‘Closing Time:’ Joe Queenan’s on growing up poor in East Falls

My reading of choice tends to be contemporary Philadelphia non-fiction — its true stories, histories and cultural anthropology.

Across nearly all of this writing from the 20th and early 21st century is a very unexpected theme: someone growing up angry and put-on in some forgotten neighborhood and developing a very hateful relationship with their city.

Joe Queenan, the Irish Catholic, self-styled Horatio Alger character of northwest neighborhood East Falls, writes the king of these stories, from what I’ve read, in his 2009 childhood biography called Closing Time. The son of an abusive drunk and a withdrawn mother. Queenan writes of chasing dreams that he felt he could never find in Philadelphia.

Find ‘Closing Time’ on Google Books. Buy the book at Amazon.

He was mostly angry. A lot of contemporary Philadelphia writing is. But Queenan has a quick pen — the likes of which has won him the praise of all the big writing critics we’re supposed to respect. Some of those passages kept me reading, in addition to his perspective (however bitter, though, I suppose, he softens in the closing chapters).

I wanted to share some that have the most relevance to those interested in urban development — and strong writing.

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Story Shuffle on Authority audio live

In June, I introduced Story Shuffle, the themed, first-person storytelling event.

Two months later, we hosted a second, as per our every other month schedule for the friendly story sharing night. We’re shooting to host the third in September. It’s ready to grow, so now is when we invite big shots like Eric Smith.

The theme was AUTHORITY.

Listen to mine here or the others here.

In addition to our RSS feed, you can follow Story Shuffle on Twitter and Facebook.

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What is the ‘middle class’ and should the phrase be used in journalism?

I have noticed what I think is a change  in style from the New York Times — or at least it seems new to me –in its use of the phrase “middle class.”

Notice this use of it in this story on the battle brewing on extended so-called “Bush’s tax cuts.”

“But they have pledged to continue the lower tax rates for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families earning less than $250,000 — what Democrats call the middle class.

That’s a great use of attribution to afford some kind of better description than we have in most other news articles I see. In other stories, I still see the simpler use of the phrase “middle class.” But what the hell does that mean?

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Volunteering with Back on My Feet presentation at Refresh Philly

View from the 45th floor of the Comcast Center, before the start of Refresh Philly

I rounded up the rear with a presentation on volunteering with Back on My Feet as part of a four-part event on ‘Fitness for Geeks’ on Monday.

It was another installment of Refresh Philly, the monthly speaker series for the region’s technologists and creative community members. I graced the podium after Randy Schmidt, co-creator of Lose It or Lose It, Robert Jolly, a triathlete and creative director at web development firm Happy Cog and Kristen Faughnan, Philly’s Dailymile ambassador.

More than a year ago, I was on hand for Philadelphia CTO Allan Frank’s unveiling of a ‘Digital Philadelphia’ plan at Refresh and last November, I led a panel there on the future of local politics and the web.

My third visit to Refresh was as much a treat as the rest.

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Businessweek on Henry Blodget: Passages on the future of news sites

I dug into this Business Week profile of Henry Blodget from the the Business Insider a few weeks ago.

Blodget is the editor of TBI — a business and technology aggregation and content site dubbed the ‘hooters of the internet’ — after being forced out of a financial analyst career for fraud allegations.

I wanted to share two passages from the piece that spoke widely to discussions around the future of news.

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NEast Philly: West Frankford Town Watch profile

Phil Pappas, of West Frankford Town Watch, investigating an alarm near Comly and Bustleton on early Saturday morning July 10. Click to enlarge. It's my photo.

Earlier this month, I went on a ride-along with the West Frankford Town Watch in lower Northeast Philadelphia. For the love of hyperlocal journalism and community coverage, I put together a 2,500 word profile of the organization, with a handful of photos of mine. It was good to remember that I got into this whole scene for a love of writing. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Mike Mawson smells something.

