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#jcarn question: Measuring meaningful journalism

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Boston Globe journalist Billy Baker told a story on Twitter about the impact of one of his stories.

Lots of very smart people are writing about metrics for measuring engagement with content, topics, brands and sites. I wanted to think about measuring meaning on a more intimate scale.

It seems counter-intuitive to evaluate longevity and meaningfulness by asking journalists about their own work. Yet journalists are the first ones to know what work is thin or contrived.

This isn’t about journalistic prizes or awards. It’s about what individual writers/producers/ creators experience personally and within their own networks as a result of a particular piece of work.

If we find journalists who are moved and excited by what they are doing, it’s likely they will be connected to subjects and communities that feel similarly. It’s another set of data points to help us define and measure what has lasting impact, what engages, what is meaningful.

If the role of a journalist is to be a neutral, dispassionate observer, this approach might not yield much of interest. But as journalists develop agency and autonomy to create content, tracking their work in terms of longevity could yield useful insights about what engages a creator as well as a participating audience.

Here are some (rough draft) types of questions researchers could ask journalists:

  1. In the past week, which story (video, dataset, interview, photo…) has meant the most to you personally? On a scale of one to five, how much did this particular story change your thinking or behavior?  (For an example of a “5” on this scale, see this story about Boston Globe reporter Billy Baker.)
  2. How many people from outside your organization or immediate circles contacted you this week about a story you wrote/edited/produced/shot? This could be face to face, email, text, phone. What stories did they contact you about? Why?
  3. Which story, to your knowledge, received the most interaction on social media this week? What kind of interaction did you notice? What was your role in it?
  4. Which story, to your knowledge, received the most online comments this week? What general themes did you see in the comments?

Other questions could be developed to draw out the impact of stories on anyone connected to a particular piece of content. Did their lives, experiences, judgments change as a result of a particular piece of journalism?

These questions could ask journalists to consider longer periods of time as well. If answers were collected by researchers in different communities, read carefully, organized into themes and insights, we could learn about the patterns of content/news/journalism that has meaning to the people most intimately connected to it, and potentially, has meaning to others as well. (Anyone up for a collaboration?)

Information/technology companies value human capital far more than many traditional news organizations. Paying attention to the judgments of the people who create the products we want to measure honors their role in the making of media and meaning. Other metrics are useful, too, but talking to the makers could enrich our understanding of value. Genuine engagement takes genuine commitment.

(This post is part of the Carnival of Journalism; many thanks to Jonathan Groves for the question!)

Written by Donica

June 27th, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Posted in journalism,Research

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

Journalism as an assemblage

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Closeup of assemblage art in the Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC

Closeup of assemblage art in the Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC

Matthew Bernius, writing on his blog Waking-Dream, captures the transitional (cosmic) moment in journalism this way:

As an out­side to jour­nal­ism look­ing in (the job of the anthro­pol­o­gist), the Wik­ileaks dis­cus­sion is about a fun­da­men­tal change in jour­nal­ism from an insti­tu­tional model to an “assem­blage” model. By that I mean that instead of news being medi­ated by a sin­gle large insti­tu­tion (say the New York Times of old), the assem­blage model is one in which a net­work of actors, includ­ing media insti­tu­tions and new play­ers such as Wik­ileaks, col­lab­o­rate in releas­ing stories….

A range of social sci­en­tists and philoso­phers have argued that there are fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences between the two forms. The insti­tu­tion is (some­what) fixed, cen­tral­ized, and last­ing, while the assem­blage is more fluid, dis­trib­uted, and ephemeral.

The implication for journalism education is that it gets bigger or smaller in an assemblage model. If journalists define themselves by what they aren’t, they risk shrinking their roles to occasional actors in information dramas. If they expand their definition of what constitutes journalism to include all the social activities implied in assemblage, they become essential connecting tissue.

Journalism professors constantly make choices about what and how they define journalism and what students need to know. Institutional work requires one set of skills and attitudes; assemblage requires a very different set. What we teach becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: we perpetuate one mind set or we work to create an entirely new one.

Written by Donica

December 10th, 2010 at 12:31 am

Posted in journalism,Research