Category Archives: Journalism, norgs, the future of news

“Rebuilding the News”, How Did We Get Here and Why?

All great innovations come from an alchemy of the present *built* on the past. If you can tear it apart, see it from multiple perspectives, and observe the feedback loops that feed into the systems that drove you where you are currently, then you have a powerful tool.

That’s what makes C.W. Anderson’s “Rebuilding the News: Metropolitan Journalism in the Digital Age” important.

Far more than a “how the sausage is made” account of how things worked for a period of time (see the bravely open piece from “A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013″, by Alexis C. Madrigal in the Atlantic), or a historical record, it peels the onion on 2000-2010 newspaper media, and reveals the opportunities, stress, and strain of the time and lessons that can be derived from them.

I’ll have it on my bookshelf next to “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, since it seems to be so reflective of it, without intention of it.

You know, “How the Sausage is Made” is a terrible metaphor, one that I never heard until I worked at Philly.com.

In a conversation I talked about sharing the some of the decision making workflow (why do certain stories make it to the home page, how can something or someone influence that), with users of the site. When I brought up this idea, someone replied that “No one likes to see how the sausage is made.” There were nods to the wisdom of this assessment, and the conversation moved on.

Me? I can’t help but watch “How It’s Made” in marathon sessions where I melt into the couch. I like inside baseball knowledge, it gives me context into why things work the way they do, and how they came about.

I believe on a visceral level that when a group is attempting to do something “new”, and they refuse to even acknowledge the experience of the past, what you end up with is more of the same, or more of what took place further back in history. Sometimes that’s appropriate. Those lessons give you an advantage and a springboard to success. Sometimes those lessons can teach us what not to do.

That’s why I’m so optimistic about where we are now. There are a lot of lessons that are being put to practice by organizations and people all across Philly. That alchemy of past and present is in full swing like never before, with the belief you need to keep, that you can make things better.

Disclaimer, yes, I’m in this book. Philly Future is in this book. Norgs is in this book. So are many people who I respect and admire who have worked so hard over the past ten years, in a tumultuous line of work, that is important to our world, are in this book.

And part of me feels a little bit shamed for letting my participation in all this drop on the floor 7 years or so ago. But only a little since I wouldn’t trade these 7 years for anything. So, for some closure, I’m going to follow Chris Wink’s advice and ‘write that post’ sometime soon.

For more on the book:

Listen to a great interview with C.W. Anderson at newbooksincommunications.com.

Read Mathew Ingram at paidContent, “The biggest roadblock to media success? A traditional culture of journalistic hubris”

Buy it: “Rebuilding the News: Metropolitan Journalism in the Digital Age”

Technically Philly launches their redesign

Technically Philly launched a new version of their website this week. It is a fantastic redesign and kudos to all.

There is a subtle shift that’s taken place here, that deserves some additional congratulations. Homegrown Technically Philly is now an organization that has a presence across a growing number of cities, and the domain name, site design, and name, reflects it. So get used to calling ‘Technically Philly’, found at technicallyphilly.com, simply ‘Technical.ly’ at found at technical.ly.

Here is a nice video about what they are about: YouTube.com: TP:

NICAR 2013 Links

Mike Ball, coworker and friend, wrote up a great summary of what he saw at NICAR 2013. It was great hearing his enthusiasm when he got back from what sounds like was a fantastic conference. Check out his post.

More on NICAR 2013:

IRE: NICAR 2013

Nieman Journalism Lab: NICAR 2013

Chrys Wu: Tools, Slides and Links fro NICAR13

ONA Philly

Hacks/Hackers Philadelphia

Alistar Croll: “much of human interaction has shifted from atoms to bits”

Read his post on O’Reilly Radar: “The feedback economy”:

In a society where every person, tethered to their smartphone, is both a sensor and an end node, we need better ways to observe and orient, whether we’re at home or at work, solving the world’s problems or planning a play date. And we need to be constantly deciding, acting, and experimenting, feeding what we learn back into future behavior.

We’re entering a feedback economy.

