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Networked Journalism Summit follow up

Having never organized a conference, I was nervous about so many things before the Networked Journalism Summit we held at CUNY on Wednesday (thanks to the MacArthur Foundation). I think it went off well. Scott Anderson of Tribune put together a good collection of summary bullets. The students blogged the sessions at NewsInnovation.com and we’ll put up video and audio when we can. Robin Hamman called our event “stonking.” I sure hope that’s good.

What matters most to me coming out of this is inspiration and ideas turning into action. We will follow up on that action to see what really happens. But I was delighted to hear Jay Rosen say that at the Summit he signed up five partners for his next effort in beat reporting backed by social networks. Henry Abbott said: “I made stars in my notes when I heard an idea that made me think: I should do that on TrueHoop. There are about 40 stars in my notes. Cool!” Here’s the first of those stars in action: collaborative curation of video. Debbie Galant called to say that she has new things to do to try to fix comments. Dan Pacheco is still processing. One local organization was inspired by Jim Colgan’s experiment in crowdsourcing at WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show and also plans to ask its audience to find and compare the price of a six-pack of beer in their market. That might sound small but I think it’s big because it is about mobilizing the people formerly known as the audience to join in and prove that together, we can learn more than we could on our own. That’s a major cultural shift in news and I am confident it will lead to bigger ideas and more collaboration. That’s what counts. Enough talk, now it’s time for working together to expand journalism. More followup when we poll the participants on what they’re up to next. We will keep sharing lessons and best practices. That, I hope, was is the value of the day.

Some of my thoughts after we cleaned up the guacamole:

* BUSINESS MODELS: When I asked Backfence’s Mark Potts what he/we most need to get to the next level, he replied, “a business model.” No one has a good business model for this stuff — let alone for the future of news. But as Jay Rosen points out, the crowd was oddly calm given our presence in an overcrowded, leaky canoe headed up the creek with no paddles in hand. I didn’t intend this, but the business discussions at the Summit certainly lead straight into the next event we’re holding out of CUNY’s News Innovation Project — a session exploring new business models for news. This is urgent work.

There were sparks of good news about business. Jeff Burkett of WashingtonPost.com said they were getting double-digit CPMs for ads on their new blog networks, close to what they get for the site proper (though he wasn’t exact and we didn’t quiz him on sell-through). Stephen Smyth of Reuters is about to start up a similar network. Rick Waghorn of the UK is learning to sell the old-fashioned way: calling on restaurants and auto dealers.

I think it’s clear that there are easy, low-hanging steps the people in the room could take to improve the current business model: Local newspapers should set up ad networks among quality local blogs, allowing the papers to expand their content and reach without cost and risk and encouraging more bloggers to do more good work (‘produce less, gather more’ should be their chant — and the way to encourage others to produce more so you can gather it is to support their work financially). National outlets should organize national ad networks. Mark Potts said it’s likely that the only way to succeed at small is to be part of something big. We must also make it easier for advertisers to buy small and collaborative media. In the networks we create, we must give advertisers what they demand in data on demographics and performance, which small sites don’t have, but which big sites can help provide.

But those business models aren’t new enough. We need to investigate and experiment with more ways to tackle the business and ecosystem of news. I’ll post later about the idea of doing a zero-based analysis (how ’80s MBA of me) of journalism. And I’ll start brainstorming here on new business models.

* MOTIVE MATTERS: Well, duh, people aren’t going to do this stuff just because we want them to.

Jay Rosen said he learned that people need to be motivated to contribute effort to a project like NewAssignment. That motive needn’t be money; it could be self-interest of all sorts: I need to know, I want to know, I wish someone would look into this. . . . But it’s most likely self-interest.

So start with money. Earning payment for creating content or coverage is clearly a key motivation and we must have better systems for paying (and more revenue to share). As Merrill Brown of NowPublic pointed out in his session, this also makes contributors more reliable; as NowPublic is assigned news stories by the AP, it has to be able to rely on people to take on the work, and paying them is one way to assure that. Money matters.

