Author Archive

Introducing Technically Media

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Move in day at the Technically Media offices.

Last week, Brian Kirk, Chris Wink and I took the latest step in a process that began when I left my day job over six months ago: we formally founded Technically Media.

We have spent month of December “growing up” by taking our business from a side-project to a legitimate business. This means we did the more boring business stuff like officially incorporating and signing up a payroll services company. We’ve also been up to more exciting stuff like securing office space steps from City Hall in Center City, Philadelphia.

Additionally, Chris was able to come on full time giving Technically Media a staff of 2.5.

The next six months

Now that we’re in 2011, we’re hard at work on a small handful of journalism-related projects:

  • Technically MediaTechnically Media’s slogan is “We build audiences” and we mean it. Our goal is to build interested editorial products for institutions. We just wrapped up the main phase of our project for the National Constitution Center along with our friends at Happy Cog. We hope to help other institutions in a similar way and we think consulting on “editorial strategy” will be a large source of revenue of independent news outlets in the future. We also are strong believers in adding great content to the news conversation. (Remember #4 from this list?)
  • Technically PhillyOur main editorial product, we will continue to publish Technically Philly and cover the city’s technology community. Especially with the help of…
  • Open Data coverage – We have received a grant from the William Penn Foundation to cover Philadelphia’s efforts to release data to the public.
  • J-Lab collaboration grant – We have received a grant from J-Lab to map out the impact of broadband in Philadelphia, along with our buds PlanPhilly.
  • Philly Tech Week – A week-long celebration of technology and innovation in Philadelphia hosted by Technically Philly during the last week in April.
  • BCNI Philly – The third installment of BarCamp NewsInnovation (and one of the final events of Philly Tech Week) looks to be the best yet. We have our first shared speaker and after being open for less than a week, the guest list looks wonderful.

I’m very excited for the year ahead. Both for the company and for all of the exciting things happening around Philly.

Content partnerships do not work

I don’t live in DC, but I’ve been following the dustup about Jim Brady’s departure from TBD.com with interest. The site’s policy of incorporating the local blogosphere interested me as there are constant murmurs of people trying to accomplish a similar goal here in Philly.

The recent news out of TBD mostly caught my eye because, in Technically Philly’s experience, it is often difficult and time consuming to forge partnerships with mainstream media. Of the handful of content sharing agreements we’ve sought out, none exist today. In some cases it was the choice of the partner, other times it was our call.

It appears that TBD is having a similar experience. The company has ceased selling ads for its partners and Brady confessed that the content partnerships were one of the reasons given for his departure:

The new venture needed to slot alongside the existing Channel 7 part of the organisation and it was the relationship between the new web savvy project and the legacy business which proved to be the most difficult thing for Brady to tackle. (as told to the Guardian)

If Allbritton can’t figure it out, what chance do the rest of us have? It’s starting to become clear that content partnerships sound great at conference panels and editorial meetings, but they are rarely executed with any success.

Why? Big sites and small sites simply don’t need one another to survive. For a few reasons:

Pageviews vs Engagement – Most niche sites like the idea and prestige of being published a more established player, but the partnership often does little to help keep the small site sustainable. In Technically Philly’s case, we like seeing traffic numbers grow but we know that a small but dedicated fan base is what keeps us afloat. The drive-by reader may make our Google Analytics spike, but it doesn’t help fill seats when we host a paid event. Conversely, larger sites need traffic to sell more CPM-based advertising.

It isn’t worth it for mainstream media – For sites like TBD.com, it isnt worth the time to sell ads for the little guys. Nor is it worth negotiating individual content agreements. It’s true that a well-executed content partnership can help the big guys fill coverage holes, but no smaller site will give up content without links, ad revenue or similar incentives that just aren’t worth the time it takes to manage.

It isn’t worth it for the little guys – Small news sites are like any other small business: every month is a fight for survival. Small sites are often undermanned and every man hour is valuable. At Technically Philly, we once wasted countless hours negotiating with a larger brand because they constantly thought our stuff was “too insidery.” Of course it is, that’s how we build our audience. We found ourselves rewriting posts and negotiating about what would be relevant to the big site’s audience. While it felt good to be published on the larger site, it wasn’t worth the constant back and forth.

