The Path Between the Seas: how the Panama Canal was constructed

mccullough-panama

The classic, National Book Award-winning 1977 historical narrative by David McCullough on the Panama Canal’s construction called the Path Between the Seas was perfect reading material leading into, during and after my 10-day trip to the Central American country.

In large scale projects, preparing to do the work is often more important than doing the work. That was likely the biggest lesson I drew from the book, which chronicled a failed attempt by a consortium of French government and business leaders to build a sea-level canal and then a painful but ultimately successful American attempt that used locks and came at the heels of advancements in understanding how to deal with yellow fever.

I also drastically underestimated the magnitude the Panama Canal represented as an engineering and public health campaign. My previous ignorance to this period of human history is embarrassing.

As I often do when I read a book of relevance to leadership and history, I share my notes here.

Continue reading The Path Between the Seas: how the Panama Canal was constructed

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin history: ‘Nearly Everybody Read It,’ a 1998 book from Peter Binzen

The importance, sway and influence of one of the world’s most dominant 20th century newspapers was the focus of the 1998 collection of essays about the once powerful Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, edited by its former education reporter Peter Binzen, who also wrote Whitetown USA.

Dubbed ‘Nearly Everybody Read It,’ a riff off the paper’s legendary slogan, the 163-page book has nearly 20 essays from former Bulletin reporters and editors, including its first female and black correspondents. For 135 years, the family owned paper was a powerhouse among a rich daily newspaper tradition in Philadelphia.

A central story line of the book was the Bulletin’s battle with the Inquirer, its chief rival, and how, in the end, the Inquirer, considered by many to be the chain response to the family-owned operation, won. Through all the bluster, I thought there were four primary reasons that rang most true to me:

  1. The Bulletin fundamentally failed to innovate, remaining an afternoon daily as circulation fell with growing TV news audiences, increasing transportation costs due to traffic and changing news cycles.
  2. The Bulletin failed to develop the revenue to stay competitive, including a premature sale of its nascent TV station, denying alcohol advertising and other funding methods that kept it lagging behind the Knight-Ridder funded Inquirer.
  3. The Bulletin resisted aggressive editorial reconfiguration, following the investigative spirit of the 1970s that soared the reputation of the Inquirer behind editor Gene Roberts, and pushed out its own innovative editor George Packard.
  4. The Bulletin came up short in following the suburban trend, having its 1947 purchase of the Camden Courier Post denied by the U.S. Department of Justice for anti-monopoly concerns was a large blow.

As I often do when reading something relevant to the news and innovation conversations I so adore, I wanted to share some choice thoughts from the book.

Continue reading Philadelphia Evening Bulletin history: ‘Nearly Everybody Read It,’ a 1998 book from Peter Binzen

A Brief Timeline of the History of Daily Newspapers in Philadelphia

This Philadelphia daily newspaper family tree is framed in the Inquirer editorial board room at 400 N. Broad Street. Photo by Russell Cooke. Click to enlarge.

There were a dozen or more daily newspapers in Philadelphia at one time, I hear. Trouble is, I couldn’t seem to find anyone who could name what all of those papers were.

So I went and did some good old fashioned research — with some great direction from representatives of the following institutions.

Below, find a historical timeline of daily newspapers in Philadelphia, or at least what I could decode using four sources: primarily the Pennsylvania State Library newspaper collection [call number: Philadelphia] and the archives of the University of Virginia, with some help from a 1997 collection of essays called ‘Nearly Everybody Read It,’ edited by Peter Binzen (whose other book I recently read) and an essay from Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia member Gerry Wilkinson. (I compiled some other notes on the Inquirer here.)

Check it out below and offer any criticism or comment — I’m certainly expecting that this is incomplete, so any other leads are appreciated!

Continue reading A Brief Timeline of the History of Daily Newspapers in Philadelphia

Urban imperialism: lessons from city boosterism of the 19th century for urban renewal today

Creede, Colo. in 1880

Metropolitan boosters — men employed in the late 19th century to encourage Americans to move west to burgeoning cities — have been of interest to me lately.

