Networked Journalism Education

Archive for the ‘curriculum’ Category

AEJMC conference from afar

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Since I couldn’t attend AEJMC this year, I’ve been working to glean what I can online. Here are the best posts so far:

Eric Newton, vice president for Journalism at the Knight Foundation, identified Journalism Education’s Four Transformational Trends:

  • Transformational Trend Number One: Journalism and communication schools better connecting to the intellectual life of the entire university.
  • Transformational Trend Number Two: Journalism and communication schools as content and technology innovators.
  • Transformational Trend Number Three: Journalism and communication schools as the master teachers of open, collaborative approaches.
  • Transformational Trend Number Four: Journalism and communication schools as digital news providers who understand the media ecosystems of their communities.

He also challenged journalism educators to study their own work more carefully to better understand what is actually changing in the way we do our work — and how effective we are.

Alfred Hermida is keeping his blog up to date on the sessions he’s attending. As always, he has excellent posts, sprinkled with his own comments (and research). For example, in a session by Rich Beckman on rebooting journalism education, he notes:

Teaching journalism today is much more than teaching students how to use a piece of software or coding.

Rather, I would argue it is a mindset. It is understanding how digital is changing journalism norms and practices and how to teach students to tell compelling stories in creative and critical ways.

AEJMC is also keeping track of conversations on its blog (AEJMC News) and AEJMC Tumblr. A good list of talks and resources for incorporating social media in the classroom is linked on the AEJMC blogspot site.

I’ve enjoyed reading the Twitter posts on #AEJMC10 although the duplications are driving me to find a better system for filtering. I just noticed that the social media discussion has moved to a subtag: #aejmc10sm. It helps! (And so does the analysis capturing the tweets and the stats. Thanks @ree_tweets!)

Steve Fox is following the conference on his blog UMass Journalism Professor’s Blog. Yesterday Fox posted an interesting message from a former student, about his evolution from working on the student paper to covering the campus for a local newspaper to developing his own online coverage.

The picture I get from watching AEJMC online this year is far more robust than last year — an encouraging sign. But I also know this picture is from one side of the house. Based on comments on the Newspaper Division listserv on whether the division should change its name, it’s clear that deep, nearly impassable divides exist about the nature and direction of change in our discipline/industries. A tweet from Jay Rosen yesterday about a poll question stuck in 2005 reinforced that perspective. We mirror this dynamic from our industry and society overall…but the weight is definitely shifting.

Written by Donica

August 4th, 2010 at 12:02 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

‘It’s about creating a future’

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Mark Lee Hunter, an investigative journalist, researcher and adjunct professor at the INSEAD Social Innovation Centre in Paris, is giving a keynote presentation this week to the European Journalism Training Association in Paris.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Mark Lee Hunter about journalism education posted on the European Journalism Centre web site:

Kathlyn Clore, EJC: In the recent INSEAD working paper you co-authored on Disruptive News Technologies: Stakeholder Media ad the Future of Watchdog Journalism Business Models, you write, “with the exception of Norway, every European Union country is graduating approximately twice as many reporters from journalism schools as can be hired by the industry.”

What shifts do journalism educators need to make in order to better equip students to work for stakeholder media (rather than news media) which are indeed on the rise and likely employers for journalism school graduates?

Hunter: It means we have to think hard about ethics and methods. It also means we have to train them in entrepreneurialism and partnership skills. We also need to train them to understand how to collect, organise and mine data. It is not just about reporting and writing anymore. It’s about creating a future. The fundamental issue is that the news industry as presently composed will not provide a future for enough of our students.

EJC: In your working paper, you write about a shift in priorities, from “project focus to business development.” How can journalism educators help facilitate this shift?

Hunter: More strategic analysis: where are we going with this material? What are its future uses? How do we capture them?

EJC: You write in the working paper, “we have assumed that great content will solve our problems. It has not done so and it will not do so, because the historic and primary market for that content, the news industry, is in decline.”

Where does this leave journalism students or younger reporters who are enthusiastic about their work? Is the old maxim “content is king” no longer true?