The only content partnerships that seem to work are the ones with nonprofit money attached, like what J-Lab has been doing with newspapers around the country. Without the incentive from J-Lab, I’d bet that most of these agreements would crumble.

I believe that some smart folks will eventually figure out how to make content partnerships work between small and large brands, and Technically Philly will continue to try and work with folks to try new ways of sharing content. Seriously, get in touch.

WordPress custom taxonomies = hyperlocal revenue

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Back in May I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Brett, creator of TechCrunch’s Crunchbase. If you’re unfamiliar Crunchbase it is TechCrunch’s directory of people, companies and organizations related to the tech industry. It’s maintained by the TechCrunch staff, though anyone can edit. As a result, the Crunchbase has become a valuable resource when researching a technology company.

After interviewing Brett, I thought “Why can’t Technically Philly pull this off?” While we don’t have the luxury of a Ruby programmer, we were able to pull together something similar for TP using the newly created custom taxonomy feature in WordPress. And better yet, we think it can help drive additional revenue.

Tags vs Taxonomy

If you use WordPress or any other CMS you probably have the option to “tag” stories. Different sites handle this in different ways. At Technically Philly we began with a lose tagging policy to tag all proper nouns. People, companies and places made up the majority of these tags. However, there was a problem: all of these tags were lumped together. WordPress had no way of distinguishing the name of a city from a company name. So our tag pages sucked:

A sample tag page. Click to enlarge.

A sample tag page. Click to go the actual page.

The tag page was nothing but a glorified search. It offered no context, no information. Is this a company? A person? How can I contact this person? If I entered this page via search, how do I know where I am? The user was not rewarded in anyway for clicking on the tag page.

After messing around with custom taxonomies we were able to create CrunchBase-like pages like the one below:

An example of a "people" page. Click to visit.

On the new tag page we see that Bill Green has been categorized a person. We see his picture, a brief description, his contact info and bit about his work history. We also see a timeline of TP coverage. Now if we link to this page in a story, the reader can instantly catch up on who Bill Green is and why he is important to the technology community in Philadelphia.

Here is step-by-step how we did it. I’ll warn you, I don’t know a lick of Ruby on Rails and I’m barely serviceable with PHP. But I know WordPress, HTML and CSS like I know the starting lineup of the Phillies. A true programmer would probably do this in a much more streamlined way. Ready?

1. Create your taxonomies.

There’s a few ways you can do this. If you’re familiar with WordPress, I recommend opening your functions.php file and enter in the following (replace “people” with your taxonomy name):

// Custom Taxonomies

add_action( 'init', 'create_my_taxonomies', 0 );

function create_my_taxonomies() {
	register_taxonomy( 'people', 'post', array( 'hierarchical' => false, 'label' => 'People', 'query_var' => true, 'rewrite' => true ) );
}

If this scares you, use the Simple Taxonomies plugin to get the job done. Don’t mix both techniques or you could have some duplicates.

2. Install some plugins

Whether you’re savvy enough to hardcode your taxonomies or not, I still recommend the Simple Taxonomies plugin thanks to the “yoast_term_title()” function it offers. This function returns the slug of the person, company or place name of the page we’re on. So on Bill Green’s page it returns “bill-green”.

Secondly, install Rich Text Tags. This allows your taxonomy description to be edited using a WYSIWYG editor.

3. Build your tag page

One of the oft-underrated features of WordPress is its templating system. With taxonomies (and tags and categories for that matter) we can create specific template pages by following the correct naming rules .

For example we have three template files:

  • taxonomy-people.php
  • taxonomy-companies.php
  • taxonomy-places.php

So Bill Green’s template is really the taxonomy-people.php page. Also, if you’re really ambitious you can create specific pages for each taxonomy entry. So we could give Bill his own page by creating a file named taxonomy-people-bill-green.php. However, you can likely stick to the bulleted list above and be covered.

As you build your taxonomy pages, here’s some code snippets to help you out. You’ll need some HTML and CSS chops to make your taxonomy page look pretty.

Aside from the image replacement snippet, these were culled from dozens of help threads, blog posts and other sources that I foolishly did not keep track of. If you wrote these snippets, please let me know.

