Networked Journalism Education

Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

News practices for networked journalism

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I’m trying to think through some of the changes networked journalism implies for established newsroom practices.

In the mass media era, journalists used people as sources and avoided getting entangled with ‘the public.’ In networks, establishing genuine relationships is key.

By definition, mass media deliver generic products. In practice, networks are personalized, customized and targeted.

Mass media developed values of detachment and objectivity to appeal to the widest audiences possible. Networks thrive on passion and involvement.

Mass media require hierarchy; networks require collaboration
Mass production is about control; networks are about connections
Mass media is about product; networks are about process
Mass media are hard to change; networks are fluid and sustainable
Mass media has a built in attention deficit order; networks sustain memory

We have to figure out how to build these new parameters into the values and practices of newsrooms if we are going to survive. The transformation has to come from within the hearts and minds of whoever is doing the journalism. It’s a mindset shift. It’s not going to work in a newsroom structured for mass media production; our work routines, rewards and organizational hierarchies have to change too. The inputs have to change if we want different outputs.

Routines in newsrooms govern everything from hours worked to the way interviews are conducted and stories constructed. Routines govern how we approach sources and our relationships with the public. Practices dictate AP style and the voice from nowhere. An emphasis on objectivity, detachment, and independence are one way to practice journalism but there are alternatives that can also be effective.

We can have hard hitting investigative journalism produced by people who are passionate but rigorous in their pursuit of evidence, who participate as part of a community network. We can employ digital tools in ways that blur our professional and private lives and still create life changing journalism — in fact, there are plenty of examples that show how journalism can become more powerful, more real, more relevant with new practices.

Many exciting networked journalism experiments are underway . But too many conversations about journalism are really about defending existing newsroom practices and arguments for “core values” of objectivity and professionalism. These concepts have new meanings and new applications in a networked environment. We need new vocabulary born of new mindsets to better describe what we do.

The stakes are enormous. Some of our long term journalistic practices and routines are making things worse, contributing to political gridlock, economic meltdown and potential environmental catastrophe. We should not pretend we are just neutral referees in a global game of strategy. We are active players who need to take responsibility for the effects of our work.

Written by Donica

August 18th, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Escaping the academic pit of despair

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OurTahoelogoI love my job at a small state university. I love my colleagues and my students. But despite all that love, we failed big time at building a new graduate program in journalism that could have been a huge success.

I could say we failed because our visionary leader died suddenly in the first year of implementing the project. Or that we got so passionate and attached to our ideas that two team members ended up leaving the university altogether as a result of constant fights. Or that our reach extended our grasp. Or that we were totally unrealistic in estimating what it would take to make the idea fly.

But honestly, looking at my part of it, I just got tired. I didn’t believe long enough or understand enough to overcome the conflict of competing visions for what the idea could be. For a couple of years I couldn’t even think about it because it was so painful. I’ve been thinking about this post for two weeks (in the shower, mostly) and it’s only now that I’m starting to think that actually, maybe we didn’t fail. We’re just not done. It needs to morph.

Our idea took shape in 2005 as a new graduate program for our journalism school. In the first year we won an honorable mention in the Knight Batten innovation awards and a first place from the Online News Association for student projects. Our first cohort of students found interesting jobs and we were full of ideas about how to improve the program for its second year. But the energy to sustain a truly innovative program in academia takes an immense amount of work. The administration didn’t provide any recognition for the extra effort. Colleagues were either ambivalent or hostile. Grief from the loss of our colleague, Cole Campbell, compounded the angst.

When energy flagged, I didn’t look for ways to solve that problem. I failed to push through what might have been a temporary growing pain to discover what we might have learned had we continued. Instead, I gave up. I didn’t keep trying to make it work. I let it die without even a burial.

But we actually did learn a lot. We learned about the value of focusing on one community and how important it is to define that community. We learned that participation is different from coverage. We learned that preconceived ideas about what matters to a community is an arrogant way to start. We discovered that living 40 miles away from the community we wanted to focus on is laughable. We learned about steep learning curves (Drupal) and more flexible publishing (WordPress). We learned that academics and graduate students don’t generally share visions for what would make a great project. People have their own ideas about what they want to do and learn. It takes a great effort to get people on the same page.

