I continue to neglect you, blog family, because I am in the final (I hope) throes of editing the book and school just began. I spoke to the new class yesterday in the start of the interactive journalism class. Here are my notes:
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At the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, we’re proud to announce today that we received a $3 million matching grant from the Tow Foundation to create a Center for Journalistic Innovation. As you can guess, I’ll be very involved in this.
Our idea is to start an incubator to help support new products, businesses, platforms, technologies, and standards from new companies — some that will be started by students out of my entrepreneurial journalism class — and big media as well. We will create a New Business Models for News initiative to gather and share best practices in the industry. Another intitiative will do the same with editorial innovation. We will establish a chair in journailstic innovation and scholarships for entrepreneurial students.
Columbia’s journalism school also received a $5 million Tow matching grant. They will devote their efforts primarily to new journalism education, which is needed across the nation. But because we at CUNY are new and dealt with many of those issues when we started the school from scratch, we decided instead to look outward to the news industry. We believed that the greatest need of the industry is innovation and this was our effort at an answer that we hope will be complementary and collaborative with other efforts in this area from Knight, Poynter, and others. We also will work hard to create international ties for the center’s work so we can learn lessons from around the wrold.
In CUNY’s and my work, there is a continuing theme of innovation in the news industry. The entrepreneurial journalism course received a grant from the McCormick Foundation to provide seed funding for the students’ best proposals for sustainable journalistic enterprises. There were some great plans out of the class but we quickly learned that these llitle shoots need nurturing. We believe there are many similar ideas out there that need such help. Thus, the incubator. Last fall, we held a MacArthur-Foundation-funded conference in networked journalism and David Cohn reported best practices before and after. This October, we will do likewise with another MacArthur-financed conference in New Business Models for News. Those, too, lead right into the work of the Tow Center.
Now we have to raise the other $3 million so we can open the center’s doors. That’s the plug. If you have money, connections to it, or ideas, please do let me know. I’m eager to get going.
Reading Vin Crosbie’s piece about the resistance to change and general obstructionism he has found teaching at journalism school (he doesn’t say it, but he has spent the year at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University), it makes me triply glad I am teaching at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. This will come off as blatant self-promotion for the school but so be it.
Vin said: “What I found were faculties resistant to change and students whose insights and mastery of new media were being eroded by the authoritative resistance to change of so many professors. . . I’ve also discovered that media academics follow, rather than lead, their industries.”
When I arrived at CUNY, I feared I would find what Vin did. But I haven’t, not at all. I thought I might be marginalized as the crazy guy. But that hasn’t happened.
Instead, in the last few months, I’ve been teaching the faculty itself in all the tools of online: blogs, wikis, RSS, video, SEO, and on and on. The best part of this has not been my colleagues’ receptivity to, curiosity about, and eagerness to adapt the tools themselves in their classes but the discussion we have shared about the impact of these tools on journalism and education. We’ve had rich back and forth on the new architecture of media and news that the impact of this change on journalism education.
I don’t mean to say that my colleagues immediately drink my Kool-Aid; there is disagreement and debate, as I’d hope there would be. At last week’s session, for example, I showed Twitter, predicting that a few of my fellow profs would shake their heads at the tchotchkefication of the world into 140 characters’ worth of words. Heads did shake. One of the professors said she gets the impact on journalism of other technologies we’ve discussed — indeed, she is using them, creating class blogs and more. But she challenged me to demonstrate the journalistic relevance of this one. Fair enough. I showed news organizations using Twitter to distribute headlines and bulletins. I talked about other news organizations, like Sky.com, using Twitter to report on breaking news live. I told them that I’d just seen the BBC and Reuters using Twitter to extract news (by, for example, searching for big-event tripwords like “explosion” and “earthquake”); the thought is that Twitter could be the canary in the news coal mine and that similar use of Flickr, YouTube, Technorati, and other services will surface witnesses’ pictures, video, and accounts. I passed that quiz.
Here’s the Keynote we’ve been using as notes for this discussion.
At CUNY, we are teaching the tools of all media to all students and requiring them to make stories in various media throughout their time there. The faculty are learning the tools as well (I say “are learning” instead of “have learned” because it’s a neverending process). At the same time, we are trying to plan how to pull down the walls between old media tracks — print, broadcast, interactive — while still preparing students for specialized jobs. We believe we have to be careful not to be overeager with this because we risk getting ahead of the job market. But there is no resistance at all to the idea that all journalists must work in all media.
