Networked Journalism Education

Archive for the ‘Literacy’ Category

Beyond content creation

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Wireframe for Google Venture homepage, Braden Kowitz, Flickr, Creative Commons.

This from Gerry McGovern today, emphasizing again that “content” means more than it used to, as the fluidity of information reshapes jobs and institutions:

If you are a web content professional your job is linking, navigating and searching far more than it is content creation. On the Web, your content is valueless unless it is well linked, easy to navigate to and easy to find. That is not someone else’s job. It’s yours.

We don’t work on the homepage. We work on the network. The Web is a network and those who work on the Web are networkers. The link is the essence of the Web. Web writing is link writing. Don’t think control, think sharing. How shareable is your content? Don’t think homepage. There’s no direction home on the Web because home changes based on the context of what people want to do…..
Links are the currency of the Web, not content, and links are an inherently collaborative and sharing activity. Nothing lives in isolation on the Web. Every page is a homepage for someone.Gerry McGovern, The continued decline of the homepage, Nov. 30 2014

As journalism educators, we need to widen our conception of what we teach so that it has meaning to the entire scope of communication our students will engage in.

Written by Donica

November 30th, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Six reasons to study journalism today

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To be honest, the number of jobs available in mainstream news media is declining. Experienced journalists are being laid off. Most online journalism salaries are low. Lots of people seek free labor. Journalism schools are likely producing too many students compared to the number of traditional journalism jobs available.

But before you write off journalism as a major, consider two points:
(1) The skills you learn in journalism make you employable in many types of jobs;
(2) This is a profession/craft that is reinventing itself. For creative, ambitious, motivated, curious, driven seekers of interesting life work, journalism offers:


Photo courtesy of Franco Folini, Flickr

Excitement. During the industrial revolution it was cool to be in textile manufacturing. Today the revolution is in communication and information. If you gravitate to chaos, uncertainty and risk, align yourself in the knowledge industries. If you prefer stability and predictability, try accounting.

Discovery. “Today if you’re curious you have an insane advantage. The noncurious get left behind.” (#newsfoo 2010) If you want the insane advantage of curiosity, chose a field that stimulates your curiosity every day. Journalism is an excuse to be curious. If you’re not curious, journalism will feel pointless (as will a lot of life).

Creativity. You will spend time on three things in journalism school that will help you function in any field: how to find stories, tell stories and know which stories are worth telling.  Transmedia storytelling is the latest buzzword but the fact is journalism school will help make you make a stronger writer, sharper visualizer and more powerful sense maker. These are skills you can put to good use personally and professionally in nearly any context.

Morality. The “we” generation considers the importance of community, humanity and honesty in relationships at work and home. As Umair Haque writes: “The economy’s what we create every day, with every decision we make. And we can, with small steps and big dreams, create a better one. It’s a perspective anchored in creating real, enduring value, by doing stuff that matters most, in a messy, complex — and very fragile — human world.” Journalism is a social practice built on moral values. If you care about the quality and impact of your work, journalism offers a path to individual and collective value.

Technology. You’ll become a Tool Master. J-profs always says it’s not about the tools but in reality a lot of j-school is about the tools. Knowing how to create awesome video/take photos/tweet/post/precision edit/database/customize/personalize makes you powerful. Lots of organizations would jump at a chance to hire someone who knows how to make these tools produce something that’s actually readable and usable.

Subversive. The status quo is visibly worn out. The future is subversive. Journalism can be a tool of subversion as well as a tool of control. Put yourself in a place that’s about confronting the powerful. Document the voiceless. Connect the unconnected. Learn about the neighborhoods in your own city that you’ve never paid attention to and countries you’ve never heard of. Help pierce the bubble of the comfortable class and engage people in finding new paths to peace and prosperity.

The transition from an institutional/industrial model of journalism to a networked assemblage won’t be smooth or direct. Plenty of disasters await us as we sort through how to circulate and use information at a speed and volume unlike anything we’ve experienced before.

The new model of journalism is far more attuned to relationships and knowledge than connections and style. Schools scramble to catch up and news organizations will come and go faster than you can graduate. You will encounter professors who define journalism by what they experienced rather than what you experience. But if you persevere, you will be well prepared to encounter a future vastly different from the past.