We also heard from the folks at the Ft. Myers News Press and Gannett that pocketbook issues are likely to draw more interest and effort from citizens who join in collaborative products: How does this affect my life?

I raised the idea I’ve learned from my students at CUNY and at Burda that we need to turn the relationship around and enable our communities to assign us to stories we should report, on our own or collectively. They will tell us what matters to them.

This from the liveblogging of the social session on the topic of motive:

Travis Henry, YourHub — “The number one reason people post or contribute on my site is because… they want to see themselves in print. Then they start caring about how many hits they get.”

Melissa Baily, New Haven Independent — “We have these junkie types who crave more information about the town.”

There are lots of motives. But helping out the newspaper or big-media site is not one of them.

And in the end, we mustn’t forget that we, the media, do not own the product of this collaboration. The community does. Jarah Euston said there was some resentment when her Fresno Famous was sold to the Fresno Bee. The community thought they owned this; that’s exactly what you hope will happen when you enable people to collaborate through you: they take on ownership. That’s thinking like a platform: you provide it and people build atop it. At the end, who owns the wisdom and effort of the crowd? Why, of course, the crowd does.

* THE POWER OF PRINT: One theme we heard again and again was the power of taking citizen content and printing and distributing that: People, we were told, love to see their pictures or words on paper. It’s a boost to the ego, a validation, and one motive (among others) for producing this content. Perhaps more important is the fact that advertisers, particularly local advertisers, still buy print and so this is how to make this citizen content profitable (as has been done at NorthwestVoice and its California cousins and at Martin Huber’s MyHeimat in Germany).

So I think we can make better use of print to promote, to distribute, to encourage collaboration and to sell advertising. But I do think we could be seduced into making too much of print’s connection. We still have to develop the online revenue model. We shouldn’t think that taking disjointed quotes from the public and putting them in print in a ghetto of a feature makes the old products interactive (when this conversation should affect the entire process of news).

When I put Debbie Gallant of Baristanet and Jim Willse, editor of the Star-Ledger, on the spot about what they should do together, neither was enthusiastic about reverse publishing, as we call online-to-print. In fact, Debbie turned up her nose at the idea. Jim said that perhaps there should be an online exchange of content (Ledger high school sports coverage for Baristanet local stories) and he talked about an ad network (though he later said — and this is the real challenge — that in local newspapers, ad sales teams are not built for this). I saw them huddling together later. We’ll find out what they were concocting.

* COMMUNITY BRINGS COST: Another clear lesson from the best practitioners at the Summit was that there is a cost to community — a coordination cost, as Jay Rosen called it. This is the cost of managing, enabling, wrangling, curating.

It is also the cost of cleaning up the bad comments from the bozos. And there is the cost to the brand, the esprit and civility of the community, and its reputation if and when a few misbehave.

Many of us measure the value of content and conversation by the volume of comments. But perhaps that is the wrong measure; perhaps we need to measure the quality. Debbie Gallant is looking for some software to help with her comments. Newspapers too frequently have to deal with cesspools of racist comments that collect here and there. Mark Potts and others have tried to get people to use their real identities – which, Mark points out, may be more useful for people when they are your neighbors.

But Robin Hamman of the BBC has gone a step farther — one I agree with — and is moving off the idea that community and interaction must happen on your site. Instead, the BBC is trying to organize the discussion happening elsewhere, whether on our own blogs or on Flickr or YouTube. I think that’s smart.

Should we close comments? No. But should perhaps we can find ways to — wash my interactive mouth out with soap — to edit, curate, or judge them (and how much cost does that add?). When we create external networks of blogs — in, say, blogrolls — we are selective; why not with commenters (Nick Denton is headed this way at Gawker Media, but then Nick is a believer in the velvet rope).

The long and the short of it is that we are dying for a new paradigm for interaction. We all value the interaction. We all have had to deal with the bozos — and, unlike editors in the early days of the internet, we at the Summit did not dismiss all interactivity because of the bad behavior of the few. Indeed, we value interactivity so much so that we are saying quality matters. Short of overcomplicated systems like SlashDot, we just haven’t figured out how to enable and manage this. I see beginning efforts to curate interactivity in services that pick the people who pick the good stuff (champion Diggers or Glam curators — more on them later).

