Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You Don't Kill a Brand in 2015. You Adapt.

The Philadelphia Daily News has lived under threat of extinction for as long as I can remember, largely in part because the newspaper is owned by the same company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer.

As the company struggles financially with their legacy media products in an increasingly digital world, calls to shutter the Daily News have increased. Today, the parent company reportedly axed 46 journalists, though management has said they will continue publishing the Daily News for now.

I clearly have many conflicts of interest in this discussion, having spent nearly 12 years in the Daily News newsroom. I still have many friends there and I send students to intern there all the time.

But I am also a person who runs a small business. I think about money in and money out, and how to be sustainable. I recognize opportunities and I see potential pitfalls.

Simply put, eliminating the Daily News is just not good business. Here's why:

Closing the Daily News will not help The Inquirer.

The Inquirer continues to try to cover too wide of an area, even though the staff is much smaller than it was during the glory years. The Inquirer can no longer comprehensively cover the Jersey shore to Harrisburg, from Trenton down to Wilmington. By attempting to do so, the newspaper seems to scantily cover anything with any authority. And people want the information that pertains to their lives, not briefs about the entire region.

Because the Inquirer's coverage has become so scattered, more and more of the affluent readers in the area are choosing The New York Times instead. And why not? Half of what you find in The Inquirer's A section is from the New York Times wire service anyway.

The Inquirer needs to tighten their focus. They can no longer be one of the world's great newspapers, as they once were. They do have the ability to own their coverage area though - Philadelphia and the counties immediately surrounding the city. They can effectively document this metropolitan area and actually become a force here.

The Daily News has had a much tighter focus for years. It should be seen as a model to replicate, not shutter.

Oh, and the audience at the Daily News will not go to The Inquirer if the Daily News no longer exists. They are two completely different products with different audiences.

Closing the Daily News does not make financial sense. It's a stop-gap measure.

There is very little infrastructure behind the business of the Daily News. Ads are sold for The Inquirer and then tacked on to the Daily News, which means the Daily News actually generates additional revenue that would be lost if the paper were gone. Very few people - if any - sell ads specifically for the Daily News.

Even before today's cuts, there were very few people left creating the actual news product at the Daily News. With their content also being used in The Inquirer and on philly.com, they were rather efficient.

Eliminating the Daily News would not make The Inquirer's bottom line any stronger. It might appear to save some money at first but the problems with The Inquirer - and with philly.com's inability to generate more revenue  - will continue.

We've already seen this with other stop-gap measures, like shrinking the size of the physical newspaper, ending The Inquirer Sunday Magazine, newsroom cuts and other cost-cutting steps.

Rather than chop, the company needs to think about how to maximize their talent and brands.

Digital does not pay the bills.

You might argue that print in 2015 is a waste. The reality is that the company generates more than $150 million per year in ad revenue, around $135 million of which is generated via print.

Digital only draws around $15 million per year and that number is reportedly flat. It has not increased in recent years, signifying that their online ad revenue potential is pretty well capped.

You can argue that eliminating print would save printing and distribution costs. Of course. But instead of focusing on that, the company should be thinking about how to keep that $135 million of print revenue in the company.

You don't kill a brand in 2015. You adapt.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to create a new brand and make an impact in 2015? There are literally millions upon millions of options for everyone to get everything, from medical advice to news information to free music. Competition is fierce.

The Daily News has been around since 1925. The paper has long had a reputation for being a bulldog that fights for the citizens of the city. The sports section, historically, has been one of the best in the country.

You don't throw that away. You take advantage of it. You adapt.

Maybe it becomes the daily magazine that the staffers have talked about for years (but are not given the time to create), focusing on enterprise stories every day. Hammer the sports coverage in the back and up front, present analysis of the big stories that no one else is covering.

Or make the newspaper a weekly magazine with really strong, daily online coverage. Have the sportswriters focus on ideas rather than events, essentially making them all columnists. The best Daily News sportswriters already do this, and have for decades. Capitalize on it.