EJC: No. I meant that content alone will not solve the problem if we think of content only as making one great story. We have to think beyond “this” story. We have to think about where we are going to be and what we will talk about in 10 years.

Written by Donica

May 19th, 2010 at 4:06 am

Why we have to change our approach

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I read two pieces today — a cover story from Columbia Journalism Review and a 2009 academic paper from AEJMC — and am convinced [once again] how deeply we have to change the way we teach journalism. The journalism idealized in the halls of most journalism schools and the messy, chaotic and unpredictable ecology of journalism ‘out there’ is creating an intellectual disconnect so sharp it hurts.

We say we want students with curiosity, passion and commitment. But we often fail to select or nurture those qualities. We tolerate courses that focus on punctuation, style and formulaic writing and require a curriculum that stipulates a smattering of survey courses across the university. We bring in guest lecturers who can’t wait to leave the profession and wonder why our students aren’t picking up the paper copy of The New York Times when they enter the building texting on cell phones.

Today’s cover story in the Columbia Journalism Review describes one reality our students face when they so cheerfully graduate (or don’t graduate, as in the case of this writer). After describing the typically disjointed career path of a ‘today’s urban writer’ and a series of (sometimes) appalling experiences from WSJ to Gawker, the author makes this point: we have to ‘humanize journalism.’ I agree, as I do with the argument about objectivity, both of which have echoes across the landscape. But Tkacik’s fundamental assessment that journalism is floundering because it became part of an empty and unsustainable enterprise is to me a far more insightful analysis of the problem than the endless search for new business models that assume what we do and how we support it have nothing to do with each other.

Look at me!
A writer’s search for journalism in the age of branding
by Maureen Tkacik

…Maybe the best policy for our beaten-down population of journalists just naturally involves letting down the old guard of objectivity and letting go of illusions of unimpeachability. Rather than train journalists to dismiss their own experiences, what if we trained them to use those experiences to help them explain the news to their audience? Allow their humanity to shape their journalism? This isn’t some radically profound notion—it only seems that way in the context of the ridiculous zero-sum debate over the relative merits of “straight” news versus the self-absorbed nature of blogs. Maybe there is a way to combine the best of both.

If journalism’s more vital traditions of investigating corruption and synthesizing complex topics are going to be restored, it will never be at the expense of the personal, the sexual, the venal, or the sensational, but rather through mastering the kind of storytelling that understands that none of those things exists in a vacuum. For instance, perhaps the latest political sex scandal is not simply another installment of the unrelenting narcissism and sense of invincibility of people in power. Most of the journalists writing about it have—as we all do—some understanding of the internal conflicts that lead to personal failure. By humanizing journalism, we maybe can begin to develop a mutual trust between reader and writer that would benefit both.

Written by Donica

May 18th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Student grading by peer networks

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Craig Newmark wrote a post today on trust and reputation systems: redistributing power and influence

His key takeaway:

By the end of this decade, power and influence will shift largely to those people with the best reputations and trust networks, from people with money and nominal power. That is, peer networks will confer legitimacy on people emerging from the grassroots.

(I wasn’t able to get online to watch his presentation to Missouri students…will soon, hopefully.)

I’m thinking about how this might apply to education. Who has nominal power in a university setting? Administrators and faculty. Who is emerging from the grassroots? Students.

Can I imagine a scenario where a student’s grade was partially determined by a peer network? Maybe. We already have systems in place for faculty evaluations by peer networks. Could these be improved? No question. Can I imagine some nightmare scenarios from such networks? Yes, as bad as some of the nightmares we have from our current system of grades, evaluations and promotions.

Reading Newmark’s arguments, is it at least conceivable that some form of reputation management and trust currency could be applied in an academic setting in a fair and just way. These developments could help address some of the serious deficiencies in academic institutions that represent countless lost opportunities in today’s system.

For example, one serious failing in our current system is the reduction of evaluation to quantifiable measurements. In some cases, quantifiable assessment is sufficient – student answers to easily measured problems are right or wrong. Faculty publish or they don’t publish. Administrators bring in money or they don’t.