* ENABLE AND EDUCATE: As we begin to see ourselves as members of networks rather than owners of content, our relationships with our communities shift. I heard a lot of this at the Summit: We are figuring out how to facilitate our communities to do what they want to do. We are figuring out how to mobilize them to collaborate (what is the price of that six-pack?). We sometimes need to educate people and be educated.

And all this means that our people need different skills — and it also may mean that we need different kinds of people. Just as we thought the key to survival in the new age was learning how to make a podcast, the earth moves again and now a key skill is organizing people. Dan Barkin from the News & Observer and Robin Hamman from the BBC talked about that as people in the room wondered of Robin: Are there any more at home like you? Where do you come from? Where do we find you’s? And I wonder how we train them out of journalism school.

There’s much, much more but those are the big buckets I saw. Much more to come….

Leading up to the Networked Journalism Summit

Wednesday morning, the Networked Journalism Summit at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism opens. Students will be liveblogging at the summit blog and I’ll ask the participants to tag their posts, photos, videos, etc. “netj.” Rachel Sterne from Ground Report also plans to broadcast from the summit.

Jay Rosen beats them to the punch tonight with a great post that both walks up to the summit and shares his lessons from NewAssignment.net. Jay’s summary:

That is my attempt to map the perimeter: solutions lie within. Division of labor is the key creative decision in acts of distributed reporting. Grok the motivations or it can’t be done. Watch for ballooning coordination costs as ramp up succeeds. Where the small pieces meet the larger narrative the alchemy of the project lives. Shared background knowledge raises group capacity. Extant communities already coordinate well.

No one is saying that collaborative, pro-am, networked journalism is the cure to the industry’s ills or that it will replace the professional model. I believe that it is one means by which journalism can and should expand now — even as journalistic organizations’ revenue and often staffs decline. New Assignment is one way to try this — with Rosen et al or on your own, as Brian Lehrer at WNYC has done. And tomorrow’s participants will hear about many other endeavors in other models. I hope they leave with information and inspiration and new ideas to implement and experiment with. When they do, we will report back on their plans and will follow up with progress reports.

The blogroom

I’m woefully behind in my blogging thanks to doing things like organizing my networked journalism conference at CUNY — so I’m doubly behind blogging about the conference. But I wanted to point to Dave Winer’s post with a suggestion I, too, have been talking about for sometime: opening up a newsroom to bloggers. I’ve talked about the need to turn newsrooms into classrooms (where both tribes learn). Looking forward to exploring that.

By the way, the conference is way oversubscribed already (and I was nervous we wouldn’t get enough people with experience and interest in the field).

: While I’m linking to Dave, he argues that the social network is the same as the social graph and so we should keep calling it a network because it’s a much clearer description and less geeky and annoying. I agree.

Supporting journalistic entrepreneurialism & innovation

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve received a $100,000, two-year grant from the McCormick Tribune Foundation to provide seed funding to news start-ups developed by students in my course in entrepreneurial journalism at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism. A jury of industry leaders from the media community in New York – experts in content, revenue, marketing, venture capital and startups – are speaking with the class, helping guide students through creating their proposals, and at the end they will select the projects (if any) likely of success as sustainable journalistic enterprises and deserving of investment from the fund. The full announcement is here.

How’s that for cool?

We’re teaching the class for a few reasons. First, it’s more likely than ever that journalism students today will need to work independently — and not just as freelancers banging down the door of major media but also possibly as the proprietors of new enterprises of their own; we’re seeing more and more of that. Second, journalism needs more such sustainable enterprises; this is how it will expand rather than shrink. Third, journalism needs more innovation; I think it will most likely continue to come from without rather than from within the incumbent companies. Fourth, journalists need to better understand the business of media — which they long ignored, because they could afford to — and they must take responsibility for sustaining journalism.