Display a list of popular terms:

<?php
//list terms in a given taxonomy using wp_list_categories (also useful as a widget if using a PHP Code plugin)

$taxonomy     = 'companies';
$orderby      = 'name';
$show_count   = 1;      // 1 for yes, 0 for no
$pad_counts   = 1;      // 1 for yes, 0 for no
$hierarchical = 1;      // 1 for yes, 0 for no
$title        = '';
$number = 5;
$orderby = 'count';
$order   = 'DESC';

$args = array(
  'taxonomy'     => $taxonomy,
  'orderby'      => $orderby,
  'show_count'   => $show_count,
  'pad_counts'   => $pad_counts,
  'hierarchical' => $hierarchical,
  'title_li'     => $title,
  'number'       => $number,
  'orderby'      => $orderby,
  'order'        => $order,

);
?>

<ul>
<?php wp_list_categories( $args ); ?>
</ul></pre>

Display a list of random terms (great for encouraging browsing]

<?php
//display random sorted list of terms in a given taxonomy
$counter = 0;
$max = 5; //number of categories to display
$taxonomy = 'category';
$terms = get_terms($taxonomy);
shuffle ($terms);
//echo 'shuffled';
if ($terms) {
	foreach($terms as $term) {
		$counter++;
		if ($counter <= $max) {
	  	echo '<p><a href="' . get_category_link( $term->term_id ) . '" title="' . sprintf( __( "View all posts in %s" ), $term->name ) . '" ' . '>' . $term->name.'</a></p> ';
	 	}
	}
}
?>

Show directory image
We also rely heavily on this piece of code that searches a given folder for an image that shares the name of the term. In this case it is the “directoryimages” folder. This way, we can bulk upload images.

<img src="<?php bloginfo('template_url'); ?>/directoryimages/<?php echo get_yoast_term_title();?>.jpg" 	onerror="ImgError(this);">

But what if you haven’t uploaded an image? You’ll see we’ve inserted a bit of javascript (ImgError) to execute if the image is not there.

For the above line of code to fully work you’ll need to insert a bit of Javascript in your header.

<!-- Fix broken images if driectory page -->
<?php if (is_tax() ) { ?>
<script type="text/javascript">
function ImgError(source){
    source.src = "<?php bloginfo('template_url'); ?>/directoryimages/blank_headshot.png";
    source.onerror = "";
    return true;
}
</script>

With the above two snippets, WordPress will look for an image in your “directoryimages” folder. If it doesn’t find one it will insert “blank_headshot.png.” Of course you’ll have to create the “directoryimages” folder yourself. You’ll also have to upload your own replacement image.

To echo a term’s description use

<?php echo term_description( '', get_query_var( 'people' ) ); ?>

Return the name of the term to use as a header

<!-- This is the name of the person-company-etc -->
	<?php
if(isset($wp_taxonomies)) {
	// This is getting the friendly version of a taxonomy
	// - not the hyphenated get_yoast_term_title()
	$term = get_term_by( 'slug', get_query_var( 'term' ), get_query_var( 'taxonomy' ) );
	if($term) {
		echo '<h1 style="font-size: 40px;">'.$term->name.'</h1>';
	}
	// If you have a taxonomy description, let'er rip!

}
?>
<!-- end of name -->

4. Go retag all of your old posts

And here is the fun part. At TP, there are three of us so we split up our 1,000 posts and retagged each one by copy and pasting tags into the appropriate taxonomy field.

5. Redirect all of your tags

If you regularly produce content, your tag pages likely ranked well in searches. Our tag pages would sometimes outrank a company’s official web pages. However when we switched to custom taxonomies, the permalink changed. So technicallyphilly.com/tag/comcast became technicallyphilly.com/company/comcast.

Therefore we had to redirect hundred of tag pages using a 301 redirect. This isn’t as daunting as it seems. Ready?

1. Make a page that includes the following code (replace “people” with your taxonomy):

<?php wp_list_categories('taxonomy=people&style=none'); ?>

2. View the source. Highlight the entire list and copy and paste it into a text document. It should be a series of links that look like:

<div id="_mcePaste"><li><a href="http://technicallyphilly.com/people/alex-alsup" title="View all posts filed under Alex Alsup">Alex Alsup</a></li></div>
<div id="_mcePaste"><li><a href="http://technicallyphilly.com/people/alex-cohen" title="View all posts filed under Alex Cohen">Alex Cohen</a></li></div>
<div>etc...</div>

3. Find and replace “<a href=”" and make it a space

4. Find and replace “” title=”" and make it a TAB. (If you’re having trouble making a tab, open up a new text doc. Hit tab. Copy the space it makes and past it into the replace box.)

