Posts about cuny

Studying the internet

This spring at CUNY, my colleague Douglas Rushkoff and I will teach a course in Designing the Internet.

Students will propose and design a feature of the net they want to see. Some might start from the entrepreneurial perspective: a product, service, feature, or company. But I hope students will radically broaden their perspectives to design more: perhaps a regulatory regime, an ethical regime, a research agenda, a covenant of mutual obligation with the public for technology and media companies, a design agenda for equity and accessibility, business models built to avoid the corruptions we know, curricula, a warning from the past (about technological determinism or manifest destiny), archival standards, a manifesto for an open net, a constitution … anything. (Note that I did not list a metaverse, but if the students want to go there, they can.)

In the first third of the course, we will offer many readings — including the likes of Vannevar Bush, André Brock Jr., danah boyd, Charlton McIlwain, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Andrew Pettegree, Kate Klonick, David Weinberger, Ruha Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Axel Bruns, James Carey, Dave Winer, Marshall McLuhan— and much discussion examining the net and how we got here: lessons for good and bad. We will invite guests from other perspectives and disciplines: anthropology, psychology, African-American studies, Latino studies, ethics, history, psychology, technology. The students will work on their proposals through the term and will present at the end.

Our idea is to demonstrate to students that they have the agency and responsibility for the future of the net. Because the course is being taught at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, I have a particular objectives for media students: to argue that the canvas for journalists and the service they provide is much wider than story-telling and publication. (I contend the net is not a subset of media but instead media are becoming — alongside so many other sectors of society — subsets of the network.) I also want to instill in journalists the reflex to seek out, learn from, and share work from academics who are researching key questions about the net and its impact — based on evidence. The students will find and share a work of research a week.

Doug and I come at this from different perspectives. I wrote the book What Would Google Do? Doug, a professor at Queens College, wrote the book Throwing Rocks from the Google Bus. Opinions may vary. But we end up on the same road: arguing that the net is not baked, that its present proprietors are not its forever owners, that we have the opportunity and responsibility to decide and design the net we want. We both want the net to be the province of humanity over technology. As Doug put it to me: “We just get there differently. I want less evil, you want more good.”

In the end, I believe that what we are examining is the future of society’s institutions, challenged and rebuilt or replaced in a new, networked reality. In my to-be-published (I pray) book The Gutenberg Parenthesis, I use this example:

The first recorded effort to impose censorship on the press came only about fifteen years after Gutenberg’s Bible. In 1470, Latin grammarian Niccolò Perotti appealed to Pope Paul II to impose Vatican control on the printing of books. His motive was not religious, political, or moral “but exclusively a love of literature” and a desire for “quality control,” according to Renaissance historian John Monfasani. Conrad Sweynheym, a German cleric who, it is believed, worked with Gutenberg in Eltville, and his partner, Arnold Pannartz, became the first to print a book in Italy, in 1465. Two years later, they moved to Rome, where in 1470 they published an edition of Pliny’s Natural History edited by Andrea Bussi. It was this book that set Perotti off. In his litany of complaint to the pope, he pointed to twenty-two grammatical errors in the book, which much offended him.

Perotti had been an optimist about this new technology of printing, having “once viewed as a boon to literature ‘the new art of writing lately brought to us from Germany.’” He called it “a great and truly divine benefit” such that he “hoped that there would soon be such an abundance of books that everyone, however poor and wretched, would have whatever was desired.” But the first tech backlash was not long in coming, for according to Monfasani, Perotti’s “hopes have been thoroughly dashed. The printers are turning out so much dross…. And when good literature does get printed, he complains, it is edited so perversely that the world would be better off not having the texts than to have them circulate in corrupt editions of a thousand copies.” Perotti had a solution. He called upon Pope Paul to appoint a censor, not to ban books so much as to improve them. “The easiest arrangement is to have someone or other charged by papal authority to oversee the work, who would both prescribe to the printers regulations governing the printing of books and would appoint some moderately learned man to examine and emend individual formes before printing,” Perotti wrote. “The task calls for intelligence, singular erudition, incredible zeal, and the highest vigilance.”

