Why Journalism Matters More Today Than Ever

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One of the oldest and most protected institutions of our country is at a cross-roads. The role of a free press in holding accountable those in powerful positions remains as important as ever, but the industry’s ability to do so is getting more and more difficult.

According to Pew Research, 126 daily newspapers that existed in 2004 are no longer in operation in the U.S., and the number of people working for newspapers have shrunk by 20,000 in the past two decades. Despite the newspaper publishing industry’s efforts to implement new revenue models as circulation continues to shrink, even digital advertising revenues continue to shrink, dropping another 2% in 2015.

But unlike many industries which shrink and disappear as they are replaced by newer inventions or industries, none of us can afford for the newspaper industry to disappear.

One of the most serious consequences of the faltering newspaper industry is the loss of one of our nation’s most important tools of democracy — the free press — and the role of the investigative journalist who digs below the surface to uncover the truth, questions the carefully crafted statements of those in the public eye and follow the trail of data and information to reveal dishonest, unethical and even criminal behavior.

Times When Journalists Exposed the Truth

The U.S. has a long history of reporters uncovering scandal, exposing criminals, and holding the government accountable.

Meatpacking Industry Exposed
In 1906, the meatpacking industry was exposed for its unsafe, unsanitary conditions for their immigrant workers thanks to the courage of a writer who went undercover inside a meat packing plant for seven weeks.

McCarthy’s False Allegations Refuted
It was because the Washington Post assigned a reporter to cover then-Senator McCarthy full time that the reporter was able to thoroughly investigate McCarthy’s claims against Army personnel and prove that they were false. It was also a Washington Post reporter who noticed that one of seven men arrested for breaking into the Watergate Hotel happened to be on the payroll of the President’s reelection committee and gained the support of his editors to investigate further. The newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the Watergate scandal which led to the indictments of 40 administration officials and resignation of President Nixon.

When NYT Refused to Stop Covering Vietnam
One U.S. President actually requested that The New York Times transfer their reporter stationed in Vietnam. The newspaper refused the request of John F. Kennedy, and their reporter continued to provide American readers with a different perspective than the one presented by the government.

These are only a few of the more memorable times when the value of having a free press was quite evident to the American public.

As the industry continues to shrink, it isn’t just that there are fewer reporters to investigate that is of concern. It is also that fewer of them work for powerful enough newspapers to be able to rely on their employers to protect them from financial and legal retribution when they do uncover and report on major scandals.

My Own POV as a Former Freelance Journalist

As citizens, we need to be concerned that there is often no one to question what is offered up as facts or even “alternative facts” by corporations and government officials, and with the limited bandwidth of many local papers, far too often the government’s and local businesses’ press releases are published verbatim without any due diligence, and there is no one available to question whether what is written is actually true.

And, just as we want the free press to hold accountable those in powerful positions, the press also needs to be held accountable for what they report. While the industry has always policed itself, in today’s world of real time, digital access to news, fact-checking and verification of sources can fall to the wayside in the rush to keep up with information, especially within emerging or ongoing situations.

Before launching a company, I spent ten years working as a freelance writer. During that entire time, I only had one editor who asked me to go out and find different people to interview when the ones I interviewed did not give quotes that aligned with this editor’s agenda for the story she wanted me to write. (I refused and never wrote for that publication again). But she was the only one out of ten years of writing for editors at the local, regional, state and national level.

The rest of my editors pushed me to dig deeper and held me to a very high standard of ethics — requiring more than one source as standard fact-checking and expecting me to research the claims made by the people I interviewed. I wasn’t allowed to write something as fact simply because the person I interviewed said it was true. I could quote them saying it was a fact, but I was still required to verify for myself whether it was or was not true — and to report the findings if they conflicted with the statements made.

What We Can Do

There is absolutely no place in government, in corporations or in journalism for “alternative facts”, and if we, as citizens, don’t push back and speak up about any attempt to control the message or limit access to information that is constitutionally protected, we will lose one of the most important tenets of our freedom — our right to question and hold accountable those who hold office, who hold wealth and who report the news.

If you are looking to support organizations who are working to fill the gaps in vetting the overload of information and data to protect our access to facts and not spin, I would highly recommend you consider the following:

Propublica:

“an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.”

