Networked Journalism Education

Archive for the ‘Networking’ 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

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

A shift in the tectonic plates of communication

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

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

Alfred Hermida takes it further, concluding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Donica

April 1st, 2011 at 1:01 am

Engaging the unengaged

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Woman in Sardinia reading obituary notices

Woman in Sardinia reading obituary notices

I just finished reading 75 Journalism 101 essays detailing student news consumption over a 24-hour period. Not one student asked for more news or more news sources. One student proudly reported her news sources: our weekly college newspaper and Jon Stewart. Another detailed her daily four hours spent with Perez Hilton and Entertainment Tonight. Two students out of 75 mentioned the local newspaper. Several watch local TV news. A number of students said they actively avoided contact with news because it is: “depressing…stressful…confusing…boring.”

Expanding the number of news sources that plug into existing journalism spaces isn’t going to change much for these students, or add significantly to the information capacity of our communities, unless we do a more radical redesign of what journalism is and how people get it.

Reading curated tweets is one great news model for some people in some circumstances. News apps for specific information is another great model under other circumstances. Telling more stories from more sources will humanize and expand some conversations. But how will more news sources engage the unengaged?

Some thoughts:

(1) Transmitting information is only the first step. No matter how accurate, well told, or hard hitting, stories alone aren’t enough to engage those who rarely see or hear or read the stories. Transmission doesn’t mean much where there’s no receiver.

(2) The critical step has to be organizing people around the stories, or better, organizing stories around the people in a group, a community, a place, an interest. We need to connect in far more fundamental ways with the people who have a stake in a particular issue/story, etc. We have to close the loop and pay as much attention to the receivers as the senders.

Involving people in telling their own stories, reporting and distributing their own news, will certainly engage those who choose to participate. But even more importantly is organizing people around the problems that journalism attempts to address.

In a networked communication structure (as opposed to a mass media structure) participation comes most naturally from within communities. Journalism produced from within networked communities can more easily incorporate multiple sources and distribution points because the journalist is transparently connected rather than being a detached observer.

This, of course, requires new practices. From the journalist as independent investigator to journalist as community organizer is a large leap.

Writing in response to this same question today, Dan Fenster wrote:

Jason Barnett wrote in the last carnival that “the most overlooked and generally dismissed skill (of journalists) is that of community organizer.” I would suggest that journalism—journalism schools in particular—learn to become community information organizers. Students should serve as the catalyst and curator of this new world of content.

It seems likely that journalism schools will begin to distinguish themselves by stressing different types of journalism. That’s a good thing. The emerging media ecosystem has plenty of room for species differentiation and unique conditions.

So the answer to the question of what will I do to increase the number of news sources in my community? I will commit to figuring out how to make my classes, and maybe even our j-school, a place where students learn to become “community information organizers.” We will spend as much time engaging with the receivers as we do crafting what we transmit. And that, no doubt, will fundamentally alter what we transmit and how.

Stay tuned!

With many thanks to David Cohn for initiating a great example of expanding news sources in a particular community and to everyone who wrote such smart and inspiring responses to the question (follow them on Twitter #jcarn).

Written by Donica

February 18th, 2011 at 2:25 am

Thinking strategically about information in the newsroom/classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Donica

August 3rd, 2010 at 1:53 pm

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