Writing Samples

I’m the multi-modal transportation reporter for PlanPhilly, a project of WHYY and Newsworks.org, meaning I write a lot about trains, buses, and bikes. I also contribute, with varying degrees of frequency, to Slate, NewsWorks, Keystone Crossroads, Philadelphia City Paper, The Philadelphia Citizen and Philadelphia Magazine.

I have written about transportation planning, urban cycling, education in Philadelphia, trivia, alcohol laws and regulatory capture, immigration, concerts, and higher education, just to name a few topics.

In 2016, I wrote six of PlanPhilly’s ten most-read articles, including the top four.

Selected clips:

Essays:

Slate, “You can do anything with a law degree” is a vicious lie, May 14, 2014. Most read and shared article on Slate for a few days.

Slate, The Presidential Campaign Websites Are Terrible, March 1, 2016. In which I cautioned that Donald Trump was connecting with voters significantly better than his competitors, generally and specifically through his website.

Slate, Rum Deal: Counting Up All The Ways America’s Booze Laws Are Terrible, June 12, 2014. Conducted novel legal research for this article, explained how regulatory capture makes alcohol laws sclerotic and made a keg’s worth of booze puns.

Slate, Why You Hate Cyclists, September 24, 2012. Most read and shared article on Slate for a few days. Used behavioral economics to explain why hating cyclists is usually irrational – except when you hate guys who ride like me.

PhillyMag.com, Dear Philadelphia Media: Stop Calling the Mayoral Race Boring, May 7, 2015. When reporters call an election boring, they are telling readers to stop paying attention. I spoke about this on Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane.

PhillyMag.com, Why Do Philadelphians Just Love to Play With the Word “Philadelphia”?, December 7, 2015. Cultural and linguistic musings and lots of curses.

Philadelphia InquirerTo Keep Young, Fix Schools, June 9, 2013.

News Features:

PlanPhilly, With new Schuylkill Yards, Drexel and Brandywine promise development without displacement, March 8, 2016. Drexel University and Brandywine Realty Trust announced a $3.5 billion, 14-acre development between the college and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. That’s big, but not nearly as big as their promise to build a high-tech “innovation district” without adversely affecting residents in nearby, lower income neighborhoods.

Keystone Crossroads, Manayunk Bridge reopens as a trail and as a symbol of a changing economy, Oct. 30, 2015. Radio feature and essay on the reopening of an old rail bridge as a trail linking two communities and their economies.

NewsWorks, In the first language of our heart: Immigrants keeping the Catholic faith alive in Philadelphia, Sept. 17, 2015. Essay and radio feature co-reported with Katie Colaneri. I pitched Katie a radio feature for WHYY’s Ancient Faith, Modern Lives radio special examining Catholicism in Philadelphia before the Papal visit. My pitch: St. Thomas Aquinas is a small church in South Philly where the top masses are spoken in foreign languages. From there, we looked at the role of immigrants in keeping church doors open. Essay by me, most radio producing by Katie, equal split on the reporting.

PlanPhilly, Forthcoming train safety system might have prevented Amtrak 188 tragedy, May 13, 2015. Written morning after the tragic derailment, along with coverage for Newsworks.org. Later, I wrote an explainer on the safety system and discussed the derailment and infrastructure with the Brookings Institution’s Robert Puentes for a Philly.com video.

PlanPhilly, U.S. Supreme Court decision imperils a portion of wage tax in Philadelphia and Wilmington; Officials unwilling or unable to estimate likely budget impact, Dec. 14, 2015. Noticing a Supreme Court decision that invalidated a Maryland income tax similar to Philadelphia’s own, I broke the story on the looming legal danger and impact on the city budget. Some months later, my reporting was in an essay in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review confirming my own legal analysis.

PlanPhilly, Regional Congressmen divided over highway funding, despite apparent accord, April 10, 2015. I took a look at some of the proposals to fund the National Highway Trust Fund, explained the idea using a repatriation tax holiday to pay for infrastructure, and looked past the political platitudes.

PlanPhilly, Eyes on the Trail: Officials respond to Schuylkill River crime with lighting and town watch, February 12, 2016. One of the few crime stories I’ve done; this makes references to Jane Jacobs and Gary Becker.

City Paper, Anthony Clark, city elections chair, hasn’t voted in last 5 elections and A six-figure salary for half the work, October 9, 2014. I broke this story, which was picked up by Fox News and inspired editorials by the Daily News and the Inquirer.

PlanPhilly, Streetsplainer: What the heck do those “The space between these lines not dedicated” street markers mean?, May 10, 2016.

PlanPhilly, SEPTA Strike negotiations take turn for the worse; SEPTA “beyond frustrated” with union, Nov. 3, 2016. Part of on-going coverage of SEPTA’s 6-day-strike. Starting just before the strike began, I filed web stories daily, along with radio spots for WHYY’s local broadcast and NPR’s national newscast. This was one of my favorites.

PlanPhilly, Can’t we all just get along? Lawyers, history explain the logic behind SEPTA strike, Nov. 1, 2016.

PlanPhilly, Democratic campaigns “concerned” SEPTA strike could derail electoral victories, Nov. 2, 2016.

PlanPhilly, What if SEPTA had a better bus map? A rider tried making one, Jan. 5, 2016.

Business and Tech Feature stories:

PlanPhilly, Why is SEPTA Key arriving two years late?, Dec. 23, 2015. This examines why Philly’s dream of replacing subway tokens with a modern fare card system can’t seem to ever happen. My finding: a railroad and bus operator isn’t well equipped to handle a high tech project.

Slate, “Kickstarter, but with stock”, June 23, 2014. This look at the pitfalls of equity crowdfunding under the JOBS Act is now assigned reading for UCLA law students taking Motion Picture Financing.

Technical.ly Philly, Everything you need to know about Benefit Corporations. Or: How the Main Line might save Wall Street, October 16, 2014. I reference Nietzsche, a car commercial, Milton Friedman, and lots of legal scholars in this feature on a novel concept in corporate law. Selected as one of Technical.ly Philly’s best long reads of the year.

PlanPhilly, How Pop-Ups can actually prop up their neighbors, July 28, 2014. I pulled data from a number of sources to show how pop-up beer gardens help spur economic activity, rather than hurt competing bars, and explain why that makes sense: agglomeration.

Technical.ly Philly, The benefits of crowdfunding aren’t what you think, Sept. 9, 2014. A look at the less-than-obvious benefits of crowdfunding – it’s marketing, not money, that matters most. Later, I spoke about crowdfunding with Technical.ly’s Zack Seward for their podcast.

 

College Glory Days:

Op-Ed Columnist: The Daily Pennsylvanian, “You, sir, are an idiot.” I wrote Op-Eds for the DP. Here are some I’m still proud of:

Facebook – the fall of privacy. In 2008, I wrote “Privacy has changed. The idea that an action witnessed only by a handful of people would remain private to that group is no longer given…. Our generation is the first to cope with the necessary assumption that our every action seen by another may in turn be seen by all of our peers.” I predicted political careers being destroyed by social media years before Anthony Wiener, made self deprecating jokes, and referenced Camus. This was subsequently quoted in the New York Times.

Drunken logic for Pennsylvania’s beer laws. I took a comedic look at Pennsylvania’s odd liquor laws. Lots and lots of beer puns.

The Frankenstein on 40th Street. I weighed in on a contentious development project back in 2008. It’s 2014 and they are still litigating this place. Published just after Easter, I asked Penn to make reaffirm the Penn Compact’s central promises to the surrounding neighborhood in the same way Catholics make affirmations of faith.

Contact

email: jim at jimsaksa dot com

phone: 732.330.3043

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