Social Journalism: Apply & hire now!

We are not far from the end of the first year of our new degree in social journalism at CUNY and I couldn’t be prouder of what the students and the faculty are accomplishing. (If you are interested in being part of the second class, now is the time to apply.) My best accomplishment in helping to start this degree was recruiting the amazing Carrie Brown to head the program.

I am learning a great deal from Carrie and our students as we grapple with some fundamental questions about the nature of journalism as a service, about the idea of internally focused vs. externally focused journalism, and about a community’s definition of itself. We have been looking at whom we serve in a community — and whose behavior we thus set out to change. We have been asking what the appropriate measures of success — of impact and value — should be. We, of course, we are learning much about the impact of new social tools on journalism and gaining skills in that realm as a result.

And we are producing a class of high-powered pioneers. At the Online News Association confab in L.A. a week ago Carrie and I found employers dying to get their hands on our soon-to-be graduates. When Sarah Bartlett and I came up with the idea for this degree, we knew we were betting on the come: that news organizations would need the journalists we would educate in this program. A damned good bet.

I asked Carrie for an update for you about what our students are working on in their practicums (practica?) in the communities they have chosen to serve and in some cases in internships in media companies. A sample of their work:

A photo posted by Carrie Brown (@brizzyc) on

* Pedro Burgos has been teaching himself to code beyond what he learned in class and has built a sentiment analyzer using IBM Watson’s API to allow him to examine what kinds of Facebook strategies produce the best comments and dialogue. He has interviewed experts in improving comments from around the country as well. Pedro loves to challenge me in class discussion and I relish that for through that we are exploring new metrics that should guide our work in journalism.

* Luis Miguel Echegaray is interning this semester at Vice. He is also live blogging soccer in Spanish for The Guardian, which has garnered them a lot of traffic. Luis is also working to build his The Faces of Soccer website. He is going to be working with South Bronx United, a nonprofit org that not only offers soccer coaching but school tutoring. Luis intends to become the Anthony Bourdain of soccer. He will succeed.

* Rachel Glickhouse is interning this semester at Medium. She’s also freelancing for a number of outlets, including Al Jazeera America and Quartz. We are impressed by how her work helped one man get his deportation stayed. At Medium, Rachel is assisting with audience engagement and involving journalism schools in an upcoming investigation. She’s also developing her practicum to start a conversation on Medium and social media about the difficulties of becoming a legal resident in the U.S.

* Deron Dalton is interning with the Daily Dot. In addition to other stories, he is using the expertise he has developed serving #BlackLivesMatter there. He is also developing resources for journalists on how to cover the movement.

* Julia Haslanger is working with Chalkbeat to study how the organization can continue to grow its readership and engagement. Her journalism salary survey – results posted on Medium – has gotten a lot of attention and reaction, and she was invited to speak at The Media Consortium as a result. She is also doing research for the Kettering Foundation, interviewing social media and community engagement editors in newsrooms to learn more about how they approach their jobs and the skills they need.

* Nuria Saldanha — who first completed our certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism — conducted her first media skills training in partnership with the Facebook Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab in the Heliópolis favela in São Paulo this August. People are learning how to use mobile devices to create text/photos/video. This is of particular benefit to small business that primarily use Facebook to promote their businesses. Facebook can use the Lab as a pilot project and expand it to other favelas and countries in Latin America. In collaboration with people she trains in media skills, she will produce 10 to 20 videos with elderly people from favelas, who are not familiar with the internet. Many of them migrated to the area while fleeing extreme poverty, moving São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro looking for a better life, but most ended up living in favelas and working in very low-skill jobs. She is also volunteering for BrazilFoundation, an organization that raises money to support social projects in Brazil, most of them related to her community.

* Emily Goldblum skipped the interim step of an internship when she was sought out for a job at The Odyssey. Her task there is to crowdsource stories from college students about a variety of topics. Her main goal is to diversify content with a specific focus on LGBTQ communities and has been working to cultivate more writers interested in writing about queer-focused topics.

* Aaron Simon has developed The Greenburg Post, an experimental community-journalism platform that seeks to collaborate with the residents and businesses that call North Brooklyn home. He has been reporting on a toxic Superfund site in the community and crowdsourcing stories and data about how the pollution has affected local residents.

* Sean Devlin is currently in Ireland interviewing Irish students who have participated in the J-1 graduate visa program, which allows them to spend 12 months in the United States interning and traveling. He has been serving the Irish community in New York for the past nine months and now went to the source to ask how social media (Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp) help Irish people in the U.S unite and get information.