But I am also realizing that those lessons could be put to use now, if I have the courage to try again. Academia should be a place where failures are milked for all the good we can possibly get out of them. We build on the shoulders of giants — and giant mistakes. It’s so easy to stay comfortable and go with the status quo. But what good does that do? It’s time to get up and fail again.

Thank you to everyone for their inspiration today on #jcarn fail.

Written by Donica

May 5th, 2011 at 5:21 pm

A shift in the tectonic plates of communication

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The pleasure of being late to David Cohn’s carnival party is the opportunity to reflect on what others have so beautifully written. What I see in these posts is a growing awareness that innovation in a networked environment is not the same as innovation in the mass media environment.

Lisa Williams knows that the future of journalism is small and Jan Schaffer knows that innovation is about relationships (and conventions and processes) more than tools and products. Paul Bradshaw advocates innovation that is quicker, smaller scale and more transparent. Mary Hamilton suggests more training, more partnerships (links) and more attention to the intersections. All four are writing about attributes of networks, not transmission media.

Alfred Hermida takes it further, concluding:

At the core of this shift in mindset is approaching journalism as a practice to be shared, rather than a profession to be defended.

This is exciting. We’re glimpsing a shift in the tectonic plates of communication. We’ve moving from one system to another and it has very practical implications in the design of innovation. The processes of the past don’t define success in the future.

My contribution to the carnival is to urge Knight, RJI and others to fund research. Not slow and ponderous research, but networked research processes that allow us to gather and organize the lessons, epiphanies, victories and failures of all the experiments that are flourishing around us. There are a lot of people doing a lot of interesting things. What do they know that we should know? What is succeeding? What is failing? How can people in one part of the network learn from those in other parts of the network?

We seem to be learning some lessons over and over. “Build it and they will come” is so obviously untrue and yet we keep funding projects that assume exactly that. We learn that things take longer than we expect but we hope they won’t. We start with an out-of-the-box content management system and end up in debt to custom coders. We know we should keep it simple and then we complicate it.

Successful innovators (even in small ways) could save the rest of us a lot of grief, if only we could find them when we need them. Designing more nimble, useful and applied research networks could help us harness the collective intelligence generated by the “Future of Journalism” community.

We need more doing and less talking, as Steve Fox points out, but we also need space to reflect on what we are learning, now, in a thousand ways. Jan Schaffer has done this at J-Lab and Jane Steven’s case studies from her RJI days are extremely valuable. I’m sure there are many other reports produced that together could teach us a lot.

What we need is practical, accessible and timely production, curation and aggregation by the research community. A little funding could go a long way in organizing a useful research community and reflective repository for lessons learned. In fact, including money for evaluation, assessment and reflection should be a part of every grant. We’ve already learned a lot. We’ve made it through the first phase of disruption; let’s build on what we’ve learned rather than continually starting over.

ADDENDUM: I’ve since thought of many good sources of research I didn’t mention in this post, including the work presented at the annual International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas, Austin. The papers are archived and the Twitter conversation is #isoj. An outstanding conference organized by Rosental Alves (@Rosental).

Written by Donica

April 1st, 2011 at 1:01 am

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

Thinking strategically about information in the newsroom/classroom

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Journalists write stories about the information they have access to. The strategic thinking that should be the next step — who needs this information, how might they act on it, how will they find it, how will they share it, how is it useful to them? — is curiously lacking in most newsrooms. This piece of the information circuit isn’t built into the journalistic process. Journalists find information, package it, distribute it. End of story. I’m not talking about “news you can use” in a consumer sense. It’s about thinking through much more intelligently the value of the information we spend time collecting and distributing. It’s the ‘value-added’ aspect of information manufacture that is lacking in most local newsrooms.

Gerry McGovern has an insightful column about the nature of information on most Web sites. His point applies equally to journalism-as-information:

Many organizations have a strange attitude towards information. Its creation is nearly always disassociated from its use. Information is rarely seen as useful or purposeful. It’s just there because people need it. It doesn’t help you do things. It’s simply there for you to read just in case you need some information.

