Posts about cuny

Start the presses

A set of very happy announcements from the CUNY Journalism School and the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism:

* First, we are opening the new Cuny Journalism Press. Yes, I said press. On paper. And screen. Working with the innovative OR Books and John Oakes, we are creating a press that will produce print books and e-books about journalism and by journalists with new business models (starting with a higher share of revenue to authors). Just as we are working here at CUNY on new business models for newspapers and magazines and other denizens of the printed page, so do we want to see new models come to book publishing. So my dean, Steve Shepard, my colleague Tim Harper — who is heading up the press — and others here thought it would be a great idea to start this enterprise. We’ll be announcing some other related activities with Oakes soon.

* Second, I’m thrilled to announce that the first book to be published is by none other than @acarvin, aka Andy Carvin, the man who tweeted the Arab Spring and showed us all a new way to think of journalism and how it must add value to the flow of information the net now enables. Distant Witness: Social Media, the Arab Spring and a Journalism Revolution, will be released later this year (and available for pre-order soon). I recommend the book to you all. I’ve had the privilege to read it — and write its foreword. A snippet:

Andy is a prototype for a new kind of journalist. He also turns out to be a masterful storyteller. He has taken all he witnessed from afar in the Arab Spring and crafted it into a dramatic, compelling, informative page-turner. He has combed his archive of more than 100,000 tweets and sifted through the rapid-fire, staccato progression of the voices to find a narrative sense and create a cohesive saga….

Yes, we still need reporters on the ground to ask and answer the questions. We need them to bring us perspective and context. Andy does not replace them. He and his nodes and networks of witnesses, participants and experts add to the news in ways not possible before. Journalism is not shrinking. Through Andy’s example, as well as through experiments in data journalism, crowdsourcing, hyperlocal sites and innovations yet to come, journalism is growing. Andy Carvin is proof of that.

* Tim Harper announced another three titles: Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers, by former New York Times chief counsel James Goodale; Investigative Journalism in America: A History, by Steve Weinberg, a member of the University of Missouri Journalism School faculty and co-founder of IRE, the leading association of investigative reporters and editors; and The Pleasures of Being Out of Step: Nat Hentoff’s Life in Journalism, Jazz and the First Amendment, by CUNY Journalism Professor David L. Lewis, a former Daily News reporter and “60 Minutes” producer and associate producer who is also directing a feature-length documentary on Hentoff.

If I manage to get off my duff and get moving on a project I’ve been working on, I might add to that bookshelf myself.

Just as CUNY saw an opportunity for a new journalism school when others thought journalism was dying, so did we see an opportunity to start a new press about journalism even though others declared books dying. At Tow-Knight, I believe we must not only study and teach new models but we must also help incubate them. The CUNY Journalism Press is one such effort.

Recommended: A book by my boss

My dean, dear friend, and mentor, Steve Shepard, has just published his memoirs, Deadlines and Disruptions, recounting his path into our business, his two decades as editor-in-chief of Business Week, and the launch of our journalism school — with an examination of the future and sustainability of journalism (often a topic of our conversations).

It is a deeply personal story as Steve tells of his anxiety over selecting this career. It is also an important story of what journalism can be at its best, as Business Week under his leadership was a great magazine, one I admired immensely (reading it got me interested in something I hadn’t thought I’d ever find interesting: business). And it is a hopeful but realistic view of where journalism can go next.

Steve and I had many conversations about the book and its title. I’m glad the word “disruptions” ended up there, for that’s what he’s really writing about. He embraces that change, as I wish more in our businesses — journalism and teaching — would do. But that’s Steve. He dared to start a leading journalism school at a time when some said he was nuts to try. He takes on new technologies and new ideas with the skepticism of a journalism and the openness of a visionary.

And, hell, he dared to hire me. He even recounts that tale — including how I quit the job the day I started and how, not for the last time, he had to talk me down from the ledge, or better put, make me more comfortable standing there.

I am incredibly lucky to know this man, to work for him, to learn from him, and to count him as a friend. I got to know him even better by reading his book. I urge you to take the opportunity to do that yourself.

Journalism Inside®

I wonder whether we should be teaching journalists to embed themselves and their abilities into the world rather than always making the world come to them. Thinking out loud…

The other day, when Amazon peeved me by suddenly trying to sell me software — who has bought a box of software in years? — it occurred to me: After software left store shelves, demand for the programmers who make it has only grown. So why, as newspapers, magazines, and books leave shelves, is there not more demand for the journalists who make them?