What’s so wonderful about this grant is that it makes all this real. The students are now competing not for a grade but for a chance to create a new product, a business, and a career. They won’t just be producing prototypes that sit on a classroom shelf. And as I told the wonderful folks at McCormick Tribune when we started discussing the idea, this sends a strong and needed message to the industry — that we must invest in innovation and the future, we have to put our money where our mouth is. Well, make that McCormick Tribune’s generously granted money.

I’m having an absolute ball teaching the course, working with the students on their good — possibly great — ideas. It’s as if I’m on the board of 15 startups. They need to create a proposal that covers everything any startup must cover: the need in the marketplace, the content/product/service plan, market research, competitive analysis, a revenue (read: advertising) plan, a marketing (read: viral) plan, an operating plan, a launch plan. We’re digging into each of these, pressing individually and as a group and with our guests to make the ideas better, find and answer the challenges. I’m not trying to turn them into MBAs, but they all must answer the question: why does the market need this and how will sustain itself. Journalistic sustainability is our rallying cry.

I am also privileged to assemble what is essentially a first-class board for the businesses in the form of the experts who are now speaking with the class. First, I had in Steven Johnson, founder of Feedmag, Plastic.com, and Outside.in — one of the first journalists to make his career on the internet, a true entrepreneurial journalist. Next, Jim Kennedy, head of strategy for the Associated Press and thus the chief strategist of the newspaper industry. I just love that Jim pushed the students farther than they or I had, telling them after he heard their ideas they they had good ideas for sites but they were still just sites. What’s coming next? he asked. And some students came up with inspired answers. Yesterday, I had in Joan Feeney, my partner in the development and launch of Entertainment Weekly; creator of CondeNet’s Epicurious, Style, Concierge and other sites, and a genius at other launches. She generously spent three hours giving the students her distilled experience from launching new editorial products and they soaked it up. I’m bringing in more experts in venture capital, revenue/advertising, marketing, design, and such. And I’m sharing my experience, good and bad. The first week, I gave them my original memo proposing Entertainment Weekly from 1984, then the memo from on high rejecting the idea (because, said Henry Grunwald, then editor in chief of Time Inc., one magazine cannot possibly serve TV and books because people who watch TV do not read), and the business plan that led to the magazine’s launch in 1990. But what’s also great is that the students are helping each other; yesterday’s class ended with a great dialogue that helped focus and advance one student’s idea and that’s what we’re going to do again next week.

The students’ ideas are impressive but I’m not going to tell you what they are, not yet, in case one of them turns out to be the next Google. (In which case, I’ve told them, I hope they remember their school and donate a fortune.) We’ll share more when we can.

The Networked Journalism Summit

Here, at last, is a full description of the Networked Journalism Summit we’ve been organizing at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. I’m really excited about the event: a great list of people participating, many best practices and lessons to share, lots of possibility for new efforts to come out of the meeting:

* * *

The Networked Journalism Summit — bringing together the best practices and practitioners in collaborative, pro-am journalism — will be held on Oct. 10 at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, thanks to a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

This is a day about action: next steps, new projects, new partnerships, new experiments. The first two-thirds of the day will be devoted to sharing lessons, ideas, and plans with a representative sample of different kinds of efforts, hyperlocal to national to international, with participants from big and small media, from editorial and business, from the U.S., Canada, the U.K, Germany, and France. The last third of the day will be devoted to what’s next, with participants meeting to come up with new collaborations.

What makes this meeting different? We hope this does:
* It’s about action and next steps, not talk.
* The panel discussions will be discussions, not presentations. Every session will start with very brief introductions and then go immediately to discussion from the entire room.
* This is made possible by write-ups of the work being done by everyone in the room that will be distributed before the meeting. David Cohn is reporting some of these (and they are beginning to appear on this blog); the participants will submit more. This give everyone a headstart and lets them get right to their questions. You can read these starting now at the summit blog.
* We will followup on the actions pledged by the participants with reports on progress that will be shared on this blog.
* No MSM-bashing or blog-bashing allowed. We’ll gong it off. This is about working together. The snarking is over.
We hope people leave with a lot of new information and inspiration, with new partners, and with new steps to take to spread journalism in their communities.