* Erica Soto is working on a new kind of crowdfunding site for independent music artists. She writes: “SupportTour is Kickstarter meets Honeyfund for the indie musician on tour. At SupportTour, artists engage with fans by allowing them to participate in their tour experience. Instead of giving money for albums or studio space, fans purchase items directly for the artist. Just as Honeyfund allows users to register for honeymoon needs, artists will be able to register for tour needs such as hotel rooms, meals, additional gear and more. Fans then decide how they’d like to support the artists. They’ll even receive rewards when items are purchased. It could be a signed album, concert tickets, a secret Skype session or even a private dinner with their favorite artist. This is a chance for fans to become more involved with musicians on the road and for musicians to offer new incentive and creative fan experiences.”

* Adriele Parker’s goal is to “gather content to inform and share the stories of [African-Americans] that are suffering (or have suffered) from psychological disorders” and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. She has developed a “Our Stories in Light” podcast to share stories and it also continuing to develop a website.

* Betsy Laikin is building a media platform for women from the Middle East and North Africa currently residing in New York, in conjunction with her work at Women’s Voices Now. This will include community-produced written stories, audio podcasts, photography, and videos.

* Cristina Carnicelli Furlong organized an impressive roundtable with the American Society of Newspaper Editors and is building resources to educate reporters about how to cover pedestrian safety in New York.

In addition to all that, Carrie has announced a partnership with Storyful to train social journalists. Here’s some of what Carrie has learned so far.

If you are a journalist who wants to challenge the way that journalism services the public, then come apply. If you are an employer who wants these innovative journalists to help you change how you do journalism, let Carrie or me know.

Honoring Neil deGrasse Tyson for his journalism

tyson photo croppedWhen Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewed Edward Snowden (via electronic avatar) for his podcast, the good doctor said a few times that he is not a journalist.

Yet the Knight Foundation and we at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism are giving Tyson the third Knight Innovation Award for journalism on Oct. 14. When I told him this, I anticipated his objection: “I’m a scientist, not a journalist.” That is just the point. In the larger information ecosystem in which news now works, Tyson provides an example to experts in any field for how to inject desperately needed facts and reasoning into a public discussion that too often lacks either. At a time when I argue that explanation itself becomes a journalistic specialty, Tyson again provides a model for how to bring complex subjects down to earth and relevance. As a media innovator, he has learned and exploited every new medium — from Twitter to podcasts — to use his celebrity to enlighten.

In any medium, Tyson uses clear explanation, humor, and blunt delivery of the facts to explain concepts and refute anti-intellectual arguments. On politicians debating global warming, he has said: “Now we have a time where people are cherry-picking science. The science is not political. That’s like repealing gravity because you gained 10 pounds last week.” In a two-minute YouTube video, he can explain the science behind climate change. In any lecture — like this one at ASU — Tyson demonstrates a journalist’s ability to impart knowledge through storytelling and to argue the case for art’s as well as newspapers’ impact on science.

I had the privilege of joining an episode of Tyson’s Star Talk show and podcast to talk about journalism. I know he cares about the future of the field.

So we are honoring Neil deGrasse Tyson at CUNY. At that ceremony, he will receive a $25,000 award from Knight and — here’s the cool part — he will have another $25,000 to give forward to a media innovator of his choice.

But wait, there’s more: We will begin the afternoon at 4 p.m. with a panel on podcasting led by Alex Blumberg, founder of Gimlet Media, and including Heben Nigutu of BuzzFeed’s Another Round podcast, Manoush Zomorodi of WNYC’s Note to Self, and Greg Young of the Bowery Boys podcast.

There will be a limited number of seats open. If you, like me, are a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson and podcasts and journalism, then this will be a slice of conversational heaven. The details and sign-up are here.

More innovation at CUNY

holaI’m proud of our CUNY Graduate School of Journalism for continuing to innovate.

Last night at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ convention in Orlando, our dean, Sarah Bartlett, announced a new initiative to train Spanish-language journalists in the U.S. We are seeking state approval for a new concentration and will look to develop a degree.

We are working in partnership with a stellar group of Hispanic institutions: El País and Prisa; Univision News; Instituto Cervantes; La Nación of Argentina; and ImpreMedia, which owns major Spanish-language news organizations across America.

Personally, I’m so excited about this work that I started studying Spanish. No, I’ll never be ready to edit any of our students — just the opposite. But after visiting El País in Madrid and then with this pending announcement, I finally was just too ashamed of being an American who doesn’t speak the language the 45 million other Americans speak. (Take that, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin.) Simply as a matter of respect and intellectual curiosity, I finally decided it was time. Así que estudio español.

(By the way, I highly recommend the Pimsleur method. I always thought that I hated learning languages, that I was incapable of it. That’s why I abandoned French after elementary school and didn’t pay attention to my German in high school, college, and since. I’ve long said I’m one of those horrible Americans who speaks only 1.1 languages — the .1 being irreparable German. But I am downright enjoying my Pimsleur studies: half-hour a day, 60 days out of 150 so far.)

Add to this another CUNY announcement yesterday: The New York Times Student Journalism Institute is moving to our school next year.