More important, we realize that we are teaching change. Rich Gordon at Northwestern has said this, too: We have to get our students ready to adapt as the tools inevitably evolve. But, of course, more than the tools change. The structure of the craft changes and with it the relationship of journaliasts with the public and with newsmakers. The structure of the industry changes and with it their jobs. And the structure of narrative changes as we have new ways to tell stories. So we are also teaching our students choice. They no longer pick a medium at the beginning of their careers and stick with it. Now, every time they tell a story, they have to make choices about the best ways to do that for their audience and for the story itself. Not all students like this much choice at first; some wish we’d just tell them how to do it. But we agree that choice is one of the key skills we have to teach. That was the discussion we had at our faculty tools session last week.
How am I so lucky? I think it helps that we are a new school without a legacy to protect; instead, we are building one. It also helps that the deans recruited a great faculty and that we both get along well and, as it has turned out, agree about the need to teach change while we also teach what we love to call the eternal verities of journalism: accuracy, fairness, reporting. . . . And it helps that we are drawing students who know they are part of a new school in an industry undergoing upheaval; they are daring and they demand that we are as well. They are the ones who are going to change journalism and that’s why I took this job.
We also see that helping and leading the industry in change is part of our mission. That’s why we got a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to hold meetings in networked journalism last fall and in new business models for news this fall. We got a grant from McCormick Tribune for my entrepreneurial journalism course. We got one from Knight to help bloggers learn what the needed about media law. We are about to announce something else along these lines.
We’re far, far from perfect. Every term, we learn — from listening to our students — how to better teach our courses, adjusting syllabi as well as the curriculum. In the videos here, I describe the interactive courses to new students just admitted and we are now trying to do a better job of telling them just what tools and skills they will learn at what level. That’s an improvement. I am also constantly struggling with finding ways to teach interactivity when student journalists don’t have a public with whom to interact (any ideas, please share them). So we must change, too.
Here are the relevant slides about the interactive program.
I can’t speak for any other journalism school anywhere. And I think that Vin said what needs to be said to the academy and the industry. All I can say is that I shared Vin’s fears but I have seen that it is possible for journalism education to change and — only time will tell — lead.
In the meantime, Vin, come on by for coffee.
: ALSO: We’ve just announced our 100,000-mile warranty for students, enabling them to keep up on and brush up on new tools and skills after they graduate.
Not that I expect a soul to watch but if you’re curious, here was my spiel about the interactive journalism program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism open house for our accepted students a week ago (this is where we convince them to come to use and not to go elsewhere).
I commend to you Eric Alterman’s New Yorker piece on the state of newspapers. It’s a very good casting of the state of newspapers as a business, a technology, and a player in society. It’s also the beginning of a discussion about the resurrected debate between Walter Lippman and John Dewey almost a century ago over the proper role of the press, objectivity, viewpoint, and discussion in a democracy. The piece doesn’t advance that discussion greatly but I wouldn’t expect it to, given the venue. What it does, instead, is advance The New Yorker’s view of media and the world well past that presented there by Nick Lemann (here was my response to Lemann at the time). Alterman’s is, I believe, a superior piece of magazine scholarship and I hope and presume it’s the start of a new book — with an extended conversation about the role of conversation first.
In the piece, Alterman also reports that the Huffington Post sees itself as the new newspaper. I wonder why that would be their ambition. I don’t mean that as a crack about newspapers or an obit. Instead, I think we need to redefine the players in the press sphere and their roles based on new realities. (I’m working on a post about that; have to make some drawings to illustrate it first.)
Related: See David Carr’s funeral dirge for newspapers from yesterday’s Times.
(Disclosure: Alterman — with whom I’ve had my share of blog sparring — is a CUNY colleague.)
Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, accidentally sent his class his self-evaluation intended for the university provost. No harm done, though. It’s an impressive document — it helps to hire New Yorker writers to pen memos — that sets out Lemman’s accomplishments and worldview. Here’s the bit, toward the end, that interested me:
I cannot be sure how long our school can continue to thrive if the profession it serves is not thriving. We have many advantages, including our financial resources, our location, our worldwide reputation, our strong relationships with employers, and the quality of our faculty and curriculum. We do not have the advantages almost all other journalism schools have: a large and not very job market-sensitive undergraduate student body and low tuition. In the short run, we are benefiting from journalism’s replacing older reporters with younger ones, but in the long run we must be as attentive to recruiting and to placement as possible, and we must teach our students to be journalists in ways that are as broadly applicable as possible geographically and across the different media.
I certainly agree that students must learn to apply journalism broadly — across all media, in other words.
But the larger question raised here is whether journalism schools should serve just professional journalists (that is, those who work, full-time, for journalistic institutions) — and, for that matter, whether schools can afford to do just that.
I haven’t blogged about this yet but I am coming to think that if, as I believe, N percent of journalistic effort will be undertaken by amateurs, then shouldn’t it be the mission of journalism schools to devote N percent of their education to helping those new practitioners do what they want to do better?
