial societal functions should be enshrined into government, or maintained by charitable organizations and what the free market can do best. With the economic disruption confronting how journalism is produced, this question is relevant again.

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Focus on longterm saving during recessions

Economic shocks are good times to focus on the longterm. Look to the fundamentals.

After an impressive year on the stock market in 2019, I’m certainly not expecting that to continue. I’m projecting a slower year of growth for my company. Many are waiting for the n’t. Last year 70% of economists predicted a recession for 2020.

Of course it may not happen. (In December 2018, we thought there was a recession looming.) But the critical point for (fairly) passive retirement savers like myself is that even if there were a major slowdown (recession or otherwise), we have to keep focused on our longterm goal.

This became a common refrain during last month’s Personal Finance Day, a goofy, somewhat-tongue-in-cheek annual event I host with two childhood friends. This was the fifth year.

Below I share a few notes from this year’s installment.

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Opportunity costs: think of the big but not the small

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Economists love to review our decisions through the lens of opportunity costs. Each decision we make has the added cost of that which we did not do. 

When a big box-store clerk, paid hourly, volunteers to leave her shift early because foot traffic is particularly slow, she’s making a choice. She values what she does with that time more than the wage she would have earned. 

When an influential academic, evaluated by her published research, agrees to take on another young mentee, she’s making a choice. She values that relationship and the person’s development more than what she perceives to be the potential career gains she could have developed with more time in the lab.

I wrestle with this paradigm more often than I might want to admit.

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Notes on ‘The Invention of News’ by Andrew Pettegree

The journey to get to professionally-verified information includes social, economic and political coursework. To share this journey, historian Andrew Pettegree focused in his 2014 book The Invention of the News heavily on the European development.

It is dense and comprehensive, at least in the continental sense. It’s been on my list for a year or so, and I finally dug into it, with pages of notes. Find reviews of the book in the Times and Guardian, and consider buying the book yourself. The book’s focus is between the years of 1400 to 1800, and it’s clearly written by a historian, rather than a contemporary media studies approach—I prefer this more dispassionate and distant view of the origins of an industry.

Knowing that printing had earlier roots in China, the book is decidedly Eurocentric. Still I would strongly recommend it to anyone as interested as I am in the foundation of media, news and journalism. Pettegree’s stance is that the industry of professionalizing information-gathering was a European concept, which is his focus. This was one of several books on early journalism foundations I’ve read in the last year.

Find my notes below.

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My 2020 Resolutions

I have work to do. The progress I made in 2019 on a frustrating year of 2018 is incomplete, slowed by a few steps backward, despite considerable forward progress. So bring on 2020.

As is my custom, I’m publishing here my resolutions for 2020 to get a little bit closer to the person I want to be, and to hold myself accountable to those goals. Find my past resolutions here.

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My 2019 Review

I roared into this year with a plan.

After a 2018 of mixed results, I intended 2019 to be different. In many ways it was. My company had a big Q1. I got personal time back. By the end of summer, though, a key hire that was a major part of my work strategy had their own major life change. My plans had to change. Work taxed me more than expected, and that had ripple effects in personal ways too.

Knowing what I was working toward, I was exhilarated for most of 2019. Yet I still ended the year tired and distracted by reestablishing plans I thought I already had set. This year I was reminded that leadership may start with setting a plan but it’s tested by reacting to inevitable changes to that plan. I did that. I’m at least a year wiser.

Below find both a recap of important milestones in my year, and, farther down, find a review of how I did on my 2019 Resolutions.

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