Networked Journalism Education

Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

Design thinking is useful for journalists. Discuss.

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[UPDATE: This was part of a  Carnival of Journalism conversation in 2014. Responses to the question have been posted separately: The Innovative Spark]

Have you applied design thinking in your work? Has it been useful? Why or why not?

Plenty has been written about the need for news organizations to be more innovative and entrepreneurial. Now the challenge is how to be innovative, both at the organizational and individual level. Design thinking is one process that many people have found useful for sparking innovation.

The Knight Foundation recently selected 24 projects to receive $35,000 each from the Knight Prototype Fund. As a first step, Knight provided each of the grantees an intensive two-day workshop in design thinking. [ADDENDUM Feb. 17: See this useful post from the Knight Foundation on using design thinking for community information needs.]

In December, the New York Times featured a story on the D.school at Stanford, which champions design thinking, calling out the work of two students who created a news-reading app bought by LinkedIn for $90 million.

David Wright, formerly with NPR and now a designer at Twitter, gave a design-thinking presentation at ONA 2012 that received a lot of attention: Design is how it works.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a process that helps journalists think more explicitly about their work from the perspective of the people who read, watch, listen and share what journalists create.

This doesn’t mean that journalists give up their independence or dish up what they think audiences want. It’s not about focus groups or reader surveys. It requires, first of all, letting go of what we think the problem/story is and really listening to and observing the people who are experiencing whatever we’re concerned with. It starts with people, not technology.

Slide by Twitter Designer David Wright from a 2013 SND presentation Platform ≠ Content

Choosing people to talk with is key. Once the interviews are complete, the team focuses on looking for connections from the various interviews that lead to new insights about the challenge at hand. Discerning people’s needs (articulated or not) and how journalists might better respond to them, can spark new ways of approaching any problem or goal.

The next step also subverts traditional newsroom routines. Rather than planning to make a change and writing memos and forming committees, design thinking encourages people to sketch ideas, get feedback and iterate their ideas quickly. Rapid prototyping forces ideas to be articulated, tested, and improved in a short and low cost way. “Demo don’t memo” can be a useful mantra in faculty meetings or news meetings.

Slide by Twitter Designer David Wright from a 2013 SND presentation Platform ≠ Content

Building, implementing and marketing are separate activities from the design thinking process. The usefulness of the approach is in coming up with innovative ideas for addressing whatever the need is: a better process in the newsroom or classroom, a better story idea, better storytelling, better news product. It’s one way to improve routines, habits and products that we have long stopped seeing.

Design thinking is not new (read this wonderful article on Wicked Problems in Design Thinking from 1992) nor is it new to the news business (see these Gannett videos from 2008) and it’s not always well received (Gannett partnered with design thinking firm IDEO in Detroit in 2008 to some ridicule). Plenty of people have written about the limitations of design thinking. Helen Walters wrote a thoughtful piece in Fast Co. about what design thinking can and cannot do:

…design thinking does not replace the need for design specialists, nor does it magically appear out of some black box. Design thinking isn’t fairy dust. It’s a tool to be used appropriately. It might help to illuminate an answer but it is not the answer in and of itself.

Instead, it turns up insights galore, and there is real value and skill to be had from synthesizing the messy, chaotic, confusing and often contradictory intellect of experts gathered from different fields to tackle a particularly thorny problem.

No tool is a panacea for every problem. But plenty of people are finding success with incorporating design thinking skillfully at the right moments.

For example, media entrepreneur start-up accelerator Matter uses design thinking to foster the development of projects such as Zeega and OpenWatchmetaLAB projects at Harvard incorporate design thinking. Poynter wrote about design thinking at the Voice of San Diego and a news project in Brazil.

Have you applied design thinking in your work? Has it been useful? Why or why not?

Or, Plan B: How do you get your own creative juices flowing? What sparks innovation in your own thinking, your newsroom or classroom?

Blog your answers, post links in the comments below, share on Twitter (hashtag #jcarn) and I’ll provide a round-up of the responses after the Feb 28 deadline.