We might look upon Perotti’s call as quaint — not unlike Yahoo in the early days of the web thinking its librarians could catalogue every single noteworthy site anyone could ever make. The idea that a moderately learned if vigilant person could approve and correct all printing even out of Rome alone betrays a failure to divine the scale of printing to come. Yet one could say that rather than foreseeing the state censor, Perotti was envisioning the roles of the editor and publishing house as means to assure quality. He was looking to invent a new institution to solve a new problem, just as we must today. Fact-checkers engaged by Facebook and algorithms written at every internet company are inadequate to the task of assuring credibility of content, just as Perotti’s censor would have been. So what do we invent instead?

That is the question we will address in this course.

The course will be open to any CUNY graduate students from any discipline and, with approval, to undergrads and (if there is space) nonmatriculated members of the public (non-CUNY students can follow this link or DM me or Doug).

We hope this is a pilot for a much larger project in Internet Studies — perhaps a degree. We are also working with others on efforts to bring more attention to internet research: We plan to offer literature reads of prominent and current work to journalists and policymakers to inform their work with evidence (I’ll share a job posting shortly). And once COVID allows, we hope to bring together researchers to share perspectives on what we know and don’t know about the impact of the net, what questions we have yet to ask, and what data and access are needed to explore those questions. More to come, as I’m still raising funding for the work. (Disclosure: My school and center have received funding for scholarships and various activities from Facebook, Google, and Craig Newmark; I receive no remuneration from any tech platform.)

In the meantime, teaching this course alongside Doug will be a blast.

Our movement

Every year at this time, I am impressed with the imagination, invention, daring, and mission of our Social Journalism graduates at the Newmark J-School as they reimagine and reinvent journalism. I am particularly impressed this year as they were hit with the pandemic, forcing them to take their work of showing up and listening indoors and online. In this, the last week in the term, we watched 2020’s graduates and next year’s students present their work with communities. 

These students consistently push the old, sealed envelope of journalism. Examples: A few are experimenting with fiction as journalism. One planned a play to educate tenants about their rights in evictions. Some reached their communities with posters on phone polls. One enabled refugees to take their own pictures so they could tell their stories rather than having them told by others. One tried to get newspaper publishers to print absentee-ballot applications (the papers refused). One made a zine with political cartoons to educate journalists. One made a guide for young Latinx journalists to help them get their stories told in newsrooms. More than one realized that to gain the trust they were asking for, they needed to be open about themselves; one offered her community an opportunity to ask her anything, another tells the story of his addiction. One got dragged out of a meeting by a mayor because of her reporting; the mayor was soon defeated. One created playlists to help people with depression as her journalism. 

They serve a grand diversity of communities: black, transgender women; disenfranchised voters; tenants at risk of losing their homes in the pandemic; black women victimized over their natural hair; people going hungry in one American city; Kashmiris under occupation; Syrian refugees; victims of gun violence and advocates for gun safety; teachers; young journalists; people who buy weed; residents of Louisiana’s cancer alley; people with depression; recovering addicts and people who care for them; healthcare workers; caregivers; school social workers; people with intellectual developmental disabilities in group homes suffering abuse; feminists protesting the murders of women in Mexico; the incarcerated and their loved ones; trans sex workers; hair braiders; the Venezuelan diaspora; bicyclists. 

What was particularly gratifying this year was that — given we were on Zoom and not in a too-small room — well more than a hundred people came to hear the graduates present their final project and among them were dozens of alumni of our still-young Social Journalism program. They came to give their support and admiration, which, thanks to Zoom, they could share as chat. 

Our alumni are phenomenal. They are our Trojan horses who are changing newsrooms, where they are quickly employed, with their learned skills — social, data, reporting, investigation, product, entrepreneurship — but more than that, their worldviews, their vision for what journalism can and should be. As the director of our program, my brilliant colleague Dr. Carrie Brown, says, these alums preach the gospel of Social Journalism more eloquently and effectively than we do. 

