Personal finance is a social justice issue

The so-called K-shaped recovery to the pandemic economy is expected to widen inequality. It was already well-known that it is expensive to be poor. Yet we sometimes think of personal finance as the hobby of the already rich — of a white male dalliance.

Since the Great Recession and the lost generation of Millennials, there has been renewed interest in accessible financial advice. Yet even as white Millennials are finally making financial gains, it seems Black Millennials are still falling behind. For years at my company, I’ve tried to strike a balance between being positively encouraging to my team to increase their retirement savings (and to speak to the financial planner we make available to staff) without becoming too overbearing. We’ve made gains but I find the topic daunting.

Perhaps because the pandemic cancelled my annual Personal Finance Day with friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about a passion of mine: Personal finance is a social justice issue.

This is important because so many savings and investment fundamentals are simply not intuitive. Get rich schemes continue to fool many. In contrast, slowly and patiently putting a little bit aside into a passive index fund has been a remarkably reliable method for building wealth. Even God couldn’t beat dollar cost averaging.

Talk openly with your friends about what you earn, what you save and how you develop on your own journey. The internet is full of bad advice, but it’s also home to so much good stuff too. How to decide what is what? A solid rule: look toward the longterm and be committed by building habits.

(Photo of the calculator app by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash)

Notes on Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 classic ‘Tipping Point’

Nothing more needs to be said on influential journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s first breakout book Tipping Point, which published 15 years ago. Like a lot of popular books, it has been aggressively criticized and dismissed.

Even if his theme is challenged, there are small points that are interesting. Though I read this several years ago, I just reread it and took down a few notes for my own future perusal. I’m sharing them here

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Marking 10 years of the National Constitution Center’s Constitution Daily blog

This year marks 10 years since the launch of Constitution Daily, a new editorial arm for the celebrated National Constitution Center. Find the blog here, which is richer and livelier than it even was at launch.

In the early days of my publishing company, my cofounders and I helped conceive of and launch the Constitution Daily as part of an editorial strategy consulting project we led for the museum. It was one of the most rewarding such projects I’ve been a part of, and resulted in several close friendships and an award.

I’ve been checking in and am so impressed by how vibrantly the U.S. constitution-focused blog remains. Led by their CEO Jeffrey Rosen, the blog includes an impressive weekly podcast and routine deep dives. This was a major early example of my belief that there were publishing lessons to bring outside of media. I’m humbled by where they’ve taken the project, and I’m proud to have played a small part.

Notes from the classic 2001 business book “Good to Great”

Data can point to commonalities of companies that go from being just good to being really great.

Published in 2001 as the middle in a trio of business books written by Stanford University’s Jim Collins, Good to Great is a classic of the genre. Though I’ve heard it cited many times, I only just read it earlier this year. The concept is a likeable one: Collins and a team of graduate students sorted through lots of data to find very similar peer companies, some of which accelerated into greatness and others which only treaded water. Then they sorted through to find what’s similar. Lots of stuff like this happens today — like this popular Medium post.

Twenty years later, the book still has value, even if many of the companies have faded from their greatness and it’s always easy to tease a business book. At its most simple, Collins introduces a simple framework that I’ve played with for my own company (his “hedgehog concept” is a way to communicate: What is that your company can do better than anyone else in the world that can drive financial success?)

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One year later, here are my first small pieces of advice for new parents

A common joke I’ve heard among parents goes something like “The only parenting advice to take from other parents is to not take any parenting advice from other parents.

Yes, you can get too much advice; yes, each kid is a bit different and every family dynamic has its own quirks. But I really did get value in speaking to lots of friends and family before the birth of my first child a year ago. Granted, we spent the last year in a pandemic lockdown, so much of our experience won’t be recreated.

Exactly because of that, I won’t be overdoing it with advice. Still, I do think a few short pieces of advice were most helpful for me. Take it or leave it.