Programming, Math, and Computational Thinking: on education

Actually, this post will feature a few reads and resources for you that are part of a theme – the need to change K-12 education to face the realities of today and tomorrow, instead of preparing them for a world that has already turned. To do so will require children to gain a working understanding of the use of, and creation of, software. This is as important today as reading, writing and mathematics and it helps provide invaluable tools to build on, and strengthen, those foundational parts of children’s education.

Google Edu serves a terrific resource for educators and students that brings together many of these concepts – “Exploring Computational Thinking”. The lesson plan includes Python exercises that help illustrate computational thinking while strengthening math skills.

Why this is important

Over 10 years ago Lawrence Lessig exclaimed, “The Code Is the Law”, and in a series of articles, presentations, and an influential book spread the idea among the digerati, but interestingly enough, those outside of technology didn’t adopt the idea as a truism.

Douglas Rushkoff recently released his most recent book, “Programed or be Programmed” that took the concept further and declared a course of action for future educators.

Kevin Slavin: Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world:

YouTube: “TED: Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers”:

Visualizing the news: on storytelling

Matthew Ericson of the New York Times (and former co-worker of mine) put together slides of his recent presentation at AIGA Pivot. The presentation must have rocked because the slide deck, while short on details, is rich in thought provoking: PDF.

For a recent example from his team, check out today’s interactive on the Euro debt crisis.

On People, Process, and Passion and Persistence

My boss back at Bell Atlantic, who became my friend and mentor, Pat Trongo, had the following quote from Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” on his cube wall in big bold letters.

I found it inspirational back then. But now I am blessed to see evidence of this pattern in life daily – Great teams committed to a purpose accomplish great things.

The committed person brings an energy, passion,
and excitement that cannot be generated if you
are only compliant, even genuinely compliant.

The committed person doesn’t play by the rules
of the game. He is responsible for the game.

If the rules of the game stand in the way of
achieving the vision, he will find ways to change
the rules.

A group of people truly committed to a common
vision is an awesome force.

They can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

I am as blown away by this as I am with the OccupyPhilly protest teamwork I saw today, as I am with my co-workers who are one of the greatest teams I’ve seen in my career.

Great teams are everything. They don’t just ‘happen’ and require investments in trust, empathy, accountability, honesty, and crazy foolishness to grow. And when you see them you can’t help but be in awe.

Life and Code: a blog to follow

I’ve really been enjoying Lisa William’s blog titled “Life and Code” and think it’s a great one for your RSS reader every day. She started to blog to document her passage to a programmer who can toss together an app on a whim in a weekend and her background in online media and journalism makes for some great posts and links to follow.

The following is a quote from her, on her motivations to start coding (“Code to make a point; code to make change; on newshacking”, which resemble motivations that keep me wanting to continue code and to volunteer my skills:

I believe a program can stand in opposition to Things That Suck, just like a documentary, a work of art, or a protest march.  

That’s why I like work like this, which shows where the money goes when it comes to Congresscritters and their free cars.  

Or this, which is an Android app to help vets with PTSD.  

I wanna code because SHIT IS BROKEN.  I want to code because corruption is real, because people are getting thrown out of their houses, because veterans aren’t getting what they deserve, because racism is real and has real effects, because yes it does matter when you cancel a bus line, because it’s really hard to shut a computer program up, because you can’t say it’s an isolated incident when there’s a bigass Google Map in your face showing you it’s not.  

And journalism’s response to the biggest problems of our age — global warming, global health, economic crises — are, all too often, pathetic: he said/she said talking heads on TV, tearjerker anecdotes about one person who loses their house to a flood or rapaciously unethical lenders standing in for THE VAST TSUNAMI OF PEOPLE GETTING F**D OVER BY THESE THINGS.  No wonder facts just seem to bounce off so many Americans, and so many of the powerful are able to claim that nothing needs to be done when doing nothing suits their moneyed interests.  

Our age doesn’t just NEED computational journalism: it DEMANDS it. 

Recent highlights:

“Code to make a point; code to make change; on newshacking”

“Learning to Program for Journalists: The Epic HOWTO”

“Notable News Apps on Github”