And what is that gospel? That we start not with content but with communities. That we first listen to communities so they are heard on their terms. We empathize with their needs and reflect our understanding back to assure we have listened well. Then we imagine what journalism we might bring to serve them. We believe in journalism as service, not product. As you can see above, we find and work with an incredible richness of tools to perform that service, beyond publishing stories. We try to build bridges and understanding. And we constantly question our assumptions about journalism, unafraid to challenge the shiboleth of objectivity, recognizing its roots in systemic racism and our field’s damage to communities, and questioning the high heresy of journalism as advocacy for those we serve. 

This is our mission. This is our movement. This is how our students and graduates are reimagining and rebuilding journalism. 

We accepted our first students in January 2015, only nine months after our dean, Sarah Bartlett, challenged me to envision a new degree based on my thinking about a relationship-based strategy for news and we were lucky enough to hire Dr. Brown to build and lead it. Here is the Social Journalism class of 2020

I am prouder of nothing else in my career more than helping to start Social Journalism. May my tombstone carry the hashtag #SocialJ. 

Journalism school: Why now?

Some of our amazing, innovative Social Journalism alumni from the Newmark J-School at CUNY are holding a Zoom call tonight to talk about the program and the work they’ve done because of it.

Given the state of the nation — and world — we have seen an upsurge in interest in #SocialJ and so we’ve just reopened admissions for the fall. Social Journalism could not be more relevant to the times.

I’ve spoken with some prospective journalism students lately who ask me whether this is the time they should come to school, or whether they should defer. My answer: If you wait a year, I think you’ll kick yourself.

In my life — and that’s a long time — I have never seen such a coming together of profound forces for change in society as we witness today. Systematic racism is exposed in glaring light no one can ignore any longer. That is for one thing because of the disproportionate and deadly burden on communities of color brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. And that is because police abuse is evident for all to see — not so much because of media’s cameras but because of the lens of the public, victims and witnesses, who can now share what they endure. It is thanks to the courage of a 17-year-old young woman who recorded the murder of George Floyd and posted it on Facebook that ignorance of police violence is no longer possible.

At the same time, of course, news media are challenged to their core. That is no reason to move away. That is a reason to move in. For as I tell our students every fall, it is their responsibility to reinvent and rebuild journalism, to take everything we teach and question it: How did we get here? Why do we do things this way (follow the money; follow the power)? What is the goal and reason of journalism? What are the ways we can now do it better?

Good God, if you want to change the world as a witness and participant, now is the time to do it.

Yes, it’s a tough time to go to school, as classes might start online or be interrupted. But when better to learn skills and confidence than in challenging times? Our students now will come out with untold resilience, with a need to be creative, with an ability to find new solutions, with strong motivation for their work. Lord, we need all that in the news business.

In Social Journalism, we — my brillant colleage Carrie Brown and the faculty she gathers in this program she directs — teach that journalism is not an industry with factories manufacturing a product called content to monetize with a commodity called attention. We teach that journalism is a service. I often teach the words of James Carey: “Republics require conversation, often cacophonous conversation, for they should be noisy places.” After a half-millenium of control by the gatekeepers of media, society is finally beginning to relearn how to hold a conversation with itself. So I redefined journalism and its mission: to convene communities to respectful, informed, and productive conversation. That’s what we do.

All our #SocialJ students select a self-defined community (not a mythical demographic like “millennial”) and first observe, listen to, empathize with, respect, and reflect the needs of that community before deciding what journalism can bring given all the new tools we have. See here a glimpse of the phenomenal, innovative work done by last year’s graduates.

We are heretics who are unafraid of examining how journalism can and should be advocacy for communities, for justice, for fairness, for science, for listening. Now is that time for that journalism, social journalism.

So come hear our alums talk about their experience (I’ll put up a link to the video here afterwards). It’s not a sales session. It is an event we long planned to show off their work. But given the intersection of circumstances — the challenges in society, the changes in prospective students’ lives, the reopening of our admissions — it’s a good time to hear what they have to say. (We will also have an information session for the school for veterans coming up on June 25 at 11 a.m. ET — sign up here.) Even if you don’t come to Newmark, if you are thinking of coming to school to come to journalism, my advice is that the time is now.

