Networked Journalism Education

Archive for the ‘Education’ 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

‘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

How we think of our students

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Do we think of our students as passive consumers of electronic media, uninterested in public affairs, disinclined to read, a means to the university ends of increased enrollment and tuition fees?

Then we have as much to rethink as do the creators of one-way media. This video is good reminder of how to conceptualize our own students, and how to help them conceptualize their own audiences:

This video was prepared by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books and produced by Khaki Films ( Originally meant solely for a DK sales conference, the video was such a hit internally that it is now being shared externally. We hope you enjoy it (and make sure you watch it up to at least the halfway point, there’s a surprise!).

Read an interview with the creator of the video on the Penguin Blog
The clip was inspired by a video created by an Argentinian agency, Savaglio/TBWA entitled Truth:

(Thanks to John Brodeur and Bob Felten for the link!)

Written by Donica

March 18th, 2010 at 2:17 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

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

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

What Google’s Living Stories could mean for j-education

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Google Labs, The New York Times and the Washington Post are experimenting (together, itself a noteworty point) on creating “Living Story” pages that aggregate information about a topic with a timeline, pictures, summary and links to major stories. Readers can read stories without navigating away from the main page, getting deep information on a single issue without the cumbersome, incomplete and slow process of searching on multiple news pages. Once the prototype is complete, Google says it will make the technology available to any publisher who wants to use it (Google Unveils News-by-Topic Service, NYT)

The project builds what Jane Stevens, on Web shells, and Matt Thompson, on Columbia Tomorrow have been imagining and experimenting with for some time (in Jane’s case, since 2002). Both of these journalists, and many others, recognize that context is a key factor missing in most journalism today that the Web, happily, is ideally suited to provide. Matt Thompson wrote about context on his blog “Newsless”:

To me, journalism is the constant effort to deliver a truer picture of the world as it is. The “latest developments” provide one lens through which to capture that picture. And as long as journalism was primarily delivered by static media, that lens made perfect sense.

The Web, however, makes possible other ways of delivering that picture of our evolving world. It allows us to shirk the tyranny of recency and place more emphasis on context – the information that often gets buried beneath the news.

I want to hear much, much less about the future of news, and much more about the future of context. I want to shift the focus of our books and conferences from how we’ll deliver the latest developments to how we’ll help our audiences better understand the state of our world.

The Google prototype doesn’t look particularly impressive and it’s not a new idea. But I think it’s a good marker for thinking about how journalism is changing. How? Eventually, when systems like this are more commonplace, it will mean:

  • Redundancy is squeezed from the system:We don’t need a lot of similar stories all quoting the same people. The value comes from people who can build knowledge, not replicate it.
  • We don’t need constant rehashes of the same stories. The past will be perfectly accessible.
  • We don’t need stories that provide artificial balance by people who don’t really understand the trade-offs. We need people who are equipped to make defensible judgments about balance and credibility and make the entire process transparent.
  • We need to understand much better how how people process information and what they need in order to follow an issue quickly or deeply, daily or monthly or annually.
  • We need people in graphics, video, audio and text to work together more seamlessly to build an ongoing contextual, dynamic node in the network that is easily updatable, searchable, taggable, findable, linkable, widgitized.

What’s missing from the Google system, that I can tell, is the opportunity for conversation and engagement about the subject. For these living story pages to be truly living, they would need to also be a central node in the community conversation taking place about the issue. Information and context — by themselves — don’t move us forward in terms of addressing and acting on whatever the important issue requires. Once that capacity is enabled, the journalist would have both information and conversation to connect, arbitrate, build and update.

What might this mean for journalism education?

  • Students would need to have subject areas of expertise to be able to organize and curate context about major issues. The ‘generalist’ as many have pointed out, has much less value in this environment.
  • More emphasis would have to be placed on creating stories that differentiated themselves from each other. This requires elimination of ‘group think,’ use of the usual sources, copying, imitating, formulaic journalism.
  • Students would need to educate themselves about the journalism being done on the subject, identifying holes and building on what came before, rather than replicating what is already known. A “living story” system eliminates redundancy and rewards knowledge that builds on what came before.
  • Students would have to be skilled at finding and evaluating the credibility and accuracy of a wider variety of sources, in more transparent and efficient ways, than ever before.
  • Students would need to be able to collaborate, generate, create and imagine as core competencies.
  • Students would have to understand policy and action cycles so as to anticipate what kind of information would be needed next to move the subject forward
  • Students would need to know how to connect, facilitate and moderate conversations about a controversial public issue that included the most important points of view and perspective about the topic

These are not the same skills we teach today. Yes, there’s overlap and yes some of this sound like the ‘old’ journalism. But in fundamental ways, it’s very different from the sometimes formula driven, idealized craft work of a lot of journalism education. As educators, we have to analyze, anticipate and build on what is happening as it happens. There are no ‘best practices’ during a time of disruption. We have to build them.

Written by Donica

December 10th, 2009 at 5:27 am