The fact that you need to read some information has no connection with the fact that you need to do something. Information gets created for information-purposes only. No liability. No accountability. And the job of the people who created the information is finished once they have created it. They are not even responsible for its findability. Saying it’s up on the Web is enough.

Most journalists equate “doing something” with advocacy. It’s not objective. It’s too much like public relations. It smells bad.

Yet, disconnected information packaged in random bits no longer serves the function it once did, when information was scarce. Now it just adds to the noise. Jay Rosen spoke to this in a chat on Poynter. He said:

The most important thing for establishing credibility is to learn how to be useful and truthful — intellectually honest — for a “live” group of people, a user community. Anything that teaches you how to be useful and truthful for a community of active users is helping you become a better journalist.

ADDENDUM: Vin Crosbie, Digital Deliverance, professor, thinker, writes about the greatest change in the media of the past 35 years in The Greatest Change in Media Made Newspapers Obsolete:

The greatest change has been that people’s access to media has changed from scarcity to surfeit. It’s an even bigger change than Gutenberg’s invention of a practical printing press, the invention of writing, or even the first Neolithic cave paintings. It’s the greatest change in all of media history. And it occurred in only 35 years — half a human lifespan.

If the unprecedented change in the balance of Supply & Demand for information — from scarce supply to surfeit supply or even information overload — is the root cause of the problems that media industries now face, how does the root cause contain materials from which comprehensive solutions can be constructed?

The solutions lay in understanding how this change affects pricing, packaging, the power balance between content providers and consumers, and even subjects such as what is local or what is community.

Part of the implications of this change, as many others have pointed out, is that helping people navigate through a flood of information is vastly different than dumping scarce bottles of information in the town square during a drought. In a drought, any water will do. People will find you and they will pay a premium. In a flood, only clean, well bottled water delivered to where you are matters.

We are just now figuring out that we have to make the information/journalism we deliver intensely useful, meaningful, shareable in ways that we’ve never had to think about. If we figure out how to deliver clean, safe water, well organized, right when and where people most need it, a business model will emerge. As journalism educators, we have to attend to our product, services, and value in this vastly different context. Then we will survive.

(Re-posted from a class blog that has since been taken down, written June 2009)

Written by Donica

August 3rd, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Teaching community engagement

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J-schools are all about teaching students to write accurate stories. Some programs have moved the focus of teaching from AP style and proper grammar to audio and video skills, but a fundamental problem of journalism — of journalists talking at the public on subjects predetermined by journalistic tradition — remains largely unaddressed.

If we conceive of journalism as something beyond information-transmission — as, in addition, community conversation, civic action, a problem-solving mechanism, we would spend much more time in j-schools studying the dynamics of community culture, decision making and civic capacity. We would work to understand when well-produced empathetic stories are most needed, and when databases, forums, meetings, tweets, posts, games, distributive reporting and watchdog investigations make the most sense for addressing particular community problems.

Judy Sims, a Canadian digital media consultant, writes about two factors she believes are leading to the death of news organizations:

Cause of Death #1: Failure to recognize the necessity of Community

She explains:

If a newspaper’s job is to reflect, affect and connect the community it serves, trust and relevance are what get the job done. It’s amazing to me how at this time, with more tools available than ever to fulfill these objectives, newspapers are turning away from what made them great brands in the first place. By refusing to listen to and engage their readers by ignoring social media, limiting comments and erecting pay walls, they are destroying trust and hastening their irrelevance.

They are destroying the core, not protecting it.

It’s time to embrace the community.

Every section, every beat and every neighbourhood should have a community manager. That’s a real human being, not an RSS Twitter feed with headlines.

Shouldn’t j-schools lead the way in developing community engagement practices? How might we do this better? Initial ideas…

  1. Identify news organizations ( perhaps, as it grows; the Guardian, Civil Beat, etc.) who are doing this well and study what community practices work the best and which don’t work as well. Then implement what we find in classrooms, and put ideas out for the journalism community to comment, tweak and build on.
  2. Connect journalism courses that are addressing these questions and build a network of curriculum experience so we can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.
  3. Engage journalism funding institutions that are doing this (such as the J-Lab) and more actively mine the experience from their funded projects.