More resources on design thinking:

TED talk by IDEO CEO Tim Brown: Designers — Think Big!
TED talk by IDEO founder David Kelley: How to build your creative confidence
Helen Walters, Fast Co.:The Seven Deadly Sins that Choke out Innovation
Book by Jeanne Liedtka, Andrew King, and Kevin Bennett: Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, Columbia University Press
Sarah Soule: Why Design Thinking Is an Effective Tool for Social Entrepreneurs

MORE RESOURCES (added November, 2015)
Design Thinking for Educators (IDEO)
Design Thinking Comes of Age (Harvard Business Review, Sept. 2015)
Welcome to the Virtual Crash Course for Design Thinking (Stanford d.school)
Use Our Methods (Stanford d. school)
Free online course on design thinking, (+Acumen)

Written by Donica

January 26th, 2014 at 11:29 pm

How should journalism schools respond to the merging of media and technology companies?

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This image is from an advertisement for Seatwave, featured in an article in the Guardian in 2009, listing the “top 100 tech media companies”

Last week in a talk at the Reynolds School, David Cohn, director of news at Circa and founder of Spot.Us made the point that technology companies are becoming media companies: Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook all started as technology companies — in Apple’s case, a hardware company — yet all have moved closer and closer to sponsoring, producing, aggregating and selling media.

Wired just published a thought provoking interview with Andrew DeVigal (thanks to Craig Silverman at Spundge for the tip!) in which DeVigal speaks to the question of whether media companies (in this case, The New York Times) should become a technology company:

…Part of the challenge there is that the New York Times, which is a media company would then become a software company. Not to say that isn’t the right thing to do, but is that what the  Times wants? It’d be a pretty major shift in mindset and operations, you know, to support customers and support the technology. Do we really want to see teams of journalists turned into teams of support technologists?

It makes me wonder if a team at Apple ever asked themselves: Do we really want to turn ourselves into a music company? Or whether the early team at Microsoft that decided to adapt an encyclopedia for the Web (remembering Encarta) worried about whether their engineers knew enough to create media. Will journalists lose their critical space in the network because they can’t imagine how to reconfigure themselves?

DeVigal goes on to describe the next frontier in interactive news, which to me reinforces one of the reasons why media and technology have to move closer together:

Trying to capture a narrative around data is still the missing link. How do we blend interactive story telling with information?

We’ve recently reconfigured our curriculum to include narrative, data and social journalism courses. But what I get from DeVigal is that after these foundational courses, we should be pushing ourselves to integrate these concepts and produce something new that marries media and technology. We can’t tell stories on one page and display data on another; these two forms of information need to be integrated in ways we’re just beginning to invent.

DeVigal emphasized the need to more deeply engage readers, and one way to do that is through games. Let the reader simulate driving a car while texting, or play different roles within a documentary of the Haitian earthquake. We have to experiment to understand how to arrest attention and help people focus on the message/the story/the issue we are presenting. Integrating narrative with data through the framework of a game may be the closest template we have at the moment for thinking through a new form of news.

DeVigal’s final advice on what we should be teaching:

    Strong Storytelling Skills (“Know Story” he said)
    Facility with Software (being able to whip out an idea is valuable)
    Ability to Collaborate (absolutely critical)

If journalism/media companies are to become tech companies, then journalism schools have to become much, much more tech saavy. We who prepare students: Are we preparing them to jump start new types of news, with the attitudes necessary to grok the merging of numbers, stories and social?

We can’t start the journalism curriculum by drilling AP style, the inverted pyramid and 1:30 second news packages and expect students to come out on the other end with new ideas. Maybe it’s on us to become Schools of Information, in all its forms, to make sure we stay in the game.

Written by Donica

April 6th, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Journalism programs finding their niche

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The Brown Institute for Media Innovation website

It’s fun to read about the new Brown Institute for Media Innovation (and drool a bit) over the thought of having resources to spend on journalism/engineering collaborations between Columbia and Stanford students. Learning from their innovations, as well as from the Knight News Challenge grants, the work of folks at the MIT Media Lab and many other pockets of creative thinkers hooked to generous resources, brightens the prospects for journalism spectacularly.

I think it helps everyone when an entity is able to decide what it’s about and build an idea. Lots can be done at a smaller scale, too, and I am excited to see how different programs, including ours, answer that challenge. I see a great need for programs to develop innovative products using all open-source, freely available tools, or to use old tools in new ways. There’s plenty of invention and experimentation to be done, and bravo to anyone who gets the traction and support to unfold a solid strategy.

Written by Donica

April 1st, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Innovation

Agile curriculum revision

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Curriculum revision used to be a chore undertaken once a decade or so, as faculty came and went and technologies and industry practices changed. Now the process is nearly continuous. Most faculty I know rewrite their syllabi every semester and sometimes mid-stream. We have a permanent curriculum committee that devotes significant time to re-designing courses on a regular basis.