5. Copy entire text document and past in excel. Make the a and b columns REAL big and you’ll see on left you have url on right you have junk.

6. Delete the second column, the junk one.

7. Duplicate the first column into the second, you should have two lists of links.

8. Find and replace ONLY THE FIRST COLUMN. Find: “http://yourdomain.com/people/” Replace: “redirect 301  /tag/”.

9. Now copy columns a and b into a blank textpad document. You want the text to look like:
“redirect 301  /tag/abby-fretz http://technicallyphilly.com/people/abby-fretz” The number of spaces isn’t important, though keeping it clean will help manage future redirects.

10. Copy the contents of that text document into your .htaccess file.

11. Test by visiting one of your old tag pages. It should redirect to the new taxonomy page.

12. Repeat for each of your taxonomies. We had to do this process for “people” and “companies.”

Thanks to Dan Levy for helping me figure that one out.

6. Profit

This is the stage TP is in now, so no sagely advice from me. However we envision these pages being one of the benefits of a membership package.

We’re thinking about a company page with contact info, company description, who works there and other information. When packaged with our revamped jobs board, a display advertisement and event discounts we think it will be worth a few hundred dollars of a company’s marketing budget.

However, we’re still exploring options and will likely announce a plan sometime in January.

7. Share

Next up ,we’d like all of the hyperlocal sites in Philly to share the same directory page. Imagine Councilman Bill Green’s page pulling in information from local political sites and other source to deliver a complete (and independently reported) picture of a local personality.

If we make the directory page editable by anyone we could have a highly relevant but local Wikipedia that can help add context to hyperlocal news sites.

Hm. Sounds like a Knight News Challenge grant

At Block by Block: The dirty secret of journalism startups

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A few weeks ago, I was one of the hundred or so journalists lucky enough to be invited to the Block by Block conference, a gathering of what are now being called “community journalists” in Chicago. The event, organized by Michelle McLellan and Jay Rosen was – in my mind – the most significant gathering of entrepreneurial journalists since Jeff Jarvis’ New Business Models for News on November 2009.

Since that CUNY meeting, I feel that the community has made significant progress. Gone are the debates about whether a journalist can sell advertising (they should) or whether a reporter can become a cheerleader for their community (they can). People were less concerned about ethics and more concerned about best practices.

There are plenty of more comprehensive write-ups, but after stewing for two weeks, it seems as the debate on how to make money is over. Slowly but surely people are making a living off of journalism. However, I’m now worried about the toll it is taking on the journalist.  As of now, community journalism can not scale, resulting in low salaries and overworked journalists.

In talking with an owner of one news startup, the owner said he works 50-60 hours a week to generate roughly $100,000 in revenue a year which he has to split with another employee. Not profit. Revenue.

Most of the attendees were obsessed about how to sell advertising to local business, but not many people mentioned that most journalists are chasing down $100 ads from local business to try and cobble together a decent income. The advertising space is an uphill battle as journalists not only have to learn the sales game, but have to educate advertisers about the web, design the ad, place the ad and then chase down the payment. Oh, and they also have to write.

I’m (very, very, very, very) glad to see independent journalists focused on revenue, but now it’s time to get creative. There were probably less than five people at Block by Block that could afford to work a sub-50 hour work week and make a middle class living.

We should no longer be satisfied with sustainability, we should push for scalability.We should push for the consolidation of sales across various local news sites. We should push for using our knowledge of the web and our community to land a few big wins as opposed to the pizza shop down the street. But mostly, we should push to build a better career path for journalists where we can still report the hell out of our communities without 50 hour work weeks.

I don’t have the answer. But judging by how far we’ve all come in just a year, we’ll get there.

On Philly’s “blog tax”

By now you’ve probably heard the reports that the City of Philadelphia is charging bloggers $300 to operate a website.