Add to that the start of our new program in professional development education, for which we hired Marie Gilot as director. I’m happy to say that the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, which I direct, is helping with research on new jobs, roles, and organizational structures for news organizations.

Tow-Knight has also acted as an educational incubator at our school, starting the nation’s first MA in Entrepreneurial Journalism, headed by my colleague Jeremy Caplan, and then the nation’s first MA in Social Journalism, headed by our new colleague, Carrie Brown. (And by the way, applications for both those programs are open now…. so follow the links to apply.) With my Tow-Knight colleague Hal Straus, we are planning major research and events to help our industry find new paths to sustainability.

Our journalism school is about to enter its 10th year. I was the first faculty member hired by our founding dean, Steve Shephard. From the beginning, we prided ourselves on continuing to act as a startup. As all the evidence above attests, we are still a startup. I’m proud to work with Sarah Bartlett on some of these innovations and more to come. Under her leadership, we are kicking ass. Now how do I say that en español?

Capturing the history of our early web: Vogue.com & Style.com

The design studio four32c posted a tribute/obit for Style.com recently and though it was good to see recognition for its pioneering work, for the sake of digital history, it’s also important to get on the record some corrections about the story. It´s also important given the impact the pioneering work at Style and — more to the point — Vogue.com had on digital coverage of fashion that has followed.

My friend and frequent collaborator Joan Feeney — the genius who led so much of the innovation of the early web at Condé Nast — sent the four32c a note with some clarification and edification; they didn’t run it and so I volunteered to. Joan writes:

The obituary of the site that either missed or misrepresented some significant facts and circumstances about the origins and early days of the site. There was no place to comment, so Jeff offered to post this note I wrote to get the record straight, in case anyone cares someday. I likely wouldn’t have written it except that my recollections about the start of Epicurious have been in demand of late, in celebration of that site’s 20th anniversary, and so many of these Condé Net memories and details are front of mind as is the lack of reliable histories and records about those days.

Contrary to what was posted on four32c, we launched Vogue.com the year before we started Style. And Vogue.com, not Style, was the site that shot and posted every single look from every runway show on the day of the show from the major fashion cities — which, as noted, was revolutionary in many ways.

Until then, designers had restricted the number of looks that could be published to fewer than half a dozen, and even that small sample could be published only during a brief window for a specified period after the show (runway shows typically featured about 60 or 70 looks). No one but Vogue, meaning Anna Wintour, could have done that — it was Anna, and her proxy at Vogue.com, Anne Buford, who persuaded the designers to let us in, despite the fashion houses enormous general misgivings and specific fear of piracy.

If Anna hadn’t decided it was right and timely to open up fashion shop on the Internet, I believe it might not have happened to this day, so resistant, reluctant, and occasionally hostile were the designers and their businesses to the idea. But because Anna blessed it, it came to pass. A startup would have had no sway with the designers, let alone enough yank to get almost every one of them to agree to something so alien and that they couldn’t see as offering any benefit to themselves.

(Even with Anna’s tremendous support and Anne’s tremendous efforts, a few French designers blocked us from attending their shows; and even after we got the designers’ permission, the models’ union, which was very strong in France, forbade us to use the models’ images. It was a vastly complicated enterprise, and it all happened on Vogue’s watch and because Anna decreed it. Fiona da Rin, the Paris editor for American Vogue was a huge help with the diplomacy effort. She would take me from fashion house to fashion house with my laptop to demonstrate not only the website and prototypes of the coverage, but often showing them the Internet for the first time, assuming they had a connection, which they often did not; I had a canned presentation to show in that case.)

One of the other extraordinary things Vogue.com did with the show coverage was to tag the photos so that users could search/sort by collection or piece (all Italian skirts from Fall 2000, for example, or all Ralph Lauren sweaters from every season). One of the selling points we made to designers was what a great resource it created for their own use and historical archives, which it did. It was effectively instantaneous coverage — something completely foreign to fashion at that time.

Melissa Weiner was the genius who made all those amazing tools back at the office. We took the Voguemobile RV to the European shows, and transmitted photos back to the US, where Melissa did her magic getting them tagged, labeled, and online within an hour or so, no matter what time of night it was. The first shows we did were in New York, September of 1999, in the tents at Bryant Park, and we briefly went dark when a hurricane flooded the tents.

“Cams” were a big thing back then — it was considered cool to aim a web cam at the office coffee pot so you could check to see if there was fresh coffee, I guess you had to be there — and we had a camera with a live feed posted at the models’ entrance to the tents, which unfortunately ended up trained on the portable toilets. Inevitably this became the Can Cam and was very popular. Those, as we say, were the days.