Our most recent conversations have focused on the news ‘track.’ We voted several years ago to eliminate the print and broadcast sequences, but defining what news students should know has been an ongoing conversation. After interviewing alumni, analyzing job announcements and looking at trends in online journalism, we came up with three roles that seem to be growing in importance among journalists: digital storytellers, data journalists and social media managers. We are redesigning our curriculum as a series of “buckets” in which we can pour new content as it seems appropriate. We are using these three roles as key competencies, encouraging students to become expert in one area and at least conversant in a second.

This chart outlines our current curriculum for news students:

Written by Donica

March 21st, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Moving from “story” to “asset”

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Two enlightening posts over the past couple of weeks:
— Jonathan Stray’s “What is it that journalists do?
— Jeff Jarvis’s News articles as assets and paths
clarify an urgent need in journalism education — to move beyond writing basic AP stories as the focus of our early training and socialization of young journalists.

Stray expands Barbie Zelizer’s argument that we need to open up what ‘counts’ as journalism (see Taking Journalism Seriously, 2004). Educators would do much to help the cause of journalism if we didn’t drill into young students a definition of journalism that makes it hard for them to consider anything other than traditional news stories as legitimate.

Teaching students how to define news and what counts and doesn’t count as “journalism” can take up a lot of energy in high school and college journalism curriculums. Minimal attention to community management, math skills, databases, Facebook, Twitter, advocacy, writing with voice, aggregation, curation, post-publication editing, citizen journalism and a host of new practices strain our own credibility as well as constrain the imagination of ourselves and students.

Form does not define journalism nor does the author. As Stray says:

There are a lot of different roles to play in the digital public sphere. A journalist might step into any or all of these roles. So might anyone else, as we are gradually figuring out.

But this, this broad view of all of the various important things that a journalist might do, this is not how the profession sees itself. And it’s not how newsrooms are built. “I’ll do a story” is a marvelous hammer, but it often leads to enormous duplication of effort and doesn’t necessarily best serve the user.

It’s the “do a story” reflex that is the heart of most journalism education programs. We pride ourselves on teaching the news story and we honor the students who do it well. But if the story is only a small part of the many things journalists do now and in the future, then focusing so much on this one thing is the wrong approach for most of our classes.

What if we took as a starting point all the activities that Stray lists as important activities of journalists and added the collection of assets that Jarvis lists — what kind of curriculum might we develop then?

We’ve made a first round attempt at this in our undergraduate curriculum, distilling “what journalists do” to three core activities:

  • Tell stories
  • Use data
  • Be social

We are expanding on these and developing course syllabi now. Stray and Jarvis and many others are helping us enlarge our definition of journalism so that our students will be prepared to contribute and change their communities, not just the industry.

Written by Donica

June 8th, 2012 at 3:27 am

The reform should go farther than you reach

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I was grading exams when Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation gave a speech to journalism educators May 11: Journalism education reform: How far should it go? I have just now read it. Perhaps I am a symbol of the slowness that he rails against but I’ll plow ahead and add my voice to that of Doug Fisher (Dear Eric Newton, good ideas, but now some reality).

I agree with Eric on many, many points. I have applied several times for Knight funding. I am in awe of many of the projects funded by the Knight Foundation and impressed by the way the foundation is learning and innovating in their own space as well as that of journalism. Knight is more responsible than just about any other institution on the planet for the forward progress in many journalism ventures.

But here’s what I want to say:

Trolling up the professionals vs. academics argument is older and more tired than the bloggers vs. journalists argument. Please! If some schools in the south have their heads so buried that they are firing good people, I’m sorry. But do not fall in that deep, deep rut of an old argument because we’ll just run you over. (If you want to read something smart about it, check out Stephen Reese’s 1999 article: Progressive Potential of Journalism Education: Recasting the Academic vs. Professional Debate,” Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics.)

Second, Chris Callahan is a god. But he is sucking up a lot of air the way the New York Times sucks a lot of air. We aren’t all the New York Times and we’re not all ASU. Some diversity of thought and method would help journalism education as much as it would help journalism. After receiving more than $10 million over three years to fund the News21 Initiative program, ASU is now charging journalism schools more than $10,000 each to fund a student to attend a summer program. Expensive newsrooms are not the future of the academy any more than they are the future of journalism.

