Posts about jschool

The new journalist

You probably can’t see this unless you’re Ken Sand’s friend on Facebook, but he just posted a job opening at Congressional Quarterly for a “technical journalist.” Getting past the irresistible straight line — ‘well, technically, I’m a journalist’ — it’s telling that such a job description exists:

The technical journalist/Web developer will join a new editorial projects team that will be responsible for conceiving of and building dynamic Web applications, maps and mash-ups for CQPolitics, CQ’s free content site that is being expanded. The Web developer/technical journalist will be collaborating closely with two other team members, and will need to be able to communicate effectively with non-technical colleagues. The ideal candidate will have extensive experience building data-driven Web sites and tools using XHTML, JavaScript, CSS, XML, XSLT, Django or Ruby on Rails, Ajax, and Flash, and a demonstrated understanding of relational databases and experience with open-source databases like MySQL.

Oh, yes, and hooking paragraphs and taking rewrite.

How do we teach the conversation?

I’m speaking briefly Friday at a symposium held at Columbia in honor of the late and legendary Prof. James Carey. I’m on a panel about the future of journalism education and I chose to talk about teaching the conversation. Here are my notes.

When I had the privilege of meeting Prof. Carey, at a conference in Philadelphia, the buzz du jour was “news as conversation.” After I contributed to that buzz, he chuckled and told me he’d been talking about news as conversation for much of his career. Please note that he didn’t say this in what I will admit can be the bloggish way – as in, ‘I said it first.’ Instead, he was visibly gratified. His idea had spread, his meme had propagated.

Prof. Carey was quite right: The idea is not new. But I do think it more widely accepted in my tribes of bloggers, journalists, and educators. And it is more apparent thanks to technology. The internet is less a medium filled with content than it is a platform that enables connections between people and information and each other. It enables the conversation.

So if news is conversation, then the question is, how do we teach the conversation?

How does the role of the journalist change? Journalists must now augment their traditional and valued roles of reporter, watchdog, questioner, vetter, investigator, editor. In the conversation, they need to take on new roles, as moderator, enabler, organizer, talent scout, even journalistic evangelist and educator.

The reality of technology and media today is that everyone can create. The reality of business and journalism is that we must find new ways to collaborate; as our institutions shrink, our strategic challenge in news is to produce less and gather more – and thus we need to encourage others to produce more so we can gather it. And our challenge as educators is to improve the journalism that all these people, professional and amateur, do.

Journalists can no longer see themselves merely as the protectors and beneficiaries of their institutions’ reputations. They need to see themselves as members of larger, looser, more open networks of collaborators. They must contribute value to those networks to gain value themselves.

Of course, journalists should retain – and propagate – the ethics, standards, and practices of journalism that our schools have taught during our lifetimes. But at the same time, they should understand the new ethics of these new networks, which I’ve learned online: the ethic of the link (which says, ‘don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself’), the ethic of permanence (which says that knowledge grows on knowledge, via the link), the ethic of the correction (which is only more immediate in new media), and the ethic of transparency.

So, how do we teach this? I’m not sure yet.

Our first challenge, I think, is to figure out how to teach interactivity – before our students have publics with whom to interact. Blogging would seem to be the perfect tool to explore this relationship. But in my first year teaching at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, I must confess, I did my worst job teaching weblogs. Oh, the irony. I made the assumption that these young people shared a common understanding of blogging when, in fact, they each brought widely different definitions and presumptions, some treacherous (that is, that blogging licenses and demands snarking). Many weren’t ready to serve a public, did not know how to, even feared doing so.

This year at CUNY, we are trying another tactic: having the students find a public, a community where the conversation is already underway. Their task is to figure out how to add journalism to that conversation in the form of facts, answers, corrections, reporting, context, balance, research. We’ll see how that works – and I will blog about what we learn.