If you have questions, let me know. DM @jeffjarvis at Twitter.

Stop. Stop the presses.


At the end of an exceptional first week for our new program in News Innovation and Leadership at the Newmark J-school, the students — five managing editors, a VP, a CEO, and many directors among them — said they learned much from teachers and speakers, yes, but the greatest value likely came from each other, from the candid lessons they all shared.

When I first proposed this program about four years ago, I suggested it should offer a smorgasbord of courses to be taken at will. Then I was fortunate enough to recruit Anita Zielina, the ideal news executive, to create and run it. She said (nicely) that I was wrong and that the program had to revolve around a tight cohort of students sharing their education together. She was so right. This week, I watched this group build trust, respect, and empathy — and a common store of knowledge and insight … as well as exasperation.

Next Saturday in Philadelphia, the Tow-Knight Center at Newmark, will take part in the first meeting of an international gathering of product leaders in the news business. Our involvement grows out of one of a handful of communities of practice my colleague Hal Straus has been running for a few years, bringing top product, audience, commerce, and talent-and-inclusion executives in New York together to share — and sympathize — with each other. Aron Pilhofer at Temple and Damon Kiesow at Mizzou generously offered to include us in a collaboration to build a national product organization whose aim is to answer the question, “How do we make news organizations more audience-oriented, data-driven, and product-focused?” In short, how do we save the news business?

These people — like the Social Journalism students I wrote about so proudly last month— are our innovators. They will be our leaders. But they are frustrated by the state of the business and, of course, now and then by their bosses. They see the imperative for change; they have ideas; they are eager to run. But where? What frustrates them — and, in fairness, their bosses — is that the solutions are not evident and thus finding them requires risk, experimentation, failure, and investment of capital we do not have, capital we can acquire these days only from others who bring their own goals and agendas. Does this mean it may require letting some institutions burn to the ground so a radically new journalism can be built from the ashes?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about Gutenberg and the birth and long progress of printing toward its eclipse in our age of digital data and connectivity. And so this morning I came across an article by Otto Fuhrmann, a book and Gutenberg historian and former director of graphic arts at NYU, in the 1926 edition of the Gutenberg Gesellschaft Jahrbuch (Gutenberg Society Yearbook). He wrote about the New York Club of Printing House Craftsmen in a lovely evocation on the value of sharing in our field, which we used to call printing.

“The times are not so far distant when every foreman or executive jealously guarded his technical ‘secrets’, in the mistaken idea that by doing so he would make himself indispensable to his employer,” Fuhrmann writes.

So it was quite natural that the younger element should find out that a business can be run without secrecy, as long as the essential facts are recognized and dealt with. A friend working in a competitor’s shop did not cease to be a friend just because his employer did not like the other employer. And the men [sic*] who had the same or similar problems to meet in the actual running of their employers’ businesses found that an exchange of views and ideas benefitted them without hurting their employers.

It is true that employers first frowned upon the very idea to have their foremen meet other foremen…. However this prejudice is gradually disappearing, in the same measure as the spirit of cooperation and fair dealing, instead of the old method of slamming a competitor, is growing. Naturally, a large city like New York was the best place in which to inaugurate the craftsman idea, and it succeeded as it deserved.

Indeed.

Fuhrmann attributes its success in part to “a gradual change in business ethics that has taken place in the last 15 years.”

This change is signified by the word “service”. It meant, fundamentally, a complete change from the old standpoint of the producer or seller that the customer had to take the goods as they were offered, or do without them. The technique of advertising became more refined, and instead of forcing goods on an unwilling customer it became a fine art, all over the business world, to find out what a customer wanted and to satisfy his desires…. Developed to the n-th degree, “service” today often means anticipating the client’s wishes…

There is nothing new. I have been arguing for years that we should see journalism not as the manufacture of a commodity — content — but instead as a service. Here is Fuhrmann in 1926 arguing the same for printing. And that is the argument made by product people (though I’ll contend that their self-anointed label is a misnomer, for their craft is all about understanding customers’ needs and desires so as to serve them; they don’t make products so much as they serve people).