[And j-profs…our challenge is to create a curriculum and education that matches all of this and more.]

Written by Donica

December 11th, 2010 at 8:03 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

The Philosophy of Journalism as antidote to what ails us

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As educators struggle to cram more into the journalism curriculum, journalism history courses are easy targets for elimination or reduction. Yet Carlin Romano argues journalism history should be required of all journalism students, along with comparative journalism and philosophy of journalism courses. Despite the sure disagreement with this recommendation, I think he’s right. Here’s why:

(1) A lack of history leads journalists to believe that the current incarnation of journalism is the only one that has ever existed or has value. That thinking now makes it hard for journalists to be flexible about new ways of doing journalism.

(2) A lack of history leads journalists to believe that current practices are inviolate. It makes it difficult for them to question what they do critically.

(3) A lack of history about one’s own discipline or profession makes it less likely that the history of other professions and practices would be of interest. That knowledge enriches journalism work and makes it more valuable than work that lacks context.

The same could be said of comparative journalism (the American way is not the only way to do journalism) and the philosophy of journalism (giving journalism students an opportunity to explore in depth what truth is and what matters in a partisan-driven postmodern digital network.)

In other words, by failing to educate students deeply about the nature and history of journalism, we eventually left our entire profession vulnerable to obsolence like so many other types of industrial age “products.” If we saw our work as a historical process of community conversation, we might be far more ready to take advantage of the changes now hitting what appears to be a totally unprepared industry. We ignore these courses at the peril of long term survival.

What should we drop from the curriculum to make space for these courses? The first thing might be to question the old accrediting rule of requiring students to take 75% of their coursework outside of journalism. Rather than filling their schedules with liberal arts courses outside our own walls, we could be more sure about what our own discipline has to offer to the liberal arts.

Here’s Romano’s suggestion, as it appears in the Chronicle of HIgher Education:

Every journalism student should be required to take a course in journalism history. It’s essential for young journalists to understand how our peculiar institution developed, and that it is not a natural kind—it can be changed and reformed. Every journalism student should also be required to take a course in “Comparative Journalism,” a flagrant lacuna in the field, to understand that the American model and its issues, which predominate in all American journalism programs, is not the world.

Most important, every journalism student should be required to take a course in “Philosophy of Journalism,” to develop the intellectual instincts and reflexes that will make the approach to truth of both practices a permanent part of his or her intellectual makeup. Imagine a world in which every column about the Obama administration’s battle with Fox News came with profound context about the large issues involved. A sweet, rather than tweet, thought…

Universities and foundations could do their part to mine this rich tradition. Before directing more Knight and other grants to further repetitive Twitter and Internet “experiments,” they should support a core intellectual curriculum in journalism studies that would make a far greater difference to future excellence in the field.

We Need ‘Philosophy of Journalism,‘ Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 15 2009

Written by Donica

November 20th, 2009 at 10:47 am

What is higher education’s role in news media?

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This week the Chronicle for Higher Education asked 18 educators how “the decline of news media” would affect higher education. This interesting question follows a significant recommendation made recently by Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie that universities should play a much larger role in “keeping journalism alive” as part of their report on The Reconstruction of American Journalism for Columbia University.

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Schudson and Downie argue:

Can university-based journalism enhance the quality of public information available to citizens and contribute to the intellectual life of the university at the same time? It needs to do the former to help serve the broader society; it needs to do the latter to justify itself in the university over the long haul. It can probably blend these purposes best if it focuses on the most ambitious and exploratory journalistic work­—the in-depth stories that make use of new and complex databases, investigative reporting, new ways to make good use of multimedia technologies, and experiments that link volunteers and amateurs to professional guidance and editing (what is known as pro-am journalism)..