I’m interested in how that concept can be brought to modern concepts or urban renewal. I came across a portion of an essay in ‘A companion to the American West,’ collected by William Francis Deverell [p. 513]:

Integral to the hinterland and ‘instant city’ models of nineteenth-century western urban history has been the figure of the urban booster. Cities in the west have been promoted, hawked and downright lied about on a scale rarely matched elsewhere in the nation. Boosters in cities on the make — Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century, San Francisco in the 1860s, Denver in the 1880s, Seattle in the 1900s, Los Angeles and Oakland in the 1920s — spared little effort in luring the investment capital, industry and residents necessary to ensure sustained economic development. Western boosters and their allies engaged in what one historian calls ‘urban imperialism,’ an endless quest for control of the markets and economic bonanzas that guaranteed real estate profits. Booster scholarship has tended to focus on the art of promotion and to see cities as products less of social construction than of capitalist fantasies. But behind boosters is the most interesting feature of western cities: urban growth as an end in itself, an economic logic fundamental to capitalism, was elevated by western boosters to the level of civic religion. In some cities, for instance, space was rarely scare but capital was. In places like Los Angeles and later Dallas and Phoenix, this led boosters to cultivate real estate markets and encourage an urban morphology that spread development horizontally across vast distances. In other cities, an opposite geography was at work, and a great deal of scare capital went into creating very expensive space. In Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, immense amounts of capital were devoted to filling tidelands and wetlands that allowed the cities to grow…

History Channel: America, The Story of Us

Happy Fourth of July.

A couple weekends ago, while filing a lot of copy, I was engrossed in the 12-part History Channel documentary called America: The Story of Us.

It reminded me of what the History Channel does best. In a world where the access to information is endless, the context of that information was powerful.

Continue reading History Channel: America, The Story of Us

“Being a reporter is only lately a respectable occupation:” Calvin Trillin

Former Time and New Yorker journalist Calvin Trillin on why there is less drinking in journalism. He references this New York Times story on the changing face of big name journalists.

“Being a reporter is only lately a respectable occupation.”

Former New York Times reporter Gay Talese telling a story about drinking in his old newspaper days

Changing ways in which society collects information

marketflow1

The way we have gained information has apparently changed in the past 200 years, according to a really interesting and insightful graphical analysis of those trends by online magazine Baekdal.com.

The graphic analysis, as depicted above, aims to give some sense of the how the sources of information developed in common society. It suggests that in the next 10 years, we’ll find more and more news and information via social networks, with declines in TV, general Web sites and blogs.

After a few hundred years of newsletters, pamphlets and other written news sources known of in Europe and perhaps present elsewhere, the idea of a regularly published, verifiable collection of news source was developed in the United States in Boston, New York and Philadelphia in the mid-18th century. Leading to that turn of the century, more than 50 newspapers of varying stripe were bubbling in the colonies, leading to the idea of “freedom of the press” when the 1791 Bill of Rights were ratified.

This graphic and its explanation — well worth your time — gets the history down, if briefly, but I can’t say I agree with all its prognosticating about the future of news gathering.

Continue reading Changing ways in which society collects information

Who is Tom Ferrick's heir: the best Philadelphia newspaper columnists

Philadelphia was long a breeding ground for some of the most meaningful metro columnists in the country.

Some say the newspaper columnist is dying, but it isn’t dead.

So who’s the next columnist of record in one of the oldest newspaper cities in the world?

Continue reading Who is Tom Ferrick's heir: the best Philadelphia newspaper columnists

The History of the Philadelphia Inquirer

The history of the Philadelphia Inquirer mirrors the path of all the big gray ladies in the United States.

While putting together suggestions for the Inquirer months ago, I came across some interesting reading on the third oldest newspaper in the country, which is nearing its 180th birthday. Follow it and the path of your own hometown paper.

But why isn’t the Inquirer already cashing in on its historical brand? It seems it may be moving that way, but I want to see more and as a means to develop, sustain its brand and monetize it.

Continue reading The History of the Philadelphia Inquirer