Serendipity is alive: where I get my news in 2011

Someone with great influence and interest in the future of news and journalism once spoke with great concern of the loss of serendipity.

When someone picks up a newspaper, she shared, that reader is very likely to come across a story he didn’t expect or otherwise know about. In fumbling with pages and jumps, a newspaper reader is exposed to a carefully packaged product meant to inform. Serendipity is a natural, important and wonderful byproduct, she said.

The internet is destroying all of that, she implied. With narrowing audiences and narrowing focuses, we don’t trip over the important news like we did we newspapers, she lamented. What’s the answer to that, she asked.

With all of the respect warranted, I started, I don’t agree with that premise at all.

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“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it:” Simon Sinek

Just came across this September 2009 TED presentation in which Leadership theorist Simon Sinek talks about what makes Apple, Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders different than their competitors: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

He also spoke of its relevance to the diffusion of innovation.”

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NewsWorks MindMap: sharing my interests with WHYY

WHYY news site NewsWorks offers a new MindMap each week, in which community leaders and other Philadelphians share a little bit about their interests. Last week, I was highlighted. MindMap yourself here.

Quotation to Live By:

In almost every case, it is never as serious as you think it is.

Books on my nighstand now:

Like 25 minutes ago I put a stack away, including ‘Expiration Date’ by former CityPaper editor Duane Swierczynski, ‘I Will Teach You to Be Rich’ by Ramit Sethi, ‘The Night of the Gun’ by David Carr and ‘God’s Pocket’ by former Daily News columnist Pete Dexter.

Favorite Author(s), fiction or non-fiction:

If you have a Philadelphia setting or impact on cities, politics or business and say something moderately interesting in tight, point-driven prose, I’ll like it.


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Philadelphia media ecosystem: a profile by Net News Check with a nod to Technically Philly

A surprisingly fairly comprehensive take from Net News Check on the Philadelphia media ecosystem, including the William Penn Foundation investment, the WHYY Newsworks initiative, and others, like Technically Philly:

In addition, journalists set free as the city’s newspapers spiraled into bankruptcy have founded independent Web sites, said Chris Satullo, executive director of news and civic dialogue at a site launched in November by WHYY, the local public radio and TV station. And journalism programs at Temple and LaSalle Universities turn out a steady stream of tech-savvy grads eager to add to the mix, he said, pointing to, a Web site founded by three recent Temple grads as an example.

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My Life To Do List got a face life; you really might not care and that’s OK

The online documentation of my pursuit of accomplishing items on a Life To Do List that I made as a kid has moved to a subdomain of this site, at I first brought it online earlier this year and have since updated it.

It gives me more flexibility, control and organization. I have no expectations or desire for that blog to be any regularly updated place, but rather a true chronicle of meaningful experiences. If you find that at all interesting for whatever reason, there is an RSS feed here and an email blast here.

A few good recent examples might be my post on attending the competitive eating Wing Bowl and being part of the Mummers Day and a review of backpacking Alaska. I have only posted four times so far in 2011, and I figure that’ll be about average.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry about it too much, as this here will remain my focus of professional work.

The old that I first shared in 2008 is now dead, though the experiment with distinctions between personal and private seems to be alive.

This is just about the last online piece of my January resolution to update my archives, which also included shifting over my college thesis to and getting online my work from Japan. Those are just for archiving purposes, as those projects are finished.

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Eleven lessons that shaped how I live my life

It came to mind that I toss around a handful of phrases with enough frequency and a long enough time that I feel they have sufficiently affected how I orient myself to what is around me.

Maybe some will have meaning to you.

  1. Fifty percent of people are better off than you, and 50 percent are worse off — It’s one of the more powerful sentiments that my father instilled in me. While I am probably even more privileged than that, the value is limitless.
  2. No judging in brainstorming — The worst thing for collaboration or friendship or teamwork or success or for anything is to question someone’s willingness to share an idea with condescension or criticism. Be kind to those who share their ideas and work with them.
  3. Make a list and keep it — Keep yourself accountable by listing goals, resolutions, priorities and the like. And then stick to them. Promises made, forgotten and never kept are of no value.
  4. Say ‘I don’t know’ and ask questions — If you don’t know something, admit it and ask the question that helps you find out.
  5. In almost all cases, it’s not as serious as you think it is — Calm the Hell down.
  6. Everything online is public — Yes, even e-mail or IM conversations. Consider anything you write or say today to be public. I picked up this logic in college and have tried to follow its underlying logic.
  7. Relationships aren’t business, business is relationships — Get those priorities in order and treat people in a way that reflects this reality.
  8. When you treat people like children, you get children’s work — It was my favorite take away from the very excellent workflow management book by 37signals and a concept I came to learn while working with high school journalism clubs, the members of whom I would treat as if they were professionals. Expect the work you want.
  9. Never admit a big defeat when you can claim a smaller victory — Think creatively about what good can come of a situation, in lessons or experiences or something else.
  10. Diversify everything: from your finances to your coverage — Don’t focus on one anything.
  11. Lust isn’t about sex; it’s about how little we care about each other — It’s something I read somewhere, several years ago, and though I can’t remember the source, it has had a profound impact on my understanding of fidelity. That treatment goes far beyond the physical.
  12. [Updated] Action is a virtue — There is always a reason to say no, so focus on why you ought to do something.
  13. [Updated] Come with Solutions not  just questions — Creativity can flow with conversation, but when bringing up a problem, concern or idea, come with a solution, even if it isn’t the best, have a suggested direction whenever in a meeting, particularly when dealing with other leaders.
  14. [Updated] Be the nicest to the secretaries, assistants, garbage men, janitors and postmen because they really make it happen — My father would be dismayed when people seemed to have a strictly hierarchical sense of who is important and who isn’t, particularly because, when it comes right down to it, the supposed leaders are most often not the ones who actually do the work.
  15. [Updated] Our worst qualities are often our best ones too, just described differently — So whether you’re manipulative or strategic; lazy or relaxed; high-strung or detail orientated all depends on perspective and what the end result is.
  16. [Updated] Luck and opportunity are both about 75 percent found and 25 percent created — Good luck and opportunity certainly come our way, but we still need to earn a healthy portion of it.
  17. [Updated] The only person responsible for your happiness is you. — Take ownership of what you want in your life and when the details are beyond your reach, find what you can grab.
  18. [Updated] “When you realize nothing is lacking/the whole world belongs to you” – Wise words from Lao Tzu
  19. [Updated] Fail fast or succeed big — A lesson from the startup world that teaches it’s worth giving it your all or moving on.
  20. [Updated] You can’t think outside the box unless someone is thinking inside of it — A good reminder for anyone who strives to be different. Remember to not bash those who conform or follow normal practices, because without them, nothing you do would be original.
  21. [Updated] You often don’t lose friends in a year, but you can certainly gain them — So travel, move, try new things and challenge, particularly when you’re young.

