Homelessness in Philadelphia: what I learned working for a social services startup for a year

Last year, I left a position at a homeless advocacy nonprofit and returned to the journalism startup I helped launch. After sharing last month some of the member interviews I collected while working at Back on My Feet, I realized there were other lessons I wanted to share.

I worked for Back on My Feet for less than a year and while there, I wasn’t deep into our programming work, but rather promoting the organization by way of sharing member stories, using social media, managing our website and even working with traditional media contacts. You know, and growing staff interest in content creation, most notably video, like these 15 best examples.

But, you can rest assured that I tried to learn as much as I could with my time there about the social services work and agencies on which our mission and some of my colleagues focused. I was blessed with serving a role that let me meet, speak and share with more of our members than most any of our staff, outside those serving direct care.

I encouraged our staff to use our blog as a way to share homelessness news, and I myself curated weekly news roundups on the subject. I also picked the brains of anyone I came in contact with in or outside ‘the system’ as it is often called.

Given all that, I thought I might share just some of what comes to mind as take aways and lessons from the world of homelessness, particularly in Philadelphia.

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Philly Tech Week Not Just for Geeks: Flying Kite profile

Photo by Jeff Fusco for Flying Kite. Click to enlarge.

Online innovation magazine Flying Kite featured a nice overview of Philly Tech Week, including some background on Technically Philly, written by Salas Sarayia.

Photo by Jeff Fusco for Flying Kite. Click to enlarge.

If you’ve never been to a technology-related event in Philadelphia before, don’t be surprised if that changes before the end of the month. From April 25-30, there will be around 50 technology related events taking place around the city as part of the first annual Philly Tech Week. The series was envisioned by the three journalists from Temple University who are also the founders of Technically Philly. With a model similar to Philly Fringe, any group or organization could submit their event to Technically Philly for inclusion on the Tech Week calendar. The diverse nature of the individual event organizers has created a series with a wide scope and potential reach.

Freelance photographer took some nice shots of the three of us who founded TP and organize PTW, even if that light may have helped me look like a zombie.

Thanks for the coverage.

Chris Wink on Tech Week by Salas Saraiya: Interviews

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Technically Philly article referenced in Philly Police Dept. budget hearing

Yesterday, Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Green tweeted something interesting to me:

“Here’s the @TechnicallyPHL article I just referenced during the Police Dept budget hearing http://bit.ly/er1mnf

The article he referenced was some coverage I did of the Philadelphia Police Department using open source technology for its website and utilizing social media for canvassing communities for tips.

Number of Views:5403

25 things I learned from the best newspapermen (and women) around

Dallas News reporter John Rosenfield sitting at desk, behind typewriter in Houston, TX in November 1948. Photo by Michael Rougier for Life magazine.

Tradition matters to me.

It gives us culture. It is a way to pay remembrance for those who came before. Yes, it’s a little bit fun.

In the world of news, there is a lot of tradition that needs to be lost. Unquestioned impartiality, balance without real context, an ignorance and distance of what funds it, a rigid belief in a strictly reactionary audience.

But, I’ve always felt, there is lot to be taken in from the past. I’ve been blessed to work alongside some talented and hungry older journalists who have imparted great wisdom on me. I thought some of that tradition was worth sharing as, in my own way, I try to preserve the best of it.

Below, find 25 pieces of advice about being a newsman that I take great value in.

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My remarks to Philadelphia City Council after resolution names April 25-30, 2011 as Philly Tech Week

Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Green introducing a Resolution formally calling April 25-30, 2011 as Philly Tech Week, flanked by Councilman Brian O'Neill at left and Councilman Wilson Goode at right, with Sean Blanda and myself, in City Council chambers the morning of April 7, 2011.

With the passage of Resolution 110218, Philadelphia City Council officially named the last six days of April officially as Philly Tech Week, as celebrated with a reading of the resolution in council chambers Thursday morning.

There, my colleague Sean Blanda and I, two of the three co-founders of Technically Philly and organizers of Philly Tech Week, received an embossed copy of the resolution from Councilman Bill Green, who introduced the legislation, and Councilmen Brian O’Neill and Wilson Goode, who co-sponsored the measure. I addressed council briefly to note two things: that (1) technology and the Digital Philadelphia vision is more than just gadgets and (2) the Philly Tech Week resolution featured two dozen groups and organizations because the technology community is so broad.

These resolutions can be a little silly, but they do serve as validation of the interest and growth of the technology community in Philadelphia. It was an honor to represent the community, even though we’re only a small part of its growth.

Below, watch my brief remarks and see the notes that I should have prepared.

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Sustaining the craft, not developing the craft itself, should be focus of Knight and RJI

I’m late.

I’ve been invited to the Hardly. Strictly. Young.  conference on alternative ways to implement Knight Foundation recommendations at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri [More on that later]. One of the fun precursors to the two-day event later this month has been participating in the Journalism Carnival of blogging, shepherded by conference organizer, Spot.Us founder and leather jacket-wearer David Cohn.

In January, I wrote about the role universities should play in creating journalism,  and in February wrote about two ways to grow the number of news sources. In March, I was supposed to write on what the Knight News Challenge should do next and how the RJI fellows program could be a part of curating that innovation.

Fortunately, in being late, I can point to others who already did it better than I would. No, Cohn, this isn’t a cop out, this is cutting my losses. The undercurrent on both of these questions for me is that I’m not worried about the craft as much as I’m worried about sustaining the craft.

