Posts about cuny

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?


Chuck Fadely has a great post with tips on how to shoot video stories. [via Mindy McAdams]

News innovation

Just catching up with a report, via Editors Weblog, on a meeting of Dutch and Flemish media execs sharing projects on innovation in news. The reports themselves are mostly in Dutch but the summary reveals some interesting work, including:

* An experiment called Farcast using dolled-up mobile phones for reporting, grabbing audio, photos, and text with GPS attached, working through a dedicated server to publish the news. The meetingn presentation says tThe Dutch news agency dispatched 15 units for four months with 25 users who ended up sending in 500 posts. It was up to four hours faster than traditional channels. Obviously, this doesn’t replace those channels — that is, the typed report. But to be able to get instant multimedia reports up without hassle could be very powerful.

* Another hardware experiment with a dolled-up laptop for news-gathering.

* A local networked journalism product called Hasseltlokaal using what they called many-to-many publishing. Has 20 local reporters between 17 and 70 filing 4-5 articles a day. Sounds like a local Netzeitung Readers-Edition.

* Another model of connecting the people formerly known as readers to ask and answer each others’ questions.

* A free youth paper/site called SP!TS. The kids like the name.

* An e-paper gadget.

Not all of it will work. But this is the sort of innovation we need in news.

Newsroom as classroom

A British paper and university are teaming up to create a joint newsroom and degree in multimedia journalism. This isn’t quite what I suggested when I said that newsrooms should become classrooms, but it’s a fascinating step. [via Greenslade]

A gift to bloggers: A stay-out-of-court card

At CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, where I teach, I’m grateful to report that we just were awarded a grant from the Knight Foundation to create a guide with the top 10 rules bloggers and amateur journalists need to stay out of court. My colleague at CUNY, Geanne Rosenberg, who is a law-school graduate and is also journalism director at CUNY’s Baruch College, will be the primary author and I’ll help where I can. Gary Kebbel, Knight Foundation journalism program officer, said in the press release: “If this grant helps keep just one blogger out of court for reporting the news, it served its purpose.”

This could not come at a more opportune moment. See the list of suits against bloggers maintained by the Media Law Research Center. Other are, thank goodness, finally working on this problem. Bob Cox at the Media Bloggers Association, has been a tireless advocate for bloggers in courts and legislatures. And the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School is also offering help. We need all the help we can get to assure not only that bloggers stay out of court but that we all maintain our free speech, free of suit and harassment.

Election as classroom

The students at CUNY covered the election last night — what better laboratory could there be? — and here are the results.

Back to the future

Last night, we had our gala opening for the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and many noted with rueful nostalgia that we were in the old Herald-Tribune building (next to the new New York Times building). We were surrounded by computers and screens and students: in short, the future. It’s a reminder that newspapers do die. But journalism will continue, in one form or another.