Clay Shirky: “News has to be subsidized, and it has to be cheap, and it has to be free”

Academic Clay Shirky tossed down another great post ahead of an undergraduate course he’s teaching at NYU. In the end, he calls for more chaos — more competitive approaches to creating meaning news for citizens, beyond news for consumers.

You ought to read the whole piece, but here are a couple of my favorite parts:

This system was never ideal—out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made—and long before Craig Newmark and Arianna Huffington began their reign of terror, Gannett and Scripps were pioneering debt-laden balance sheets, highly paid executives, and short-term profit-chasing. But even in their worst days, newspapers supported the minority of journalists reporting actual news, for the minority of citizens who cared. In return, the people who followed sports or celebrities, or clipped recipes and coupons, got to live in a town where the City Council was marginally less likely to be corrupt.

“There are only three things I’m sure of: News has to be subsidized, and it has to be cheap, and it has to be free.”

If we adopt the radical view that what seems to be happening is actually happening, then a crisis in reporting isn’t something that might take place in the future. A 30% reduction in newsroom staff, with more to come, means this is the crisis, right now. Any way of creating news that gets cost below income, however odd, is a good way, and any way that doesn’t, however hallowed, is bad.

Make your Facebook page better

Facebook pushes traffic and helps build an online community.

We’re over that. Joining Facebook and learning lessons from it is in the distant past. It’s time to have that next conversation.

I’m interested in moving to the next step, creating more compelling Facebook pages that keep people coming back, attract more eyeballs, develop brands, help create communication and, of course, help push eyeballs.

I’ve been moving through some conversations, trying to pull out the best lessons. I’m not behind anything compelling yet, but I’d love to do something fun with NEast Philly’s incredibly active Facebook page.

Some worthy reading below:

Continue reading Make your Facebook page better

FCC report: local accountability journalism is lacking, impact small when present

The FCC released a year-long study on the state of local accountability journalism and the view is pessimistic, as the Seattle Times reports.

A lot of conversation has come from it, and I hope to add some greater thoughts here on the 40-plus page document. Download it here [PDF]. Author Steven Waldman gave a short presentation at last Thursday’s Aspen Institute roundtable.

Technically Philly is mentioned briefly, but in a section lamenting that what modest successes the Philadelphia market has had in local journalism is having a relatively small numerical impact, in terms of traffic. The report’s premise was defining meaningful impact by those sites that account for at least one percent of a region’s overall traffic.

The broad comScore coverage also allows us to piggyback onto recent in?depth studies of local journalism in the digital age. First, the Institute for Interactive Journalism authored a recent study of the online news ecosystem in Philadelphia. They claim to have identified 260 local blogs, including “about 60 [with] some journalistic DNA in that they report news, not just comment on it” (Shafer 2010). While J?Lab does not provide a full listing of the sites, they single out several as particularly successful examples. Metropolis is an online news outlet staffed by professional journalists with experience in traditional media. TechnicallyPhilly.com focuses on the city’s tech community. Public School Notebook covers Philly schools and local education issues. PlanPhilly.com concentrates on planning and zoning. SeptaWatch.org provides coverage of local transportation. The Broad Street Review provides coverage of the local arts scene. The Philadelphia media market provides the fourth?largest panel in the sample, making it easier to find low?market?reach sites here than it is almost anywhere else. PlanPhilly.com shows up just in the February data, with 7 visitors out of 7967 panelists. None of the other online news sources show up at all.

Read the entire report here [PDF].

Important reading and takeaways:

Knight Commission Report on Informing Communities: crib notes on the seminal 2009 project

Almost two years later, I read the entire Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, the report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities.

Debuted in September 2009, I tackled the 80-page document for “the Hardly. Strictly. Young conference I attended in April at the University of Missouri, which was dedicated to brainstorming alternative recommendations for implementing that report.

Not a journalism-only report at all and backed by a year of conversation, outreach and testimony, I wanted to share my notes and thoughts on diving into the seminal report.

Continue reading Knight Commission Report on Informing Communities: crib notes on the seminal 2009 project

Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk: take aways and thoughts

The basic philosophy of one of those early web pioneers, Gary Vaynerchuk, was the subject of his buzzy, well-selling book ‘Crush It’ back in 2009. I’ve only gotten to it now that the second in his famed 10-book deal is coming out.

The book does two very basic things: (1) outlines Gary’s general philosophy that the Internet offers an opportunity for anyone to make money off her passion and (2) gives very simple, early steps for doing so.

Here are my take aways from reading the book:

  • First, of course, I agree with much of his perspective and love his attitude, though, in building a business around news that now supports three people full-time, I read his chapter on journalism business with some degree of skepticism. 
  • In being supportive, Gary may be offering some false hope — By looking at the two objectives this book hits (his passion and very basic steps to start following the same path) I’d picture his audience are those somewhat new to the web. His spirit — which is a noble one — is about persistence, but I don’t believe hard work wins out all the time. Businesses succeed with hard work, passion, and skill, of course, but personality, luck and timing play a big part, too, I believe, and I think Gary’s success has quite a bit to do with personality, luck and timing. I wonder how much of the audience building some of his readers have are, indeed, his other readers and how much is real business momentum.
  • Gary’s impact is for big brands first, but his book is sold to little brands — Part of that is marketing from Harper Collins, of course, but I’m always a little skeptical of the ‘you can do anything you put your mind to’ mantra, as there are real audience building challenges some small brands and individuals will have, as noted above.

