First thoughts on Axis Philly next steps: journalism collab CEO leaves

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After four years of planning, there will be another strategy direction in the coming months for the collaborative journalism effort that has been an interest of the high-profile William Penn Foundation for the better part of a decade.

Last March, some movement was taken by Neil Budde, the former news executive who was brought into town to take leadership of the now branded AxisPhilly.org, but, citing a growing gulf in expectations between him and funders, his departure was announced earlier this month after just a year and a half on the job. As it was said in the official release: Budde agreed to step aside “in light of its inability to raise sufficient second-round funding to support an aggressive initial business model.”

In other words, Budde spent more and made less than his funders desired and was heading in a direction that didn’t have the full support of the leadership and advisers at the Center for Public Interest Journalism, which is housed at Temple University and is administering the William Penn grant (updated: changes at the top of Temple’s communications school may also impact here, I’m reminded). But, as I’ll share below, Budde might likely argue he didn’t get the time he needed to get where he wanted to go.

In either case, in the coming weeks, an advisory board, foundation officials, consultants and university administrators will lead a group of identified stakeholders and Axis staff members through another strategy effort to, again, steer what is left of the funding toward a goal that, at its origins, was to grow the level of public affairs journalism and civic dialogue in Philadelphia.

As an interested observer and in an effort to gather my thoughts, I want to share here what I think could come next for Axis Philly, expecting to want to refine this after getting feedback. As per usual when I write these things, this is a massive collection of thoughts, not a neatly curated treatise.

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Why I think this parklet is misguided and other thoughts on parking

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This is a photo of a parklet outside of my office in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia. Parklets are essentially raised platforms put in parking spots meant to offer pedestrian-friendly seating in dense city communities. They also become something of a rallying cry for anti-car urbanism, by taking something for an automobile and giving it to pedestrians.

I am a pedestrian — I bicycle to work and use mass transit whenever I don’t. What’s more is that I sit in this parklet a lot. I benefit from it plenty — it’s very pretty — and I like and use parklets throughout Philadelphia. I think the parklet movement is a cool one. That said, I also think this particular parklet’s placement is misguided.

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Why must I pick a side in the trial of George Zimmerman?

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I’ve been struggling to explain to people why I haven’t much followed the much publicized trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in either self-defense or because of vengeful stereotyping, depending on where you land politically.

Then I read something that helped me understand better. I strongly endorse this post about the polarization of our country:

Why the hell must I pick a side in the George Zimmerman trial? A 17 year old boy is dead and a man who may or may not be guilty of murder is on trial but, even if not guilty, will never again be safe because so much outrage and so much politicization has been poured into the trial. A 17 year old is dead. Why am I forced, as a conservative, to cheer for the guy who took his life? And you people who support Trayvon, how are you given a pass on seeing things from George Zimmerman’s perspective? Why must I decide on the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman based on the outrage of people whose politics differ from mine? Why must a death and trial comport to a political world view?!

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Judge your social media identity by whether you’d want to hang with yourself at a bar [Knight event]

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I’m only as good as my audience is — if they’re the audience you want to know about your work and I have more of them than you do, you want coverage from me. That’s the value proposition of media coverage as I tried to convey it on a panel discussion I was a part of yesterday.

I was proudly asked to be on a panel about media relationships at the first ever day-long Philadelphia grantee conference from the Knight Foundation. The logic was to offer some programming and bring together the 100 or so grantees that Knight has touched in Philadelphia. Held at the Barnes Foundation, I was honored enough to be in the audience, set aside speaking.

Full Disclosure, I was there because Technically Philly is a grantee — Knight was a generous support of Philly Tech Week.

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Radiator Heat: my ‘Rust Belt Rising Almanac’ flash fiction from Head and the Hand Press

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The Rust Belt Rising Almanac is a beautiful anthology of narratives from what is new and inspiring in post-industrial American cities from the Head and the Hand Press, a small, craft publisher startup based in Fishtown, Philadelphia.

The anthology was released Friday. I met the Press’s founder Nic Esposito a couple years ago in Center City and have followed him since, moved by his own publishing startup story. He has a space on Frankford Avenue that serves as something of a creative writing coworking space — a monthly fee to be part of the strong community he’s created. When I saw his call for submissions, I knew I wanted to take part and am proud I was selected along with a dozen far more accomplished, talented fiction writers.

The anthology is worth the $17, so you should buy it here. Below I have the first few grafs of my small submission, find the rest in the book itself.

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Civic Innovation: my answers to 7 questions I asked this Mayors’ Innovation Summit panel

Textizen CEO Michelle Lee giving her lightning talk before our panel on civic innovation, which featued, from left, Michael Brennan of SecondMuse, Brigitte Daniel of Wilco Electronic Systems, Keya Dannenbaum of ElectNext, Alex Hillman of Indy Hall and myself.

Textizen CEO Michelle Lee giving her lightning talk before our panel on civic innovation, which featued, from left, Michael Brennan of SecondMuse, Brigitte Daniel of Wilco Electronic Systems, Keya Dannenbaum of ElectNext, Alex Hillman of Indy Hall and myself. Photo lovingly stolen from Aaron Ogle.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors held its annual Mayors’ Innovation Summit in Philadelphia last week, and I moderated a panel Friday morning focused on ‘civic innovation,’ a fancy phrasing for a new era of groundswell public-private partnerships growing out of technology and creative communities across the country.

As is custom, I shared beforehand some questions I wanted to ask the group, and while we didn’t get to all of them because we got into some good conversations, I figured I’d share my perspective on those questions.

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Why this reporter agreed to be in a digital divide ad campaign

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KEYSPOT is the branded network of computer literacy centers in Philadelphia, including city-backed rec centers, Free Library branches and private nonprofit efforts.

Since their federal stimulus-backed launch in 2011, we at Technically Philly have reported on the effort, including the impact, small numbers and celebrated successes. That’s presumably why I was asked to be one of a handful of people included in a public awareness advertising campaign — which also included rapper Freeway and has run on a few outdoor billboards, on SEPTA subway cars and in some train stations.

I’ve had a few questions privately and publicly about the appropriateness of a reporter/editor to be involved in such a campaign, so I thought it was worth sharing my logic.

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5 Instagram photos from Philly Tech Week 2013

The third annual Philly Tech Week was the largest yet, and its impact was clear.

Rather than recite the more than 80 events and 150 partners, I thought I’d share a few Instagram photos I saw that helped me feel the week was growing and proud about my involvement. That’s mostly because the photos were taken by people I didn’t know.

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