Why the 20th century had such celebrated local journalism

Profit. That’s where the experimentation and funding for long-term projects came from.

As the near monopoly on the distribution of information that powered the advertising business that kept newsrooms well-stocked has faded, so too has the profitability of the companies that back them. And it has coincided with tightened budgets and, therefore, fewer commercially viable journalism products.

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In defense of “Off the Record” and back room conversations

Transparency is a modern virtue.

Its pursuit is among the more commonly inalienable constants of news media. But like a child who needs to be exposed to germs to develop resistance, we can benefit from some level of privacy among leaders. Transparency of power can lead to polarization. Some conversations need to be worked out in private.

Of course that doesn’t sit quite right with many newsrooms — or among many civic minded people. A symbolic scourge of journalism is the back room conversation — dealmaking without public discourse.

But it’s so much more complicated.

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Journalism is a strategy, not an industry

Journalism is a strategy, not an industry.

Newsrooms should rethink their competition. Journalism organizations are in dozens of different businesses. What we share in common (journalism DNA) makes us more partners than adversaries. The many businesses that are competing for the revenue and not providing other community value, like service journalism, are the real competition.

This was the focus of a lightning pitch I gave this weekend at the national Online News Association annual conference in Denver. Below find my slides, audio and some tweet reactions I received.

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Acts of journalism that aren’t written articles

Because the modern concept of journalism was developed inside newspaper newsrooms, we’ve stayed stuck on the idea that journalism only looks one way: written words with a feature lede and nut graf.

Maybe a photo essay. Or an editorial cartoon. Or nonfiction book. Radio and TV reports too can cut the pass. But we know what form comes to mind first when journalism is invoked: writing and editing long, multi-source feature stories, likely to put into some print publication. That has to adapt.

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Beat reporters: stop hanging out with other journalists and spend more time with your community

I say this fully admitting I’m an active, proud and lively member of the Pen and Pencil Club, a private journalist’s association and bar in my hometown Philadelphia.

Journalists, especially community and beat reporters, should spend a lot more time with their communities than with other in news media. For sure, you can get great professional development and important understanding from meeting with your colleagues. But count up the number of hours you spend with other reporters and compare it with your community in person: which one is the bigger number?

This was among my clearest points from a talk I gave at the third annual Entrepreneurial Journalism Educators Summit organized by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Below are my slides and some notes.

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How I described what I do for a living to a classroom of first graders

If you can’t describe what you do to a child, you don’t actually know what you do.

Sure, in an era of disruption and distraction, we are changing and evolving roles and organizations and missions rapidly enough that to kids and even other adults outside our industries, the details can get fuzzy. But the idea here is that your core purpose has almost surely been seen before.

So can you describe what you do at its simplest form?

I got this challenge when I agreed to do a Career Day this month at Adaire, a public K-8 school in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia in which I live. (The school has a fun history dating to the 1890s, including the above-depicted first building and a more conventional one used today)

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Innovation is taking a risk on a new approach for an old challenge

Sometimes when a word is really powerful, it gets over-used enough that its power dwindles. This happens in cycles, like how “collaboration” was sorely stretched in recent years as institutions got hip to open source culture, and now as “innovation” is being slid into the name of any new effort from any organization aiming to look forward-thinking.

That over-use doesn’t mean the word isn’t effective. It is. But it should mean it requires defense. So when I was asked to submit to business marketing magazine SmartCEO my own definition of the word and my process for employing it, I tried to do just that.

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What I’ve learned about running a regular professional meetup as a hobby

Organizing a regular event for peers and friends as a volunteer has become far more widespread with the power of the web, social media and services like Meetup.com for connecting like-minded professionals. It can be rewarding and relevant for both your personal and professional interests. This is what I’ve learned by doing just that.

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Linking methodology at legacy media online for competitor scoop: Example

A Technical.ly Philly reader sent a photo our way of SEPTA transit agency maps with a prominent station’s name renamed to reflect a nearby hospital chain, suggesting a possible sponsorship deal. Then our editor Zack Seward reported it out and we shared the item as an interesting possibility — SEPTA appropriately demurred from comment.

Then the name change was actually announced a week later.

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5 reminders for every local news startup, with a focus on Philly’s ‘Billy Penn’ from Jim Brady

If you were setting out to launch a local, city-wide, civic affairs and breaking news outfit today, there are a few clear first steps I’d encourage you to take. Understand deeply and succinctly why and for whom you are doing this. Plan clearly how you hope to sustain the thing, and have a rough idea of what you think the thing might be.

So I’m assuming that work is already done for Billy Penn, just such an effort here in Philadelphia that is soon-to-be-launched by Jim Brady, a news media executive popular in national online media circles, and Chris Krewson, a former Philadelphia Inquirer online editor who has returned after several years on the West Coast.

Now let’s think about what comes next.

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