At bare minimum, the Daily News should be the online home for everyone interested in sports in the Greater Philadelphia region. The fact that the company did not effectively integrate the Internet with the newspapers 20 years ago allowed places like Comcast SportsNet, The 700 Level and Crossing Broad to exist, thrive and dominate sports coverage.

The Daily News has an identity. In a sports-crazed town, a decent business person should be able to make that work. Adapt the product and continue. That's what businesses do.

It's probably too late.

I write this now knowing that the cuts are too severe. Decisions have already been made, mostly by people who do not have a real connection to these newspapers or this city.

The demise of the Daily News seems rather imminent.

The Newspaper Guild has offered to buy the Daily News from the current owners in the past but those offers seem to have been rejected (or not taken seriously, as the ownership has put forth ridiculously high sales prices).

That's a shame.

What will we lose when the Daily News disappears?

Honestly, not a lot. The operation has been so stripped down over the years that little remains. The remaining folks have been kicking ass every day but there are fewer and fewer people, forced to do more and more work. And now, the place will be nearly empty.

That leaves us with a newspaper of record that is already spread too thin to be effective, superficial coverage on television, super quick stories on news radio, a bunch of random, local websites and an overall uninformed citizenry.

We need more journalists doing good work, not fewer.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Year in Review: Bachelorhood and The Art of Living.

On this day, one year ago, I became a bachelor. 

It was a miserable day. There was a massive snowstorm and the movers taking my ex's stuff out of the house tracked snow and rock salt everywhere. They left the front door open for hours, making it beyond freezing inside.

When they left, my home felt cold and empty, for sure, and wicked dirty. So I cleaned. I scrubbed the floors, dusted the remaining furniture and arranged stuff to make the house livable. By the end of the day, my home was cleaner than it had been in years.

And I was alone.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why the F**k Are You So Happy?

Seven months ago, I went through a life altering situation. The person I thought I'd spend the rest of my life with moved out. At 42 (and weeks away from being 43-years old), I was alone.

It was rather shocking, though at first, it was liberating. The tension in the household during the preceding few years had been thick. Living alone allowed me to be myself unabashedly.

A month or two after after the break-up, a friend expressed surprise that I could be so positive about life. Tonight, my friend reiterated her disbelief and added that she thought there had to be a darkness looming in the distance (or beyond public view).

I'm an open book, so I told her the truth: I'm wicked lonely but otherwise very happy in my life. Honest.

I don't think she believed me, which made me doubt myself. So I spent the long bike ride home contemplating my happiness.

Here is my rationale for why I'm a happy dude (and you should be too):


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Advice For Young Folks, From a Middle-Aged Man-Child.

I've been teaching journalism full-time for more than six years now, which means many of my former students are now real adults, some of whom are in the working world. For some reason, I've been inundated recently with emails from former students who are now unhappy in their worlds, mostly because they hate their jobs.

Now, I'm no expert on anything. As I've grown older (which happened surprisingly fast), I've realized that I have absolutely no answers to any of life's questions. And my life is by no means anything that should be emulated by anyone.

But in responding to the kids, I've come across some commonalities.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Start-Up Journal: Two Years of JUMP Mag.

We drop our newest issue officially on Tuesday, and that completes two full years of quarterly magazines. I realized that the other day when I looked at the wall outside my office where I hang the covers (above). Looking at the collection, I feel pretty good. We've covered some really fun stuff and each issue has been different (the Moosh & Twist cover is similar to the Chiddy Bang cover, but otherwise, we're solid).

It seems like a good time to assess what we've done and think about where we're going.

I'll break things down in four categories: editorial content, business/financial, operations and audience. All are equally important but let's start with what we do ...

EDITORIAL

JUMP only covers Philadelphia in the mag, and we define Philadelphia as what is within the official city borders. That has generated some tension, as many people have suggested we cover the surrounding suburbs. Even staffers want to cover the 'burbs.