Fuhrmann notes that he is writing about his craft in a time of deep disruption. The Linotype had been patented only 40 years before. Rotary presses and dry stereotyping came about the same time. Paper made from pulp came not long before. Thus the business of publishing changed greatly, becoming a mass medium. In the shop, all these technologies spread and robbed the craftsman — whose heritage was in centuries of hand composition and hand presses — of their sense of control of their art.

The increasing mechanization tended to lower the skill and to narrow the range of the individuals in the printing business. It came to the point where specialization made it hard to find good all-around craftsmen. So it can be seen that the time was ripe and the background prepared for an attempt to bring the essential factors in our industry together for frank discussion and study of their problems.

What was needed, says Fuhrmann, was for executives to have a full understanding of every technology of the industry — “he must know enough about paper, engraving, electros, binding and finishing processes” — and perspectives from other fields. “That calls for real men of no mean calibre; and, of course, the man with the greatest fund of knowledge and resourcefulness will be the most successful one.”

And so, the club. According to Fuhrmann, monthly meetings began with dinner and entertainment to provide “a good antidote against the tension and the strain of business work and furnish a background for good-fellowship.” The building of a cohort, in our modern tongue. “We particularly lay stress upon the educational feature,” with guests and lectures. And they had an annual dinner dance. (There’ll be no dancing in Philadelphia.) The club, together with other trade associations — the New York Employing Printers’ Association and the Typographical Union — operated well-equipped schools for compositors’ apprentices and “a training course for foremen in the science of modern business management,” with employers “glad to pay the entire amount of tuition, knowing that the benefit to the foremen would ultimately redound to the firm many times over.”

And so, we attempt the same today in our rapidly changing field with meetings and communities of practice and training of journalists and managers. The difference is that from 1926, printing qua printing grew, tremendously so. Its methods and means changed significantly, which had considerable impact on the product and the profession. But it was still printing.

Today, we are leaving the business of printing and text, of content and publication, even of authoring and storytelling. But, let’s be honest, we still refuse to admit it. So the solutions talked about in classes and conferences are all incremental, aimed at getting bosses and boards to allow us to change what we have done enough to keep doing it, to save what we knew rather than start on what we don’t yet know.

Stop. Stop the presses.

The death of the newspaper has been often foretold. Yes, they are still around us. But I must ask to my Twitter peril, are they better off dead than in the hands of hedgies who milk every last drop of ink, sweat, and blood from the end of the diminishing tribe of (pardon me) craftsmen of our field? Are we better off if they die so newspapers and magazines and broadcast channels are not reinvented but journalism can be?

I take full blame myself for not being radical enough in seeking new definitions of journalism. But even that confession is hubristic. For perhaps these definitions are not new but only new to us. Perhaps they should come from other fields — anthropology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, design, philosophy — to help us envision an entirely new service to the public and its conversation. We who have the luxury and privilege of time and salary in universities should reach out to other fields to seek new expressions of society’s goals and problems and new ways to meet them using the new tools at hand.

So when all the young leaders we are gathering above who are eager to run and ask “where?” we should be ready not with answers, for we do not have them, but with audacious suggestions: Try here, try there. Try using the tools of the net and data and listen to the public we serve in new ways. Try understanding how people make decisions individually and together (even against their self-interest) and how to improve what they decide. Try listening to, valuing, and serving the people and communities who were long ignored and left unserved by our old industry, mass media. Try using the tools of connectivity to enhance the public conversation. Try new measures of value based not on our products but on how we help people improve their communities and lives.

And when they try and fail — as they must — we should offer support, convincing their bosses and boards or new funders that there is promise in this direction or that, but only if we explore. Along this journey — which I believe will be long, generations or even centuries long — we need to provide the means to bring together these brave new leaders not just to teach them what we know (so they may challenge it) but also to enable them to teach each other, to share.


* I will apologize for the sexist language of the period and then leave it unchanged and unremarked upon as it presents a picture of a past.