Sunlight Foundation

The Sunlight Foundation is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses technology, open data, policy analysis and journalism to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent to all. Our vision is for technology to enable more complete, equitable and effective democratic participation. Our overarching goal is to achieve changes in the law to require real-time, online transparency for all government information. And, while our work began in 2006 with only a focus on the U.S. Congress, our open government work now takes place at the local, state, federal and international levels.

Originally published on Medium.

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The Day I Understood the True Price of Success

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My father’s beloved Molly, who refused to leave his side in his last days.

I well remember the sound of the crunching of gravel as two young men steadied the heavy gurney between them. I stood in the doorway with my mother and siblings, all of us holding hands, witnessing this last journey my father would make — down the walkway he’d poured, away from the home he had built. It was his final farewell, the end of the long goodbye that had been his journey since his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s several years before.

But more than those memories, I recall with vivid clarity the sound of gravel crunching under my own feet, of my keys jangling together as I pulled them from my purse to start my own vehicle, of my own half-sobs as I struggled to hold back my own tears as I followed the van carrying my father’s body down the driveway and away from our parents’ home.

I almost wish I couldn’t recall the feeling of my heart breaking over and over as the little girl inside begged for time to grieve with family, to cry and remember the small moments that had made up our fifty-some years together as a family. The little girl inside had to stay quiet that morning so that the grownup could do what needed done.

I had a meeting within the hour with an investor, and as much as I needed to grieve, I also needed to fulfill the commitments I’d made to my cofounders and employees to secure the capital we needed for our startup.

While I am quite grateful for the grace I found to get through that meeting, I am well aware that the personal cost was incredibly high.

As business owners, we calculate and plan for a lot of costs — operations, production, marketing, new hires. We make and refine projections to understand when we will break even or start making profit. But very few of us begin this entrepreneurial journey with the same level of preparation for managing our stress, fear, exhaustion or the dynamics of our personal relationships.

I had already launched APPCityLife when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and the demands I faced with growing a startup resulted in very limited bandwidth to help my mom with the many hurdles she faced as his disease progressed.

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My dad with my eldest son several years before Alzheimers was diagnosed

When I took time out of my work schedule to be with my parents, it was time not spent our business. When on travel or overloaded with meetings or work, I missed out on time with family that I couldn’t get back. I endured many sleepless nights worrying about how to give more, do more, and be more to my team and my family.

Life is messy, and it doesn’t come in neat little packages that focus on one thing at a time. In the middle of our ambitions and professional goals, we often come face to face with tragedy or heartache — and finding the mental and emotional balance to cope with it all can be quite difficult.

For me, finding that balance has meant embracing a healthy dose of pragmatism about what I actually owe others in the way of sacrifice and what is my own misplaced guilt.

I’ve learned to be more efficient and disciplined with my time, getting up earlier to take advantage of the quiet time in the morning before the day gets crazy. I mute text messaging and email notifications from everyone except my family and colleagues so that I can be more focused on what I am doing in the moment.

I give myself permission to be “off the grid” to recharge whenever I can.

I am grateful to be part of a supportive team that picks up the slack for each other when the demands of life and work clash. In the time that we’ve been together, all of our startup’s cofounders have faced similar difficulties as my own — and all of us have had to balance the needs of the team with the needs of our own and our families’. We’ve done our best to carry each other through the difficult moments in our lives. For me, this mutual support is one of the markers of a truly successful startup team.

Oh, and the investor I met with that day?

They didn’t invest.

Others did, and we’ve since enjoyed an incredible time of growth in our startup.

But I’m not sorry I made the effort. I learned I was stronger than I thought — and that knowledge alone has allowed me to make decisions from a place of confidence instead of fear. I am also learning that it is ok to define better boundaries for myself on what is reasonable sacrifice to seize an opportunity or meet an important milestone or deadline — and what is unnecessary or off limits.

There is a lot of conventional wisdom telling entrepreneurs to sacrifice more, give more, and push harder in order to succeed — and it really does take being “all in” to succeed. But we don’t talk nearly enough about what to do or how to cope when life happens to us on our way to success. Nor do we talk enough about redefining our own view of success to include emotionally fulfilling, healthy lives.

Maybe it’s time we do.

Originally published on Broad Insights via Inc.

The Future of Civic Technology

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In the coming weeks, we will see a flurry of post-election opinions and predicted changes resulting from the recent U.S. election. I will leave that to those with far more experience and insight into this year’s voting data.

