What were we thinking in 2011? Early that year, Peter Woodall, Thaddeus Squire, and I–along with quite a few wonderful colleagues–began thinking seriously about transforming the Hidden City Festival into a website. The Festival had been the surprise success of 2009, attracting some 10,000 people to magical hidden places across Philadelphia–places most of us would never get inside–and it animated them with art. The Festival, it seemed, tapped into our innate desire to explore and discover–a latent desire in this sometimes parochial city.
Websites are seductively easy to set up. The hard part is the concept, the editorial approach, and the vision. What would we be able to do that would be any different, or better, than anyone else? Why should our site matter? And could it possibly be sustained?
For nine months, we sat in a basement conference room that looked a little like a Motel 6 breakfast nook working through subjects, story ideas, approach, frequency and timing of stories, section names, and likely contributors. The possibility of launching the site–name yet undecided–was tantalizingly real, but also distant. What business model would make the effort worthwhile? And what did we know about web trends? Surely, if there was a magic Internet pill, we didn’t posses it.
So, quite possibly mad, we mixed a potion of our own, partly on instinct and partly on careful analysis and thinking. The instinct was easy: we would cover the things that interested us. The site would be both smart and beautiful. The stories could be long, never mind conventional wisdom, if they warranted it. We would be optimistic without being foolish. We wouldn’t pander or shill or be hateful, negative, or rash. We would be analytic, energetic, and critical.
The careful thinking said that we would build community around our stories, get readers involved in the places we cover through tours and events, and cover a portion of our moderate expenses through membership.
This worked–and within a little more than a year, 500 people had joined as members. With 2,000 members, we figured, the Hidden City Daily could be sustainable.
Even better, we had gained respect of our colleagues, and admiration from readers near and far. Countless people have told us their love of Philadelphia was reaffirmed through our work; many others have said, new to the city, they’ve learned it through us.
We only got better with the addition of Brad Maule, who joined our editorial team in March. Brad’s hunger for stories, his love of this city–his enthusiasm–may well be endless. He’s quite literally kept us afloat this past summer and fall.
And now? Journalism is in a state of utter uncertainty. False news has replaced real news. Advertorials are no longer so designated. The traditional fire wall between the business side of news and the reporting side has been busted open. The phone has turned us into illiterates, Twitter into fools.
Our hope is to continue to stand in opposition to these trends, to raise the bar, to raise the level of the civic conversation about real estate development, public space, infrastructure, preservation, architecture and landscape architecture, and urban design–and to have fun while we do it.
This is no idle threat. We must raise $10,000 by Friday. That means we have three and a half days to raise $6,000–60 people to give $100 each, or 120 to give $50 each. Fifty dollars is less than $1 a week. In other words, it’s almost nothing, but to us it means surviving. It means reporting and writing and getting out to take photographs. It means doing investigative stories, explanatory stories, history pieces, interviews, and photo essays. It means taking you on tours of mostly inaccessible places–revealing what is in fact most magical about this city, its layers, the hidden past and the hidden future.
We can do it with you, but we can’t do it without you. Give now to support the Hidden City Daily.