Companies are clamoring to hire more programmers and investors are dying to back what they do. Everybody wants more code inside their endeavors. So imagine an economy in which companies and investors want journalism inside: “We need to get us some journalists!”

It’s not quite as insane as it sounds if we rethink what a journalist does. Journalists and programmers aren’t really so different. In the the research on innovation and news we commissioned at the Tow-Knight Center, Nick Diakopoulos notes their similarity: “One of journalism’s primary raisons d’être is in gathering, producing, and disseminating information and knowledge…. What is perhaps most interesting about these processes is that they can, in theory, all be executed either by people, or by computers.” Nick’s point is not that technology would replace journalists but instead that technology provides new opportunities for news.

Programmers and journalists create similar value — or they could. Each makes sense of information. Technology brings order to the flow of information; journalists ask the questions that aren’t answered in that flow. Each brings new abilities to people — functionality (in software terms) or empowerment (in journalistic terms). But programmers don’t produce products so much as they produce ability: your ability to get what you want. Shouldn’t journalism act like that? Shouldn’t we teach them to?

Imagine a perpendicular universe in which an organization or community says: “We need someone to help make sense of this information, who can add context to it or find and fill in missing pieces or present it in a way that will make sense to people — as a narrative or a visualization. We need to get us a journalist.”

It so happens that our entrepreneurial journalism students just had the treat of hearing from Shane Snow of the startup Contently. He is offering a service to companies — brands in particular — that are indeed asking the question above. Brands, haven’t you heard, are becoming media. Instead of placing their ads around others’ content, brands are putting content around their ads. Contently lets them search its 4,000 writers’ profiles and use its reputation system to find the right writer or community manager or video maker or infographic whiz. Contently also offers to manage these tasks.

Isn’t that just PR, working for a brand? No, Shane says, because Contently provides writers to make content an audience will value instead of a message a company wants to get out. Messaging is marketing. This is more analogous to the soap opera model — or the show Northern Exposure: P&G underwrote those shows so it would have a place to put its ads. Now more brands are doing that on the web. YouTube, too, is underwriting the creation of independent content — without owning it — just so more people will have more good stuff to watch there. Advertising still subsidizes content but the chicken and the egg are trading places.

But funny you should mention PR. Its role, too, changes. In What Would Google Do? I spoke with Rishad Tobaccowala, strategist for Publicis, and we thought of a reverse world in which public relations exists to represent the public to the company, not the other way around (a professionalization of Doc Searls’ Vendor Relationship Management). We now see companies looking for that skill. They call it community management but that’s a misnomer unless you mean it in Doc’s context: that the community manages the company (the company doesn’t manage the community).

As I wrote this, I got a lucky visit from Kevin Marks, now of Salesforce, ex of Apple, Google, and Technorati, who teaches me much about technology. He posed the programmer-v-journalist comparison another way, arguing that each models the world, one with algorithms, one with narrative (and each faces the problem of “imperfect mapping”). He called it the tension between the storyteller and the builder.

That’s a very telling contrast for journalism schools. Many of our students want to build things, which we encourage, but we constantly struggle with balancing technology and tools vs. journalism and its skills in the time we have to teach. There’s also a tension regarding what they build: journalists pride themselves on being storytellers but is that all they should build? They might build visualizations of data — which, yes tells a story, sans narrative — but shouldn’t they also build tools that enable the public to dig into its own information (see: Texas Tribune) and platforms that let them share their information?

These new opportunities have led some to believe we should turn out the mythical journalist-coder, the hacking hack who does it all. I am not so sure that unicorn lives in nature. Yes there are some; it’s possible they exist. But I don’t think that journalists must become coders to take advantage of new technologies. They need to know how to work with the coders, how to spec and modify and use these tools. They need to understand and exploit the opportunities.

They also need a different culture. Rather than seeing ourselves as the creators (and owners) of products (content), shouldn’t journalists — like coders — see themselves as the providers of services, as the builders of platforms, as the agents of empowerment for others? That’s how developers see themselves. They build things, yes, but no longer shrink-wrapped. They build tools people use; they add value to information they produce. Journalists, in addition, have seen themselves speaking for the little guy but as Kevin Marks put it to me, that role becomes subsumed by the network when the little guys can speak for themselves. Still, there’s value in using new tools to help them do that. Is that a new journalism or is that a new PR? Gulp! Depends on who gets there first.

