Tom Ferrick Jr., a former columnist and reporter covering government and politics for The Philadelphia Inquirer, believes the continuing demise of in-depth news coverage signals the loss of a check in our national system of checks and balances.
After all, he asserts, democracy is a form of government that relies on an informed citizenry.
So what happens if our sources of investigative news coverage die out?
It’s a scenario he’d rather not live to see.
Tom recently launched a website called Metropolis, with in-depth news, analysis and commentary for the Philadelphia region.
I’m a former journalist and the concept of Metropolis piqued my interest. So I gave Tom a ring and we chatted about his new venture. Here are highlights from our conversation.
Interview with Tom Ferrick, Senior Editor for the website, Metropolis:
What’s the impetus for Metropolis?
Tom: You’re seeing the decline in traditional media. Journalism is still sound but the economic model is failing. And my argument is we’re still fine with breaking news — TV and the newspapers do a good job with breaking news. But it’s the other stuff they used to do — the analysis, the investigations — those kinds of things that are broader. The real hard work. That stuff is diminishing and we sort of end up with this news and information gap.
Locally and regionally, it’s declined, … so my argument is we’ve got to find a way to fill that void and that’s what this is designed do.
Do you have a content strategy?
Tom: The content is very much local, or regional. It’s a combination of commentary, good analysis, in-depth stories and investigations. That’s the portfolio.
Right now, if you look at the site it has four main components. There’s a main story, a commentary called Publius, which is about politics and government and commentary and analysis of that. VoxPop, which is more personal essays and reflections — people’s voices that reflect life in Philadelphia today. And then I have New and Recommended that points people to other interesting articles. I’d like to expand that over time.
And you picked those four main areas because they are personal interests?
Tom: I spent my whole life covering politics. I played on my strengths. I would not put up a sports site — let’s put it that way. It’s not where I’m at.
How are you getting contributors?
Tom: I advertised on Craig’s’ List and that was mostly for the VoxPop personal essays. I’m getting some of the political commentary that comes over the transom, and rest is people in the business I’ve known for years whom I’ve recruited to write stories. I don’t pay much… $50 for the first article, $75 for the second, and $100 for the third… For the bigger pieces, I can’t pay these people what they’d normally get. But I’ll pay them 400 to 500 bucks. My feeling is free is the new model, but I think if you’re going to ask people to do professional quality work, you can’t ask them to that that for free… If it’s a professional writer, I think you should pay them. Even if it amounts to an honorarium.
Is it self-financed?
Tom: Yes, at this stage.
You’re not soliciting for ads?
Tom: Not yet. I think I have to have an audience before I start charging people [laughs]. It’s a radical idea.
So what’s the economic model?
Tom: My hope is, because this is a non-profit that I’ve established, called the Public Media Lab, there will be a foundation or wealthy individuals who see the value of it and want to see it expand and sustained, and will step forward to provide some funds to operate it.
Well there has been talk of non-profit foundations stepping in to save traditional journalism, as we now know it. Just as an idea; not that a foundation has said they’re going to do it.
Tom: Right. And I think the other side of that is, the economic model for making these kinds of sites go forward has not yet been found. It’s all a process of discovery. I don’t think it’s a good idea in the long run for foundations to pay for news operations. But I think it’s a good idea to provide the research and development money. The seed money.
What’s the case you make? Why should they support you?
Tom: The simple case is this: Good journalism is really important to a good democracy. You need it. It serves a public purpose in that sense. And if we’re sort of headed into the dark ages through the collapse of the big news institutions, you have to ask yourself, what is going to replace it, if anything?
So what do you see as the damage being done? What’s lost?
Tom: The information that citizens need to not only monitor the politicians who are supposed to serve them but can also help the neighborhoods they live in.
One could argue that people just don’t want to read that kind of thing and that’s why you see so little of it nowadays.
Tom: My argument is there is a market. I think this kind of stuff will find a niche.
Do you think what you’re doing can serve as a potential model that may be picked up in other cities?