The premise of all this is that even as journalistic organizations may shrink, along with their revenue bases, journalism itself can and must expand and it will do that through collaborative work. The internet makes that collaboration possible and we’ve barely begun to explore the opportunities it affords. A year or two ago, the point of such a meeting might have been evangelizing this idea. But in that time, a number of great projects in collaborative, networked journalism have taken off. So now is the time to share the lessons — success and failures — from these efforts and to determine what’s needed to move on to the next goals. By bringing together about 150 practitioners from all sides, we hope that the meeting itself can spark new partnerships and projects.

Among the sessions planned:
* Sharing experience from hyperlocal projects.
* Early efforts to make money at this: ad networks, print publications (ironically), independent businesses.
* International efforts from the UK and Germany.
* Reports from visible projects, including Gannett’s reorganization of its newsrooms around citizen participation, Jay Rosen’s experience with NewAssignment.net, and Now Public.
* Video and broadcast projects.
* Projects built around data as news.
* New tools.
* Political efforts.

In the afternoon, the participants will split into groups — local east or west, national, business, multimedia, revenue, tools, and other groups that form at the meeting — to pledge next steps. After reporting back to the meeting as a whole on these promised efforts, all will be rewarded with wine.

We have a great cross-section of different kinds of efforts, different models, and different locales. There is room for a few more. If you are interested in attending, please email David Cohn, who has been doing a great job organizing the conference and the information around it: dcohn1@gmail.com.

The meeting will begin at the auditorium in the new New York Times headquarters on 40th Street and 8th Avenue in New York. It will then move next door to the new CUNY Graduate School of Journalism at 219 W. 40th Street, New York.

This meeting is made possible entirely through a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The summit is organized by Jeff Jarvis, who heads the interactive journalism program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and blogs on journalism and media at Buzzmachine.com. The school has just begun its second year as the only publicly supported school of journalism in the Northeast.

The next meeting at CUNY, early next year, will focus on new business models for news.

Retrain or retire

I’ve been thinking about Mark Glaser’s lengthy column on job opportunities in journalism. On behalf of my journalism students, I’m delighted.

But what’s appalling is that newspapers are not retraining their staffs in the new skills of new media.

There are lots of cynical excuses for that: The papers want to lay off expensive people and hire cheap kids. Or the old dogs won’t — or some would say can’t — learn new skills.

Well, why not try? I have been arguing — to little result … so far — that news organizations of all sorts should train every person in the newsroom in the skills of new media: how to make video, audio, and blogs. That wouldn’t take long, just a day or two. It’s that easy. That’s why everybody out here is doing it.

There are many benefits. Staffers might get an interest in new and social media and transfer over to the internet side, saving their careers in many cases. They might simply get an understanding of the new structure of media and get an appreciation for all the new opportunities the internet provides for gathering and sharing news and that can improve their journalism. They could start producing their journalism across all media, however it’s best to tell the story and however it’s best for the public to get it. And this influx of new thinking might help the organization advance and improve.

Instead, I see newspapers waiting until the budget ax falls and then they just lay off people or pay a fortune in buyouts. That’s too late to retrain. And it is a waste of resources, intelligence, experience, and precious time.

Let’s say that a year before they got rid of a quarter of their editorial staff, the managers at the San Francisco Chronicle saw it coming but took that the time to train the entire staff in new media. They could have identified those staffers who embraced new and social media and technology (allowing them to at least keep the forward-thinking ones and scare off the old dogs). They could have started to rethink their product and service — as a staff. They could have improved their reporting and distribution of the stories they printed. They could have gotten the public excited, too, about their new ways and maybe gotten some more audience and more advertising online and avoided at least a few of those still-inevitable layoffs.

Instead, newspapers are too often playing victim, waiting for the worst to happen or taking too-small steps away from the cliff. It’s a disservice to their staffs, their readers, their shareholders.

And I won’t put that onus entirely on management. Staffs should be demanding to be trained. Photographers should be ganging up on their bosses to learn video; ditto reporters. Hell, even ad sales people should be dying to learn video so they have something new to sell.

This is on my mind also — full disclosure — because I have been trying to put together the continuing education (professional development, call it what you will) program at CUNY. If you have any ideas how we should go about this — how to convince journalists that they should learn new ways now, before it’s too late — let me know.

