J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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Archive for October, 2011

Networking the News: Basic Timline

Posted by chanders on October 5, 2011

Quick update: this timeline is more of a timeline of “characters in the book” than it is a definitive history of every event in Philly journalism in the last 20yrs. That might help explain the somewhat idiosyncratic inclusion or exclusion of events. In the end, the book is part history but also part ethnography, which means it is as much about access to people as it is “history.”

Just finished a basic timeline I’ll be using as I wrap up my edits on Networking the News, my book on local news in Philadelphia in the digital age.  Please feel free to weigh in with corrections, additions, or general thoughts about things I got wrong / missed / got right.


News Events in Philadelphia

News Events Nationally


  • The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin closes, part of a wave of consolidation in the news industry. Philadelphia now has two daily newspapers owned by a single national chain, Knight-Ridder
  • The New York Times reports on threats to turn Philadelphia into a “one newspaper town” by closing the tabloid Philadelphia Daily News. Various iterations of this threat are repeated, under different circumstances, over the next fifteen years.
  • Phillylife.com – an entertainment only version of the Philadelphia newspapers—is launched. It is later renamed Philadelphiaonline.com.
  • The City Paper, a local alt-weekly, launches “City Paper City Net.” Modeled after Prodigy and AOL, the site supplies news, email, usenet, and BBS access


  • The website GrooveLingo is launched by a self-described “bored college student.” The website is designed to cover the Philadelphia music scene.
  • The New York Times goes online.
  • Philadelphiaonline.com launches “Blackhawk Down,” a massive experiment in collaborative, long-form, digital storytelling.


  • Philadelphiaonline.com is renamed Philly.com. It also begins using a content management system (CMS) for the first time, replacing its earlier flat file system.
  • In December, Karl Martino launches the “collaborative blog” Phillyfuture.com. Originally hosted at http://editthispage.com, the site invites Philadelphians to register as either editors or contributors.


  • Blogger is released by PyraLabs. The software is designed to make online self-publishing – later known as “blogging” easy and ubiquitous.
  • The first “Independent Media Center” opens its doors in Seattle. The IMC is founded to provide grassroots coverage of demonstrations against the World Trade Organization. It is one of the first digital media websites to emphasize participant-powered journalistic coverage of breaking news.
  • The Philadelphia Independent Media Center, a branch of the larger IMC network, opens in the summer to cover the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.


  • Knight-Ridder centralizes control of its local newspaper properties through Knight Ridder Digital, which launches with 33 websites. As part of this change, operations and website management are consolidated.
  • Knight-Ridder also begins to rethink the role of its online local media properties, attempting to brand them as local “portals” which contain not only news, but are gateways to an entire geographical region.
  • The dot-com “bubble” bursts.
  • Philly.com redesigns its website, with a look and a CMS that is now part of a Knight-Ridder standard.
  • The small, personal blog Metecat is founded by a web developer who has dabbled in programming. The site is entitrely personal and covers topics like the best lobster rolls and craft beer.
  • A technology staffer with the Philadelphia Daily News travels to San Jose to hear a lecture by Dan Gilmor. He returns to Philadelphia and advocates that the papers should embrace “blogging.” Later that year, the first Daily News blog, “Barks Bytes” launches.  It covers the Philadelphia Eagles, but is discontinued after the season ends.


  • Former full-time journalist and freelancer Amy Z. Quinn launches the blog “Tales of a Feminist Housewife.” In 2005 the blog is renamed “Citizen Mom” and becomes one of the more important blogs in Philadelphia.
  • Joey Sweeney, sometime music critic with local alternative weeklies The City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly launches Philebrity, a website designed to integrate an alt-weekly attitude with an interative digital presence.
  • A staffer with the Reading Eagles launches “Berks Phillies Fans,” a website chronicling the Philadelphia Phillies. The author originally sees it as a way to make group emails about the trails of the baseball team more public and permanent. The site is later renamed Beerleaguer.
  • The Philadelphia Daily News launches a special blog, “Campaign Extra,” which covers the 2004 Presidential Race. In 2005 the blog is renamed Attytood and is maintained by Will Bunch.
  • Karl Martino re-launches Philly Future, moving away from the idea of a “group blog” and towards a site which is powered by RSS feeds aggregating the best content of other local blogs.
  • Philly.com and the Philadelphia Daily News launch “The Next Mayor,” an attempt to combine public and networked journalism to report on the Mayors race online.


  • Knight-Ridder, owner of the Philadelphia newspapers, announces it is breaking up and selling its assets.


  • A variety of Philadelphia journalists gather for the first and only “NORGs” conference, to discuss building a networked news organization in the city.
  • The Pew Foundation discusses launching a website nicknamed “The Phly,” which would rely heavily on user-generated content and citizen journalism. The site is never launched.


  • The Philadelphia Inquirer begins to staff a “breaking news desk.”
  • The author begins his longest period of ethnographic fieldwork in Philadelphia.
  • Pew once again considers launching a journalism project in Philadelphia, under the informal moniker of “The Y-Factor.” The initiative would be  large-scale: a staff of nearly 60 reporters, editorial desks, 6 or 7 verticals, an embrace of “citizen journalism,” and an initial cost of between $4 and $5 million dollars. Once again the site is never launched.


  • Newspapers, in part due to pressures from the solidifying digital information environment and in part due to the onset of the Great Recession, suffer one of their worst financial years on record.


  • Philaelphia Media Holdings files for bankruptcy.
  • Three young journalism entrepreneurs, graduates of Temple University, found Technically Philly, designed to actively chronicle Philadelphia’s start-up scene.