As someone who has spent the past few years working closely with government leaders throughout the U.S. in order to harness emerging technologies and data to make civic services and support more accessible to more people, my own mission and vision remain clear .

We must continue to develop and share the technology and tools that can deliver better self-service access to the information and services we need within our own communities, urban or rural, that empower us to make informed decisions, interact with our government, and improve our own economic mobility.

Today, people living in cities are still accessing civic technology for instant information about their transit systems to make decisions about their commute to work. Parents are still launching mobile applications to access information about the schedules, lunch menus, and even notices of frightening lock-downs at their children’s public schools. And business owners are still using today’s technology to not only serve their customers but to interact with the government entities which regulate their companies.

Cities all over the country are continuing to open up more data and to deploy more automated tools which allow citizens self-service options to apply for permits, pay fees, and report issues to their government leaders.

The industries of Civic Tech and Gov Tech were barely getting started only a decade ago, and thanks to the rapid expansion of technology and data, these industries are now mature enough to step up and address the bigger challenges of resolving the rural and poverty gaps in access to reliable, affordable internet and to scale existing user-friendly technology platforms which can empower more ordinary citizens to create their own solutions which address their unique barriers to economic growth, stability and security.

Through our work at APPCityLife we have already helped cities deploy mobile apps and integrated smart technologies to make services more available to citizens. We have worked with the youth and mayor of Albuquerque to deploy a mobile app to track one million acts of kindness.

And by collaborating with organizations including the Living Cities Foundation, the McCune Foundation and the City of Albuquerque, we are nearing the launch of a new integrated technology solution and mobile app, TrepConnect, which will empower small business owners and entrepreneurs to independently learn about and access the wide variety of available services within their own community so that more business owners can achieve their own economic stability and mobility.

I am especially thrilled that this solution has been designed to scale and to be shared with other cities and rural communities, so that the efforts and funding into this pilot project can allow other regions to now use the same solution to support their own economic growth through small businesses and entrepreneurship.

I am encouraged to know that with the continued support of foundations and investors focused on using technology to improve the operations of government and access to information and services, those of us working within Civic Tech and Government Tech can continue to use the tools at hand and to invent new technologies which can continue to improve the lives of Americans wherever we live.

This post originally appeared on Broad Insights via Inc

But What if I Succeed: How Fear of Success May Hold You Back

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We talk a lot about fear of failure and how it can impede the progress of an entrepreneur, but we rarely talk about the opposite barrier that can be just as difficult to overcome — the fear of success.

For some entrepreneurs, the fear of success can be even an more powerful barrier to moving forward.

During a recent conversation with several entrepreneurs, one of the group mentioned that she didn’t know what was holding her back — that the more things that fell into place, the more she found herself putting off and even unconsciously sabotaging the next step to reach her goal.

She had come face to face with the reality that what was actually holding her back was an unspoken fear of what might actually happen should she succeed.

Success doesn’t come in a vacuum — expectations are higher, demands are greater and failures are more visible.

If you succeed in growing your company and become part of a bigger team, your commitment is no longer just to yourself — it is to every individual who is trusting you to do everything humanly possible to deliver on the company’s goals. And as those goals are successfully achieved, the demands grow exponentially to meet the growing collective needs of the team.

Being completely committed to meeting the demands of success is the only way forward.

Success beats us up almost as much as failure, because it makes us dig deep, stretch past our comfort zone, face our fears, face our flaws, face the dysfunction in our personal lives.

If, for whatever reason, you are fearing success, understand that it is not necessarily a bad thing — it means you are aware that there is a price to pay for moving forward, that it will change your life, your thoughts, your days.

Fear of success isn’t a feeling that should be allowed in the driver’s seat — it is simply a checkpoint on the journey that allows you to prepare for what lies ahead.

If you are to move forward, you have to want success more than you want to protect yourself.

If that fear results in settling for mediocrity, you’ll never know that other side of that fear — the satisfaction and thrill of witnessing a vision of what could be when it becomes reality.

The joy of success is a far more powerful driver than the fear of what success might change.

So take the leap, commit to being all-in. While success has a price, the rewards are so much greater than whatever you are imagining it will require of you.

Originally published on Broad Insights via Inc Magazine

Promoting Peace With a Mobile App

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Today is the U.N. International Day of Peace.

But my social media feed is filled with images and news of the violent protests that happened last night in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It is this dichotomy that leaves me wondering if the ABQ Kindness mobile app that our team is creating for Mayor Richard Berry can help spread a mindset of kindness within our cities.

Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Mayor Berry, came up with the idea for the app, which will be added to his city’s growing suite of civic mobile apps, while he was attending the 84th U.S. Conference of Mayors, where he joined leaders across the national in signing a resolution to achieve 100,000,000,000 Acts of Kindness.

He sees Albuquerque’s initiative as an opportunity for community to come together to help reach that goal.

“My hope is to make kindness a habit for people,” says Mayor Berry. “By encouraging and recognizing people for being kind, we hope to dramatically change mindsets to become one of the kindest cities in the nation.”

The ABQ Kindness mobile application will make it simple for anyone to record acts of kindness in the moment, including school children and a growing list of organizations and companies who have signed on to participate in the city’s kindness challenge which is being led by the city’s Youth Advisory Council, pictured above.

“We are going to need to deploy technology so we can track acts in a meaningful ways,” says Mayor Berry. “We are investing in this app to help lower the cost for other cities to deploy technology to track their acts of kindness in their community as well as provide an engaging system to keep people reporting.”

Imagine what might happen if today’s technology can remind us that while our communities grapple with significant social issues that must be addressed, there are also simple acts of kindness happening around us every day? I, for one, am hoping that this app can help make the International Day of Peace an everyday occurrence.

This column also appears on Huffington Post and LinkedIn Pulse. Portions of this content were originally published on Inc.com.

How 15 Years Changed How I View NYC and September 11

When I held my one-year-old in my arms and cried as I listened to the reports coming in over the radio fifteen years ago today, I was grieving for the human loss — the children who would never hear another I-love-you from a parent, the couples who were suddenly only one, the parents who would face life after the untimely loss of a child.

But New York City itself was an inanimate thing to me, a place on a map. I’d never visited and didn’t know a single person who called that city home. What I knew, I’d learned in history books, the news, and what I’d seen on tv and movies like Friends, Law &Order, and You’ve Got Mail.

I had no personal reference of place or community. It was difficult to fathom that such a mass of towering metal and glass buildings and large population could be anything other than impersonal and detached.

But today, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, I have a very different view of New York City.

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My first view of Manhattan, 2010

I’ve visited numerous times and have a wonderful network of friends and colleagues who call the Big Apple home.

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9 11 Memorial, NYC, 2014

I have visited the 9–11 Memorial and stood in awe listening to the thundering sound of cascading water, touched the indentations of name after name of individuals whose lives were cut short in that place on that day.

I and some of our team have gained invaluable friendships and relationships in the city. We’ve helped NYC high school girls compete in the city’s Big Apps competition, collaborated on projects, attended conferences and spoken at events.

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And so it is that now I have a very different view of New York City, of its sense of community, of the fierce loyalty of the people who live there.

I have come to love New York City and its people.

I may have grieved for the human loss some 15 years ago, but today I honor and celebrate the resilience of the city that terrorists had hoped to bring to its knees. The citizens of New York City are fierce and proud and resilient.

A new World Trade Center stands in the place of the building that fell that day. And a beautiful memorial reminds of the horrific evil of that day, of the lives cut short and forever changed — but mostly of the heroic acts of individuals who put others first, who saved countless lives, who helped rebuild from the rubble, who proved to a watching world that New York City was more than a place on a map, a major city, a target of terror — it was a community of resilient, proud people.

Cycle of Civic Innovation

1*lGHFflHc2sAQXQVlNaK68g.pngIf cities are to thrive, they cannot — and must not — hold back the rising tide of innovation, but when you consider that cities are also tasked with protecting their citizens from harm, finding the balance between protection and innovation is not easily achieved.

For Airbnb and Uber, their respective disruptions of the status quo were widely embraced by the public — just as their problems have been widely criticized. Both companies are part of the Sharing Economy, which came on the scene around the turn of the century and encompasses a wide variety of companies based on peer-to-peer sharing of access to goods and services.

By embracing the unique approach of the Sharing Economy, both companies enjoyed a meteoric rise to global adoption, but both companies have also been plagued with lawsuits and resistance from governments concerned over the lack of protection for citizens and the inability to regulate or collect conventional taxes from these innovative startups which often operate outside of current regulatory structures.