Continue reading One year later, here are my first small pieces of advice for new parents

A respite from Philly Tech Week kickoff rainouts

Those closest to me are familiar with this painfully, long-running inside joke: these elaborate outdoor Philly Tech Week kickoff events I organize always happen with comically poor weather. Philly Tech Week is an annual, open calendar of events on technology, entrepreneurship and innovation that I help curate with my company.

That string of rainouts changed in May 2019, when an afternoon shower gave way to warm sunshine.

A beloved events producer of mine turned to me that afternoon and proclaimed: “We have turned a corner and won’t have any more rained out kickoffs!” Given that that 2019 edition was something of a dry-run for 10th annual Philly Tech Week to take place in May 2020, that seemed like a thrilling prediction. In 2020, we would have the largest, best-planned, most interactive kickoff ever, with the help of perfect weather, as I had always envisioned. This memory made me laugh out loud this week because, last month, I hosted the second consecutive all-virtual Philly Tech Week due to the pandemic. Fatima, you were right, no more rainy outdoor kickoffs!

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Notes on “Revolutionary Networks: the Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789”

Colonial-era publishers in the United States were small, family-run businesses that spanned social classes, divided politics and drove forward discourse. Though tiny operations independently, they collectively shaped widespread opinion and developed into the fractured news environment we have today.

That’s one main theme from Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789, an academic book published by Joseph M. Adelman earlier this year by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Adelman adds a lot to the literature on the details of how publishing houses worked in this era. In truth, I sought even greater detail on the real operations but I so appreciated his inclusion of basic finances and revenues, and much detail on the people behind it. I found myself scribbling many notes down on what I’d like to further research for my own understanding of the history of my trade. Much thanks to Adelman.

My friend Everett kindly bought me this as a gift, and I quickly read through it back in February. This is one of many publishing and journalism history books I’ve enjoyed the last several years. Below find notes for myself. I encourage you to buy the book and explore the topic yourself.

Continue reading Notes on “Revolutionary Networks: the Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789”

Resist flattening your neighbor

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Describing political perspectives on a left-right spectrum began with the French Revolution.

In the National Constituent Assembly of 1789, deputies most critical of the French monarchy began to congregate in seats to the left of the President’s chair. Supporters of the monarchy to the right. No assigned seating. Just a natural affinity for sitting near those with which you most agree. So developed the party of movement, and the party of order.

Left-right is a metaphor. It only means something because the concept developed widespread familiarity, and it’s a helpful framework for explaining complex identities. Helpful, at least, in that it neatly described a spectrum of opinion on that very specific question in 1789: where do you identify on this spectrum between movement and order during this open debate on the role of monarchy?

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The “Elements of Journalism”

(Image source)

Journalism is a practice largely influenced by those who learn the craft on the job. Despite its well-established impact on communities, there’s a very old debate about whether or how much formal training should be required.

In 1988, ABC anchor Ted Koppel said that “”journalism schools are an absolute and total waste of time.”

Into that fray, the Elements of Journalism has served a breezy foundation for modern journalism. The book, written by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, was first published in 2000, then revisited in 2007 and most recently in a third edition from 2014. I read it once many years ago. I returned to it again, after a conversation I had with Rosenstiel, and found it a helpful resource.

Below I share my own notes, though I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in journalism best practices. I bought copies for the editors at my own organization. It’s an easy and effective read.

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What is newsroom objectivity?

(This is an expansion of this thread)

When is a news organization being fair to a range of good-faith perspectives, and when is that newsroom retreating from a moral responsibility? When is a reporter taking a partisan stance and when is it a stance for justice?

With the rise of the social web in the last 20 years, this reevaluation of journalistic principle has been frequently described through the lens of newsroom objectivity. It reached a fever pitch in 2020, resulting in an important dialogue on objectivity and “moral clarity” in newsrooms.

This concept was the topic of a session in November 2020 during the virtual 12th annual Klein News Innovation Camp unconference I help organize. I’ve revisited the conversation, and I want to share what I took away.

Continue reading What is newsroom objectivity?