The story has been republished in the Washington Post, Mashable and other outlets after first being reported by my old employer, the Philadelphia Citypaper (though local message board Philadelphia Speaks wrote about this before anyone else). Many of these sources are asserting that the city is targeting bloggers with a new tax.

This is untrue. The city created no new tax and any publication saying otherwise is doing some terrible reporting and any outrage about the anti-blogging attitude of the city is a knee-jerk reaction to some poor research.

Technically Philly, in fact, has paid $300 to the City of Philadelphia. However, this was not for any “blog tax,” it was for the business privilege license, a one-time $300 fee required of all businesses in the city. The purpose of the Citypaper story was to point out that the city was considering blogs claimed in tax returns as “businesses” that need to pay for the license.

It’s certainly a horrible waste of resources to pursue blogs with revenue in the hundreds when some companies and individuals owe the city millions in back taxes, forcing the city to do things like offer a tax amnesty to the dead beats.

To be clear: there is no “blog tax” in Philadelphia. None.

Admittedly, the city doesn’t help its public perception when city council threatens to sue Twitter and Facebook over the flash mobs or when the city’s Twitter account vomits Facebook links and often posts in all caps.

However, while these slip-ups over social media may be easy fodder for the Internet savvy to make fun of, there is a much larger issue revealing itself here: the city’s tax structure which can be crippling to entrepreneurial activity and innovation.

As I interview local entrepreneurs every day for Technically Philly, I see a common thread: any business located in the city boundaries of Philadelphia is here despite the city government and not because of it (see the 15 steps one businesswoman had to take). The ridiculous city business privilege tax (which is different than the license) and the wage tax which far outpaces other cities of comparable size are just a few examples of the hurdles many businesses face by choosing to do work in Philadelphia.

When applied to bloggers, the economic impact of the city’s awful tax policy is small while its impact on the web is inflated due the “victims” of the tax. However, when applied to small and mid-sized businesses the impact is, well, cities like King of Prussia and Cherry Hill that are located just outside of the city’s borders. These cities offer a more favorable environment for businesses looking to flee taxes such as the business privilege tax and other fees. The only reason Comcast is headquartered here is because the city created tax breaks just for them.

While the outrage over asking a hobbyist to pay $300 for a blog is understandable, it pales in comparison to the scores of companies that chose to set up shop outside city limits to avoid paying city taxes. While it won’t get headlines on Mashable, those lamenting about the blogger tax ought to direct their energy to urge the city to reconsider the taxes that keep companies, and jobs, outside city limits.

And those looking to do cheap, drive-by digs at Philadelphia should know that they look foolish and out of touch. Don’t believe me? Come visit.

No, I didn’t see that story on Romenesko

Ever since I marked “journalism” on my college application I have been a frequent reader of the journalism media – the blogs and columns that cover the issues that surround journalism and the media. In fact, my first “real” job out of college made me one of those people who primarily cover the media.

My morning routine often had me firing up Google Reader and reading through 96 RSS subscriptions to be up on the latest juicy news. Most often it was some “huge” mistake that some legacy news organization made that proved they didn’t “get it.” Sometimes it was a Clay Shirky or David Carr column that had everyone fawning. But almost always it was like watching the same movie over and over again but with different characters.

Sound like you? I have one word of advice: Stop.

Stop caring about what the New York Times is doing. Stop taking part in arguments that have no end and stop wondering about nebulous concepts like “Will [insert company X] save [your industry]?”

Instead, worry about you.

Have your own site, your own application, your own initiative or your own event. Whatever it is, make it yours. Once you have something that’s yours you’ll find that it opens all kinds of doors.

I’ll be the first one to roll my eyes at a Steve Jobs quote, but a few months ago Valleywag’s Ryan Tate got into an email fight with Jobs. In the back and forth, Jobs wrote one line that haunts me to this day:

“By the way, what have you done that’s so great? Do you create anything, or do you just criticizes others work and belittle their motivations?”

Don’t just talk about what other people are doing. Make something. Experiment. Collaborate. But whatever you do, don’t just talk about it.

Taking the leap: working on Technically Philly full time

At our presentation at BarCamp NewsInnovation this year, Technically Philly stood in front of the room and declared that it was the company’s goal to have one of the three co-founders work on the business full time.