Third, Eric’s measure of success of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education is circular. Pleasing industry leaders has been a large part of what got journalism education in trouble. Often when we produce people who do what the industry wants, we are building for the past. Every time I hear someone praise the Knight-Carnegie journalism education work, it’s the example of journalism students publishing stories on the front page of the Washington Post. Given that Len Downie was a lead editor on the project, that’s hardly surprising. If we want students to really practice creating new story structures, build new products and develop new ways of interacting with the public, why hold up an example that would have drawn attention and praise 50 years ago?

We can do so much better than this. Many of Eric’s suggestions move in that direction. Revising accreditation standards would go a long way to addressing some of the backwardness present in many journalism schools.

But the biggest change is opening up how we define journalism and what it means to practice it in today’s (and tomorrow’s) environment. Publishing in the Washington Post is a wonderful achievement to be aspired to by a small, small subset of our students — which is perfectly fine, given the number of jobs open in that career track. But to spend $20 million in journalism education to make that possible? This is not a trivial sum and it’s not a trivial problem. Like the direction of the News Challenge grants, smaller grants to more schools to produce more diverse projects would do far, far more for journalism education than what’s been accomplished so far in this one exclusive mega-grant to a handful of usual suspects.

Universities are about to hit the grease on the road that the media industry hit ten years ago. It’s not going to be pretty. Journalism programs are in a prime position to help lead the way forward, since we’ve been thinking about these problems longer and in a more serious way than some of the folks in other colleges. Education is about to become more open, transparent, online, remixed, and re-conceptualized than ever before. The future is not in arguing about graduate credentials or building small expensive reporting teams. We need all hands on deck from foundations, university presidents, faculty, deans, students and parents. The Knight and Carnegie Foundations could play a key role in this transformation if they think again about how to deploy their tremendous resources.

Written by Donica

May 27th, 2012 at 12:08 am

The journalist as small business owner

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In this month’s Carnival of Journalism Michael Rosenblum urges journalists to go into business for themselves:

“We should arrange ourselves the way lawyers do, as limited partnerships.  Then some of the partners can carry on with their ‘investigative journalism’ while the others engage in more lucrative PR or Image Control and others launch web-related IPOs.

And instead of ‘working for’ the NY Times or NBC, we should simply license our work to them.  For a fee.”

Sound advice for two reasons:

(1) Journalists need a more intimate connection with the people who will read, watch and listen to their work. Nothing focuses attention like a paycheck. Nothing will improve writing, focus and creativity as much as figuring out what people will pay for directly with their money or time.

(2) News corporations have to re-invent themselves as people and information companies, not industrial factories. If they want to attract and retain the best, they have to act like 21st century companies and produce genuine value by investing in their most valuable resources — their employees. Competing with small, nimble and smart companies of journalists might be the kind of competition that will goose the entire industry.

News corporations are finely tuned to deliver mass content that they’ve sold to advertisers.

Networked media feature highly specific content and are decentralized, flexible, and interactive. A journalist can do a tremendous amount to add value to a community that is working through its public problems. A group of journalists who have joined together in a common purpose can keep costs low, differentiate their work and add value in much more strategic ways than a news corporation.

To the degree that responsible capitalism can improve journalism, amen. Teaching students the value of labor, capital and their place in the market will improve their chances of success in far more ways than another class in AP style. This isn’t a panacea for all places, people or types of journalism. But it’s an excellent suggestion for creating a new layer of sustainable journalism. Let the journalism shops/partnerships/small businesses and experiments flourish!

 

Written by Donica

January 30th, 2012 at 12:45 am

JournalismPress

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Robin Hutton on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

The best gift I can imagine from a software developer is a WordPress-like publishing and collaborating platform designed for doing journalism.

According to WordPress’s State of the Word, nearly 15% of the top million websites in the world are using WordPress. Twenty-two out of every 100 new active domains in the US use WordPress.

Hundreds of news sites are using WordPress. The Bangor Daily News uses WordPress for production and publication. The newspaper in Barga, Italy runs on WordPress. So does CNN’s PoliticalTicker as well as countless student newspapers.

WordPress is wonderful; it enables easy access to publishing for millions of people. I’m writing on a WordPress blog right now and I have nearly a dozen class sites in various stages of use.

But it is software for blogging. Journalists need a platform that enables a wider range of content to be published by a wider range of users using a much wider range of design tools. Journalists desperately need a content management system that is as easy and flexible as WordPress but built to enable collaborative, beautifully designed, multimedia rich, social media integrated news.