But we have few reasonable methods for assessing other types of behavior: does a journalism student exhibit the judgment and doggedness that will someday make a great reporter? Does a colleague contribute in meaningful ways to an online scholarly network? Does a student’s behavior in a class help others learn as well? Does a faculty member or student collaborate in ways that improves the productivity of a group? Do they contribute insights with others? Does their work stand out for its quality and clarity?

Quantifiable measurements can be gamed, and most professors I know have reluctantly given a high grade to a student who knew how to earn points without actually learning or giving much to a class. Faculty incentives can be dead on arrival when most the burning concern is whether this ‘counts’ at annual evaluation time. Administrators who resist change and hoard power reduce the ability of a university to prosper.

Maybe our incentives and measurements are contributing to the lack of energy I see in many college classrooms. Perhaps better systems for recognizing and rewarding talent, persistence, collaboration and success could help revitalize the academy. We should certainly try.

Here’s an idea for next semester: What if students produced a one-minute broadcast at the beginning of each class summarizing for a general audience what they learned in the previous class? Their peers – both in the class and outside — could evaluate the quality of the broadcast in some fashion that we designed together. The evaluation would be considered a part of the student’s grade, a peer input that would be transparent and make a difference. It would be a way to experiment with a reputation and evaluation system that was real and had consequences.

Any merit in this idea? Other ways to experiment with reputation, trust and authority in a college classroom?

Written by Donica

April 6th, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Exploiting j-students?

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Steve Kolowich has a story in today’s Inside Higher Ed  (J-Schools to the Rescue?), that questions the practices of j-schools in keeping enrollment numbers up and providing free labor for newsrooms:

Some believe journalism schools are exploiting students by maintaining high enrollment levels despite the contraction of the market for professional journalists — a system that guarantees a large population of out-of-work, debt-addled graduates.

If the purpose of journalism schools is to provide trained reporters to fill empty slots in professional news organizations then Kolowich’s concerns have some merit. By this line of reasoning, as the number of reporters and editors declines then j-schools should shrink accordingly. This self-reinforcing cycle would insure that the number of people trained as journalists will decrease. Since universities can’t afford to maintain non-productive units, they will help j-schools to responsibly shrivel up and disappear.

If, on the other hand, j-schools recognize that journalism as a vital public activity is being practiced in a variety of places and ways, often by people who have college degrees in subjects besides journalism, they could find a wider mission for their work.

As a practical course in the power and functions of journalism, with training in ethical communication, clear writing, visual design and networking tools, a j-school could serve a much wider population of students/citizens. If we have a smaller class of specialized journalists, it would help to have a much wider group of citizens trained in evaluating information and reporting in their own areas of expertise.

The question is whether j-schools, often staffed by professional journalists, will have the vision and will to make this kind of change in focus and mission. Can we reinvent ourselves in the same way that news organizations are having to reinvent themselves? Neither one is ‘rescuing’ the other, but both have a lot to learn in this transition from mass media to personalized, portable, participatory media.

Written by Donica

March 1st, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Innovation at the Reynolds School

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rsj_graphicWe want to be an innovative, successful journalism school. We know we need to change. But why and how?

Why are we innovating?
(1) What we’ve been doing is increasingly less useful for our students or industry. Too much has changed.
(2) Demand for our current products is changing and possibly declining.
(3) The need for what we can produce is higher than ever.
(4) The state of our economy requires us to remain productive but spend less money doing it.
(5) We need to demonstrate our relevance and usefulness within the university to survive.

What are we innovating?
I don’t consider students “products.” But for the purposes of this thought exercise, I think it is useful to be very clear about what we are discussing. Innovation is so often conceived as a product-related activity that the analogy is useful for the moment.

We produce two products: educated students and new knowledge. Our purpose for both products is that they contribute in meaningful ways to a better quality of life for our community, state and country. This sounds lofty and abstract, but if we are able to make this purpose more concrete and real, our innovations will be more successful in the long run. The obvious need for improving public life, social conditions, culture, governance and economy in our state is highly motivating.

We can innovate in our methods: how we produce our products (students and knowledge). And/or we can innovate with what kinds of students or knowledge we produce.