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Technically Media meeting style: effective, productive and professional from home

Larry Summers, former Harvard president and National Economic Council director, asleep in an April 2009 meeting. Courtesy of IvyGate

During presentations, we at Technically Media have talked about our failures. We do a lot of speaking (me too), so we’ve also touched on the power of working in threes.

But I think we haven’t touched on what I think is our most innovative reason for sticking together for more than two years: our meeting style. And the power of drag of meetings are important to us.

OK, yah, it sounds pretty boring, and, well, maybe it is, but if you ask about our success (whatever it is) I think it has quite a bit to do with the meetings we’ve almost always held, from the very beginning.

It’s largely a style I’ve advocated for years that has now been further evolved, practiced and cemented into our culture with a lot of follow through from two colleagues who really buy into it and have crafted it on their own. So much do I prefer our meetings over others I often find myself getting into, that I often find myself bringing the style elsewhere.

You can see advice from Google and a startup.

Below, I share a typical agenda from a Technically Philly meeting, some unwritten rules we’ve adopted for these meetings and the phrases you’d be sure to hear at each of our meetings.

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Number of Views:28967

Technically Philly April Fools’ Day 2011: the stories we ran and those we didn’t

After a couple years of resisting, we at Technically Philly went ahead with a bit of some April Fools’ Day fun.

Yes, we, the Technically Philly crew, announced we were moving to New York, and then followed that up with hourly news items that were a bit less than real. We put them in an ‘April Fools’ category, colored the post background pink and avoided too negative posts, all in the interest of combating annual newsroom concerns about breaking news trust. We’re also deleting the posts next week, so they don’t get caught in search for the future.

Posts we ran:

  1. Technically Philly to relocate, rebrand as Technically New York
  2. First Round Capital invests in cheesesteak, Rocky references
  3. Port Richmond still has no Fortune 500 company
  4. Ignite Philly changes to stodgy 20-minute, 5-slide format
  5. Regional video game business leader Mike Werth “still stuck on Level 5-3 of Super Mario Brothers”
  6. Google to pit cities in epic cage match for Gigabit access
  7. Azavea to release GIS tool to map all Philadelphians who know what GIS is
  8. Comcast to host NBC acquisition parade down Broad Street

The reactions were great. Some were surprised, some weren’t. There was a lot of love from many people, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Councilman Bill Green.

Below are some headlines I suggested that didn’t make the cut.

  1. Company moves to Center City, ‘taxes actually pretty sweet,” CEO says
  2. ‘New city sustainability czar admits not knowing what ‘LEED’ actually means’
  3. ‘BREAKING: Inquirer reports on new co-working phenomenon’
  4. Penn Professor completes ENIAC defrag
  5. Duck Duck Go Founder: “When it comes down to it, Ask Jeeves remains the web’s best search experience”
  6. Mayor Nutter: “Wordpress is for pussies”
  7. Geekadelphia to turn editorial focus to pharmaceutical, biotech — “Ever since Sean Blanda whooped on me in Starcraft, I knew we needed a new niche,” Mikey Il said.
  8. With new website, BRT shares more bullshit tax info faster
  9. Mayor Nutter announces 811 to reduce call stress on 311
  10. City Controller: city needs new oversight group to oversee other oversight groups
  11. Census: Philly population actually closer to 2,500
  12. Philly Startup Leaders new residency requirements encourages entrepreneurs ‘to get the hell out of this town’
  13. Josh Kopelman: ‘What I really want to be is a dancer’
  14. Nat Mechanics to become Long John Silvers
  15. Philly Cocoa Heads challenges Philly CHI to Jell-o wrestling contest
  16. Safeguard Scientifics: Wait, who are all of you?
  17. Entrepreneur slyly changes his LinkedIn location to NYC — “Philly is so much cheaper, but I really really want my friends to think I live in New York.”
  18. Pew: “78% of poor people don’t know Pew”
  19. John Street still on line for new iPad [Sean had iPhone idea]
  20. City Council President Anna Verna “has an idea for a pretty sweet Facebook app”
Number of Views:4020

Quotable: GSI Commerce exit for WHYY and design challenge for Temple Times

Sometimes journalists are desperate for any schlub to give perspective on an event, and I’m there to fill in the cracks.

News broke this week that eBay purchased regional e-commerce shop GSI Commerce, and WHYY was interested in whether an exit was good or bad for the region. (I said the region needs balance: exits are great for marketing, provided we also have a diverse portfolio of large, small and startup businesses, though exits can also limit growth.)

“Give me a thousand Philadelphia companies that exit with note, and I’ll give you a region that is seen as a real hub for technology talent and innovation, and the long term benefit of that is real,” said Wink.

Also, earlier this month, I judged a Temple University student design competition and was quoted in the school’s write up of the event.

“Action is a virtue, and the Design Challenge is a way to bring action, entrepreneurship, community involvement and collaboration together,” he said.



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9 YouTube videos that changed my perspective on the world and the lessons I learned

Above, TED co-founder Chris Anderson talks about the impact of Youtube and other online video has on the world.

Youtube was a powerful part of moving forward content dissemination on the web. Suddenly there was a free place to host, distribute and embed easily video that drove traffic and audience.

About which time Youtube was overwhelmed with kitten videos, personal photos looped under copyrighted music and clips of everything in between.

But, through all the muck, there is brilliance. That much I’ve found since I first clicked on a Youtube link in an email in my college sophomore year apartment and shared with my roommate. Universities are beginning to share lectures online, and more teachers, lessons and ideas are spreading on Youtube. (Perhaps not as much as kitten videos)

To prove there is more than the nonsense, below, I share the 10 videos that have made the biggest impact on me and the lessons I took from them.

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Number of Views:14721