As recently as last week, I have had to convince people that our mission is to cover the city and the diversity of music that exists here. There is plenty to cover. We can do around 100 to 110 stories per year in the mag. There are thousands more for us to uncover in town.

When you start covering the 'burbs, it opens up a can of worms - where do you stop covering? West Chester? Lancaster? Harrisburg? Atlantic City?

We are already way to all-over-the-place with our content in the mag. In the new issue, for instance, we have hip-hoppers on the cover and inside, we have everything from garage punk to R&B and everything in between. The city unifies the content in the magazine, I think. It defines our niche.

Plus, there are logistical things about covering the suburbs. if we extend our reach, we'd need to distribute out there. That's a pain in the ass considering that distributing means loading up my Toyota and hitting the road. It's difficult enough hitting all the drop spots in the city and immediate areas.

Part of the reason we cover such a diverse array of music in the city is because my mission for the mag goes well beyond music. I want to promote the city as a place where creative people need to be. There is talent here that I want people to know about, and I want to draw more talent here.

Have we been successful with our editorial coverage? I don't know. I feel like what we have covered in terms of ideas has been unbelievably awesome. Pick up any issue and Philadelphia looks like an incredible place.

Have we reached and satisfied our audience? With a print product, it's hard to tell.

AUDIENCE

We print 10,000 magazines every three months and they disappear pretty quickly after we distribute. When we drop off subsequent issues, I find very few past copies leftover (over the last seven issues, I've honed our distribution so we don't drop stacks at places where there is little traffic). Presumably, people are taking the mags.

Our online readership is fairly low, on average around 400 hits per day. Some days we spike and top 1,000 per day but that is rare. On weekends, we generally slip below 200 hits per day. The problems with our online stuff generally reside around the fact that we don't post enough (and our website is a crappy Wordpress template). We'll drop one post per day usually, and everyday it's something different - a story about a punk show or an indie rock concert review, followed by a profile of a hip-hop crew or something else. We are too diverse too generate a steady following, I think. The bulk of our hits are via links, not the home page. That's fine for now. We generate around 2,000 to 3,000 hits per week.

We have a pretty engaged twitter following and I get dozens of emails every day from folks requesting coverage. I think music people and artists know about us, for sure.

Whenever we have a new issue, our facebook activity spikes. Some of this is due to the people we cover generating buzz via their own social networks. But I think it has more to do with the fact that we are producing in bulk again. There is literally something for everyone.

Some people have suggested we cater to one specific audience (hipsters or hip-hoppers or the indie rock crowd, etc) rather than being so diverse. We will not do that. JUMP will never be a lifestyle magazine. We don't suggest that anything is cool. We simply introduce people to people doing interesting stuff, or interesting places, or anything else folks should know about.

We are journalists not trendsetters. I want to puke in my hat anytime someone says they are tastemakers because that ultimately means they are trying to sell you something. We are providing information.

OPERATIONS

I still get questions from people who think that JUMP is a Temple product. With the exception of an advertisement, Temple has no involvement with the magazine. I teach there and my students get involved (in the new issue, students wrote 9 of the 31 stories). But Temple does not finance the magazine nor pay me for my time in working on it.

Which means we have no money.

So, we've bootstrapped 8 issues. That is pretty impressive, I think. Without a paid staffers, without any previous experience, without logistical support from anyone, we have delivered nearly 80,000 copies and covered more than 200 stories in print (online, we run around 500 posts per year).

I've dealt with personal issues this year and that has halted my interaction with staff (and it hindered my ability to sell ads). Ideally, we meet at the beginning of the three month cycle several times. The second month is for content production. The third month is for packaging the book. In theory, this works (and in reality, we've never missed a deadline). But we need more regular engagement with staffers so that they feel ownership on the product. This has to be a team effort.

I'm hoping to start paying folks with the next issue. During my winter break, I intend to develop a system in which we'll have paid editors and a cadre of freelance writers and photographers. This will increase our costs by about $2,500 but it will also force a layer of professionalism that we currently do not have (partially because I think the chaotic nature is good for a music magazine). I am reluctant to give up editorial control but I intend to so that I can raise the money to keep the mag going.

