New Media

Dragonfire_1 So what will it be today -- a feature on the new Walnut Bridge Coffee House near Penn ("a number of delicious teas can be had") or a photo essay with sound of the Italian Market ("They don’t take nothing that’s been killed already," a chicken vendor says of his customers’ demands for freshness).

Let’s start with the chicken man.

Two new online publications have debuted in Philadelphia over the past two weeks – Dragonfire and Phillyist. They couldn’t be more different.

I’m not sure what to call Dragonfire, Drexel University’s new interactive magazine/digital digest -- other than promising. While its mission is time-honored – find good stories that are not reported elsewhere – the way it expresses them is firmly 21st Century.

Its photo essay on the Italian Market is illustrated in a noisy panorama that lets you hear interviews with vendors and customers as you scroll across Ninth Street. A feature on Evolved Fighting (think kickboxing plus martial arts throwing) at a Delaware Avenue club brings to life characters like Mark "the Oaktree" Brown, who suddenly starts huffing and puffing about his unstoppable team of South Jersey lightweights as the cursor passes his photo.

Ask editor Amy. L. Webb what her new project reminds her most of, and she answers, "a kibbutz," for its funky, heartfelt sense of community. Young staffers work long, irregular hours, she says, but she can’t envision burn-out. "Dragonfire was born out of frustration,"says Webb, 30, a former Newsweek correspondent in Tokyo. For a long time, "it was hard to get news published that was not about war or the economy…. I really thought that people wanted more, or different kinds of information. We tried to create a place where people would get context."

Webb, hired in January, is the only full-time staffer. The rest are either students, moonlighting professionals or a fleet of free-lancers spread over 30 countries. One way she attracts talent is by setting no story lengths. "We’re not going to take a 10,000-word piece, obviously, unless it’s great and needs to be that long. We’re trying to give people a real chance to forget about all the formulas, templates and pre-conceived ideas. Stories should be accurate, fact-checked and copy-edited. They should answer a certain number of questions. Other than that, it is ok to use the capital I and use some color."

Dragonfire’s way of exploring Middle East conflict is by profiling forgotten foreign workers in the Gaza Strip whose lives will be changed upon Israeli’s withdrawal from 21 settlements. All stories are free. Translators are at work to make them available to readers around the world. "I don’t know if there is a market" for that, she says. "I believe information should be available to people no matter what their language is."

Phillyist_2 Quite different, but also finding its voice is the Phillyist, which debuted two weeks ago, a mauve-toned cyber city mag modeled after New York’s Gothamist. It's edited by John Carroll, a Philly-reared Penn grad of the most recent vintage. He's worked at 34th Street Magazine and the reborn Evening Bulletin. Carroll has recruited Star C. Foster, author of Sarcasmo's Corner. Also Katie Donnelly, and a host of others.

It is aiming for a younger, scene-seeking audience. Phillyist has profiled bands like the Caesars, the stars of the iPod Shuffle ads, before their Philly appearance. It offers recipes for chocolate cookies, tuna on the grill and hangover remedies:

"Fry a hanger steak with some potatoes and onions in butter and Worcestershire sauce, scramble some eggs along with it, butter up some sourdough toast … Wash that down with a shot of Bushmill’s in some chicory coffee, plenty of water and a couple of aspirin."

The best thing about Phillyist is that its staff seems to get around. They’ve sussed out the Rejection Hotline – for those dumped on dates - knew how to find free tickets to a Fat Joe flash concert, and fret earnestly over the Phillies.

No wonder they need hangover remedies.

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