Written by Donica

July 16th, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Two-legged crisis

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According to Jay Blumler, journalism is facing two crises:

“…the journalism which services this polity is currently facing a crisis with two legs. One is a crisis of viability, principally though not exclusively financial, threatening the existence and resources of mainstream journalistic organisations. The other is a crisis of civic adequacy, impoverishing the contributions of journalism to citizenship and democracy.”(Blumler, Jay G. (2010) ‘FOREWORD’, Journalism Studies, 11:4, 439 – 441)

Plenty of journalism programs seem to be addressing the problem of viability — from Jeff Jarvis’s entrepreneurial program at CUNY to Dan Gillmor at ASU and a variety of others.

Who is working on a new approach to the civic leg of the problem? What innovations are we developing in the civic work of journalists and journalistic organizations? How might we tackle this problem in a systematic and trackable way in our curriculum and research? Some of the entrepreneurial work is as much about this problem as it is about financial models, but both deserve focused attention.

Written by Donica

July 11th, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Another interesting university partnership

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The independently-run student newspaper at the University of Washington, The Daily, is partnering with a network of local news sites to create a hyperlocal site to cover the University District neighborhood.

“Our partnership with Next Door Media serves the mission of The Daily in multiple ways,” said Kristin Mills, publisher of The Daily. “It allows student journalists from The Daily to develop the new media skills they need to be competitive. It provides a real business model that allows for enterprise in our student advertising and marketing department. Plus, we have an opportunity to serve our community with real-time information.” (Next Door Media groundbreaking partnership)

The “About Us’ page of the new news site, The UDistrict Daily, explains that the project is a collaboration with editorial and advertising students, updated daily, using WordPress MU. I don’t see any formal relationship with any faculty or courses at the university.

It will be another interesting experiment to watch. What experiences will students get working on this site that they don’t get working on a campus newspaper? How will the neighborhood be better served? Will anyone systematically study the partnership to learn for future experiments?

Written by Donica

April 27th, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Community,J-Students

J-Schools doing journalism

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Michael Shudson has been elaborating on the value that journalism schools can contribute to the “reconstruction” of American journalism. In a recent talk given at USC Annenberg and in a interview on KPBS, he elaborates on themes identified in his co-authored report “The Reconstruction of American Journalism.”

I would add that – as with culture and the arts – the universities have and should have a growing role in supporting journalism. Walter Robinson, a Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter at the Boston Globe for several decades, returned to his alma mater, Northeastern University, two years ago and began teaching an investigative reporting seminar to both graduate and undergraduate students. In two years, those students have produced twelve front-page stories in the Boston Globe. Robinson proudly told me “In all the stories so far we’ve not had a single correction or substantive complaint.” More journalism schools are going into the business of actually producing journalism. Here at USC, integrating the California Healthcare Foundation’s impressive health reporting initiative into a university has not, Michael Parks told me, been a piece of cake and maybe he will one day produce a handy guide for others moving in the same direction. At any rate, his effort is part of a movement that is changing journalism.

J-schools have been “doing” journalism since their earliest days (see the University of Missouri as Exhibit A). In the current environment, these efforts are seen less as student exercises, and more as valuable contributions to the journalism necessary for healthy communities.

I think it’s also important to recognize:

(1) Reproducing some of the journalism of the past is not necessarily a high value activity for j-schools. For this work to have value, the standards, organization, editing and networking of new models must be incorporated into the creation and distribution of the journalism. We owe it to students and to the health of the discipline to push for new skills and mindsets for the future, and avoid absorbing all energy into reproducing work we already know how to do.

(2) We need to be experimenting with new models and practices, and that doesn’t always lead to the type of journalism that some people expect from j-schools. Expanding our definitions of what journalism is and how it is practiced is an important dimension of our work; we need to avoid becoming further wedded to an idealized form from the past.

(3) In addition to doing, j-schools can contribute to learning from the many experiments already flourishing. As Schudson points out, we lack concrete measurements of quality journalism. Scholars attuned to the formation of new organizations and the dynamics of community information flows can contribute significantly to identifying and defining value and then begin developing effective practices.

The schools Schudson points to are important leaders in helping us learn what is possible, valuable and desirable in the j-school of the future.

