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.

Klein News Innovation Camp keynote interview with Michael Smerconish

For the 11th annual Klein News Innovation Camp, an unconference on the future of news organized by my company, I interviewed our lunchtime keynote: Michael Smerconish, the radio personality and CNN host, Saturday. (Read coverage from Cover.This)

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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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We lose focus slowly

You’d be tricked into thinking there are most often big, grand moments of obvious distractions that you as a leader can turn down.

We lose focus, in our projects, organizations and efforts, not at once, but by slow trickle. You can’t stay focused with a single no, it takes constant vigilance. Lost focus comes with a 1,000 small questions no reasonable person would say no to.

A leader has to have a clear destination in mind and constantly remind herself of it. Sometimes, it will take grand moments of cleansing to undo many small moments gone unnoticed.

Because it is not something that comes naturally to me, I think often of focus. In 2009, I was thinking about how to fine-tune a focus on this very blog. In 2011, I made a resolution to focus, after a flurry of experiments. I did something similar when I turned 30. Entrepreneurial leaders have always advocated for obsessive focus, to be the absolute best and most powerful in one clear way, to strive for monopoly.

(Photo of Focus by Stefan Cosma via Unsplash)

Predicting the future isn’t as hard as predicting when that future will come

On a long enough timeline, you might be right about plenty.

The cars might drive themselves. The software might generate itself. The transited American “inner cities” might become wealthy hubs segregated from poor inner-ring suburbs.

You could make predictions for days. Looked indefinitely, there are few trends I’d challenge. If a bet is a tax on bullshit, it’s not the idea I’d be as quick to challenge as the timing. That’s because, of course, it’s easier to predict the future than it is to predict when that future will happen.

Predicting the future is difficult because it’s easy to expect that future to look too similar or too different than the past. That stays tricky because

Look at predictions about 2019 that Isaac Asimov made in 1983. It’s difficult. But he just might have gotten the timing more wrong than the content.

It’s worth remembering that the very reason our memory can be faulty may be a consequence of our evolved ability to imagine a future.

(Photo by Naomi Tamar via Unsplash)

What question is your work answering?

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

Every company is an approach to answering some question. (Every nonprofit might be a policy failure.)

Many mistakes are made in choosing that question: it might be too ambitious, or too unambitious. It could be too niche, or not focused enough. The true addressable market might be too small. The question may not be a lasting one. You can ask a question too early or too late, with the wrong leadership, team or product. Some of that can be changed by a good team, so along the company-building journey, you must change your approach.

But don’t change the question.

Continue reading What question is your work answering?