BUSINESS

I simply did not have time to sell ads this issue and we fell way short of covering our print run costs. In the previous five issues, we did, so I'm fine with this.

We had one regular advertiser pull out $2,000 worth just days before publication because they have their own financial difficulties. Two other potential advertisers locked in early and then pulled out at the last minute (one because of hurricane damage and the other because they are assholes). I will never rely upon them as I did with this issue - I had counted on that money and did not push ad sales. In the future, I will continue selling ads until I have enough cash in hand (rather than pledges).

I think if I had more time, I could sell plenty of ads to print the mag and pay the staffers. Currently, I sell ads when I'm not editing the 500 posts per year or dealing with my 315 students at school. I really have no time to build the relationships needed to generate ad sales. But I've done it for two years, and I'm confident that by relinquishing editing to paid staffers, I'll be able to devote time to selling. I'm not looking forward to it but I'll make it happen.

I'll need to generate $5,200 for printing and $2,500 for content generation. Basically, I need to sell five more pages of ads per issue. This will happen.

OVERALL

I started delivering mags this week. At a few locations, people literally grabbed copies out of my hand. They were excited to see the new issue. I've handed the mags to people who have no idea what the mag is and then I watch them thumb through the edition. I watch them go from skeptical to intrigued to content. It is a wonderful feeling.

We have our problems - after every issue, people complain about the basic/poor design; writers want to be able to show more attitude; bands complain that they weren't covered; we get things wrong every now and then, etc. I am well aware of our flaws. Some, we will try to remedy. Others are more difficult and require money we do not have.

In the end, however, I think we have built something special. It is a community project - created by people invested in the music community, about people in the music community, prepared to teach others about the music community. It is a financially sustainable business model and we don't rely upon the gimmicks that most traditional media employ (salacious headlines/stories, using big names on the cover, top ten lists, fake controversies, etc).

I'm proud of what we have done, especially given our humble beginnings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Start-up Journal: Entrepreneurial Journalism Is Exhausting.

There are few things I enjoy more than taking the mound and pitching. I'm a control freak, so it's only fitting that I like to control the tempo of the game. Plus, there is the ultimate responsibility for what happens - hits, walks, runs scored, whatever. It's really not the competition that drives me, either. I don't care if the batter gets a solid hit (getting on base because of errors burns my ass though). It's about things being done properly. I want to see a well-played game.

I am a responsible person, which is why I never wanted children. I would constantly be worried about their safety and satisfaction with the world. People who are parents tell me that that feeling passes. But if you've ever seen me with my dog, you'd know that doting is not strong enough of a word. I am obsessed with Mookie.

Which brings me to JUMP.

The responsibility of running this magazine is killing me. Here is a list of what I do for the magazine:

Hold meetings and assign stories, art and photo. Edit stories and handle images. Take a lot of photos for every issue. Usually write one story per. Design the 48-page magazine. Proof the magazine at the printer's office in Jersey. Borrow my step-father's pick-up truck so I can pick up 5,000 copies of the magazine. Then do that again (as 5,000 copies weighs about 1,000 pounds, the max the truck will hold). Then deliver all 10,000 copies around the tri-state region, a process that takes about three weeks. Post all stories from every issue online. Post daily stories on the JUMP website, facebook page and twitter. Arrange for access for staffers at shows. Sell advertising (which usually requires me visiting people numerous times before getting an ad for $250). Build ads (I've had to design two ads for the upcoming issue). Promote the magazine by attending events and stuff. Arrange launch parties. Make sure staff, advertisers, story subjects and everyone else is happy.

I'm exhausted. I'm behind in my work for my real job. I don't earn a penny from the mag; in fact, I lost around $11,000 the first year we ran the mag (it's currently covering printing costs with ad dollars). I haven't seen some of my friends in two years, since we started the magazine.