Tom: I think there is a core of people who see value in what I call American style journalism — which is independent of political party, fact-based, verified. As opposed to a state-run paper or infotainment. And I think the people who practice that type of journalism are going to have to look for new venues to continue to practice that.
As the old ones fall you’re really emerging into an era of experimentation as to what new venues you can find. This is what I am trying to do. There’s a lot of this stuff going on like this around the country.
- Deni Kasrel
Do you think Tom is on the right track with his new venture, Metropolis? Do you think it’s a good model to help save the future of local hard-news journalism. Please share your thoughts. Comments welcome.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 8 so far )
Would you attend a talk titled How and Why I Failed?
Many of us are programmed to shirk that one off without a thought.
We want to learn how to succeed.
What about a panel on failure?
A person on a panel I attended at the Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009 suggested the event should sponsor a panel on failure.
He noted there is as much, if not more, to be learned in knowing why a project didn’t work out as there is in hearing why one succeeded.
It’s a great point — especially if your aim is to innovate.
Most attempts at innovation fail. If it were easy everyone could do it.
Experimentation is essential to innovation
Experimentation is fundamental to innovation. Testing to see what does or does not work is an ongoing part of the research and development process. There’s an implicit hope that an experiment may uncover heretofore-unknown knowledge that may lead to a new discovery. If not then testing continues.
We should all thank scientists for having this attitude; otherwise we’d suffer from a multitude of ailments that have been eradicated due to dogged trial and error research.
No one bats 1000
In business the fear of failure leads to paralysis and a play it safe mentality, where no one wants to stick his/her neck out and propose something new. You don’t want to be the one who came up with a faulty idea.
Unless your goal is innovate. Then you’re not afraid of failure because you know that’s part of the deal.
No person, or enterprise, bats 1000.
Failure can lead to smashing success
In the late ‘80s early ’90s Apple introduced its infamous Newton. The device was a PDA (personal digital assistant) before anyone knew what these were or what to do with them. A product ahead of its time, it was also buggy and the Newton failed in the market; big-time.
Two developers of the Newton went on to create the operating system for the first iPods.
The iPhone includes certain elements of the Newton and the rumored Apple tablet, if it is indeed coming to market, will (reputedly) incorporate concepts first introduced via the Newton.
Famous people’s thoughts on failure
Woody Allen, a man whose broken cinematic conventions (and social ones too, but we won’t get into that) said:
“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
“I have not failed, not once. I’ve discovered 10,000 ways that don’t work.”
And for good measure I’ll include a quote by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. It’s from a commencement address Jobs gave at Stanford University where he spoke about his ability to learn and move on from failure:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
The secret to success is to learn from failure
I soaked up a lot of information at the Creative Economy Summit, from people who talked about how to succeed through business strategies, social media and new technologies.
But I think that comment about needing to acknowledge and learn from failure may be the most useful insight of all.
– Deni Kasrel
Do YOU think failure is a critical factor to achieve innovation? Is it a secret to success? Comments welcome.
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This same time last year our nation was reeling from a financial system in freefall. We’re still in recovery mode, however, if necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then the situation will ultimately spur a windfall of ingenuity.
Such was the spirit of the Global Creative Economy Convergence Summit 2009, held earlier this week in Philadelphia.
The agenda featured numerous panels and workshops. I often wished I had the ability to be in two places at the same time. Perhaps someone will be creative enough to figure out how to make that happen.
I still packed a lot in. Here’s Part 1 of my condensed notes, plus one of many memorable slides seen at the conference:
A cool slide
Let’s begin with that slide, screened at the panel on Regional Creative Economic Strategies. It’s from the deck of Karen Gagnon who’s the dynamic program manager of a major urban revitalization project in Michigan called “Cool Cities”.
Gagnon stressed that the success of “Cool Cities” in part relies on the fact that it does not enforce mandates. Instead, the program finds allies in individual cities that are able to gain the input and buy-in of local groups and communities. Get a look at how Gagnon illustrated her point here:
Man, you gotta love that one.