Networked, collaborative, pro-am journalism – whether that’s practiced under the label hyperlocal or crowdsourcing or whatever buzzword comes next – also alters the relationship of journalist to the public. Our students will need to learn how to find not just experts to quote, but experts and witnesses who will report and publish themselves. Journalists may need to organize or wrangle this reporting public, as Jay Rosen has said. And, as Jay learned at his, they’ll need to craft the essential assignments and support the work of these willing citizens. They also need to learn to moderate discussion. So there is indeed a role for editing. I’m still not sure how to bring these skills into the classroom, but I believe it likely means that we need to turn our communities not just into subjects of coverage but also into laboratories for collaboration.

This stretches to institutional journalism as well. I argue that we should consider the idea of turning newsrooms into classrooms, where journalists help new practitioners accomplish their goals more effectively – improving their journalism – and where the journalists, too, learn from the community and also learn collaboration with their communities. So it follows that we need to teach our students to become teachers of journalism. That is a new skill for them. It is also keystone of a new culture: a generosity of professionalism, recognizing that the true value of the professional – especially in the networked economy – is not realized by owning and controlling one’s knowledge, practices, and standards, but by sharing them. Prof. Carey said in his AEJ address that the birth of professional journalism education is “a story of the creation of a new social class invested with enormous power and authority . . . and the enhancement of professional authority and mystique.” By turning newsrooms into classrooms, perhaps we can reverse that; we can break down the walls around journalists, deflate their mystique, and redefine the exclusivity of professionalism. Carey said that “status and prestige, not knowledge or ethics or rectitude, turn out to be the key to professionalism.” But in a network, authority and status are defined, instead, by participation and generosity. Those must be the new keystones of professionalism that we teach.

Next, I hope we teach the value of the link. It is the key architectural element supporting a new structure of media, the steel beam that enables journalism to build past prior physical limitations, to grow taller, wider, and stronger than before. Just recently, I have heard confusion from working journalists about the role of the link. They still think it is an endorsement rather than an extension or an FYI. They don’t always understand how links power the algorithms that organize knowledge today, and how links are the basis of media distribution from now on. Yes, today, journalists should learn the science of search-engine optimization just as we learned the artful marketing power of the catchy headline or the intriguing cover.

And, of course, we are all beginning to teach our students to work in any appropriate medium, to make the choice of how best to tell stories and distribute news – a choice that we could not make when we were prisoners of one medium or another. This is why students at CUNY learn and create work in all media. I hope we also teach students to experiment with new forms of storytelling, mixing media not on a page but in a narrative. The real lesson here is not in any single tool or technique: It is the imperative of change, of flexibility, and of innovation.

I want to emphasize that last point: Journalism has long been taught as an art of preservation – protecting age-old verities that do, indeed, require and deserve our armor. We were also taught to protect journalism from the business people and business interests that, in fact, supported our endeavors. As a result, we do not operate in a culture of change and innovation in journalism. And too many do not understand the economics that support or threaten the industry. An executive who works with many news organizations told me recently that he saw no innovation going on in news companies in this country. Even I thought that was strong. But he reiterated his point: “Zero,” he said. This is why I am teaching a course in journalistic entrepreneurialism at CUNY, where students are proposing to create new and sustainable journalistic enterprises. They are learning not only innovation but business – as well as journalistic value – as they compete not just for grades but for grants of seed money from the McCormick Tribune Foundation. The difficulty of starting a new enterprise from scratch, without the capital of a giant, monopoly media organzation, is also teaching them the need and value of working with partners in the communities they hope to serve. It is teaching them the value of the conversation.

Finally, I quote from Roy Peter Clark’s tribute to Prof. Carey at Poynter, in which he listened to David Shedden’s interview with the professor in 1991. Asking for final thoughts in their talk, Prof. Carey said: “There are no final thoughts. I quote all the time these wonderful words of Kenneth Burke: ‘Life is a conversation. When we enter it’s already going on. We try to catch the drift of it. We exit before it’s over.'”

I think Jim Carey teaches us to teach our students that larger lesson. Journalism is not a technical skill of mere observation that can sit to the side of society. It is inevitably part of society. And now that we do have the ability to have a conversation with the people formerly known as our audience (hat tip to Jay Rosen) we need to teach the students to learn from that and to be willing to reexamine their roles as journalists in the communities they serve. The essential skills of journalism – listening, understanding, organizing, sharing – are the same, but we have so many new ways to practice them.