Staffers contribute stories, photos and art and sometimes, they are fantastic. But since we don't pay anyone, the quality of work can be sketchy. I've had dozens of people agree to do stories, design, art and/or photos and then I never hear from them again. And some of them are folks I've known for years. They disappear, as though our meetings, discussions and email conversations never occurred. And at the past few meetings, staff attendance has been, well, thin. At the last one, there were two people ... and one was our intern

This magazine, I believe, is pretty awesome. The stuff we cover and the presentation we give it is something needed, and not otherwise found in Philly.

If the magazine will reach year three, a few things will need to change:

1. I'd like to partner with an existing website. That way, we don't have to worry about the everyday stuff and we can focus on our primary task - producing a magazine with long-form, narrative style journalism and large, engaging images. Plus, partnering with an existing website will provide us with a database of ideas for forthcoming issues, and maybe even a labor force. Depending upon who we partner with, it might even help draw an audience and lend credibility.

2. Rather than have a giant staff of 50+ people, we operate with just the 12 to 15 people who are truly involved. We can have a few others submit work but there needs to be a reliable crew. The challenge here is getting the right 12 or 15 people to buy into the idea, and then keep them around a while.

3. We need to begin paying contributors. A contract for work will force stories, art and images to be submitted on deadline. We need a layer of professionalism.

4. We'll need to raise an additional $2000 in advertising per issue in order to pay folks. I think that's doable. It's only four more pages of ads.

5. I never want to throw another launch party ever again.

If those things occur, we'll be golden. I don't mind the heavy load I carry. I enjoy this stuff. And someday, someone will come along whom I trust enough to let them share the load.

The reality is that I think the magazine could actually grow, become a bi-monthly and financially support a staff of two, plus freelancers. That's the dream (if I ever lose my teaching gig). And this model could be replicated with other niches - food, sports, whatever.

Of course, the other reality is that I may just burn out completely. As much as I like responsibility, I hate being in charge. I hate asking people to do stuff, especially for free. And I hate disappointing anyone.

We could shut down the mag. That would allow me to join one of those adult baseball leagues and I could pitch twice per week. I might enjoy that.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Goodbye Ivory Tower.

I once wrote a story about a major event happening in Philly. The city solicitor, Romy Diaz, held a press conference and afterward, I interviewed him at length.

The next day in the Daily News, my story said that the interview had been with Nelson Diaz, who had held positions within local government. I was outraged. Someone (I know exactly who) changed my story because they assumed I had goofed up the names, which I had not.

Romy Diaz's people called and complained, even suggesting that I needed cultural sensitivity training because clearly, I thought all Latino men were the same.

The Daily News butchered many of my stories and photos over the years and honestly, I butchered a fair share of my own.

There were days when I absolutely hated working at the Daily News. I punched holes in numerous walls there between 1994 and 2005, when I was a staff photographer and staff writer. But there were also days when I couldn't believe that that was actually my job. 

And nearly everyday I was there, it was like graduate studies in journalism (as well as Ph.D research on life in the big city), especially when I was a photographer.

I watched the reporters and listened to how they interviewed people. I was there when Barbara Laker asked then-governor Mark Schweiker how he responded to people who accused him of being an empty suit. That was masterful. I stalked alleged gangsters with Jim Nolan. I watched Nicki Weisensee schmooze cops. I listened as Scott Flander explained how important it is for journalists to observe everything and make notes because you never know what may be important as you gather. I watched Ted Silary turn high school athletes into superstars, mining seemingly everyday kids for interesting stories.

I entered the homes of the richest and poorest Philadelphians. I met powerful people, actors, musicians and countless other folks of various ranks in life. I witnessed tragedies and celebrations. 

As a sentimental person, I'm saddened to see the Inquirer and Daily News vacate their iconic building on Broad Street (above) for a smaller, shared office space on Market Street. But it's more than sentimentality at play here. Their move represents something larger, and I'm not sure the majority of the people in the region realizes or cares about what's happening.