Now here’s more snippets from speakers and panelists at the conference:
Welcoming remarks: Peter Kageyama, Partner, Creative Cities Productions
- The creative economy is all about whales and krill. Google is clearly the whale, but so much of the creative economy is about smaller companies that are the krill in the water, and in aggregate the krill are far bigger; it’s just harder to see.
- We are the most overly marketed to generation ever, yet we believe almost none of it.
- Green is the new black: To attract members of the creative class organizations and cities must reflect their values. Green (in the context of sustainability) is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have.
Keynote address: Elizabeth Gilbert, author, Eat Pray Love
- The expectation in our society is that we must constantly outdo ourselves, and in this relentless drive, we cannibalize our ability to be true artists.
- We are pressed to be innovative but we must also be gentle and patient with ourselves.
- Follow curiosity wherever it takes you; and for writers, take a line for a walk across the page.
Workshop: Get to ‘Shiny Penny Hell’ and Back
- Shiny Penny Hell is when you have great ideas but you are paralyzed by not knowing how to turn them into things of value.
- Be a possibility thinker.
- There is such a thing as productive conflict — seek out divergent viewpoints that challenge your ideas.
- Explore the outrageous.
- Obsess over value creation.
- To avoid tunnel vision have focused flexibility, don’t lose your peripheral vision.
Keynote Address: The Global Promise of Entrepreneurship, Randall Kempner, Executive Director, Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs
- Innovation is the generation, development and implementation of new ideas that create social value.
- Entrepreneurship is often born out of dire circumstance.
- Entrepreneurship = prosperity
Panel: ABC’s of Mobile Technology
- Mobile is about where you are and what you are doing at a certain time.
- When designing for mobile one size does not fill all; but there are in excess of 20,000 devices, so it’s impossible to design for every one.
- The three most important platforms are the iPhone, Blackberry and flip phone.
- Mobile web designs must be stripped down to essential needs; keep it simple in terms of tasks and navigation.
- Marketing tactics that that work well with mobile include coupons, news alerts/reminders, sweepstakes, text voting polls and surveys.
- The reach of mobile marketing is limited because it’s an opt-in method, but this provides a highly targeted audience that’s receptive to receiving your messages.
- Mobile and social media, perfect together.
OK, that’s a quick glimpse of insights from the Summit. Stay tuned for more.
- Deni Kasrel
What do YOU think of these ideas from the Summit? Anything spark your interest or imagination? Comments welcome.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Whenever I hear the word “summit” in reference to a meeting or conference my mind harkens back to a childhood memory.
A Cold War event
This particular Summit — that occurred in my hometown of Glassboro, New Jersey — brought together President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Prime Minister Aleksei Kosygin.
The Summit was intended to improve diplomatic relations following the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War. The two leaders were to talk about limiting the spiraling military arms race between the U.S. and Russia.
The Summit was a big deal for Glassboro, which back then, was best known for its delectable Jersey peaches and tomatoes. We had a parade, news teams came from around the world, and the whole thing was the talk of the town.
The event put Glassboro on the map — for a New York minute, at least — however the Summit wound up being more symbol than substance.
A creative Summit
Now I’m excited about another Summit. This one doesn’t include high-ranking national officials, however, it will have scads of substance.
A new supply and demand curve
FYI, the creative economy; not to be confused with creative accounting; is one where ideas, innovation and the power of invention are the coin of the realm. It concerns the web (2.0, 3.0 and beyond), the changing dynamics of the workplace, and other shifts that are occurring with increasing speed.
John Howkins, who wrote the book, The Creative Economy: How People Make Money from Ideas, offers this description:
“The creative economy is based on a new way of thinking and doing. The primary inputs are our individual talent or skill. These inputs may be familiar or novel; what is more important is that our creativity transforms them in novel ways. In some sectors the output value depends on their uniqueness; in others, on how easily it can be copied and sold to large numbers of people.”
As the title of the Summit in Philadelphia implies, it’s all about convergence. Taking a big-picture look at the creative economy the event brings in entrepreneurs, professionals from technology and creative sectors, business and cultural leaders.