News is a conversation. Life is a conversation. The question for us is, how do we teach our students to be great conversationalists?

Hire him

So I come across the brand new blog about the new newsroom with only three posts yet it already imparts some wisdom about the new architecture of news, for example:

The Web is your Web site; search is your navigation.
* Every piece of content should function as an independent business that can be embedded in whatever Web site wishes to host it;
* Advertising needs to integrate with every piece of content and go wherever it goes;
* Journalism organizations should think of themselves as wire services providing content for any interested Web site; let people who intimately know their audience aggregate and present the content (after finding it with search) . . .

I couldn’t figure out at first who was writing this (a pet peeve of mine — put up ‘about’ pages, people) and then found, to my surprise, that it is one of the students with whom I worked on the GoSkokie hyperlocal project at Northwestern. And it turns out he’s working for a paper that might fold, so he’s job-hunting. So take a look at the guy.

Group hug: The big cooperation

Very good posting for a position at the City University of London: for a doctoral student to work with Sky News and an army of citizen journalists. Now that’s bringing worlds together.

This project affords excellent opportunities to explore concepts around citizen journalism in the mainstream news media, using a case study approach and participant observation.

For the first year of their PhD the appointee will work closely with Sky News on an innovative project to recruit several hundred “citizen journalists” to report on the next UK general election campaign. The project aims to allow contributors to do more than simply give their opinion; instead they will be expected to write stories, take pictures and possibly record video.

The appointee’s role would be to work closely with Sky News to recruit suitable contributors, mentor them and guide them in creating the right sort of content, and manage their contributions. The appointee will be responsible for ensuring that there is a broad mix of contributors in terms of party affiliation, background and expertise. The successful candidate will also be involved in the development of the website to best support the project and ensure that the material is used to its best advantage. The role requires editorial initiative, a nose for news, an understanding of what makes compelling online content and familiarity with the social networking community.

(Full disclosure: I’ve been consulting with SkyNews.)

Class dismissed

Neil McIntosh has damned good advice for journalism students, following up on a report about the state of j-schools and technology, below:

Again, for those at the back: if you think you want to be a journalist, I now don’t think there’s any excuse not to have a blog. The closer you get to looking around for jobs, the better it should be maintained. If you enter the jobs market without one, no matter how good your degree, you’re increasingly likely to lose out to people who better present all they can do, and have the experience of creating and curating their own site.

Back to the future

Still catching up on my RSS reading, I see this disturbing report from the journalism educators’ conference on the state of new media art in j-school and college papers. You’d think that they’d be way ahead of the industry, right? The young people live and breath this stuff, or so we’re told; soon we won’t even need to train them in multimedia because they’ll come in growing up omnimedia. Not so fast:

About 91 percent of college newspapers had online presences in 2007, but the percentages are much lower for other forms of college media — 36.3 percent for radio stations, 20.9 percent for television stations, 18.1 percent for magazines and 6 percent for yearbooks. There were, however, “appreciable gains” in the proportion of college media outlets using multimedia technologies in 2007 compared to 2006: For instance, in 2006, 20.9 percent used podcasts, versus 38.4 percent in 2007. The use of Weblogs increased from 19.8 to 35.8 percent, RSS feeds from 23.5 to 35.1 percent, streaming video from 16.6 to 30.5 percent, embedded video (including YouTube) from 9.6 to 42.4 percent and comments features from 39.6 to 57 percent.

It’s good news that only a third of college papers use blogs and RSS? Ouch. This isn’t just about being cool. It’s about jobs:

Meanwhile, even the smallest commercial newspapers, with 10,000 readers or fewer, are looking for reporting candidates with experience writing for the Web and uploading stories to the Internet, according to a survey of newspaper managing editors conducted by Wendelken and Toni B. Mehling of James Madison University. Of nine respondents in the “large daily newspaper” category (those with a circulation of 44,000 and above), eight required reporters to have skills in capturing audio while four required audio editing skills. Five required reporters to have skills in capturing video, while one required video editing expertise. Major newspapers, said Wendelken, “are looking at reporters to do these things from the start.”