Guardian column: Teaching journalism

Here’s my Guardian column this week, about teaching journalism at CUNY:

As a journalism professor, I’m asked two questions these days: first, why teach journalism? Aren’t newspapers and news doomed? Why ensnare young people in a dying profession? I respond with an article of faith: journalism is evolving – at long last – and actually growing, and that’s what makes this an exciting time to get into the news business. Second, I’m asked, how should you teach journalism today? Ah, that’s the tough one. I’m still in search of the answer as I finish my first term at the new City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Others in our faculty teach the craft of journalism: the essential skills and verities of the profession. A few students did question the continuing need for the tricks of our trade, but I’ve argued that even a blog post or a podcast requires a good intro and headline – not to mention accuracy, clarity, and fairness – just as a news story does. So pay attention to the craft, I say. And they soon came to agree.

As the guy who teaches the future, I then take students through audio, video, photos, slideshows, blogs, wikis, web pages, and more (after my teenage son instructs me, of course). What’s wonderful is that students can create things immediately – without relying on the old priesthood of the tools, whether those wizards were typesetters or cameramen – and so they learn from making.

I asked Edward Roussel, head of digital at the Telegraph, what skills he expects journalists to have in his converged newsroom and he said he wants them to have at the ready the complete toolset of media and thus the ability to choose the best means to tell any story. That is a choice we print or radio or TV people never had. So we prepare our students to feel comfortable with all the new ways of journalism by requiring them to tell stories in many media. We call that a converged curriculum.

But my course is about more than tools. It is also about blowing up preconceptions, rules and minds. We catalogued the problems facing the news business – and, yes, for a moment, some wondered whether they had made the wrong career move. But they quickly rose out of the slough of despond that still ensnares so many in the industry and realised that they face exciting new ways to practise journalism. And many were energised by the knowledge that they can – and in many cases must – work independently (this is why I will later teach a course in entrepreneurial journalism).

So one student and I sat down and reviewed all the tools she can now use to better tell the story of a changing neighbourhood: Google maps, photos, slideshows, video, audio, blogs, interactive forums, databases – oh, and text. Another student immediately began plotting the creation of her own media property to cover the stories professional media are not covering in her ‘hood. This is why I decided to teach journalism: to be a witness at the dawn of invention.

But I also failed in some areas. The irony is that as a blogger, I did a terrible job teaching blogging. I didn’t dissect the form with the students so we could understand its proper tone and value; I wasn’t aware enough of their preconceptions and my assumptions. Most important, I couldn’t find the means to teach the fundamental lesson of our new world: interacting and working cooperatively with the public we serve. After all, I teach “interactive journalism”. But this requires having a public with whom to interact and means students must do their learning openly, though some wonder whether they are ready. With the students’ help, we’ve hatched plans for group blogs covering topics of journalistic merit and public interest.

The real lesson in all this, I think, is not about tools, skills or business forecasting. It is about embracing change, instilling a culture of innovation and experimentation and a willingness to question and try and fail. That is what the news business needs most today. It’s not about establishing a new orthodoxy of a new media priesthood; I hope we never reach that. Whether they work in old or new institutions or independently, journalists must be ready to think and act in new ways, to take advantage of new opportunities, to generously reshape their relationships with the public, to rearchitect how news and information can work, to operate without the old constraints of time and medium – and to bring to all this those enduring skills, ethics and verities of journalism that still make them valuable. That’s how I hope to teach. Whether I succeed, you’ll need to ask my students in a year, when they are out reinventing the trade we’re teaching.

Supporting journalism

My CUNY colleague Sandeep Junnarkar — who makes magnificent multimedia journalism at Lives in Focus, where he last reported on AIDS in India — is embarking on his next project: the impact on families when one of your own is behind bars. He’s already getting amazing reporting. But to realize his full ambition, he needs to raise money to loan video cameras to the families so they can document their experiences. It’s easy to contribute through Have Money Will Vlog, which enables networked journalism by helping you to support these projects. I just gave. Won’t you?