Following up on that essay, Kathleen Hall Jamieson imagines how and why universities need to be engaged in doing journalism. She writes (from Academe and the Decline of News Media):

As partisan outlets proliferate, students raised on faux news will enter our classrooms cocooned in their own biases and conditioned to mistake ridicule for engaged contention. By creating an appetite for critical engagement, universities will challenge those insular tendencies. Drawing on their experiences in our classrooms, labs, and libraries, and mining the rich resources of the Web, our students will become citizen-journalists. In that role they will sort fact from fabulation and unmask abuses of power and the public trust.

Building on their talent for producing substance rather than sound bites, universities will host Web pages filled with accessible insight and argument about topics of national and international concern. Uncluttered by advertising and unbeholden to a commercial model, the nonprofit New York University Times and Wharton Journal will take their place alongside The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. At Berkeley and Princeton, political scientists will publicly parse politics and policy. At Swarthmore and Stanford, English majors and art historians will critique exhibits, films, novels, and television programming. And the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s, which debunks distortions in national political advertising and debate, will be joined by university-based sites monitoring state and local politics.

….One of our goals as educators is increasing the disposition of our students to read widely and think and communicate critically. What better credentials for the citizen-journalist? And what better home for their journalistic work and for our own than in an institution dedicated both to free and open inquiry and to the generation and communication of knowledge?

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director, Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania

As Schudson and Downie point out, journalism schools have long produced publications for local audiences. Some of these publications are spawning new experiments…Berkeley’s partnership with the Bay Area News Project, for example and the many online student publications developed by the Columbia School of Journalism. The long established Columbia Missourian has now been joined by My Missourian, Radio Adelante, and Vox magazine. The University of Montana has a number of publications including coverage of the 2009 State Legislature; most journalism schools in the country have some student-written publications intended for the general public.

Jamieson’s idea is different: She’s talking about a university-wide publishing project, or at least, a project that includes a variety of voices and authors acting as journalists–not just the work of journalism students. If a journalism school were to organize this kind of news production, it could provide plenty of experience for students in developing civic media (see Henry Jenkins at the end of Academe and the Decline of News Media), curating and producing in collaboration with, rather than for, a group of participants/producers.

On the other hand, Jill Lepore, Professor of American history, Harvard University, writing in the same series, thinks that this idea is “fanciful.” She writes:

…moving market-driven journalism into the academy is a dodgy proposition; it raises all sorts of issues relating to the freedom of the press and academic freedom, too. Second, the standards by which scholars achieve promotion are designed, quite frankly, to punish scholars who work or write like journalists; unless that changes, scholars who attempt it will be asked to pay a cost most are unwilling to bear. For junior faculty, that cost normally includes not getting tenure. Third, reporters holding teaching posts sounds good, but a professorship isn’t a day job, and, at least insofar as I’ve observed, it means that reporters who become teachers stop writing; it also leaves unanswered the question of what, in the age of new media, old-media reporters will be teaching, and who their students would be. The university, I fear, is not journalism’s Valhalla.

There is a significant difference, I think, between setting up universities to produce journalism as it has been done in the past, and using the current opportunity to experiment and innovate with new types of journalistic forms and organizations.

What do you think? Where might the Reynolds School take these ideas?

Written by Donica

November 20th, 2009 at 4:06 am

Understanding digital citizenship as another component of literacy

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Anne Collier writes about online safety for kids in her newsletter, NetFamilyNews. She’s written about media literacy as well as the value of developing relevant, practical notions of digital citizenship. In her latest newsletter she writes a description of digital citizenship that I think applies equally to citizenship in other contexts:

In a participatory media environment, focusing on citizenship helps everybody understand that: 1) they’re stakeholders in their own well-being online, 2) they’re stakeholders in their community’s well-being as well as that of fellow participants (because, in a user-driven environment, safety can’t logically be the sole responsibility of the community’s host), and 3) they have rights and responsibilities online…As my friends at Childnet International in London say at, digital citizenship is about “using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same.”

What does this have to do with journalism? If we believe our work is of value because we help people fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, then we need a full and relevant understanding of what citizenship means. As our students increasingly occupy digital worlds as well as physical, we can’t ignore the challenge of developing curriculum that makes citizenship a central concept across the spectrum of experience.