Continue reading Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk: take aways and thoughts

Three most important numbers to Philadelphians right now

Courtesy of the Inquirer

Three recently shared numbers stand out to me as being incredibly powerful, evocative and important for the future of Philadelphia:

8,456

The tiny, 0.6 increase in Philadelphia’s population from the 2000 to the 2010 U.S. Census, a small grow that halts an enormous trend: 50 years of population loss from a 1950 height of 2.1 million. MORE HERE

16,032

The gain from 2000 to 2009 of the number of 25 to 34 year-olds who have a four-year degree or higher and live within three miles of Center City, the third highest U.S. numerical total (beyond New York City and Boston) and one of the 10 highest percentage increases, 57 percent, in the country. MORE HERE And for broader perspective on youth and wealth growth in specific neighborhoods, despite citywide trends, check this Inquirer article out.

+17,000

The number of children born to Center City parents between 2000 and 2008, a total that was 300 in 1990 andmore than 2,000 in 2008. Moreover, “nearly three-quarters of kindergarten students in Center City schools are drawn from downtown neighborhoods….So, not only are Center City denizens birthing, they’re staying” MORE HERE

And for dessert, though admittedly not nearly as broadly impactful, I offer you news that again Philadelphia has more per capita bicycle commuters (like me, mostly) than any other of the 10 largest cities in the country:

“…Of the nation’s 10 biggest cities, Philadelphia’s bicycle mode share (which means the percentage of commuters who bike to work) is twice as high as the next-best major city, Chicago.”

The Night of the Gun by David Carr: three lessons from reading this ‘junkie memoirs’

Three great lessons were central David Carr’s memoir the Night of the Gun, published in 2008, which I only recently read. Carr differentiated his story from other self-described ‘junkie memoirs’ by taking two years to rigorously report on his own life, interviewing those closest and uncovering the records that might corroborate.

  1. Our pasts are more fungible than we would ever imagine — Surely heightened by an ugly past of addiction and violence, the New York Times columnist had created a very different memory than what, it turned out actually happened. By reporting his own life, he found, indeed, he was the one that had the gun that night (story shared in video below), in addition to quite a few other stories about violence he said he couldn’t have imagined. Most might not have that kind of extreme, but his reporting his life story does bring up an interesting reality.
  2. Addiction is a strenuously complicated obstacle — Having recently shared some lessons on addiction and homelessness from my time with a social services agency, it might seem obvious that I was taken by Carr’s ability to write about addiction with experience and directness.
  3. Stories are all about marketing — How you tell your story or another’s has everything to do with perception and direction and angle. As Carr wrote, and others took interest in, his story could either be a tidy tale of a father overcoming drugs and welfare to take custody of his twin girls, or abusive addict escaping his mistakes and misdeeds for the height of professional success. …You might have a very different take on those actually very similar stories.

A few favorites pieces shared below.

Continue reading The Night of the Gun by David Carr: three lessons from reading this ‘junkie memoirs’

Sustaining the craft, not developing the craft itself, should be focus of Knight and RJI

I’m late.

I’ve been invited to the Hardly. Strictly. Young.  conference on alternative ways to implement Knight Foundation recommendations at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri [More on that later]. One of the fun precursors to the two-day event later this month has been participating in the Journalism Carnival of blogging, shepherded by conference organizer, Spot.Us founder and leather jacket-wearer David Cohn.

In January, I wrote about the role universities should play in creating journalism,  and in February wrote about two ways to grow the number of news sources. In March, I was supposed to write on what the Knight News Challenge should do next and how the RJI fellows program could be a part of curating that innovation.

Fortunately, in being late, I can point to others who already did it better than I would. No, Cohn, this isn’t a cop out, this is cutting my losses. The undercurrent on both of these questions for me is that I’m not worried about the craft as much as I’m worried about sustaining the craft.

Continue reading Sustaining the craft, not developing the craft itself, should be focus of Knight and RJI

Reading: Improving Sales, The Excuse Department is Closed

We at Technically Philly have had many short stops with sales help, making it one of our most prominent failures. Like  many startups, we found that the three of us did the best sales, particularly when we were getting started.

I came across one of the better summations of why and what one could learn from working with sales people in a startup environment:

I boil it down to this: sales people are sales people. They are the lifeblood of many companies yet they are different than the traditional technology startup DNA so the ways that you hire, motivate, compensate and assess performance of these individuals will be different. Obviously to understand a “class” of people you have to make broad generalizations. Here are mine.

Telling stories with authenticity and complexity: or why Unstoppable sucked

Action movies are supposed to be implausible.

The action is meant to be superhuman — more violent, more outrageous, more daring and impossible than the last. They are not, then, in my opinion, necessarily good stories.

They can be entertaining — with explosions, scene cuts and new sights — but I don’t look for an action movie to tell a compelling story.

Recently, I saw Unstoppable, the new Denzel Washington movie. The promotion around the movie certainly had an action element to it, but the trailer and Washington’s past roles triggered to me a belief there might be something a bit more provocative to the movie.

There wasn’t. I didn’t particularly like the film, though I suppose I didn’t hate it, but it did make me think about what makes good writing and, really, helps make good journalism and what Unstoppable didn’t have elements of either.

Continue reading Telling stories with authenticity and complexity: or why Unstoppable sucked