The two papers have shrunk in staff and reach, and their overall reputations have been diminished - not because of lack of quality, per se, but because fewer and fewer people read them. And while the rise of the Internet is fantastic, there remains a massive gap in communication within society. Things are happening that many people do not/will not know about - even though they should. Individuals can find information they want at any time thanks to technology. But what about the information they didn't know they needed? They may never find that now.

Newspapers, while old-fashioned and completely not interactive, have historically been watchdogs for society and the shelf-stockers of the marketplace of ideas. If newspapers - and I'm speaking specifically of the DN and Inky - continue to contract and not connect with the local constituency, who will monitor power? Who will inform the public about anything other than death and destruction in the city? Who will help shape the conversation about Philadelphia and its future?

As a journalism professor, I am saddened that fewer and fewer of my students will get the experiences I had. Journalism is a magical profession - my job was (and still is) to learn about people, to experience their lives, and then tell people about that. With the exception of having a set schedule, going to work never felt like going to work. It was fun. Even when I was a reporter covering crime, seeing the impact of the awful violence, it didn't feel like a job. I felt like a person speaking with another person, who happened to be in pain. It certainly put my trivial problems into perspective.

I don't romanticize my time at the Daily News. It was (and probably still is) a fucked up place. I know reporters who routinely arrived at work an hour or two late. People left mid-shift to play softball or golf. Some folks would travel and eat at the most expensive restaurants because they were on the company dime. The nightside photo guys would watch porn all night. And when their shift ended, overnight reporter Leon "The Fly" Taylor would sleep on the photo office couches. 

I regularly took long lunches and frequently went home between assignments rather than go back to the office. It seemed that everybody at the paper had their little scams they got away with. 

The place was alive with colorful characters. I had some wonderful times there, and the friends I made there will be friends for life. 

The fact that I got paid so well was a bonus. Then in December 2005, they gave me more than a year's pay to leave as part of my buyout package (biggest check I ever received in my life ... so I took a picture, at right). I can't imagine that happens too often anymore.

I stopped at the Daily News the other day and saw the boxes packed up and the world of trash everywhere. It was sad. But the newsroom was also full of staffers doing their work, cranking out the next day's paper. 

That seemed symbolic to me as well. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Journalism & The Law.

Several people have warned me that I will be sued for defamation by the character I outed on Wednesday who dresses like a cop, rides a cop-like motorcycle and displays official police business placards as though he was an actual police officer.

Relax, folks. Here is why a defamation lawsuit, which would actually be a libel case, would not hold up in court:

First of all, journalists and all people are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which allows for the freedom of the press, among other valuable rights.

The First Amendment, however, is not a license to spout out anything. People being portrayed in the media have rights as well.

A person claiming to be defamed in print could sue for libel. According to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association's Handbook: Libel occurs when a false and defamatory statement is published which tends to harm a person's reputation or expose him or her to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.

Pennsylvania law (42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8343) says that the plaintiff in a libel case has the burden of proving the following:

1. The defamatory character of the communication (including printed statements).
2. Its publication by the defendant.
3. Its application to the plaintiff.
4. The understanding by the recipient (such as a reader) of its defamatory meaning.
5. The understanding by the recipient of it as intended to be applied to the plaintiff.
6. Special harm resulting to the plaintiff because of its publication (such as impairment of reputation and standing in community, personal humiliation, mental anguish and suffering, and any other injury of which libel is legal cause).
7. Abuse of a conditionally privileged occasion (for example, if a newspaper publishes an article that creates the impression that the plaintiff's actions were worse than what a complaint about the plaintiff implies, Pennsylvania's "fair report" privilege will be forfeited).

The judicial procedure continues:

In an action for defamation, the defendant has the burden of proving, when the issue is properly raised:

1. The truth of the defamatory communication.
2. The privileged character of the occasion on which it was published.
3. The character of the subject matter of defamatory comment as of public concern.

The procedure concludes:

In all civil actions for libel, no damages shall be recovered unless it is established to the satisfaction of the jury, under the direction of the court as in other cases, that the publication has been maliciously or negligently made, but where malice or negligence appears such damages may be awarded as the jury shall deem proper.

