Networked Journalism Education

Archive for February, 2011

Engaging the unengaged

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Woman in Sardinia reading obituary notices

Woman in Sardinia reading obituary notices

I just finished reading 75 Journalism 101 essays detailing student news consumption over a 24-hour period. Not one student asked for more news or more news sources. One student proudly reported her news sources: our weekly college newspaper and Jon Stewart. Another detailed her daily four hours spent with Perez Hilton and Entertainment Tonight. Two students out of 75 mentioned the local newspaper. Several watch local TV news. A number of students said they actively avoided contact with news because it is: “depressing…stressful…confusing…boring.”

Expanding the number of news sources that plug into existing journalism spaces isn’t going to change much for these students, or add significantly to the information capacity of our communities, unless we do a more radical redesign of what journalism is and how people get it.

Reading curated tweets is one great news model for some people in some circumstances. News apps for specific information is another great model under other circumstances. Telling more stories from more sources will humanize and expand some conversations. But how will more news sources engage the unengaged?

Some thoughts:

(1) Transmitting information is only the first step. No matter how accurate, well told, or hard hitting, stories alone aren’t enough to engage those who rarely see or hear or read the stories. Transmission doesn’t mean much where there’s no receiver.

(2) The critical step has to be organizing people around the stories, or better, organizing stories around the people in a group, a community, a place, an interest. We need to connect in far more fundamental ways with the people who have a stake in a particular issue/story, etc. We have to close the loop and pay as much attention to the receivers as the senders.

Involving people in telling their own stories, reporting and distributing their own news, will certainly engage those who choose to participate. But even more importantly is organizing people around the problems that journalism attempts to address.

In a networked communication structure (as opposed to a mass media structure) participation comes most naturally from within communities. Journalism produced from within networked communities can more easily incorporate multiple sources and distribution points because the journalist is transparently connected rather than being a detached observer.

This, of course, requires new practices. From the journalist as independent investigator to journalist as community organizer is a large leap.

Writing in response to this same question today, Dan Fenster wrote:

Jason Barnett wrote in the last carnival that “the most overlooked and generally dismissed skill (of journalists) is that of community organizer.” I would suggest that journalism—journalism schools in particular—learn to become community information organizers. Students should serve as the catalyst and curator of this new world of content.

It seems likely that journalism schools will begin to distinguish themselves by stressing different types of journalism. That’s a good thing. The emerging media ecosystem has plenty of room for species differentiation and unique conditions.

So the answer to the question of what will I do to increase the number of news sources in my community? I will commit to figuring out how to make my classes, and maybe even our j-school, a place where students learn to become “community information organizers.” We will spend as much time engaging with the receivers as we do crafting what we transmit. And that, no doubt, will fundamentally alter what we transmit and how.

Stay tuned!

With many thanks to David Cohn for initiating a great example of expanding news sources in a particular community and to everyone who wrote such smart and inspiring responses to the question (follow them on Twitter #jcarn).

Written by Donica

February 18th, 2011 at 2:25 am