Metropolis is a “news, analysis and commentary” site from veteran Philadelphia reporter Tom Ferrick (Wikipedia). An alum of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom’s spent the last half-dozen years talking to everyone who will listen about the future of print and Philly news. He’s done talking and is showing what can be done on a budget budget. From “This is Metropolis,” the lead article:
Local newspapers, TV and radio stations are retreating from in-depth coverage of regional news either due to economic or audience considerations.
The retreat has been gradual, but no one expects it to stop. The company that owns the region’s largest newspapers — the Inquirer and Daily News — is in bankruptcy. The size of the editorial staffs at the papers continues to shrink. The prognosis for metro dailies here and elsewhere is not good. The journalism practiced by these papers is still robust, but the economic model that has sustained it is eroding. If these traditional sources of news falter or fail what will take their place?
The site was built in Movable Type. The most prominent feature is the slideshow display of featured articles. Tom has seen a similar effect on another journalism site and a search found the “Sliding Horizontal Banner Rotator” at Active Den, a great site to purchase pre-built Flash files. Movable Type entries are outfitted with custom fields to enter images and links. Movable Type then creates a custom XML file for the “Main Stories” feed, which is then picked up and displayed by the Flash banner. In addition, the site uses Google Adsense to provide income.
Strangely enough, the Philadelphia Inquirer has published a front-page article on leadership in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, “Friends frustrate some of their flock, Quakers bogged down by process, two leaders say”. To me it comes off as an extended whine from the former PhYM General Secretary Thomas Jeavons. His critiques around Philadelphia Quaker culture are well-made (and well known among those who have seen his much-forwarded emails) but he doesn’t seem as insightful about his own failings as a leader, primarily his inability to forge consensus and build trust. He frequently came off as too ready to bypass rightly-ordered decision-making processes in the name of strong leadership. The more this happened, the more distrust the body felt toward him and the more intractible and politicized the situation became. He was the wrong leader for the wrong time. How is this worthy of the front-page newspaper status?
The “Making New Friends” outreach campaign is a central example in the article. It might have been more successful if it had been given more seasoning and if outsider Friends had been invited to participate. The campaign was kicked off by a survey that confirmed that the greatest threat to the future of the yearly meeting was “our greying membership” and that outreach campaigns “should target young adult seekers.” I attended the yearly meeting session where the survey was presented and the campaign approved and while every Friend under forty had their hands raised for comments, none were recognized by the clerk. “Making New Friends” was the perfect opportunity to tap younger Friends but the work seemed designed and undertaken by the usual suspects in yearly meeting.
Like a lot of Quaker organizations, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has spent the last fifteen years largely relying on a small pool of established leadership. There’s little attention to leadership development or tapping the large pool of talent that exists outside of the few dozen insiders. This Spring Jeavons had an article in PYM News that talked about younger Friends that were the “future” of PYM and put the cut-off line of youthfulness/relevance at fifty! The recent political battles within PYM seemed to be over who would be included in the insider’s club, while our real problems have been a lack of transparency, inclusion and patience in our decision making process.
Philadelphia Friends certainly have their leadership and authority problems and I understand Jeavons’ frustrations. Much of his analysis is right. I appreciated his regularly column in PYM News, which was often the only place Christ and faith was ever seriously discussed. But his approach was too heavy handed and corporate to fit yearly meeting culture and did little to address the long-term issues that are lapping up on the yearly meeting doorsteps.
For what it’s worth, I’ve heard some very good things about the just-concluded yearly meeting sessions. I suspect the yearly meeting is actually beginning a kind of turn-around. That would be welcome.
The Baby Theo blog got a mention in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, It’s almost as good as being there, by Kathy Boccella. They missed out on a huge ratings bonanza by not picking Theo for their pictures. Stranger was that two interviews produced only one off-topic substantive line: “Martin Kelly [sic] experienced the worst of it when someone threatened his infant son on his Baby Theo Web page [via Archive.org, as it appeared around the time this article was written].
