Toward a more inclusive Philadelphia: 5 lessons from my time covering tech and business - Technical.ly

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Toward a more inclusive Philadelphia: 5 lessons from my time covering tech and business

As reporter Michael Butler ends his time at Technical.ly, he reflects some of the most insightful stories he wrote and trends he followed.

Michael Butler.

(Courtesy photo)

As a Report for America corps member joining Technical.ly's newsroom in June 2020, I kept the goal in mind of amplifying voices that were not commonly heard in tech and business journalism.
With a beat covering access within this space — including the digital divide, workforce development and racial equity in entrepreneurship — doing this reporting could feel heavy at times, yet full of joy and optimism at others. But the biggest thing I learned is that approaching my beat from a human perspective always added unique elements to storytelling that resonated with readers — or with me personally. For instance, one revelation from interviewing people like Samirah Devaughn-Marshall was that you can have a serious technical job without a college degree. As a former nontraditional college student of color myself, I previously associated upward mobility with college degrees. That's not necessarily the case. Now, I'm preparing a move to Miami for the next phase of my career: a real estate reporting role with the Miami Herald. As I end this chapter, here are some of my favorite stories that I've worked on during my time at Technical.ly, and what I learned from writing them.

Maintaining productivity during the pandemic was its own challenge.

As someone who started a job a few months into the pandemic, I understood how difficult it could be to produce results when you are working from home. I knew it was important to examine the isolation felt by professionals like University of Pennsylvania grad and technologist Gwendolyn Lewis as they worked from home amid societal chaos. Haniyyah Sharpe-Browne's perspective as a working mother who was also helping to educate her school age children learning remotely was also important to share. Offering grace, not grief, may not have been a priority for some employers before the pandemic, but with it, employees can better supported through any circumstance.

Black and Latinx entrepreneurs deserve a better shot at success.

This 10-part series on Black and Latinx founders reflected the kind of work I envisioned doing when I came to Technical.ly. As a Black son of a Panamanian immigrant, I have always been compelled to share the stories of individuals who are often overlooked in society. Interviewing people like The Tactile Group founder Marc Coleman about why he got into entrepreneurship and the barriers he has faced in gaining access to resources like capital was sobering. These 10 Philly entrepreneurs each shared gripes ranging from not enough civic support to banks' lack of understanding of their needs that white entrepreneurs don't have to endure. A system cannot benefit people that it was never created for. This series offered unique solutions that if implemented could change Philly's business landscape.

Businesses can be rebuilt, but lives can never be replaced.

One of the biggest takeaways from George Floyd's murder and the subsequent killing of Walter Wallace Jr. months later in West Philadelphia, both by police, was that businesses and property may be damaged, but can be replaced. The lives of those two Black men will never be regained. Speaking to business leaders like West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative President Jabari Jones affirmed that sentiment. As a business reporter who once worked in West Philadelphia, I believed it was imperative to talk to people in those areas who were impacted. It's important to consider that people in communities do not destroy things just to do it, though that could seem to be the case from certain news coverage.

Jan. 6 was yet another reminder of white privilege in America.

I never intended to write an opinion editorial piece during my time as a reporter at Technical.ly, so it ultimately took a gentle nudge from my editor, Julie Zeglen, to be more vocal on a topic that incenses me. I spoke up about this in one of our Slack channels, and from there, a story was born. The insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021 was audacious and somehow not surprising. In my own experience as a Black person in America, I have seen many moments where race has determined the outcome of a situation, and sadly, this was no different. Throngs of white people who traveled to DC to cause trouble clearly had no concerns about repercussions for their actions. Citing other examples of racial inequities that persist, I knew it was important to illustrate for people who may not be aware why the insurrection was possible in our society. I am certain that if it had been throngs of Black people storming the US Capitol building, the results would have been much different.

NFTs are changing the way creative professionals do business.

Reporting on nonfungible tokens, I was able to localize a national trend and explain something that I was learning about in real-time. As someone familiar with Philly's arts scene, I was also fortunate to be able to pitch a story around a gifted Philly photographer and visual artist,¬†Aaron Ricketts. Ricketts had experimented with selling his digital work as NFTs and found success when he sold a piece for more than $5,000 — a price much higher than what he usually received for a single piece. Unpacking that transaction meant explaining what NFTs are as digital pieces of art that can be owned, and that are encrypted by blockchain, the same system of record that anchors cryptocurrency. Ricketts explained that he could potentially be paid for his artwork into perpetuity as it trades hands, a stark contrast to his work being sold once for a flat rate. As a reporter, I was tasked with explaining this tech of the future, and this story was an example of exploring what that can mean for all of us.

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Philly tech, I would love to stay in touch. My Twitter handle is @mikeviimusic. My DMs are open!
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-
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