Image a tool box of widgets and plug-ins just for different types of journalism: wiki pages for context building, storify for all types of media with lots of design options, non-templated templates that allow for multiple size photos with captions, for large headlines, small headlines, contributed stories, rating tools, live chats, live coverage, crowdsourced maps, data visualizations, interactive databases and crowdsourced databases. Imagine a WordPress-like CMS that includes a work flow suitable for use by small and large newsrooms, by classrooms, nonprofits and neighborhood associations. It could be drag and drop, pop and play, easy to use out-of-the-box and open for all types of customization. It would look good on any browser and any device (I know, asking for the moon, but since you asked…)

A content management system built to accommodate all the amazing tools that developers are creating for journalists and that enables strong and beautiful design and is easy to use — that would be a gift of the decade.

I also have a related gift request, one that might not be so pie-in-the-sky. I would love a go-to-wiki that incudes a directory of all the cool tools developers are making that relate to journalism, with links to examples, how-to guides and user comments. So many experiments are flourishing around the world it’s impossible to keep track of all the wonderful gifts developers are already creating for journalists. People are using and customizing new tools in all kinds of unexpected ways. It would be incredibly useful to have a user-generated wiki directory that provided a one-stop place to learn about new tools that relate to creating, doing, producing, distributing and sustaining journalism. If anyone is interested in collaborating on such a project (or knows if such a thing already exists!) please comment below.

Those are my two wishes for this month’s Carnival of Journalism. For the record, I also wish for world peace, an end to hunger and a happy new year to all!

Written by Donica

December 9th, 2011 at 10:31 pm

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

What is award winning journalism?

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What type of online journalism is worthy of an award? How should judges for the Online News Association assess the “best” of online journalism? These are the questions a group of blogging carnivalists are pondering this month.

Lisa William’s articulate epiphany about her experience in judging awards for ONA last year: “I realized as I was doing it that what “good” meant was changing” is also a way of saying “I realized that journalism itself and our expectations of it are changing...”

The diversity of opinion in responding to Lisa’s question illustrates as clearly as anything I’ve seen the explosion of what we now consider “journalism.” Deep investigative reporting, carefully crafted prose, expert editing and beautiful professional images now compete with crowdsourced breaking news, iPhone video, Twitter conversations, community partnerships and interactive databases for recognition as quality journalism.

We can’t separate tools and journalism in any meaningful way. It’s the product of the two that produces meaningful ideas and communicates in ways that matter to people in the here and now.

Recognizing “Big-J” journalism online was an important first step within ONA. But now we have many versions of journalism that are meeting needs in individual communities in ways that are imaginative, unconventional and engaging. (And we still have a lot of tone-deaf journalism, churned out through rote formulaic processes that fail to move the needle in any direction at all.)

Does the Online News Association represent all of journalism today? Is offline journalism such a specialized niche that it should have its own journalism awards and everything else be presumed to be online?

My students can’t afford multiple professional memberships. When they ask about SPJ, RTNDA, SND etc., I often recommend ONA. It’s the organization that embraces the future of journalism. It’s no longer an enclave of frustrated print journalists who have moved online. It is all of us doing the work of many journalisms.

Some of the responses about how to judge ONA nominations are as much about the categories of awards as the qualities by which they should be judged. Do the categories of small, medium and large sites still matter? Perhaps the categories should be new, growing and long term organizations. Or perhaps those types of categories should disappear entirely.

Perhaps innovative business models should be an entire section of the awards ceremony. Perhaps educators should get together and craft ONA awards for most effective partnerships. Social media managers could brainstorm ways to assess qualities of engagement and use those to recognize success.

Many people probably think ONA already has too many categories. Perhaps categories of technology (online video/multimedia) are too narrow, or better served by more informal subgroups with ONA. Or maybe distinguishing between blogging, topical and professional categories could be re-thought.

ONA is doing a good job of incorporating the shiny new tools of journalism to the structure and organization of ONA, but it could focus even more specifically on redesigning the awards ceremony to reflect the diversity of what journalism is becoming.

Understanding these changes are part of ONA’s promise and mandate. This isn’t just another niche journalism organization handing out awards in the same format as every other professional organization. It’s a place to reflect on how one of the most significant transformations in human communication affect the craft, art and profession we love.

Awards signal a form of consensus about what constitutes quality achievement. It’s not surprising that at a time of rapid change this consensus falls apart. The fun of today’s conversation is how to focus the uncertainty in ways that help us see the bigger questions.

Written by Donica

July 16th, 2011 at 3:33 am