Ahead of the fifth annual Philly Tech Week, Philadelphia magazine profiled Technical.ly, the local tech news site I cofounded that helps to organize the calendar of more than 150 events.
The piece is fair, largely flattering but challenging, too. It was written by Joel Mathis, whom I’ve come to know some through Philadelphia media circles but got to speak to more at length during the interview process (thanks for the interest Joel). I can admit that I was nervous how the piece would land after I found out the magazine announced plans to launch a vertical focused on “innovation,” but I’ve seen the piece and their plans for Biz Philly appear to be a wider business blog.
It’s still a strange time here for the local news media environment.
Still, though I think Joel did a fine job, I wanted to share a few more background thoughts for those who might be interested. Read the item here, or find a PDF of the article here or buy the mag if you can, then check out below.
(Also, check out this cool blog post of a mutual friend who reached out to make sure the typewriter I’m using in the photo was authentic — it was a gift from my grandfather.)
- More than 15 people daily are part of the Technical.ly product — We have an eight-person full-time team (Kate Leshko, Zack Seward, Juliana Reyes, Catherine Sontag, Pete Erickson, Cary Betagole, Brian and me), five additional part-time lead reporters (Brady Dale, Stephen Babcock, Lalita Clozel, Melissa Dipento and Tony Abraham)) and two steady contractors on the web and IT side (Jim Smiley andTom Rose). We’re growing. I am increasingly uncomfortable with our “founding story” because it ignores how many others are part of this organization now. We took nearly an hour’s worth of team photos with Phillymag photographer Gene Smirnov, who was patient and kind, but in the end, the photo used for the story was one of Brian and me that we did in the waning few minutes of our time with the photog. (That said, I’m not lying: the photo they chose is a sleekly symbolic one that also does represent Brian and me well). [I wrote a letter to the editor about this]
- You are represented by who is interviewed in a story about you — Six years ago, Brian and I founded TechnicallyPhilly.com with our close friend Sean Blanda (we still love and hang with him a ton, hi Sean!). Three years ago, Sean left to pursue other goals, and Brian and I rebranded as Technical.ly to test the model of community beat reporting and organizing in other markets. We did make the case that other staff members should be included in the piece, and I know Joel did speak to several, but looking at the item now, I regret that Sean has a bigger footprint in the piece than anyone who works at Technical.ly today not named Brian or Chris. For example, our Philly lead reporter Juliana Reyes has been with us nearly as long as Sean was, and she’s had an important influence on what we are today but she wasn’t named. Of course, that’s the way in edited features. On the contrary, community perspective from Tracey Welson-Rossman (a women in tech organizer, nonprofit leader, early tech community advocate and our first ever sponsor) and Mark Headd (a national figure on #opengov issues) were tellingly accurate and valued.
- People are uncomfortable with revenue talk alongside mission — We’ve been criticized for this from our very founding, but I’ve already heard it here. I believe plainly that to make something’s influence last, you need to deliver enough value that you can keep it financially stable. That’s been hard for niche local news but we’re damn proud of what we’ve done. We’re honest — we’ve never beaten a five percent profit margin, we run a lean budget and pay team like a community media company, not a highly profitable tech company. But we have a lot of mission in what we do, and we’re experimenting constantly. Because it’s important to our story, we talk about, and it’s reflected in this story. I know some will see it as a garish because we’ve heard it before.
- On being a “cheerleader” — That word will haunt me. It’s a word in journalism circles that comes with a lot of negative implication. In other settings, it’s meant as a compliment. But to me, it’s a word that conveys passivity and a lack of discretion — we’ll wave our arms in support no matter what — so it’s not one I use. But the word was used in this piece like this: “Technically Philly wouldn’t just report on news in Philly’s tech community — the site would also be a cheerleader for that community.” It’s not a word I used. But I’ve already gotten an email from a journalism booster criticizing me for using it. A word that is still controversial among most in journalism but one that I think more accurately conveys what we’re trying to do is “catalyst.” I’d even take “advocate” over “cheerleader.” They all are seen as attacks on objective journalism but those other two more accurately portray us as a news organization that does hold itself accountable for outcomes in our community. We do want to be responsible for making a smarter, more inclusive, stronger group. Here’s how I said it elsewhere in the piece, which I very strongly support: “From the very beginning, everyone on our team has tried to pretty regularly say, ‘Is this an ethical rule that’s in place for a good reason? Or is it out of habit?”
- Only you can know your own intentions — This story turned out to be a few years coming in a way I hadn’t expected. The writer, Joel, shared that back in 2010, he was the one who penned a rather snarky dismissal of what was then a year-old Technically Philly experiment. There were dozens of those subtle attacks, public and private, as we developed (and continue to develop) our model. As a young and earnest kid, they were always hurtful and confusing. We always tried to be honest and transparent, and that has continued to anger and frustrate some. I’ve gotten better at ignoring those slights when they aren’t constructive, and I’ve tried harder to avoid doing the same to others. When Joel brought it up to me, I said what he used for this Phillymag story’s kicker: “Whenever anyone starts anything new, the presumption is that it won’t last, so immediately people will describe why it won’t last.”
Thank you for the interest Philly mag, Joel Mathis and team.