So where do journalists fit in in the world? And what do we teach them?

Well, we still start by teaching what my dean calls the eternal verities: accuracy, fairness, completeness. Implicit in that is a sense of service and given the rise of the network we need to consider what our fundamental service is.

We teach them to gather, make sense of, present, and most importantly supplement information through reporting — but there are now so many new ways to do that, so now we don’t just teach reporting but also data skills.

We teach them to build — yes, stories, but now in more forms, and also more than stories: tools and platforms.

We also teach them to build businesses. We teach them sustainability.

We teach them to go out into their communities, but now I say we need to make them see that they are a part of and not separate from those communities, no longer envisioning ourselves at the center, gathering everyone’s attention, but instead at the edge, serving their needs, providing communities elegant organization. This is a difficult skill to teach. Since starting what we call interactive journalism (not “new media”) at CUNY, I’ve struggled with finding ways for the students to have a public with whom to interact. One way we’ve done it is The Local with The New York Times, but we need more ways.

If we consider the programmer worldview, then we need to teach journalists how to fit in to the world differently, to spread their skills and value (and values) out into other enterprises, institutions, and communities rather than making the world come to us for journalism: Need some reporting, some editing, some sense-making, some empowerment, some organization, some storytelling, some media making…? “We need to get us some journalism!”

Now, of course, the journalists will worry that when working in the employ of others, they lose the independence that their journalistic institutions afforded them (so long as those companies were rich monopolies). That is well worth the worry. But again, consider the programmer who brings her skills to an enterprise but still must decide whether the enterprise is worthy of them. Consider, too, how programmers work in open-source to spread their value — and grow it — among anyone who sees fit to use it. They don’t own coding the way we thought we owned the news. They spread it.

Shouldn’t we spread journalism out beyond our walls as not only a skill set but also a worldview, getting more people to see and create a demand for the value of accurate and reliable information (“trust is the new black,” says Craig Newmark), organized information, context, and so on? Shouldn’t we want to embed journalism the way programmers embed code? Then we wouldn’t just teach journalists to go to work for news organizations — or, for that matter, start them — but also to organize news everywhere? Whether and how to do that, I’m just beginning to wonder….

/thinkingoutloud

Good CUNY news

Good news at CUNY: My colleague Sandeep Junnarkar has been promoted to my old post as director of the interactive journalism program. I’ve been pushing for this to happen for sometime because, truth is, Sandeep has been doing all the hard work to manage and improve the program since even before I started directing the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY.

I’m proud to say that not a bit of the interactive curriculum I wrote when the school started six years ago is still in force. With Sandeep’s inspiration, leadership, and experience, we’ve changed it all, updating constantly to take account of our lessons learned as faculty, of new opportunities, new needs, and new technologies (who’d have guessed six years ago that we’d be teaching Twitter?).

When we started the school, students were required to select a media speciality: print, broadcast, or interactive (just as I had to in my j-school days, picking newspapers). We soon saw that this was not the path to creating a truly converged curriculum. So the faculty and administration quickly agreed to eliminate the requirement and instead we teach all students all media, requiring them to work across media as they continue through our program. The track of courses we started with — Interactive I, II, III — has been disassembled as Sandeep and our interactive colleagues and the curriculum committee have reassembled them with innovative new modules in technology, web video, data, photography, and independent studies, along with my course in entrepreneurial journalism. That work continues. It is never done. That’s just the point of interactive.

From the start, Sandeep has been a great friend and colleague and I wanted to publicly congratulate him on a move well-deserved. The program I had the honor to help start could not be in better hands.

Profitable news

One of the most controversial things I have said (you’re welcome for that straight line) is that I insist my entrepreneurial journalism students at CUNY build only for-profit businesses. When I said that at a recent symposium for teachers of entrepreneurial journalism, I thought some of the gasping participants would tar-and-feather me.

I’m not against not-for-profit, charitably supported journalism any more than I’m against pay walls. I, too, crunch granola (and sell books). But I do not believe that begging for money from foundations, the public, or especially government is the solution to journalism’s problems. And I am certain that there is not enough charity in the nation to support the journalism it needs. Lately we are seeing too much evidence that the siren call of not-for-profit journalism seduces news organizations away from sustainability, survival, and success (more on the Chicago News Cooperative and Bay Citizen in a moment).