When discussing barriers to new media education, panelists and audience members cited costs (although Murley stressed that many of the technologies can be used fairly cheaply), in addition to resistance from some faculty who lack multimedia skills themselves or otherwise don’t see the need to instruct undergraduates in the emerging platforms. But they also cited resistance from journalism students themselves.

“A lot of college students select their medium in high school. When they come onto campus, they’re already a TV person or a radio person or a newspaper person,” said Wendelken.

“I’m a print journalist,” he continued, imitating the attitude of many aspiring journalists. “Why do I need to learn video?”

There is no such thing as a print journalist anymore. There are journalists who now can work in any medium for any media company.

Pay no attention

Pete Hamill made an outrageous ruling on blogs and journalistic education on Brian Lehrer’s show on WNYC yesterday. Ready, aim, flame:

You know blogging, the blogosphere. When I teach at NYU I try to tell these young potential journalists: don’t waste your time with blogs because you need to be somewhere where there are editors, where you are getting paid. A blog might be useful therapy, but it’s not, at this stage of its development, journalism. I think that is a big mistake to be doing that kind of stuff.

I think I’ll just let that sit there.

Lehrer and Hamill were talking about local reporters:

LEHRER: When I think about newspaper columnists, it seems to me there’s a lost generation. That the entire art has changed. There were people like you and Jimmy Breslin, Murray Kempton and others. Who were going out to neighborhood bars, writing about individuals. Or writing about policy through the story of individuals. Now there are lots of policy columnists today and some very good ones, even in the present day New York tabloids. But I don’t think there’s the same emphasis on the individual story. And very much the individual immigrant story. Do you think?

HAMILL: I agree with you. I think one reason for it is the overdependence on the internet: to sit in a building and call up all the statements from politician x y or z or think tank a b or c is not the same as going to 116th street and seeing the change over from Puerto Rican culture to Mexican culture.

So the internet and blogs are bad for journalism. Or is that just bad for columnists? Or Hamill? Or journalism students?

Here’s the audio:

I spoke later with Lehrer producer Jim Colgan. We didn’t bother with that blog bigotry. But I said that there is now more reporting going on at least in some neighborhoods and towns thanks to local bloggers. Lehrer is having one of them, Bob Guskind, who blogs at Gowanus Lounge and is the Brooklyn editor of Curbed, on the show today at 11a to talk about this. But I also pointed out that blogs also give us the voice of the people directly; they need not go through the filters of columnists and editors to be heard. If you want to listen. Which is what I thought journalists were supposed to do.

Journalism students: I wouldn’t waste your time with this advice about blogs.

The problem with ‘only’

A journalism class at NYU surveyed students there and found that 44 percent read blogs. Interesting fact. What does it mean?

In the press release they put out and the story about it in the school paper, the instructor, department chair Brooke Kroeger, expresses surprise. Quoting the story:

The press release said blogs are targeted at today’s youth but “the fry aren’t taking the bait.” Kroeger said she didn’t expect only 44 percent of the “hip, urban, connected, downtown” crowd to read blogs.

So that’s how this news is presented: “only” 44 percent.

The student reporter emailed me and this is what I say in the story:

Jeff Jarvis, a professor at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and creator of the blog BuzzMachine, disagreed.

“It’s not a surprising finding to me,” Jarvis said.

He referred to a study done by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research group, which found that “Eight million American adults say they have created blogs; blog readership jumped 58 percent in 2004 and now stands at 27 percent of internet users.”

“That would mean that students compared to the population as a whole are heavy users of blogs,” Jarvis said.

And there’s the problem with “only.” That word reports only the expectation of the speaker; it says the fact was less than her prediction. It’s a dangerous word. Reporters use it all the time and all too often: The candidate got “only” n percent of the vote (that is, less than the writer thought he should get. In college, I wrote a paper on how Ed Muskie won the New Hampshire primary but got less than the reporter thought he should get and so he was declared a loser).

So who says that 44 percent is small? Who says that’s surprising? Who is to judge that the fry aren’t taking the bait? What other comparisons can be made? For example, how many of those students read newspapers? How many watch the evening network news?