Part of why we insisted that the runway coverage be the comprehensive and that their be nifty tools to manipulate the data (searching, sorting, saving) was because we were very vigilant in those days not to compete or reproduce what the magazine did. So we always began the development process by figuring out what magazines were unable to do, and making those things as our creative brief. We had infinite space, data bases, and no time delay, and committed to defining our products by the use of these attributes unique to the web. If something could appear in print, we didn’t need to put it on a screen. I believe that zero “repurposed” material appeared on the site.

I was editorial director (or editor in chief, I forget) of Vogue.com and later came up with the notion for Style.com, using the model Rochelle Udell had come up with for a new online brand (Epicurious) to host Gourmet, BA, and other branded and original content. Style.com, of which I was editorial director (or whatever) would be home to Vogue and the Fairchild brands (WWD, W), as well as other CNP and original fashion content, and Vogue.com moved into that tent. (Style.com was also intended to help centralize the many various foreign editions of the magazine brands at one location.)

The original and brilliant designer for both Vogue.com and Style.com was Lesley Marker. I bought the name/url Style.com from the Limited. I don’t recall how or even if they had used it, but once we owned it, it was never a gossip site (as the obituary states). Many of the other tools, approaches, and systems we used for Vogue.com and Style.com also came from the work we were doing on other Condé Net sites, which then included Epicurious, Swoon, Phys, and Concierge. For example, the Neiman-Marcus e-commerce arrangement was based on one we had done for Epicurious with Williams-Sonoma.

In the spring of 2000, Vogue.com did an online event with Chanel, where we hosted the resort collection live and let invited users pre-order looks based on detail shots we took of every item the second it came off the runway. Chanel was interested not just in selling outfits but in finding out what looks/colors/fabrics shoppers were interested in before the company even began the manufacturing process; fifteen years ago, they were aware of how valuable that data was to making their business more efficient and effective. Chanel was always one of our most enthusiastic partners. It was dissonant and thrilling that the Chanel executives brought our team up to Coco Chanel’s preserved apartment to discuss our Internet partnership.

Style.com became the larger home for the runway coverage; I think we still branded it as Vogue, though I am not sure.

There are several other key contributors who deserve credit for inventing fashion coverage online back in the late ‘90s; if anyone is interested, I can send more information. The early photographers did extraordinary work when the equipment and the support were unreliable and unwieldy. While Anna Wintour is given some credit in the Fourc32 telling of the story, it isn’t made clear the kind of coverage we were able to do would never, ever have happened if it hadn’t been for Anna’s decision and commitment to make it happen. I believe no other person or group could have persuaded the fashion industry to participate. Then or now.

I’m glad to have this bit of history not only because I go to watch all this magic as it transpired but because I think it’s important that we not lose the memory of how the web began. It amazes me that Epicurious is 20 years old. I started my first site for the parent company, Advance (a weather site called RainOrShine.com, just to get our feet wet) 20 years ago. The memories fade.

So I recommend reading Eric Gillin’s wonderful oral history of Epicurious. I was delighted that XOXO brought together the founders of Suck.com for their 20th anniversary; I wish I could have watched. I hope that other pioneers have the courage to show their gray hairs and dredge up their memories before they are lost. We were there at the start of it all.

Advertising sucks. Let us listicle the ways.

From my Observer column (read the whole thing here):

Advertising sucks, let us listicle the ways:

1. Advertising is almost always irrelevant.

2. Advertising is oppressively repetitive. That is only worse now that so-called retargeting advertising will note when you look at a pair of pants online so those pants can stalk you across the web for months.

3. Even with all its newfound data and artificial intelligence, advertising is still stupid. It doesn’t know that you already bought those damned pants and keeps selling them to you.

4. Advertising interrupts—first radio, then TV, and now our Facebook streams.

5. Advertising is intrusive of privacy. I will argue that the humble cookie has been unjustly demonized by the Wall Street Journal, for cookies do useful things like reducing the frequency with which ads are served to you (see complaint No. 2). Still it’s true that the advertising, media, and technology industries gather much data without giving their users any control or transparency into the reasons and consequences.

6. Advertising is irritating. It always has been. Go to anyone over the age of 50 and whine, “More Parks Sausages, Mom,” then watch them cringe.

7. Advertising is tacky, a glaring, blaring blight on the visual and auditory landscape. On most sites, there is just too much of it.

8. Advertising in inefficient. The only advance on the net is that marketers now have a better chance of determining which half of their dollars is wasted.

9. Advertising lies.

So how do we fix it? Not with native advertising. That is just another lie, designed to make us think an ad is not an ad. But we’re not as stupid as advertisers—and media companies—take us to be. As online metrics company Chartbeat has learned, users engage with a web page—that is, they scroll through it—71 percent of the time when the page contains real content but only 24 percent of the time when it carries so-called native advertising. And that leads me to one more complaint to fill out this listicle:

10. Advertising is an insult to our intelligence.

The column is devoted to fixing this.