  • The Philadelphia newspapers are auctioned off as a part of bankruptcy proceedings. Attempts by the current owners to retain control of the properties fails, and the papers are now controlled by a consortium of banks and hedge funds.
  • The local public radio station WHYY launches Newsworks, a local news website combining original digital reporting, aggregation, and content from the radio news team.
  • The William Penn Foundation commissions a report on the Philadelphia Media Ecosystem, and draws up plans to create a “network news” hub online.
  • The Philadelphia Daily News begins staffing a breaking news desk.
  • The new CEO of the Philadelphia Media Network, which owns the local newspapers, announces a number of new initiatives including launching a startup incubator at the newspapers and placing some paper content behind a partial paywall
  • The Philadelphia newspapers begin to sell digital subscriptions as part of an all-inclusive tablet.



Posted in Personal Musings | 3 Comments »

A Few Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

Posted by chanders on October 4, 2011

UPDATE: Apologies to Micah Sifry for my previous misspelling of his name. The perils of posts written in a hurry. The fact remains, however, that his previous post on Occupy Wall Street both gets the history totally wrong and bears little resemblance to any sort of on-the-ground reality.

Consider me now amongst the many protest-voyeurs who passed through Zuccotti Park for a few hours yesterday, looked around, and now feels inclined to wax speculative on What It All Means.

Yah. I’m That Guy now.

Some background: for about seven years, from 2001-2008, I devoted a substantial portion of my life to doing digital media work for various lefty causes, most of whom were affiliated with this weird intersection of anti-globalization movement / institutional NYC left / mass of anti-war-anti-Bush folks that existed between 2001 and 2005 or so. A lot of them are chronicled on this blog. Between 2001 and 2005, the energy was in the movement, the protests themselves; between 2005 and 2008 we worked mostly on digital media infrastructure building. One of the things we tried, just to name one example, was creating an “Indymedia blogwire” that would integrate local blogs into the NYC Indymedia website without totally eliminating the “post-to-the-site open newswire” concepts which we’d begun in 1999. There were a lot of things like this we tossed against the wall; some worked and some didn’t.

In 2008, for various reasons – graduating, finding a job, increasing “personality conflicts” with some of the Dudes who dominated the NYC Indymedia scene at the time (and still, it must be said, dominate a certain segment of that universe), and an increasing sense of my natural liberal-bourgeoisness– I largely left that kind of work behind. I wanted to focus more on taking what I’d learned in the previous seven years and using it to help journalists figure out how to reinvent their profession for the digital age. Rather than changing the world by building a “blog-wire,” I wanted to help my students figure out what the fuck was going on in this new world they’d been dropped into.

Still, the biggest reasons for moving onto other things was a general sense that whatever political stirrings had started in 1999 in Seattle were definitely dead. The movements that our media work was supposed to be supporting seemed to have shrunk down to the hardest of the hardcore; either process-obsessed anarchists or that type of New Yorker who, through a combination of rent-stabilized housing and family money manages to devote a life to “paid activism.”

Which all begs the question: why does what’s going on with Occupy Wall Street seem so exciting?

Not knowing, or not caring about, the history I just outlined can lead smart people to write all sorts of silly things in response to this question. One example of a particularly silly thing comes from Micah Sifry, who constructs and entire genealogy of the Occupy Wall Street movement that begins (of course) with the “netroots” in 2003. Writes Sifry:

In America we’re now entering into a third wave of movement politics (the first being the rise of the “netroots” within the Democratic party after its leadership collapse between 2000-2003; and the second being the rise of the Tea Party after the conservative losses of 2006 and 2008).

Anybody with half a sense of history knows this is pure and simple nonsense; the folks in Zuccotti Park have little to do with Howard Dean, or the movement he inspired. They are, if anything, the return of a “first wave” of digital-movement politics, one which flourished briefly between 1999 and 2001– but in general, it’s probably more honest to admit that dividing these things up into “waves” is just silly (the Indymedia folks, for instance, emerged in part out of the ‘zine / Punk Planet subculture, which had been around since at least the 1980s … and so on …)

Sifry’s genealogical purpose, it seems, is to find a way to wrap every social protest up into some sort of notion of a technological-political sublime:

America is about to experience the same youth-driven, hyper-networked wave of grassroots protests against economic inequality and political oligarchy that have been rocking countries as disparate as Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Greece and Spain. The occupation of the Wisconsin state legislature last winter was a harbinger, but now all kinds of previously disconnected individuals, loosely centered on a core of beautiful-style troublemakers and inspired by events and methods honed overseas, are linking up and showing up to occupy symbolically important centers…

But still, we haven’t answered the question: why does what’s going on with Occupy Wall Street seem so exciting?

The reason that I’m most interested in has to do with the structure of the media ecosystem. Not the fact that suddenly “here comes everybody” (this was true in 1999, or at least true in 2005); rather, technological tools that used to be confined to the activist ghetto have now become mainstream. Something like Twitter, after all, existed in 2004. But then it was called TXTMob, and the traditional media didn’t use it the way they use Twitter now. The media silos have opened up to a variety of inputs that simply didn’t exist in 2004. This, in turn, changes the dynamics of movement legitimation in all sorts of interesting ways.

Yes, this is half a thought. Or more like a fifth of a thought. Blogging- land of unfinished thoughts.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with whether or not the Occupy Wall Streeters will be as successful as, say, the Tea Party. Sociologist Doug McAdam might tell us– probably not, and I tend to think he’s right.

Then again, the folks in  Zuccotti Park have already surprised me once. I’d love for them to surprise me again.

Posted in Personal Musings | 7 Comments »