It’s past midnight on Comly Street near Bustleton in Mayfair. The sun went down hours ago, but forgot to take this sticky July heat with it. Mawson is riding shotgun in the sensible four-door sedan that his partner Phil Pappas drives. The West Frankford Town Watch patrol was circling around to head back south of Cheltenham Avenue to drive the streets of its namesake neighborhood when Mawson caught a whiff of something off in the still nighttime air.

“It smells like something is burning,” confirms soft-featured Pappas, 53, sitting upright with two hands on the steering wheel and dressed with purpose in matching earthtones. “I’ll pull over.” MORE

Read the rest of it here.

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Those are similar ledes: faint praise from the Philly Business Journal

Hey, ledes are often pretty formulaic. That much we know.

We also know that Technically Philly has aspired to grow more broader coverage of its community.

Now, they may not be the same and there may likely be no influence; I just thought this was quaint. Honestly, what it may best show is that we’re on the right path with Technically Philly.

From a former colleague and friend Peter Key:

If a lot of extremely strangely dressed people start showing up in the area in the next few months, it could be a sign that philanthropy in the region is increasing.  — Philadelphia Business Journal lede on July 9, 2010

From a current colleague and friend Sean Blanda:

If you see DunkTank co-founder Blake Jennelle walking around Center City with a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a fake beard, rest assured he hasn’t gone completely crazy. — Technically Philly lede on June 17, 2010

Number of Views:3621

Nonprofits breaking news about their mission

If you have a mission, nonprofit or otherwise, you ought to have a voice in your mission.

On the Back on My Feet blog, we don’t do enough of it, but when issues surrounding homelessness come up, we are sure to share them with our readers.

So when the very big news of the country’s first national report on homelessness was published and was part of a call to end homelessness in five years, we certainly shared it promptly, following our primary source of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

That happened June 25, so I was certainly interested to see the first mention in Philadelphia of that big report come by way of an editorial from the beleaguered Inquirer on July 5.

That’s a startup nonprofit feeding important industry news to its supporters before news media. Note the obvious trend.

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Three most relevant, mentioned and impactful Philadelphia columnists write in a niche

Eighteen months ago, I was searching for the best metro columnist in Philadelphia.

I felt the Inquirer’s Dan Rubin was the nearest in a legacy of citywide voice boxes, telling the broadest and widest ranging stories. Perhaps that’s true.

But it’s been nagging me that outside of some media-focused friends — and even then — I never hear Rubin or his other traditional columnist colleagues with any sort of regularity.

Instead, the columnists whose names I read, hear mentioned and myself reference the most are increasingly niche orientated. They’re not writing about the city, they’re writing about and for a very narrowly focused part of it. These are other critics and writers who have long existed in newspaper parlance, but I believe the increasingly niche-dominated media ecosystem means their voices carry greater power than before.

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Murder rates in Philadelphia and other cities are all marketing

Philadelphia has developed this reputation: Killadelphia or something like it.

In a prominent New York Times profile of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams last week,  the city was described as having been “battered for years by the worst sort of superlatives — the highest murder rate, the lowest conviction rate.”

What a damaging and sweeping comment that when reiterated and reinterpreted across media — that Philadelphia has been “battered” by having the “highest murder rate,” of what, well, they won’t say — can dramatically impact how the Cradle of Liberty is seen nationally.

Williams is supposed to be a part of a “sea change” in the city’s role of prosecuting criminals — a major Philadelphia Inquirer investigation found, as the Times reported, that “the city had failed to obtain convictions in two-thirds of cases involving violent crimes, and that thousands of cases were dismissed because prosecutors were not prepared or witnesses did not appear.”

So, yes, Philadelphia has a problem convicting criminals and crime is certainly a major sticking point for people living in cities (though I’ll add that violent crime is down nationally and many inner-ring suburbs have been battling increases in gangs and drugs and crime since the 1990s). And this ‘Killadelphia’ reputation doesn’t help… but how accurate the name is remains a point of contention here.

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