Simply put, the truth is the ultimate defense in a libel case.

So, was my blog post the truth? Yes.

It might be argued that calling the guy a "delusional jackass" was malicious. I would argue that that is the truth, regardless of intent.

I would argue that the man is delusional - he actually believes he has the rights afforded to a law enforcement officer, including wearing a replica uniform and riding a police-like vehicle that is an exact copy except for the logos (and one of the logos on his motorcycle was actually a Highway Patrol drill team logo). He parks illegally and throws up a police issued "official business" placard. He thinks he is one of them.

Is he a jackass? The guys from the TV show by the same name pull stupid stunts all the time. This guy is pulling stupid stunts (like riding a police-like motorcycle in costume) as well. By common, accepted definition, I'm thinking he's a jackass. Plus, he abuses his connections. That makes him a jackass.

Regardless of the truth here, calling him a delusional jackass is a statement of opinion, and opinions are protected by the First Amendment.

Any libel suit filed under this circumstance would be deemed frivolous in a court of law. Pennsylvania defines frivolous as "lacking an arguable basis either in law or in fact."

It is against the law, according to the Pennsylvania code, to file a frivolous lawsuit.

Generally speaking, attorney's fees are not recoverable. But in cases of frivolous lawsuits, fees can be recovered.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

There Ought To Be A Law. Oh, Wait ...

This morning, I ran into Jimmy Binns, the lawyer/philanthropist, dressed in full police-like uniform and riding a 1450cc Harley Davidson with police markings (though the insignia was not official).

I have absolutely no problems with police. And there could be no more worthy cause than the Hero Thrill Show, the fund raiser Binns supports which assists the children of slain officers. But this is out of control.

Binns' costume - because, yes, it is a costume, not a uniform - was the exact same as the actual police officer Binns was hanging with at the coffee shop on 4th Street. The only exception was that Binns sported a white shirt, which I believe is usually reserved for police of a higher rank. The motorcycle Binns was riding was the exact same as well, except that in place of a police logo, there was a Hero Thrill Show logo.

Isn't this impersonating a police officer?

Here is the Pennsylvania law pertaining to the situation:

§ 4912. Impersonating a public servant.
A person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he falsely pretends to hold a position in the public service with intent to induce another to submit to such pretended official authority or otherwise to act in reliance upon that pretense to his prejudice.


Now, being in fake uniform alone doesn't seem to qualify - unless he starts ordering people around, which he wasn't. But Binns has abused his connections to police in the past. I've heard from sources that Binns has even shown up at events brandishing a sidearm.

As I've said before, this isn't the worst thing happening in the city. But this is clearly a delusional jackass who gets away with stuff because he has money. And that isn't the way the system is supposed to work.

Frankly, he devalues the uniform by buying his way into it. And if he had any respect for the officers he purports to appreciate, he would let them do their work without trying to act like he's one of them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

If I Ran an Alt Weekly ...

A few weeks ago, I was asked to come up with a list of things I would do if I were the editor of a local alt weekly. It seemed to me that there are five areas that need consideration:

1. An alt weekly needs an identity.
2. It needs to justify why it is in print.
3. The business-side and the editorial folks need to work together.
4. Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of online, and staff accordingly.
5. Develop partnerships, as the alt weekly staff alone cannot be comprehensive.

When you get right down to it, these are not concepts that are unique to alt weeklies. So, I'm posting my full notes here as I think they apply to all print media and possibly all media in general. (Specific names have been removed).

1. The paper needs an identity.


• Who is the audience? The target audience should be young, educated and cultured people. And the people who wish they were young, educated and cultured.
• It might even be wise to focus on a tight geographic coverage area. Because of limited resources (i.e. staff and print space), decisions must be made about what and where gets covered. The paper should focus on city life, appealing to those who live here and those interested in city living.
• The paper should champion the city and its citizens. Always.
• There needs to be something that draws readers back every week.
• I suggest a regular columnist who crafts first-person, Philadelphia narratives that revolve around being a 20-something involved in stuff.
• My initial thought is (name removed). He’s intelligent, artistic and connected in the youth culture scenes (dance parties, art shows, squat houses, etc).
• This is not a reactionary-type of opinion story. These are scenes from the life of a young Philadelphian.
• The writers and top editors need to be in front of people constantly. Deals need to be made with local TV stations so that staff are on air regularly (every week at minimum).
• The editor needs to be everywhere, talking to everyone.

2. You need to justify why the paper is in print.

• This is not a newspaper, and the small staff will never compete in the realm of breaking news. Rather than focusing on breaking news or timely events, the paper should think about ideas, trends and in-depth, long-form reporting. What (or who) is the next big thing? Stories should be well-written, with characters developed and crazy plotlines. There must be scenes and action.
• Emphasis on engaging writing.
• (name removed)’s column should be every week but shorter (750-words) and less-timely. The writer should be using individuals to tell stories about relevant issues. They do this now at times.
• The staff writers should concentrate on cover stories. If you are going to employ or contract writers, you need to get the most out of them. They would be on the hook for one long story (3,000-words) every five weeks, on average. And it’s fine if the columnist's weekly pieces intersect with the longer stories – that is part of the continuum from week to week.
• I think the long stories should be three pages, with large images or art. Open with two, facing pages, then go to an ad page (or two), followed by the remainder of the story.
• The long stories are not always the cover. Think of this like a weekly magazine. The cover is the best, most intriguing art. Sometimes that will be the longer story. But sometimes the longer story is a think piece that is not especially visual. No need to force this.
• The paper should be visually striking.
• Theater, music, movies and art should focus on previews, not reviews. Reviews of things that have passed are irrelevant. Negative reviews or previews are also irrelevant. With limited space, focus instead on what people should be doing/ listening to/ seeing/ whatever … not what they should avoid. It is essentially a negative review/ preview when people/ places are ignored.

3. The business side and the editorial side should work side-by-side, but remain independent.

• There are currently 14 or so pages of editorial content every week. The ratio for ad to editorial is dismal but let’s work within that frame for now.
• There needs to be an awareness of juxtaposition. Right now, the paper has massive ad clutter. It looks like a shopper. I would suggest a better blend of ads and content (for instance, make the calendar pull across the double-truck). Design matters.
• Local advertisers are absolutely essential. But they will get lost in the clutter. How about this deal: if an advertiser locks into a long-term, multiple issue deal (say 5 issues), they get a larger ad every fifth issue.
• The paper needs national ads. Clothing brands. Beer companies. Sneaker makers. While the overall product may not be intended to be a lifestyle magazine, the reality is that the target audience is marketable.
• I would move that youth/ city life columnist to page 46, and run it alongside (name removed)'s current column. That way, readers will flow from the arts & entertainments sections through the ads, to the back of the issue.

4. The Web is a marketing tool, a place for bundled ads and a place for reviews and breaking news.

• There are no ads on the three primary blogs. If you aren’t making money there, don’t waste time generating content (leave it to the interns, as much of it is now).
• Start generating money on those blogs.
• Review every album that comes in the door, especially from Philly bands. That will draw web traffic.
• Re-post band’s YouTube videos constantly.
• Make the website an aggregator of content the readership might be interested in. But forget original reporting until there is enough revenue to fund multiple staffers who concentrate primarily on web stuff.

5. Partnerships.


• It might be wise to contract or partner with an existing blogger (or two) who can supply content for online.
• Maybe the paper's stories can be connected to HuffPo?
• There must be a TV partnership. That exposure is invaluable.
• It might be good to partner with local colleges. Drexel, for instance, now covers the art scene for the Daily News. And they received foundation money to do the deal.
• I think it’s important for people to think of the paper as being a part of the community. That idea must be fostered. And people must feel as though they are part of the process (we should solicit story ideas, hold town hall meetings, invite reader stories and comments, etc).