Airbnb

When Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the crazy idea of using a few air mattresses on the floor of their apartment to sell sleeping spaces to attendees of a sold-out tradeshow, both were unemployed and just looking to make a few bucks to pay their rent. Their impromptu “Air Bed and Breakfast”, complete with un-toasted Pop-Tarts, landed three paying guests — and the short-term rental platform, Airbnb, was born.

Despite early skepticism that people would not want to spend the night with complete strangers, Airbnb grew in popularity by building an online platform which, among other things, removed the barriers so that anyone with an extra room could easily earn extra income. In addition, the platform focused on delivering a unique experience by enabling travelers to live like locals and enjoy the conveniences of home at a fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel.

While a majority of visitors have had positive experiences using the platform’s services, an increase in reported mishaps, injuries and crimeshave lawmakers concerned. In fact, many cities are not making it easy to operate an Airbnb rental, including global tourist destinations like Paris, Amsterdam, London, San Francisco and New York City.

Taking it a step further, some city and state governments are pursuing legal action, with one New York City apartment owner now facing a $300,000 lawsuitfiled by the owners of her building in response to a city administrative law judge fining the landlord for their tenant’s “bad acts”.

And, of course, the short-lived Airbnb listing for a $200/night igloo which was hastily constructed after a blizzard in New York City, while humorous, highlights the inability of the company to fully control the quality or honesty of the listings on its platform.

Airbnb is making some effort to address mounting concerns by offering a compromise of sorts at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, promising the mayors in attendance that in exchange for their support, Airbnb would begin collecting upwards of $200 Million in new taxes within 50 of the largest cities in the U.S.

In addition, the company’s pledge of transparency and release of New York City data was lauded by many as a step in the right direction. But others, like Mark Headd, a longtime advocate for open data and government, pointed out that the release of data is only one small step in the right direction, especially since the data was never published in a digital format. In fact, anyone wanting to view the highly redacted data had to do so in person at Airbnb’s New York office.

Uber: Destined to Repeat the Past?

In 2013, four people filed a lawsuit against Uber claiming the company should classify drivers as employees instead of contractors and asking for reimbursement of such expenses as gas, insurance and car maintenance.

Today, that lawsuit has attained class-action status and mushroomed to encompass 160,000 individuals worldwide. It is but one of many lawsuits and complaints lodged against ride-hailing startups which are disrupting the taxi industry.

Eric Posner points out in his 2015 essay that something quite similar happened to the taxi industry in the 1920’s with the introduction of the mass-produced automobile. In New York City, riders hoping to avoid the higher cab fares would hail part-time drivers who were using their own personal vehicles.

As more independent drivers took advantage of this opportunity, the glut of unregulated drivers negatively impacted taxis to the extent that the government stepped in and began issuing medallions to registered taxis in an attempt to stabilize the industry and protect consumers.

Today’s taxi drivers often spend years paying off loans to afford their medallion, which until recently cost over $1 Million — and it is the cost of those medallions which many attribute as the catalyst for the success of today’s new ride-sharing companies like Uber.

And just to bring things full circle, in late 2015 cab drivers filed a lawsuit against New York City, claiming that the city misled cab drivers about the value of the required medallions and that the city has allowed companies like Uber to usurp the property rights of cab drivers through disparate regulation.

Disrupting the Cycle of Civic Innovation

It would be easy to blame the dysfunction within the cycle of civic innovation on the failure of lawmakers and regulations to keep pace with innovation, but, in a chicken-and-egg sort of quandary, the more difficult question is whether it is this perceived dysfunction, this lack of regulation, that makes it possible for innovation to even happen.

Neither Uber nor Airbnb were overnight successes; it took years of testing and pivots to achieve market adoption. By innovating outside of the system, the companies were able to disrupt established industries and deliver new options to consumers. And while the hour of reckoning with heavier government regulation appears to be nigh, innovation resulted from freedom of inventing outside of those regulations.

In today’s rapid pace of technology changes, cities have discovered they cannot innovate fast enough to keep pace with the constantly changing smart city and civic tech inventions which are already beginning to deliver more efficiency and easier access to city services and information.

Many government agencies are partnering with this new breed of tech startups despite the barriers of outdated 20th Century regulations by implementing new procedures to experiment or implement pilot programs. As more cities disrupt their own established procurement processes, the question is whether cities will become tomorrow’s disruptive innovators.

If cities can collaborate with private enterprise to keep pace with new technologies while simultaneously addressing needed changes to regulations — we might be witnessing the best disruptive innovation yet.

this article first appeared on inc.com