As of last week, we can check that one off of our todo list.

Starting at the end of this month I will be leaving my position as editor at Vital Business Media to begin working full time on Technically Philly, the news site I co-founded with Brian James Kirk and Chris Wink in February 2009 to cover tech news in Philadelphia. More appropriately, I will be working full-time at its parent company which includes our work on News Inkubator and Technically Media.

Why?

The business has grown beyond our initial aspirations, and the exhaustion is beginning to affect our growth. However, thanks to that work, we’ve amassed enough of a runway to make a serious go at a journalism startup, something that’s been a personal dream of mine since I was in high school.

It’s also a chance to address the incredible frustration that builds up when you can see the path you need to walk but don’t have the time or resources to do so. I would often attend journalism conferences or read about innovative media entrepreneurs and become overwhelmed with a feeling that Technically Philly could have a deeper impact on Philadelphia if, damnit, we just had more time.

I feel that Technically Philly sits at a crossroads of a growing technology community and a rapidly changing journalism ecosystem here in Philadelphia, an amazing opportunity if we are able play our cards right. I’m tired of seeing wonderful things happen here in Philadelphia with not much coverage from larger or national media outlets. The community here deserves to have a louder voice, something we hope to do a better job at moving forward.

Vital

I also want to take the time to thank everyone over at Vital Business Media. I had a blast working there and I’ve learned a great deal about startups and the media world through our work at emediavitals.com. Covering the media industry while working for a startup gave me a unique perspective on both worlds and I will surely apply the things I’ve learned as we build Technically Philly to be a more sustainable media company. As I’ve told them many times, it felt like getting an MBA.

If you’d like to work for those guys (and you really should) they’re hiring.

Also, I’m putting this out in the open so I force myself to hold to it: I want to blog here at least once every other week with an update of the things we’re trying and how they are working out. I hope you follow along.

The future of local media according to Technically Philly

I’ve been busy the past few months. Honest.

Brian James Kirk, Christopher Wink and I have been hard at work trying to do our part in making our ideas and best guesses about local media into a reality (with different rates of success, I’ll add).

I figured I’d shed a little bit of light about what we’ve been thinking and what we’ve been up to. Here is a very broad idea of where we see this whole local media thing heading. I welcome your thoughts and criticisms.

A citywide advertising network

The first generation of news startups are largely by people with an editorial background. It is only after a few months of working for free that most people begin to consider revenue streams.

However, just like newsrooms saw cuts during the recent recession, so did many sales staffs across the business world. Technically Philly thinks that the two sides can come together to help editorially minded news sites pull in some income that is sold by a sales staff with preexisting contacts in the local business world.

We think that an advertising network of high-quality blogs and news websites can offer an appealing option for large of national clients to purchase across an entire city, while the individual verticals can better chase advertisements that are relative to their niche. For example, our buds at Geekadelphia and Technically Philly have very similar audiences so, within our Philly network, we could have a tech vertical.

By neighborhood and by niche

Blogs that cover a neighborhood are nothing new, and monetization efforts expand all the time. Mainstream publications are also increasingly looking to these neighborhood sites to cover the nitty-gritty subject areas to free larger papers up to cover more broad topics. For example consider my good friend Shannon McDonald’s partnership with the Philadelphia Metro’s northeast edition. I worry, however, that traditionally underserved communities will remain underserved as tech savvy areas make the most sense for neighborhood news websites.

We also think that there’s room for local niche sites like Technically Philly that cover a certain vertical refined to a local area. This enables more revenue to be made from events as 95 percent of your readers are within a 20 miles radius and in the same industry. Making connections and building sources are also much easier when refined to one city. We also think that if you own an industry locally, national advertisers and vendors will begin looking your way.

Sharing back end services

It simply doesn’t make sense for each site to have their own lawyer, salespeople, accountants etc. We proposed a solution to this problem with News Inkubator. We didn’t win the Knight News Challenge, but we still think it will be absolutely crucial to build a sustainable local news ecosystem. We need to enable content creators to do what they do best, while pooling our collective knowledge to help flush out best business practices.

J-Lab surmised as much in its report about Philadelphia:

Any Networked Journalism collaboration must respect the fierce independence of these startups while validating their strengths and shoring up their weakness with a business support system, which could include business plans, legal help, tech support, even employee benefits.

