A dense, 30-minute look at the past, present and future of education reform in the United States was the focus of a presentation by the celebrated University of Pennsylvania professor Ted Hershberg last week.
Though his lecture was part of a class I’m taking that is officially off-the-record, because I know Hershberg’s work through a friend of mine who is part of his research team and what he said follows what he often speaks on, I thought it was okay to share what I felt was a helpful top-level look at the problems and opportunities.
For context, Hershberg is an open left-of-center thinker, but he has a reputation for being an outspoken critic of the teacher’s unions. I share some easy-to-digest notes below.
The celebrated HBO historical drama Boardwalk Empire, set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, is making its way through its second season, and I’m catching up, having recently finished watching the first season.
The well-funded period piece, with backing from Scorsese, Wahlberg and others, tracks the life and times of a character based on a real political boss of the time. It’s a compelling story, tinged with real happenings, heavily researched authenticity and complex characters. In short, it’s a great watch.
Having finished the first season, there are a few takeaways I found myself internalizing:
From this very compelling TED video from former MoveOn.org Executive Director Eli Pariser on ‘filter bubbles’ happening online due to personalized algorithms (i.e., in truth there is no one Google search, as nearly 60 filters dictate results)
“We may have the story of the internet wrong. This is how the founding mythology goes: in a broadcast society, there were these gatekeepers, the editors, and they controlled the flows of information. And along came the internet, and it swept them out of the way and allowed all of us to connect together and it was awesome. But that’s not actually what’s happening right now. What we’re seeing is more of a passing of the torch, from human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones. And the thing is, the algorithms don’t yet have the kind of embedded ethics that the editors did. So if algorithms are going to curate the world for us, if they’re going to decide what we get to see and what we don’t get to see, then we need to make sure that they’re not just keyed to relevance, but that they also show us things that are uncomfortable or challenging or important…”
At 1:50 in the below video, watch highlights of Jobs talking about his relationship with news and follow the quote below.
“One of my beliefs, very strongly, is that any democracy depends on a free, healthy press…. Some of these papers — news and editorial gathering organizations — are really important. I don’t want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers myself. I think we need editorial more than ever right now. Anything that we can do to help the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and other news gathering organizations find new ways of expression so they can afford to get paid, so they can afford to keep their news gathering editorial operations in tact, I’m all for. What we have to do is figure out a way to get people to start paying for this hard earned content. So [the tablet industry] provides us an opportunity to offer something more than just a web page and to start charging something for that. I’m trying to get these folks to take more aggressive postures than what they traditionally charged for print because they don’t have the expenses of printing, they don’t have the expenses of delivery and to charge a reasonable price and go for volume. I think people are willing to pay for content.”
Sometimes, if not most times, what happens outside of the sessions can be what’s most valuable about a conference.
I learned plenty the traditional way at the 2011 Online News Association national conference, held in Boston this weekend Sept. 22-25, but I surely got more out of reconnecting with friends and colleagues from other markets, even more than I remember doing at past professional events. It also didn’t hurt that I dove more into Boston than I have while visiting elsewhere for work travel.
After a few years co-running a sustainable niche news site, participating in the online discourse around news innovation and attending events like ONA and others from the Aspen Institute, the University of Missouri and, yes, our own BarCamp NewsInnovation, I felt like attending the event was just as important to talk shop with others doing similar work across the country as it was to catch up on a lot of in-session conversations that felt less relevant to where we are professionally.
Tourism and good, smart friends aside, below I share what I learned in a conference’s traditional way.
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.
After an hour of beer donated by Boxcar Brewing, sandwiches from the Trolleycar Diner and pretzels from the Center City Soft Pretzel Co., I kicked off the night and introduced WHYY editorial chief Chris Satullo.
Satullo and Don Henry, two of the many leading faces behind the NewsWorks initiative, shared five tasks they got right and five tasks they got wrong. Text of them all and video of the first few below.
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.
I have a friend who went to college where he did for, really, one leading reason: the accent.
Sure, he found a nice campus at a respected university with a good reputation and a big price tag, but, ultimately, he sought colleges in and around Boston because he loved that accent.
Boston, most might say, is a culturally distinctive city of 650,000 in a region steeped in history, plagued by all the problems dense places face and respected for its future.
Boston and its portion of New England surely has a lot going for it — in Philadelphia, it’s the city we probably most often compare ourselves to in terms of college graduate retention and sustaining of life sciences business — but I argue one of the strongest, most meaningful reasons for its success that no one seems to talk about is, yes, those broad As of the Boston accent.
So I’m here to argue that one of the greatest ways to continue to bolster Philadelphia’s reputation is to expand its cultural exportation through movies, music and TV, highlighted by that accent that the rest of the country rarely can identify.