Some might argue that journalism schools produce journalism, and that our innovation should be to produce innovative journalism. Our school does not produce journalism at the moment, other than through what our students produce. If we change this then we could include journalism as our third product.

We have defined our primary product as a student who is an excellent writer, versatile in the use of multiple media technologies and capable of creating accurate, ethical, and professional work in the journalism, advertising and public relations industries. To do this, part of our job is to weed out students who will not make high quality practitioners in these industries. Do we want to maintain this position? If so, then our innovation will be focused on how to make these future professionals more skilled, smarter and adaptable to compete for the increasingly scarce jobs available to them. We will position ourselves as a highly focused, demanding program for those who are motivated to compete in an exciting, challenging set of industries. We recognize that we would prove our worth not by size but quality.

If we chose to keep the production of professional journalists/communicators as our primary activity we will do so in the recognition that significant change in what we teach will still be necessary, given the deeply structural changes in the way journalism and media are created, produced, distributed, shared, linked, consumed and remixed.

If, on the other hand, we believe that journalism practices could be of value to a wider population, we could position ourselves to serve a much wider university population. In this approach to innovation, we could change or expand our product line. If we believe the demand for skilled journalism professionals is declining, what other type of student might we productively produce in our program?

— Students skilled in innovative thinking, practices, and creativity relevant to journalism and communication
— Students committed to active public citizenry through the use of journalism and communication practices
— Students skilled in the academic study of communication and journalism
— Students literate in using and contributing to media/journalism informally
— Students capable of using media technologies for use in a wide range of disciplines
— Students capable of using journalistic forms of communication for use in a wide range of industries
— Students focused on communication/journalism in one discipline — environment, business, law, politics

The more ‘products’ we chose to include in our mix, the more challenging it will be to maintain focus and direction. It may be that we have one focus for students in their freshmen and sophomore years and different choices for juniors and seniors. Or, we may have faculty members group themselves together, not in departments or sequences, but according to the type of products they want to produce together. We could have multiple focused minors or multiple majors.

As part of a land grant university, our mission is to create practical and intellectual forms of knowledge that benefit our state and community. Historically, this product has been developed solely at the discretion of individual faculty members, with little consultation or coordination. We can continue this practice, or we can discuss alternative ways of aligning our collective research direction. We can continue to separate our ‘product lines’ (students and knowledge) and assume little overlap between them or we can decide to align our innovative energy in a particular direction.

Deciding the direction of our innovation requires taking stock of the resources we have at hand and the most important of those are the skills and interests of our faculty. We have strengths. We have holes. How might we expand our strengths and fill the holes? In what areas might some of us want to re-focus, change, contribute?  Too much attention to existing interests will limit our reach and ultimate success but at the same time, ignoring existing interests could lead to failure.

Once we know what we want to innovate, we can use all our creative energy to figure out what it would take to do it. Questions of curriculum, teaching methods, majors, minors and credits will flow from the decisions we make about the direction and purpose of our innovation. We could be very innovative even within our existing curriculur structure. We have a lot of freedom within our courses to change examples, emphases, skills and assessment to adapt and reinforce the choices we make in the direction of our innovation.

Two final points: We have the tools to include students, past, current and future, in our conversations about the direction of the school. How much do we want to enlarge the conversation? Will it be deliberate or informal?

And second is an acknowledgement that we have the freedom to innovate a working environment for ourselves that is stimulating and rewarding. What kind of place do we want to work? Can we combine our skills and work together in ways we haven’t done in the past? Can faculty group themselves together in new ways and produce pods of innovative activity? If so, can we develop ways to evaluate, assess and reward such activity?

Our colleagues in the journalism industry are facing similar questions without the safety net of university employment. Will we learn from their plight and rouse ourselves to contribute to the renovation of our discipline? Or will we repeat the same mistakes and ultimately suffer the same fate?

Written by Donica

February 26th, 2010 at 7:25 am

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

Why should J-schools teach “new networking” habits?

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The word “networks” gets thrown around a lot (including in the title of this blog). In terms of journalism, one could argue that journalists have always been about networking. We network with sources, subjects and readers and use that networking to our advantage when finding and writing stories.