Business services

News websites are great at building authentic communities but not so great at working on business models. Large businesses are great at making money but are struggling to build communities on the web. There is a natural overlap here.

Breaking silos

I swear I wrote this before Ryan Sholin’s excellent piece on skills media folks should have to be valuable (a must read on its own). But the silos I refer to are the silos within your town and your community. Local online news can be a meeting ground for people that naturally self-segregate. With Technically Philly we’ve seen the startup community, the video game community, the venture capital community (to name a few) all show up to low key meetups we’ve hosted. We think there’s room to grow, but its a good example of people that could benefit being in the same room, but may often need an extra nudge to make it happen.

Local media can be that nudge.

Partnerships with traditional outlets

Like Shannon’s partnership with the Metro, TP has partnerships with Philadelphia Magazine, Philly.com and several local blogs. Several newspapers have taken to building content networks with local blogs and maybe are exploring ways of sharing advertising revenue. These relationships will mature and evolve as the parties try different models.

A short road map, but I hope you can see where we are going here. Local media needs to be part of a larger ecosystem of other businesses, publications and its readers. I’d love to hear your thoughts about our plan.

My thoughts on BCNI (and Philadelphia)

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This started out as a post about BarCamp NewsInnovation.

But then C.W. Anderson helped me realize that BCNI Philly, the event I helped organize at Temple last Saturday, was just a (very) small piece of an evolving Philadelphia puzzle. Last week, after months of investigation, J-Lab released its recommendations to the William Penn Foundation. Then, shortly after BCNI, the local owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer lost their bid to keep ownership of the newspaper, surrendering to the lenders.

It’s a new era in Philadelphia.

Anybody that knows me know I’m annoyingly biased towards Philadelphia. But there is a reason I love this city so much. Professionally, I believe no other city offers a better chance to help shape the future of media and the events of the last week have deepened my resolve to be a part of the conversation (which might mean – ahem – blogging more) and find a place where I can have the most immediate impact.

Which brings up back to BCNI. I was extremely happy to hear the feedback from attendees. Most said it was unlike other conferences and that it was good to be surrounded by passion and optimism. Jack Lail even called us “edgelings“. Much like Philadelphia will be a leading indicator about the future of metropolitan media ecosystems, BCNI was meant to be a starting point for bold ideas, presentations and projects. I think we’re on our way, but I think BCNI can be much bigger and more influential.

We’re only in year two, but I’m excited to see where we can take BCNI (and Philadelphia) in the future.

See you next year.

Oh, and if you want a more nuts and bolts recap of the event, head on over to bcniphilly.com.

BarCamp NewsInnovation 2, What should change?

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It’s been a little over five months since BarCamp NewsInnovation, and that has given us plenty of time to mull over the event’s successes and failures. BCNI Godfather Jason Kristufek has already weighted in, and I have a similar question to ask the BCNI community: what should change from last year’s event?

Last year’s BarCamp in Philly was wonderful from a networking and the “Hey, I know you on Twitter!” angle. It was also fascinating to give attention to members of our community who don’t normally get to occupy center stage. CoPress presented to university chairs. Punks like me got to ask the Web Ninjas at the Washington Post questions about their new projects.

Industry giants like The Philadelphia Inquirer opened up their workflow to the world while startups like Publish2 gave us a peak at what they were up to.

BarCamp also fell short on several fronts. The conference was perhaps too open, and I did a poor job of explaining to people how the event worked. But BCNI’s biggest failure was the lack of a product. Some thing to point to and say “Hey, that came out of BCNI!”

So as next April creeps up and wheels are set in motion for next round of BCNI events, we are mulling over some changes and I’d like the feedback of attendees and the community. First, the proposed big changes:

  • We need a hack day. I bemoaned the lack of a product, and we are considering making part or all of the event a hack day-like event where a challenge is given to team to come up with a specific product. And the end of the day we all present our ideas and awards are given out. For inspiration, check out what the Guardian did. There are, or course, a few hurdles here. Largely, that a Hack Day should really consist of a 24-hour period. Secondly, I would guess that less than five percent of last year’s attendees were computer programmers. Most hacks may be a bunch of similar looking mashups using tools like Google Maps that don’t require extensive programming knowledge.
  • The pre-event board. Someone, and apologies for not remembering whom, suggested that we crowdsource the creation of the schedule before the event. That is, we have a period of time where people can submit topics they’d like to hear about and then a period of time where people volunteer to speak about that topic. We would still leave blocks of “free time” where people can sign up for a presentation the day of the event, but this might help better build buzz and attract some people that were scared by the “unconference” format while still preserving the openness.