And, yes, the old Golden Rule is a good one, just try to treat others close-enough as you might want to be treated.

Do you have any other rules to live by?

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Love is so much more about the technique than the ingredients and other Story Shuffle 5.0 audio

James Kennedy, Chris Wink and Shannon McDonald in the story blanket fort. Photo by Rachel Playe.

All of the audio from Story Shuffle 5.0 is now up, featuring the theme of ‘I Love’ and hosted by Roxborough  farmer Rachel Playe. In her infinitely playful manner, Playe had us all tell our stories in a blanket fort she had constructed.

As if that wasn’t enough of a highlight, West Philly folk rock band Flat Mary Road was on hand for a short acoustic set.

My story — Love is like water ice: it’s so much more about the technique than the ingredients.

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The notes I prepared before:

  • I love water ice, and, really, water ice is a lot about love.
  • When you make water ice, an old woman once told me, it really is so much more about the technique than the ingredients.
  • I don’t know how old the woman was, maybe only in her later 50s, but her hair kept me guessing. She had a long gray pony tail, like an early winter had set in before her leaves had the chance to fall like most women do, shortening their hair as they get older.
  • Water ice is like love: you boil water and sugar, add the ingredients and freeze with the greatest and most patient of techniques
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If a topic is boring, then go into more detail: like with spaghetti sauce

When someone is boring me, at a party or in line in the post office, I ask questions.

Now to be fair, I almost always ask questions. Questions are wonderful, provided that there are answers or at least good conversation to be had. Questions are one of the big reasons I do what I do.

It occurred to me recently, though, that that might be novel, at least for some.

That the best way to improve upon a conversation that isn’t much interesting you is to ask questions. That’s how you can direct that conversation and make it into something more than what it would be otherwise.

If you’re talking to a guy who sells fences, you might be bored. But if you talk to him about how different kinds of fence are made, distributed and costs kept low, it could get interesting. Without enough detail, anything can become interesting.

Like spaghetti sauce, as author Malcolm Gladwell showed with a great TED talk back in 2004.

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Exit Interview series on Technically Philly

To kick off this year, we at Technically Philly ran a weekly Tuesday feature interviewing a technology community member and/or entrepreneur who left Philadelphia. It is called Exit Interview and the weekly portion of the series is winding down, with perhaps one more to run next week.

The three of us who founded TP love Philadelphia, in particular its creative and entrepreneur communities. Journalism aside, we tend to think those whom we cover are going to be a big part of improving Philadelphia, its perception, its government, its taxes and its reputation.

Journalism should uncover truths and push forward dialogue. That can come with important public affairs coverage and institutional oversight, but it can also by highlighting key issues among its audience.

So I felt strongly that to further the conversation among these communities, it was our role to face directly concerns holding it back. To do so, I led the move to bring together nearly a dozen interviews and will now roll back out Exit Interview when new perception comes forward.

Today, on the Technically Media blog, I shared six lessons I took from running the series.

To get a quick sense, here are three example headlines from the series:

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What open data we care about: moderating Code for America Digital Philadelphia event

Photo by John Mertens.

The first concerted effort to seek what types of city government data and information Philadelphians want was kicked off last night with an event I helped organize on behalf of Technically Philly with Young Involved Philadelphia.

Partnered with the Code for America fellowship program, I moderated a panel meant to illustrate concrete and simple definitions and needs for city data that was then followed by a half dozen breakout sessions in which moderators had their dozen group members answer two questions:

  1. What city information would you actually use?
  2. How would you want to access that information?

Read my coverage of the event here, including reference to this Google Doc, in which I tallied the suggestions. This event is one of four big lessons we’re learning while leading this grant project.

More details and video below.

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