The Baby Theo site has been a lot of fun and it’s had great comments and emails of support. It’s really a shame that the article only used it to strike that tired old refrain about the possible danger lurking on the internet.
The threat had nothing to do with Theo or with the baby blog. I’ve run a prominent antiwar website (closed, was at nonviolence.org) through two wars now, and in the nine years of its existence I’ve amassed quite a collection of abusive emails. I try not to take them too seriously: most come from soldiers or from the families of soliders, people desparately afraid of the future and surely torn by the acts they’re being asked to commit. The internet provides the psychological distance for otherwise good people to demonize the “commie Saddam-loving peacenik coward.” You could get mad at a President that actively misleads the country into war but it’s easier to turn your anger on some schmuck who runs an antiwar website in his spare time. Sending threatening emails is itself cowardly and anti-democratic, of course, and as I’ve written on Nonviolence.org, it’s terribly inappropriate for “military personnel to use government computers to threaten the free speech” of a dissenting American citizen. But it happens. And because it happens and because South Jersey has its share of pro-war hotheads, you won’t see our specific town mentioned anywhere on the site. When I asked the Inquirer reporter if they could not mention our town, she asked why, which led to the threatening emails, which led to the question whether Theo specifically had been threatened.
And yes, there was a retired Lieutenant Colonel who sent a particularly creepy set of emails (more on him below). The first email didn’t mention Theo. It was just one of those everyday emails wishing that my family would be gang-raped, tortured and executed in front of me. I usually ignore these but responded to him, upon which I received a second email explaining that he was making a point with his threat (“You, your organization and others like you represent the ‘flabby soft white underbelly’ of our Nation. This is the tissue of an animal that is the target of predators.” Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah). This time he searched the Nonviolence.org site more thoroughly and specifically mentioned Theo in his what-if scenario. This was one email out of the thousands I receive every month. It was an inappropriate rhetorical argument against a political/religious stance I’ve taken as a public witness. It was not a credible threat to my son.
Still, precaution is in order. I mentioned this story to the Inquirer reporter only to explain why I didn’t want the town listed. When I talked about the blog, I talked about old friends and distant relatives keeping up with us and sharing our joys via the website. I talked about how the act of putting together entries helped Julie & I see Theo’s changes. I told Kathy how it was fun that friends who we had met via the internet were able to see something beyond the Quaker essays or political essays. None of that made it through to the article, which is a shame. A request to not publish our home town became a sensationalist cautionary tale that is now being repeated as a reason not to blog. How stupid.
The cautionary lesson is only applicable for those who both run a baby blog and a heavily used political website. When your website tops 50,000 visitors a day, you might want to switch to a P.O. Box. End of lesson.
Fortunately with the internet we don’t have to rely on the filter of a mainstream press reporters. Visitors from the Inquirer article have been looking around the site and presumably seeing it’s not all about internet dangers. Since the Inquirer article went up I’ve had twice as many visits from Google as I have from Philly.com. Viva the web!
More: For those interested, the freaky retired Lieutenant Colonel is the chief executive officer of a private aviation company based in Florida, with contracts in three African nations that just happen to be of particular interest to the U.S. State Department. Although the company is named after him, his full name has been carefully excised from his website. I don’t suspect that he really is retired from U.S.-sponsored military service, if you know what I mean… Here’s your tax dollars at work.
A few newspaper websites have republished up the Inky article and two blogging news sites have picked up on it:
Yet Another Baby Blogging story uncovers danger — but it’s not true ran in BloggingBaby.com: “When someone threatened his son on his Baby Theo Web page, he took the site down; but left up a pic on his home page. Well, that is, according to the article, which somehow managed to not check its facts (maybe, ummm – go to the link you included in your article?) and discover that, in fact, Baby Theo’s page is alive and well. We’re glad, Theo’s a cutie.”
Baby bloggers ran in Netfamilynews. “The $64,000 question(s) is: Is this a shift of thinking and behavior or, basically, a mistake?.. Martin Kelly, whose baby was threatened by someone who visited his baby page, would lean toward the mistake side of the question.” (No I wouldn’t, as I explained to the webmaster later)