Thank You, Craig

I am proud that starting today, I am on the faculty of the newly rechristened Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. My friend Craig has given a generous gift to endow our J-school and we have named it in his honor. This represents an ideal alignment of missions — his and ours — in the service of trustworthy journalism in a public university.

I can’t remember exactly when I first met Craig. Like everyone I’ve ever witnessed meeting him, I was impressed to meet the Craig of craigslist. He is unique: a self-proclaimed nerd’s nerd, a model of humility, curiosity, goodwill, intelligence, humor, irony, and most of all generosity.

I love watching others puzzle over him. Many years ago at the rich and ritzy Foursquare business conference, I saw the CEO of a then-major media company throw up his arms in frustration at Craig’s refusal to clog his service with ads and maximize its revenue so he could sell out. “If I can’t interest you in a very large offer,” the exec asked, “can I interest you in a very small offer?”

Early in our school’s life, I invited Craig to speak to a room packed with our students, one of whom was as perplexed as that media executive. After Craig talked about supporting the philanthropic causes he cares so much about — trustworthy journalism and veterans among them — our admirably entrepreneurial student asked Craig why he would not maximize the value of the enterprise he founded, sell it for billions, and then donate the proceeds of the resulting endowment to the groups he wanted to support. Craig said that he saw himself a philanthropist of classified ads, leaving money in the pockets of untold real people in the market rather than in the pockets of the middlemen who controlled marketplaces for apartments, cars, jobs, pianos, whatever.

Yes, some have accused Craig of forestalling the business models of those middlemen: newspapers. I have always disagreed. Craig didn’t invent the internet. He created the most prominent example of what the internet could do in directly connecting buyers and sellers, reducing inefficiency in a market. Long ago, I argued to newspaper bosses that they would be displaced by their former customers — real estate agents, job agents, car dealers — who would use the net to go around them to bring their information directly to a more-perfect market. I was nearly beheaded as a heretic. But the moral of the story is clear: Craig Newmark and craigslist did not ruin newspapers or their business models but only showed them what the future would look like. So, no, Craig Newmark is not endowing our journalism school out of penance for what happened to newspapers. Craig Newmark is endowing our journalism school because — like us all — he is worried about the future of journalism, the fate of truth, and the health of the republic.

I never had the nerve to ask Craig for money. I never wanted to impose on my friendship with Craig. Instead, he generously invited me to ask. At another Foursquare conference — years after the one I recount above — he suggested I submit a proposal to him regarding trustworthy news. The result was the News Integrity Initiative, which enabled us to leverage Craig’s founding donation to raise more money from Facebook, the Ford Foundation, AppNexus, and others to support innovation in trustworthy news.

My dean and partner in innovation, Sarah Bartlett, was the one to suggest to Craig that he could make a profound impact on the future of our public journalism school. But I get ahead of myself. In February 2014, when Sarah was appointed dean, she asked me to schedule a tour of Silicon Valley — to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, LinkedIn (during which we hatched a new degree in Social Journalism) — and I added a stop in Craig’s favorite boite in San Francisco’s Haight. Craig and Sarah hit it off. So now I fast-forward to a meeting around Sarah’s small conference table in her office when Craig said he planned to give away the money he earned to support the causes he cares so much about. I watched as Sarah presented the opportunities of our school. Craig’s ears perked up. The rest is our future.

Craig’s gift enables so much for our small, wonderful J-school. It assures our independence and our ability to create new degrees, to hire innovative faculty, to support new programs, to recruit diverse students, to do nothing less than reinvent journalism. The great thing about an endowment such as this is that it comes with no conditions but provides resources we and our successors can take advantage of for years go come: forever.

Craig Newmark and his wife Eileen are friends I enjoy seeing at journalism conferences from Perugia to the Presidio and as neighbors in New York, where they’re now spending much of their time. I am grateful for Craig’s friendship and support, advice and counsel, wisdom and vision. I am grateful beyond words for Craig’s support of the institution I so dearly love, now named the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

Thank you, friend. Thank you, Craig.