What other j-school projects would you point to that are doing similar work?

California Healthcare Foundation and the USC Annenberg School for Communication: Reporting on Health

Walter Robinson, Investigative reporting at Northeastern University School of Journalism

Rich Gordon and colleagues at Northwestern University have been producing innovative projects news companies and others are learning from: Medill–Innovation Projects

Written by Donica

February 16th, 2010 at 3:41 am

J-schools: Leaders, partners or followers?

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You could argue that with the massive downsizing going on in American newsrooms, the last thing we need are journalism schools churning out graduates by the thousands. No one argues that medical schools are critical to the practice of medicine but arguments about the relevancy of j-schools are endless (a recent example: The end of the world as we know it).

Yet, this could be a moment for j-schools to escape their sometimes second-rate status and become central players in some of the most important questions facing society. How do we improve public discourse? How can people most reliably become their own critical information editors? How can we reinvigorate public decision making systems? What should the university of the future look like?

This isn’t just wishful thinking on the part of a j-school prof thinking about her own future. Here are three (important) notes on the potential importance of journalism education in the coming year(s):

(1) C.W. Anderson, writing for Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, wrote a post in December on “Next year’s news about the news: What we’ll be fighting about in 2010.” He identifies five questions worth exploring in 2010, #4 of which is the future of j-schools:

4. What’s the future of journalism school? This one’s fairly self-explanatory. But as the profession it serves mutates, what’s in store for the venerable institution of j-school? Dave Winer thinks we might see the emergence of journalism school for all; Cody Brown thinks j-school might someday look like the MIT Center For Collective Intelligence. Either way, though, j-school probably won’t look like it does now. Even more profoundly, perhaps, the question of j-school’s future is inseparable from questions about the future of the university in general, which, much like the news and music industries, might be on the verge of its own massive shake-up.

Since the links in C.W.’s post didn’t come through, this post is also worth reading: Dave Winer’s “What does a J-School of the Future look like?” (His answer: I think everyone should have a basic education in journalism, at least one semester. We need people to understand the basic practices: How to do an interview, the structure of a news report, what does integrity mean and why it’s so important. What should we expect as consumers? Or are we users now? Audience? Participants? How to write up a bad experience with a company. With the government. With the university you attend. … How to be a citizen in the 21st century.”

(2) The October 2009 report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age made 15 recommendations to help meet the information needs of communities. Five are relevant to journalism schools:

Recommendation 3: Increase the role of higher education, community and nonprofit institutions as hubs of journalistic activity and other information-sharing for local communities.

Recommendation 5: Develop systematic quality measures of community information ecologies, and study how they affect social outcomes.

Recommendation 6: Integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials.

Recommendation 12: Engage young people in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities.

Recommendation 15: Ensure that every local community has at least one high-quality online hub.

(3) Len Witt is doing a series of interesting interviews on the future of journalism on his site for the Center for Sustainable Journalism. In an interview with Michael Schudson in December, Schudson touched on a role he sees for j-schools:

A lot of qualified and experienced journalists are losing their jobs and there is a gap opening up, it seems to me, in mainstream local accountability journalism in particular. And that needs filling for the sake of our society, for the sake of our democracy. How to do that? …

We are interested to see universities step up to the plate as well and they are doing it too, journalism schools in particular. But we’ve seen it at environmental studies programs and ed schools as well are getting into the publication business, writing directly for the general public. … We need a mixed model of funding streams and we need society to take a kind of common responsibility for providing news to the democratic public.

None of this will come to pass if j-schools continue to conceive of themselves primarily as educators of tomorrow’s newsroom, public relations and advertising agency workforce. That’s part of what got us into the current predicament: failing to educate for more than the first job, focusing on the latest technology more than on what our work was really accomplishing, getting mired in professionals v. scholars debates instead of producing useful work.

So, we have some moments of opportunity for j-schools to remake themselves as leaders in shaping the post-newspaper information environment and worthy partners for innovation and experimentation. Building relevant public scholarship, engaging in community conversations, inspiring university students will insure that we become genuine contributors to the future of our communities and our discipline.

Written by Donica

January 31st, 2010 at 9:23 am