Minor changes:

  • List of attendees before the event. Last year we didnt reveal who was attending. This was a mistake and stopped some important pre-event networking from happening.
  • A Shorter event. The day was about two hours too long. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. would have made more sense.

This is just a small subset of my ideas, but really I’d like to hear what you guys think. Did you attend last year? Did you want to? Are you interested in another event?

Please, comment below or weigh in on Twitter using #bcni.

Introducing eMedia Vitals: your media textbook

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Its high time I explain what I have been up to. I, along with Rob O’Regan and the rest of Vital Business Media, have been busy launching the first editorial product of the company: eMedia Vitals.

In short, eMedia Vitals is a site dedicated to helping online publishers and I think most of readers of this blog will find something of value there. The idea is not to cover layoffs or daily media gossip. Instead we aim to aggregate and report on the topics that can make your media product better and more profitable.

Less chatter about what to do in this ever changing media landscape, and more about who is doing it and how.

A brief tour:

Feature Stories:

At least twice a week we post multi-source feature stories. Thus far I have written stories on the Las Vegas Sun’s 702.tv, how to design a better article page, audience development tools for Twitter and so on.

Blog Posts:

I’ve begun a project tentatively titled “The Revenue Department” where I find all of the non-tradition (read: not advertising) ways publishers can make money from content. I then write up a case study of sorts if I can find a subject.

Daily Buzz:

Every morning the Vital team filters 100 + feeds to give you the “must read” news of the day. Nothing about layoffs or furloughs, but news you can actually use to make your media product better.

Best of the Web:

My personal favorite, these are links that the team comes across every day that have timeless appeal to help you in your media business. If were writing a textbook on the new media landscape, I would cite these articles as sources. You can print these out, hang them up, and they would be useful for years.

So please, head on over to eMedia Vitals and let me know your thoughts.

I got a job + Technically Philly update

I swear there is a reason why I have been so quiet. Well, actually make that “reasons.”

One, TechnicallyPhilly is doing as well as any of us could hope when it comes to traffic and community response, so we are making our first moves towards monetization with the slow rollout of our advertising infrastructure. This has been both an exciting and frightening prospect as it is now time to see if we are all as smart as we hope we are. Of course, as we surmised at BCNI, ads are just the first and easiest baby step, and there are many more ideas in the pipeline that I will be certain to share here once we release them.

Thus far, the only equity we have put into the business is sweat and dinners for our bi-weekly meetings. But as we said in our post announcing the effort to our community, we don’t want this to be a hobby or some also-ran of entrepreneurial journalism endeavors. We want this to be our part time job. Or, if we are lucky, a full time gig one day.

How I got a job

picture-3Speaking of full time gigs, I’m very happy to announce that I was hired early last month as an Editor at Vital Business Media, a startup headed by Prescott Shibles, former Penton VP of New Media. The job has me traveling to work in their New York City (aka the 67th Ward) offices twice a week, while working from Philadelphia during the rest of the work week.

I really wish I could talk more about what I have been up to, but you’ll have to wait until we launch our first editorial product.

What I can say, for everyone that just recently graduated, is how I got the job. I was put in touch with Vital and their management with someone who was a regular reader of this site. After the hiring, I was told that I was given a serious look because of the side projects I was building while freelancing to pay the rent.

The lesson? Chances are there will be not be a job waiting for most journalism grads. While we can sit around and lament the loss of the “traditional” path, it won’t do anybody any good. Take a side job and then hustle to create your own path. Gather some peers and start your own publication. Organize an event. Start a podcast. Try something. Anything.

Use your newly discovered free time as an incubator for all of the ideas you have about saving journalism and media.

At worst, you fail and you learned that idea X wasn’t valid and you don’t waste any more time. If you succeed, you can find yourself new opportunities.