“Social” networking in this age, however, means something different. A recent post on the Harvard Business Review by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown had a powerful description of the difference:

In the classical networking approach, the game is about presenting yourself in the most favorable light possible while flattering the other person into giving you their contact information. This approach quickly degenerates into a manipulative exchange where the real identities of both parties rapidly recede into the background, replaced by carefully staged presentations of an artificial self. These staged interactions rarely build trust. In fact, they usually have the opposite effect, putting both parties on guard and reinforcing wariness and very selective disclosure.

A learning disposition leads to a very different approach. Now the effort focuses on understanding the needs of the other, with a particular focus on understanding the biggest issues others are wrestling with. This requires intense curiosity, deep listening and empathy that seeks to understand the context that other person is operating in. It also requires willingness to disclose vulnerabilities, since it is often hard to get the other person to share their most challenging issues without a sense that you are willing to do the same.

Much can be learned simply by exploring the experiences of the other person, but even more can be learned by finding common ground — identifying common issues that you both face. This provides a context to work collaboratively in addressing particular challenges or opportunities that draw out the experiences and knowledge that you both have and end up creating new knowledge. Now we are beginning to tap into not just flows of existing tacit knowledge, but generating flows of new knowledge.

Journalists may have always hoped to be engaged in ‘social’ networking as described here, but calling sources to extract perfect quotes in an already conceptualized story is the opposite of “a learning disposition.” Getting people to divulge information while developing a contrary story angle, assuming the worst from politicians and bureaucrats, playing up partisan divides for easy story lines makes for a very particular kind of journalism — the kind being rejected by millions, regardless of what device it appears on.

In j-schools, we’ve been really good at drilling AP style and the importance of meeting deadlines, at teaching the craft of 500-word stories and headline writing with verbs. Some of these skills are still needed, obviously, but if we don’t set our sights much, much higher in many ways and address the type of networking Seely Brown describes here, we’ll not be meeting the needs of our students, our discipline, industry or the public.

If we want people to read our journalism, to interact with the issues we feel so deeply about, to fix corrupt government and respond to community problems, we can no longer operate in a vacuum, networking at our own convenience. We have to understand how our roles have changed and what place we have in already existing networks.

We can’t afford to not be “generating flows of new knowledge.” That’s where we could excel and contribute as journalists…and how we could produce a “journalism that matters.”

Written by Donica

January 30th, 2010 at 9:29 am

Community engagement in j-schools

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Does “community engagement” belong in the j-school curriculum?

Robert Niles, writing in the Online Journalism Review, Doing journalism in 2010 is an act of community organizing, says absolutely, yes:

The journalists who succeed online are the ones who understand that they are no longer simply reporters… they’ve become community organizers.

Consider these examples:

Jonathan Weber, the new editor-in-chief of the Bay Area News Project, spent the past four years building New West, a multi-platform, multi-revenue stream media network covering local news in the west. In an interview with Baynewser, he talks about what he’s looking for in some of his new staff (he’ll be hiring 15 editorial staff to start with):

a part of the staff will be devoted to the community development relationship-building, collaboration-building with both other media organizations and with bloggers and lots of other kinds of contributors [like] UC Berkeley, not only the [journalism] students but also the faculty, perhaps other departments at Berkeley. So some of the full-time staff will be devoted to developing and nurturing those kinds of relationships, and that is a somewhat different skill set than a traditional journalism skill set.

Because Weber has solid and successful experience doing this kind of work for New West, he knows what he’s talking about. It’s not a theoretical conception of journalism, but a working knowledge of how journalism works online.

Another example is this job description from John Temple, the new editor of Peer News in Honolulu. He’s also looking for reporters and says: “The job will require more interaction with readers and the community than is typical at most local news operations.” (I’m moving to Honolulu…)

Interacting with readers takes a different approach to journalism than we teach in most j-school courses, where students are taught to develop news sense, story ideas, sources and writing style independently from contact with people in the community. Calling expert sources for a quote doesn’t count. Listening to what people need and want to know about and building journalism around that premise, rather than building our journalism sense in isolation, would get us much closer to the kind of journalism that I think will be successful online.

Written by Donica

January 29th, 2010 at 11:36 am