I have a great fondness for journalism. The industry, the people, the organizations — it’s all fascinating and vitally important. My political and philosophical leanings lead me to believe that the tradition of having an independent and empowered Fourth Estate is key to a functioning democracy.  Even in the absence of my politics and philosophies, reading the news is fun. I enjoy reading about the experiences of people I’ve never met going to places I’ve never been. How odd.

So to hear that the profession is dying, shrinking, or changing for the worse, and to listen to the narrative get increasingly louder is cause for some concern.

Now, this is by no means a new story – from 2005 onward the demise of the journalist has been a meta conversation for the industry. The timing correlates to when advertising revenues for newspapers began to decline at a rate the industry was not yet prepared for:

This chart, pulled from a recent Neimen Lab article about the rising cost of print subscriptions underscores a hard reality: Newspapers are businesses first. Like any business, a newspaper employees professionals, manages operating costs, and receives money from people interested in their product. When the bottom line changes, so too must the business. In this case, that means finding new ways to make money (enter digital subscriptions), raising prices on your existing product, and searching for a new business model entirely. 

This third option (there can’t be a crazy third option, can there?) is where there is both the most opportunity and the most risk. Just ask the staff at Buzzfeed. In 2017, the company laid off 100 people after not meeting revenue goals, and last week announced a 15% reduction in staff as they struggle to meet the high expectations that come with a half billion dollars in funding under their belt.  

The news of Buzzfeed layoffs comes amidst a variety of other layoffs from media companies. The Verizon Media Group (which operates Huffington Post, AOL, and Yahoo) announced that nearly 800 employees would be let go and Gannett (owners of USA Today along with hundreds of other local news organizations) continues to “let go” – a polite term for firing – journalists around the country

Where does this leave the Fourth Estate? Is there a crazy fourth option? It’s something that the folks over at The Membership Puzzle, a project founded by Jay Rosen’s Studio 20 Program and the American arm of De Correspondent (The Correspondent), are asking. The project, set to run from 2017 to 2020, is searching for a sustainable path forward for journalism as digital media explodes and the pillars of the industry shift.

It’s something we should all be asking about if we have any interest in seeing the journalistic tradition continue. Newspapers aren’t just something to set down on your floor when you’re working on a DIY project – they’re the backbone of an informed citizenry. They provide context when context is needed. They keep communities together, talking, and engaged. It’s hard to undersell this; the decline of journalism is a crisis that we can’t ignore.

This was one of the most eventful summers in my life both personally and professionally. In July, Garry (LexBlog’s COO) and I had a chance to go to Chicago and spend some time talking about LexBlog’s future product line and general opportunities for integrating with our platform. It’s not often that I get an opportunity to do face-to-face meetings of these sort, and it was nice to get back in the saddle. It was also my first time visiting Chicago, and Garry seemed more than happy to drag me around.

The Chicago Riverwalk where I forced Garry to walk – he was incredibly pleased to be outdoors, walking for hours.
The Chicago Gate – aka “The Bean” – which actually looks pretty cool close up.

Continue Reading A LexBlogger’s Summer in Review

Engineers make hardware and software for humans. It should go without saying, but remembering and staying true to that axiom is complicated depending on where you’re standing. With each passing year, it seems that things get more complicated, more random, more uncertain. This year was no different, especially in the realm of technology.

Facebook and Twitter are defending their platforms amidst allegations that they were used for interfering in America’s 2016 Presidential elections. Net neutrality seems to be going by the wayside with nary a peep from the so-called “Big N”, many of whom participated in protests in 2014 when the issue first came to the public’s attention. Uber dug itself into a hole as scandal after scandal rocked the company; the first of which was a female engineer lifting the veil and exposing a misogynistic and Darwinian culture, followed by revelations that the company had written software to avoid local law enforcement agents in areas where Uber was prohibited from operating. Meanwhile, the threat of automation and the looming specter of artificial intelligence have every working professional worried about the future of employment in this new economy.

The list could go on and on, and doesn’t end when last year began. As long as corporate greed and bad company culture are not only allowed, but praised, problems of this ilk will continue. The problem as I see it, is that it’s most troubling in the context of computers.

Continue Reading Make Technology for Humans

This title speaks to my life for the past four months. For years, I’ve known that JavaScript is the language of the present and future on the web and for years, I’ve avoided learning it. It’s easy to chalk this up to a myriad of reasons, but ultimately, the two largest factors were intimidation and motivation.

Intimidation because my entire programming experience is on the server-side using languages that support classical object oriented programing practices. JavaScript is the antithesis of both those paradigms. A language that is compiled in a completely different fashion and relies nearly entirely on the client to interpret and run the code, while also seeming to generally laugh in the face of OOP and passes around functions like it was going out of style.

Ultimately, I had to admit that I didn’t know JS.

Continue Reading JavaScript JavaScript JavaScript JavaScript

One of my more interesting decisions in life was to major in History (yup, with a capital “H”). Today, the only time that degree gets use is when flipping to one of the many books about the birth of the computer that are stored away on my Kindle.

Recently I’ve been reading The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation – if you’re interested in the birth of the communications age then this is the book for you. Bell Labs is a research facility that, at the peak of its influence, helped determine the outcome of World War II, gave us the transistor, and launched the first communications satellite. The way that we live today is in part owed to the people that shuffled through all the various research labs owned and operated by AT&T during the heyday of the company. Today, it is but a shadow of itself, run by Nokia (who, given the resiliency of their older products, are undoubtedly looking for ways to make a phone that can survive the crushing pressure of a black hole), operating mostly in obscurity.

Continue Reading Ma Bell and Fostering Innovation