I insist on teaching our students the higher discipline and the greater rigor of seeking to create profitable enterprises. I also believe they are more likely to build better journalistic products, services, and platforms if they are accountable to the marketplace. When class starts, many students invariably talk about what they want to do. In my best imitation of a gruff old-timer, I tell them nobody gives a shit what they want to do, save perhaps their mothers. They should care about what the public — their customers — want and need them to do. They need to care about the market if they have any hope of the market sustaining them. That is why they start every term talking with the public they hope to serve. They always come back with surprises.

Of course, the market, too, can be corrupting. I’m tempted to use Rupert Murdoch as the best exhibit of the argument, though in that case, it’s hard to tell which came first, the rabid chicken or the rotten egg. In the long run, cynically giving the public only what it thinks it wants will not deliver value and will fade like the fad it must be. I have that much faith in the market.

And, of course, we can point to many valuable and well-sustained not-for-profit news enterprises: NPR is the best we have, but as its former CEO Vivian Schiller has said, it is very much run like a business, complete with advertisers (pardon me, [cough] underwriters). Texas Tribune is doing a brilliant job of bringing in the support needed to continue its brilliant work (though I argued with its founder and funder, John Thornton, a venture capitalist, that he’d serve the news industry better by demonstrating profitable models). Pro Publica is already a national treasure (though let’s note that it had to get a grant from the Knight Foundation just to figure out how to diversify its funding beyond its original patron, mortgage man Herb Sandler).

But there are other less shining examples. Now we turn to the Chicago News Cooperative, which just announced its closing. It found itself too dependent on a foundation (MacArthur), a customer/benefactor (The New York Times), not to mention the IRS (which needs to clarify the rules for not-for-profit news). Dan Sinker argues that it never met is promise of building news with the community.

Then there’s the Bay Citizen, which ran through $11.4 million in 2010 [see this comment for a correction] before collapsing last year; it will merge in still-uncertain terms with the better-run, more penurious Center for Investigative Reporting. When the Bay Citizen started with a pot of cash from investor Warren Hellman, I remember the San Francisco Chronicle complaining that this non-market player could unfairly compete with the paper and hasten its demise, an unintended consequence that didn’t come to pass mainly because the Bay Citizen was to terribly run. Non-market entities often are.

I recently judged a contest for an international journalism organization that received a large grant from a very large corporation to fund journalism startups and — here’s why I’m naming neither — I was appalled at the complete lack of thought that went into sustainability and responsible fiscal management in every one of the proposals. I urged the organization to not give away one penny and to start over. It didn’t quite do that.

The problem is that journalists don’t know shit about business. Culturally, they don’t want to. I often hear from journalists who are downright hostile to corporations and even capitalism not because they’re commies but because they believe they’re above it all (there is the root, I believe, of much of their cynicism about Google and other large technology companies). As I’ve said here before, when I came up through journalism’s academy, I was taught that mere contact with business was corrupting. I’ve had bosses scold me for considering the business of journalism. When I started Entertainment Weekly, I could not protect my baby from the expensive idiocy of my business-side colleagues because I didn’t have the biz cred. I vowed that would not happen again. That’s why I insisted on learning the business of journalism.

That is why I insisted on teaching the business of journalism. For we journalists have proven to be terrible, irresponsible stewards of the craft and its value to the nation. Feeding at the teat of monopolies, we grew fat and complacent and snotty about the markets we were to serve. We wasted so much money on duplicative, commodity coverage for the sake of our egos. We were willfully ignorant of how our industry operated and thus how it is dying, making us complicit in its death. We have only ourselves to hold responsible.

And that is why I so respect my friend John Paton, a newsman’s newsman who learned the business of journalism and is taking responsibility for its fate, as head of Digital First Media (where I am an advisor), which now runs the second-largest newspaper group in the U.S. John does not have the answers but he does have the questions and he’s not afraid to challenge executives in our industry with them. He’s willing to disrupt and experiment and learn. And he’s willing to teach what he learns. “Crappy newspaper executives,” he just said, “are a bigger threat to journalism’s future than any changes wrought by the Internet.”

Yes, it’s not just not-for-profit thinking that’s dangerous to journalism. It’s the unprofitable thinking of for-profit news companies. That is why, again, I insist on holding students and the industry they’ll lead to the more diligent standard of true sustainability. That means profitability. There’s nothing wrong with that.