This is just my opinion — I’m by no means speaking for my school — and I haven’t thought through what this means. But I believe that like every other institution and industry in the Google Age, education will become more distributed, more open, less of a product and more of a process. More on that soon.
I don’t think I have been nearly effective enough in persuading either our own Journalism School community, or other journalism schools, or the wider world of the profession, that the professional education of a journalist should include intellectual content. The primary orientation of journalism schools, including ours, is toward conferring skills associated with entry-level practice; almost the entire discourse in journalism education is internal to journalism and concerned with professional norms and practices, rather than with how to understand the world we are supposed to cover.
This has been Lemann’s crusade: to bring professionalism — which I now read more as intellectualism — to the craft. I don’t disagree that this can be a worthy goal. What’s fascinating about Lemann’s memo is the glimpse it provides into his ambition: He wishes he could have transformed the Columbia program along these lines — changing the existing master of science program rather than adding a master of arts program — and that he could do likewise to America’s journalism schools.
It’s a proper question that I’ll oversimply, as is my blogger’s habit: How do we make reporters smarter about what they cover? Putting aside debates about which should dominate journalism education — skills or intellectual rigor — here, too, I wonder whether the coming distributed architecture of education will make a difference for journalism students and practicing journalists. What should specialized and continuing education look like in a period of more rapid change and broader opportunity? What should our ethic of education be? Should we expect that reporters covering, say, business learn the fundamentals of accounting and make it easy for them to do so?
These are the sorts of issues raised in Lemman’s memo and so I’m glad he sent the wrong file.
No doubt to the frustration of my fellow organizers, I’m still thinking through the format and agenda for the New Business Models for News conference we’re holding at CUNY in May and want your advice.
Too much of the discussion about the future of news has been focused on the blind hope for some neat solution: an iPod moment or a white knight or even, god help us, government support. And too much of the parallel discussion about media on the internet is about neat things.
Instead, I think we need to identify the problems and then have a rational search for solutions. So I’ve been focusing my thinking on expressing our problems — or call them our challenges and opportunities — as the agenda for the meeting. My thoughts:
* Efficiency: See the results of my back-of-the-envelope survey asking what should be cut from newspaper budgets. There is no shortage of suggestions. I think we need to have a hard-nosed discussion about the efficiencies that can be found in news. The negative way to say that is that we’re getting rid of commodified fat. The positive way to say that is that we must boil down what we do to its essence, its greatest value. And the internet gives us opportunities to be newly efficient — it is journalism’s internet dividend. So what can and should we do without? What do we absolutely need? How can we use technology to find efficiencies? What is the proper organization of a news company (see Dave Morgan’s proposal to split up newspapers)? What does efficient journalism look like?
* Networked content: It is a precept of mine, at least, that one way to expand journalism’s reach even as revenue and organizations shrink is to work collaboratively outside our organizations. That was the subject of our last conference on networked journalism. So let’s come up with real solutions using collaboration. Where could it help? With what kind of stories? What kinds of beats? What tools do we need? Training? What’s the business relationship?
* Networked advertising: I also believe that the key to making the networked architecture work is advertising to support and motivate new creators and to have control over their quality. We are beginning to see examples of this: blog ad networks from the Washington Post, the Guardian, Reuters, and Forbes; Reuters selling the Guardian’s international advertising (just announced); Glam.
* Innovation: We’re going to get nowhere if we don’t start inventing new products, networks, means of work, means of distribution, technologies, and business models for news. This is just not happening in the industry now, especially in the U.S. So how do we jumpstart it? I’ve been working on starting an incubator. At Davos, some innovators suggested to me that we should start an X prize contest to solve some of our problems, (e.g., an open-source ad network; geotagged news….). Do we need to start an investment fund across media companies? What should universities do?
* New revenue: There may not be any. It may all be advertising. And too often in this discussion, all hope is thrown into this bucket: There’ll be some new ad product or there’ll be some foundation that out of the goodness of its heart decides to feed a newsroom. Ask any foundation whether that’s likely. It’s not. But public support of journalism is one model: see NPR, Pro Publica, and the Center for Public Integrity. There may be new models for supporting high-quality journalism. (One idea I’ll write about soon is what I call reverse syndication: What if the LA Times pointed its traffic about Baghdad to the NY Times’ reporting and rather than the NYT charging the LAT, it pays for LAT for the traffic, which it monetizes to help support the bureau?) I’ve long thought that subscription models won’t work. Prove me wrong. Come up with other new models we should be testing.
How does that sound as the basis for discussion — and more than discussion: real plans?