Define the mission underpinning the work of your news organization, and then allow yourself to experiment with new and potentially better ways of telling stories.
That’s my interest in finding new innovative storytelling methods, and so I was excited by the chance to share examples with nearly 100 reporters and educators who visited a session I cohosted during a national news innovation conference in Atlanta last week.
For anyone who traffics in ideas, relationships and communication (and reporters are certainly that), “one of the most important soft skills you can have is handling a high-volume of email,” said Merlin Mann in his well-trafficked 2007 “Inbox Zero” Tech Talk.
The idea here is that time and attention are irreplaceable, finite and the most valuable resources of knowledge workers. So, as silly as it sounds, managing efficiently your email is a major skill.
They’re worth something — friendships, acquaintances, colleagues, sources. They enrich our lives and, yes, they are integral to any success. Things get done by people who have relationships, to help guide, support, advise and strengthen goals.
This goes for everyone, but there are surely some industries that need them more than others: construction and development, politics and government and, certainly, reporting and community building. So I think a lot about the connections and people who make up community in all of its forms.
If relationships are one of the most valuable resources we have, why do we so often ignore their impact and why do three types of people so often abuse the role of connection?
Updated with more perspective on the job-crashing Internet here and more from Vox Media here. Also, though some think there is a mighty economic transition happening, many readers and friends have pointed that I didn’t properly address the ‘lump labor fallacy‘ here, in which I incorrectly assume there is a static number of jobs that are going away. I still think there is perspective worth sharing below. More comments welcome.
In the next 20 years, the United States and the broader global economy will either dramatically rethink its employment structure or a history-altering societal change will take place.
Of course, unemployment numbers are gamed by those who give up on looking for jobs, but the idea here is that it’s hard to understand why anyone seems to think that the overall unemployment numbers for our country will trend anywhere but upward.
Let me be clear, this is armchair commentary from someone with absolutely no background in economics or geopolitical, socioeconomic trends, so I am writing this hoping for outside insight because I can’t figure this out.
Below, I (a) outline the problem as I see it, (b) look at big economic drivers that seem to be chances for more problems, (c) list all the opportunities I understand that could reverse somewhat this trend and then (d) highlight some of the transformational changes that could lie in wait for the next generation, before offering some more reading and then waiting to get yelled at in the comments.
Revenue models for local journalism are still quickly being siphoned off from prospective journalism creators of the future.
We’ve had no shortage of hand-wringing around the future of news in recent years. As I see it, simple access to news and information won’t be the problem of the future, since publishing keeps getting easier which adds to the number of sources (though creating the infrastructure to have a broad set of common facts locally might be. Still that’s another issue for another post).
Instead, I am far more concerned about the future of local journalism. (I am not talking about international war reporting or national politics, as those audiences can be relatively so large that I trust in niche players, like Propublica and the New York Times finding a foothold). Instead, I’m talking about state houses, city halls, niche communities and neighborhoods.
The loss (or failure to recreate) journalism in those places is my greatest fear for the future of asking tough questions and what professionally keeps me awake at night more than almost anything else.
Philadelphia, like any other city that wants to compete in a global marketplace, needs a regional distinction that sets it apart, and in this place, nothing makes more sense than for Philadelphia to define itself as the hub for social entrepreneurship and urban renewal.
Around the world, our hubs of innovation and culture, of education and community are densest and most alive in cities. All of the truly great problems of our time — war and crime and poverty and disease and education and violence and racism and hunger and employment — are either exacerbated by or housed most primarily in our cities.
As a country, if the United States intends to continue to play some form of a major role in the future, the sense seems to be that we will need to do that by continuing to be smarter. Adaptability, industrial might and military strength have served us well, but we need to look for the next train.
Entrepreneurship and the spirit that came out of World War II federal funding (largely in Philadelphia first) helped define the last quarter century of American cultural impact. At a time of high unemployment and a sluggish economy, high technology and scale is meant to be that next train.
So cities do a lot of hand wringing about how to replace widgets with gadgets.
Whether they are meant to be there or not, real business lessons are buried within the made-for-TV, startup-pitch-event-turned-reality-show Shark Tank, and despite the raised eyebrows, I love the program.
A rotating crew of five potential investors, billed as self-made millionaires, hear quick pitches from would-be entrepreneurs of varying skills, interests and levels of experience. Sometimes deals are made; sometimes those entrepreneurs walk away with nothing, aside from a little exposure.
That is brutal and sobering and tragic and heartbreaking.
TL;DR — Why I believe the pain of 9/11 helped shape NYC for the better.
A long history exists between pain and strength.
After 9/11, Americans embraced New York City as patriot territory.
After the attacks, an even stronger NYC identity has developed.
Following that day, NYC is now protected by more of a veil of patriotism than it perhaps has ever had.
Why I wrote this: To argue that a dramatic shift in our national perspectives on NYC changed after 9/11 and it has largely benefited the city.
I grew up in northwest New Jersey, a rural enclave in the New York City region. Like many others there, my parents were from the city and arrived an hour west chasing suburban sprawl. Much of my family still lives in and around that city. They worked in and around the Twin Towers. A couple times a year, my parents would take my sister and me to Manhattan for nice dinners with family; I always wanted to play sandlot baseball or get lost in the woods instead.
I was a sophomore in high school sitting in English class that September Tuesday, but I don’t want to rehash my story. Plenty are doing that and, quite frankly, they are doing a better job of it than I can. Moreover, many people with whom I was in class had parents or other close family working there or near to the buildings. I didn’t, after some confirmation, so my personal story isn’t compelling.
Instead, I want to suggest what might be considered a rather unsettling thought, but I think it’s an important one.
That the most costly, most visual portion of the Sept. 11 attacks in lower Manhattan have, looking back at the last 10 years, been good for New York City.
People died. Real people. At a different time, my uncles, or cousin or sister could have very likely been in that number. Philosophy isn’t developed enough for us to understand why not. Very little is ever worth death. But, I believe, these attacks have propelled New York City to first city status among the few generations of Americans alive for 9/11 in a way that nothing else ever could.
I am not a resident of New York City. Never have been. The city was around me — literally and by means of familial roots, but, no, I wasn’t there that morning and know little of that moment. My arguments here rely most heavily on outside perception, so having roots and family there, but being distant enough to evaluate that perception is a strength, I believe.
Now let me tell you why the idea that something so painful could be beneficial is not only plausible, it is clear.
Sales tactics to lead and those to avoid are seemingly peppered throughout the classic, star-studded, independent black comedy Glengarry Glen Ross from 1992 that I finally got to watch — after quoting clips for years.
“We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired,” says the character Blake, setting the mood early on.
As you might expect, there are some takeaways to be had.
The Golden Ratio, the 2003 historical analysis of the irrational number phi (~1.62) by Mario Livio, reads more like a top level review of a few thousand years of mathematical history. And so, while I enjoyed the pursuit of phi in art throughout time, I was much more taken by the top-level review of the development of math. The development, or, well, the discovery of math.
Indeed, of the various historical storylines, one theme from the book that stuck out for me more than others, I was most taken bythe ongoing debate about whether math was invented or discovered, the former of which is my persuasion to date: