It isn't every day Philadelphia happenings get mentioned in the New York Times let alone the front page: but this story appears to have sneaked past every news outfit in Philly.
Yesterday, the Times reported that the Philadelphia History Museum has been in the process of âquietlyâ selling more than 2,000 of their items in order to raise money for the museum's $5.8 million renovation, as well as tighten their collection. The newsy hook is that in the museum world, pawning off your collection for some cash money is pretty much frowned upon (even in the recession and even if, like the History Museum, your nearly 200-year-old building needs a face lift).
If you haven't heard about the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent in a while, it's because it's been closed for almost two years now due to renovations. The remaining work will cost about $1.5 million, and the museum hopes to pay for it with the sale of a mystery artifact. (Other mysteries include why museum treasurer George J Kleiber initially told the Times that there were no records of the sales, then later âI'm sure there are records around. I'm not sure I've seen them.â)
The question being raised is whether selling off historical assets to fund renovations is ethical. It turns out to be tricky.
Kleiber told the Times that many of the artifacts they were selling didn't fit in with their âmission as a history museum.â Most notably, the museum sold an 1815 still life by the Philadelphia artist Raphaelle Peale-- a charming painting of a fish, an onion and a fennel bulb, among other things. Kleiber justified its sale by saying, âThe Peale we felt was very much outside the mission. We're a history museum, not an art museum. It's a picture of a fish.â
Not all agree. From the Times:
Others say the scope of the sales is troubling. âThe motivation appears to be liquidation, rather than preserving the embedded knowledge and experience that these artifacts bring,â said Kenneth Finkel, lecturer in American studies at Temple University who briefly served as deputy director of the museum. âDecisions made by donors and curators and libraries become the legacy. And the decision to deaccession stupidly is also a legacy.â
The only other news organization to weigh in so far is blog ArtNet, which had this to say:
âDespite the general rule against selling works from museum collections, it happens all the time, with the understanding that the institution's savvy curators have some grander vision in mind, finely tuned by their years of sophisticated experience in their field. Not so at the PHM, which seems to be run by a confederacy of dunces, with Kleiber as head fool.â
Ok, apparently I mixed up Philadelphia City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione and the undead truck driver featured in Pee Wee's Big Adventure. My reportorial bad.
And speaking of reportorial ... Heard in the Hall reports that prolific PW reporter Aaron Kase managed to get Commissioner Tartaglione's hackles up today. [My reportorial bad again: I misspelled Aaron's last name in the original post].
Kase, apparently, was pressing her on recent revelations that her daughter, former Deputy Commissioner Rene Tartaglione Matos, committed ethics violations in engaging in campaign work against State Rep. Angel Cruz (including ordering 2,000 promotional ballots for Cruz which directed his supporters to push the wrong ballot button).
According to Heard in the Hall, the shoe dropped when Kase asked if her office was corrupt.
Replied Tartaglione: You say that... I'll jump over this table and punch you out!"
Luckily (we reporters have to stick up for each other) Case escaped unharmed. Unluckily, the episode just missed the paper's print deadline. Look's like it's off to the blog mines with you, Aaron.
This week, WHYY and partners launched a shiny new local journalism project, Newsworks.org. The Clog welcomes its arrival and wishes it well.
We also look forward to seeing how, exactly, it's going to carry out its ambitious mission, described in various locations on its website as the following:
Focused on "regional issues, neighborhoods, health and science, and arts. It's a site powered by your concerns, questions, views, insights and stories."
"[Providing] balanced journalism that is as interested in solutions and heroes as problems and scandals. NewsWorks will be transparent and participatory, continually seeking engagement, feedback and viewpoints from its audience. Every day, it will offer dozens of invitations and opportunities for readers to offer their own viewpoints, tips, photos and videos. And it will seek to be an oasis for civil, informed dialogue.
While not included in the above descriptions, the two phrases we've seen most closely associated with the site are "hyperlocal journalism," and "civic dialogue." (Chris Satullo, who's heading up the project, is officially the "Executive Director of News and Civic Dialogue," and the project has received funding from the Penn Project for Civic Engagement).
Which brings us to the questions.
First, the hyperlocal part: There's no question that local (the hyper-kind, especially) journalism has taken a blow over the last decade or two, and that there is a serious need for it: and I doubt there's a neighborhood in the city that wouldn't want somebody providing it with quality, free, hyperlocal reporting.
The perennial question, of course, is who the hell is going to do, and pay for, the reporting.
NewsWorks is currently rolling out a pilot program focused on northwest Philadelphia specifically, Roxborough, Manayunk, East Falls, Germantown, West Oak Lane, Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill, "and the others," according to its web site.
The NewsWorks web site explains the choice by explaining that "Northwest Philadelphia provides a diverse mix of populous neighborhoods with a rich civic life." And that's true â but we'd be remiss not to note that those neighborhoods, while certainly diverse, are also home to some of Philly's whiter, wealthier and more liberal pockets: the sort of folk WHYY no doubt depends on for much of its funding.
I also raise the ol' eyebrow at the idea that those neighborhoods have "a rich civic life," as opposed to whom, exactly?
NewsWorks does "hope to expand the NewsWorks community coverage approach into the suburbs and other parts of the city," and plans to partner with existing local news sites.
But it seems to me that the basic problem hasn't been solved yet: reporting requires reporters, and reporters require getting paid to report.Good reporting requires good reporters, and they cost more money. Awesome journalists like WHYY's Dave Davies, Susan Phillips, and Tom MacDonald for example, are not every-day finds, and they already work harder than the average three people.
Philebrity asks whether WHYY just launched the "Philly.com-killer." The answer, unless WHYY can cover cops, crime, courts, casinos, city hall, council, and ... why am I listing only 'c' words? ... is no.
If they can't afford to hire enough reporters to cover the city, how will they justify covering some neighborhoods hyperlocally and not others going forward? If they can â well, somebody must be rolling in moolah.
Then there's the "civic dialogue" part of it.
Presumably, the phrase is intended to contrast itself with the shrill and/or racist baloney that makes up much of Philly.com's user-generated content.
NewsWorks will steer discussion toward its "Sixth Square," described as "a virtual public square that seeks to foster online dialogue that is lively, civil, informed, informative and fun."
More power to them.
But it's not obvious to me that there really is a lack of "civic dialogue," online: take the PhiladelphiaSpeaks.com forum, which, although punctuated occasionally by inflamatory or racist langugage, is for the most part very civic, informed, informative, and fun indeed. The same is true of many blogs around town. I'd argue that civic dialogue is alive and well online.
A radio spot for NewsWorks that aired on my almost-perpetually-tuned-to-WHYY-office radio (how's that for a plug, WHYY? KYW, you're still my quick fix) advertises the site as a place where users can engage âwithout fear of getting shouted down via the Internet.â The site features user-registration, a system of "incentives" for positive contribution, and discussion guidelines ("If You Can't Be PoIite, Don't Say It" is one.)
But how many people â and of what demographics â actually fear being shouted down via the Internet?
I pose the question, but I don't pretend to know the answer. NewsWorks intends to make itself a top-notch online home for news and discussion. This is an experiment, and it's a good one. Good luck NewsWorks! (You aren't the only news outlet I chew the occasional fingernail over).
(I meant Philebrity, of course).
Tomorrow, after roughly 14 months as news editor of City Paper, I will bequeath my post to senior writer Isaiah Thompson, and head uptown to the 36th floor (!) Center City office of Philadelphia magazine, where I will become a senior editor, focusing on the mag's website and front-of-the-book, as well as doing some feature writing. I'm not one for long goodbyes, and anyway, I haven't spent a sufficient amount of time at this publication to warrant a drawn-out farewell, but I did want to pass along a little note, both to my colleagues and this paper's readers:
You are wonderful. Thank you.
This staff is, pound for pound, among the best in the alternative newsweekly industry, and so outpaces the other alt in this city in both creativity, writing and design as to be fairly ridiculous (in my humble opinion, which I can now express objectively, as I no longer have skin in the game). As is common in this business, and journalism in general, they are universally overworked and underpaid, and day after day, they show and work hard because they believe in what they're doing. It's quite a thing to work in an environment in which idealism the notion that they're working not just for a paycheck, but to make this city a better place to live trumps careerism. (If you've never had the chance to do so, I highly recommend it.) From the top down, I have nothing but the utmost respect for each and every person I've worked with here at Second and Chestnut, from E-in-C Brian Howard to publisher Paul Curci to our staff writers and freelancers and even our interns.
And readers: I'll be honest. I've spent the last decade in the alt-weekly industry, and, well, long-term business models don't bode well for it, generally. That's not to say CP is going out of business; but neither have the troubles plaguing newspapers nationwide passed over the alts including the Philly alts. So, I beseech you: If you want vibrant, ferocious, independent journalism, be active pick up this paper, frequent its advertisers, support the mission. Your city your community, your neighborhood will be better off for it.
That said, I've been pleasantly amazed at the engagement of CP's readership from the guy who calls me each and every Thursday morning to bitch about that week's A Million Stories to the multitude of letters and e-mails I get on everything from blogs to cover stories to whatever else runs in the paper. I learned a lot in my time here including from this paper's loyal readers. I'll miss you. Even the assholes.
So, again, thank you.
All right. That's pretty much it. If any of you need to reach me at Philly Mag, my e-mail address there will be firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some time ago, I pitched the city administration the biggest, fattest, softest softball imaginable: I invited them to brag about 311's engagement with the public online at SeeClickFix.com, a website that lets residents report municipal problems.
For whatever reason, I never heard back; but unless some insanely civic-minded impostor is posing as the city's 311 service, the city should be taking some credit for this one.
"Philly311" is by a long shot the most active "user" on the site (one Bob Shipman and the Bicycle Coalition's John Boyle coming in second and third), having now posted 1,814 comments â many of those consisting of actually useful information for residents or reports of action taken.
I've been pinching myself for a while, but it seems to be real: the city engaged in real time, on a public online forum, apparently getting things done. See for yourself. Anyone out there have experience using the site? Tell us about it.
Here is a little inside baseball admittedly, the least appropriate use of that term ever: According to sources inside the Inquirer newsroom, one of the executives taken down in the Inquirer takeover was Jim Cohen, the now former sports editor.
Word is Cohen was let go sometime this morning, along with Bill Marimow and four other editors whose names have, to my knowledge, yet to surface. The move was not expected.
I am far from the guy to eulogize Cohen, but any idea that he was let go for performance reasons is flat wrong. His desk had a decree to modernize, branch-out over platforms and become more ânew-media friendly.â Cohen was both more conscious of, and better at this, than most. He brought in young writers, cut down game stories, beefed up notes, and pressed for video clips on the website (not the auto-tune, calm down). As for the Bleacher Report fiasco, he made it very, very clear that he had nothing to do with the deal, (EASILY the quickest he ever got back to one of my questions) which is obviously to his credit.
Long story short: This was about money, and thanks to a deal with the guild that grants all Inky reporters reprieve from layoffs for one year, Cohen was one of the few guys who the new management could ax.
This is bad news for everyone in media, but none more than the current Inky staff. There are more than a handful of writers who view the firing as an aggressive "fuck you" coming down from on high, and, I'm speculating here, but I wouldn't be shocked if the turnover at the sports didn't end here.
No word on who, if anyone, the paper is looking at to replace Cohen, but I'm told John Quinn, the current deputy sports editor, will take the chair in the interim. I've reached out to confirm, and will be back with more as it develops.
The headline basically says it all: City Paper has been judged the overall best non-daily newspaper in the state by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association in its annual Newspaper of the Year awards. Papers from all over the state sent in randomly selected issues and were assessed on a host of criteria, including news coverage, opinion pages, layout and design and advertising, among others. We competed in Division V, or larger circulation non-dailies, which includes alt-weeklies, business journals, community papers and the like. You can peep all the individual categories here.
CP won first place in Newswriting Excellence, Layout & Design and Editorial/Opinion Page Excellence, and second place in Advertising Excellence, Best Use of Photography and Special Section.
Congrats all around.
Yes, it's been about a year ... OK, try 18 months ... since the last episode of the Philly From Scratch podcast.
(UPDATE: We're having some trouble with the feed presently. For now, if you're just dying to be notified of new podcasts and yes, they will come! click here to subscribe to the Philly From Scratch Google Group for notifications of new episodes. It's not perfect, but I'll at least keep you posted and won't spam you. You can also email me, just for the hell of it. Once our feed gets restored, you'll click here to subscribe via iTunes; you can try anyway, if you like.)
But anyway, the podcast is back now, with none other than the great Harry Shearer.
Shearer is a man of many hats: actor (This is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind); comedian (Saturday Night Live); author (Too Many Indians), Simpsons-voice-extraordinaire (Mr. Burns, Smithers, Flanders, Lenny, Principal Skinner, Dr. Marvin Monroe, and others), radio host (Le Show), and his latest act: film documentarian.
A long-time critic of the role of federal government played in the flooding of New Orleans, Shearer has never let listeners to his radio show forget that what happened to the city was not a natural disaster, but a man-made one.
Seeing the approach of the five-year anniversary of Katrina and seeing that this point, five years later, seems to have escaped most of the media, as well as President Obama Shearer put together a documentary, The Big Uneasy, featuring a small handful of whistle blowers and researchers who present a compelling case that the federal government (the Army Corps of Engineers, in particular), and not Hurricane Katrina, nearly destroyed New Orleans.
Unfortunately, the film screened in most cities for one night only, but it's playing in New York City for a week starting this Friday (click here for showtimes).
In this interview, Shearer talks about the film, his show, why NPR rejected an ad for his show, and how the hell he manages to do as much as he does.
T-minus 45 minutes for the Inky and DN's prospective buyers to reach an agreement with the holdout drivers' union. Meanwhile, Ed Rendell thinks the union is being stupid: "The vote by the drivers makes no sense at all," Rendell told the Inky, with characteristic tact*. "It appears to me that they didn't understand what the company was offering. The company's offer, under the circumstances, was excellent."
Counters the union: "I don't know how he can say the vote makes no sense without talking to us first," Local 628 President John Laigaie said.
Will they reach a deal? Your guess is as good as mine.
UPDATE: No deal. It now seems the papers are headed back to the auction block next week, and for now, the Brian Tierney era continues.
*I stand corrected.
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