The agenda explores elements that drive the creative economy including sustainability projects, public and private initiatives, business ventures, changing workforce models and emerging technologies.
There’s a diverse array of presenters, of which there are way too many to mention. Here’s a small selection to convey the scope of those represented:
- Gary Ackerman, President and Co-founder, M3Mobile
- David Bookspan, Founder, DreamIt Ventures
- Katherine Gajewski, Director of Sustainability, City of Philadelphia
- Elizabeth Gilbert, Author, Eat Pray Love
- Sallie Glickman, CEO, Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board
- Jacqueline Hill, Director, Pennsylvania Minority Business Enterprise Center
- Randall Kempner, Executive Director, Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs
- Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research and Development, Institute for the Future
- Hilmar Sigurdsson, Managing Director of Icelandic animation studio CAOZ
- Gary Sorin, Director of Operational Excellence, NRG Energy
- Kevin Stolarick, Research Director, The Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management
- Melissa Thiessen, Co-Organizer, Twestival
- Branimir Vasilic, CTO, superfluid
- Paul Wright, Executive Vice President, Operations & Business Development, Micco World, Inc.
If you want the full skinny, it’s listed on the Summit web site, where you can also find a downloadable pdf.
Summit-related conversation is encouraged both in-person and online. Of the latter there are several ways to keep up what’s happening at the confab, including the official blog, Facebook, Twitter (and the Summit hashtag is #GCECS2009), YouTube, Flickr and mobile updates.
I’ll be attending on both days and will be reporting my take on things, once it’s over, via this blog. So stay tuned for more on the substance of the Summit.
What do you think about this Summit for the Creative Economy? Will you be attending? Comments welcome.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Last week I posted a piece about trends that are getting lots of attention. Which, in case you missed it, are real-time web, crowdsourcing and latent semantic indexing.
Another trend I thought about including is augmented reality.
A greater reality
If you break it down linguistically, there’s “augmented,” which according to the American Heritage Dictionary means “to make (something already developed or well under way) greater, as in size, extent, or quantity.” And there’s “reality,” defined as “the quality or state of being actual or true.”
Basically you’re making something that’s actual and true even greater.
007 would love it
One consumer-friendly version of this futuristic innovation applies to next-generation electronics, where if you point a device that’s augmented reality-equipped, it instantly processes what’s being viewed and sends graphics and text specific to that scene. Point the gizmo while standing outside a restaurant (for some reason restaurants are a common example to illustrate this advancement) and you get the skinny on the eatery; a view of the interior, menu, reviews and hours of business.
In another iteration, when you walk though a historic site, as you amble around, the apparatus continuously provides a video-version of what happened way back when, superimposed over the real environment.
The military is hot for augmented reality and there’s talk of serious applications for science.
A tracking device, too?
It’s a ways off till all this hits the market. And while clearly an intriguing concept, which I’m admittedly over-simplifying, augmented reality represents yet another means of digitally tracking our movements: One more instance where we’re giving up privacy for the sake of cool technology.
GPS systems are great, however details that get collected and analyzed in order to give us the information we want are also a record of our travels.
We acknowledge that there’s ultimately no privacy on the web. We can clean our cache and crumble our cookies, but the data remains on a server somewhere.
Give to get
Search engines accept our queries and then display ads based on our input. Our seemingly private emails are processed. I was both humored and surprised a few weeks ago after sending a message to a pal whose nickname is Beanie, when beside her reply, my gmail client dished up ads for bean bags and beanie hats.
One common defense for the latter intrusions is that search and gmail are free services. The quid pro quo is that they get to turn us into chunks of data to mine for advertising and other purposes. It’s out in the open. I get it. It still creeps me out.
Keep it real
The promise of augmented reality is exciting. The privacy trade-off gives me the willies. Makes me wonder, what’s wrong with being real?
- Deni Kasrel
Are you concerned about how new technology affects privacy? Your comments welcome.
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