One example: Figuring out how to sponsor and participate in meaningful discussions online has been a vexing problem for many news sites. If our work as journalism educators helps to shape and promote a richer, more active sense of citizenship among our students and the journalism they produce, that will help invigorate the anemic and counter-productive conversations sponsored by many news sites.

Written by Donica

November 20th, 2009 at 3:22 am

Maybe the idea is “civic literacy”

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Jay Rosen addressed a media conference in Australia today over Skype and the headline quote was:

“If you don’t have a democratic heart, you don’t belong in journalism in the first place.”

I don’t have the book with me, but I remember an argument by Herbert Gans in “Democracy and the News” that in essence said if journalists were serious about contributing to democracy they would do their work very differently. The argument for journalism serving democratic functions is easy to make in the abstract but nearly impossible to justify in close examination across a range of news.

What if this was the moment to change that? What if journalism schools made democratic action a serious pledge instead of an assumed byproduct?  Instead of gearing up to teach media literacy or news literacy, we decided “civic literacy” was a course that would most closely address the needs of our country.  Not a sales job or a snow job, but a critical fire-in-the-belly context-driven passionate course on democracy open to all students at the university. Once students understood the essentially political act of journalism in this context they could decide their relationship to it: passive observer, occassional participant, active creator (presumably all three at different times on different subjects).

Every course in the j-school could then relate to the primary course in some fashion, expanding on some aspect of journalism that had a discernible thread back to purpose. The j-school could provide specializations in watchdog journalism, community journalism, environmental journalism. Courses could be part of ‘centers’ of engagement with live projects and subjects, ongoing experiments in active public life.

For some vivid examples, watch the videos on “Song of a Citizen,” such as this one of Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenburg School of Communication at the University of Pennsyvlania or this one by Michael Sandel. Is this central link between self, citizen, institutions and journalism not a critical element of a journalism education?

We constantly make connections between journalism and democracy (despite derision from many political scientists) and we are about to conduct a giant experiment with live subjects on what happens to a society that makes a sudden downshift in journalistic output. New journalistic forms are springing up all around us but they will only flourish to the extent that a sizeable group of citizens support them.

As Cole Campbell used to remind us, it’s not journalism that’s struggling as much as public life. Rosen reminded us today of the strong link between them. Why not make that connection the core of our curriculum?

Written by Donica

November 6th, 2009 at 11:02 am

Reconceptualizing the j-student

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As many have mentioned (see Cody Brown’s essay on direct news organizations for one) the term “citizen journalism” is a bridge term, something to get us from where we are now to what we will be. At some point it will be as odd to refer to “citizen journalists” as it would be to call a radio the “wireless telegraph” or television a “radio with pictures.”

If we assume that even some small part of the news gathering structure that’s been lost from traditional newsrooms  will be replaced by people who have other full-time jobs besides journalism, it is clear that a LOT of people will be participating in some way in acts of journalism.

Plenty of people are doing this work perfectly well without any journalism education or training whatsoever. But based on my observations and that of others, many more people are:

  1. Intimidated by the tools or the writing or the act of identifying an issue for attention
  2. Unaware as to why investigating, observing, reporting and sharing issues of public concern might be an act of citizenship
  3. Alienated or separated from any form of public deliberation about issues that affect them

We also know that the people most likely to contribute to the journalistic conversation are similar to each other: better educated, wealthier and more wired. If we want to broaden and deepen the journalism contributed by a larger group of us, we must think about how to make journalism a more accessible act, valued by others and guided by community norms for public discourse: respect, honesty, and fairness.

What would this mean in a university context?

  1. That we open up, or offer specific courses for, the entire university population, not just students who want to be full-time professional journalists.
  2. We think of ourselves as part of the Cooperative Extension program of land grant colleges, offering practical advice and training to the ‘gardeners and farmers’ of journalism in our communities
  3. We offer workshops and more flexible programs in addition to set courses and semester long schedules.

We may still see our purpose as graduating students certified for full-time professional employment in institutional journalism organizations, but in addition, we have an obligation to nurture and shape the journalistic capabilities of all university graduates if we want to insure a more vibrant, capable and energetic future for public life.

Written by Donica

November 1st, 2009 at 4:31 pm