Posts about cuny

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?


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.