Networked Journalism Education

Yes, we hear you!

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Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at Knight Foundation, published another post in his series about journalism education this week: “Do universities hear the critics of journalism education?”  His post identifies important directions for where journalism education should go — but his prescription for how to get there is way off the mark.

His analysis includes this excellent graphic laying out the transition in journalism school curriculum; these markers reflect the evolving focus in the industry as well as in journalism education:

Urging schools to focus more on the Web, on community engagement, on creating new story forms and to respond more fully to other content creators makes perfect sense. Judging from the enthusiastic response to panels on these topics at recent conferences, many faculty members are in agreement.

The rub is in what to do about it.

Eric’s solutions are:

  • Make sure journalism programs remain independent from other academic units
  • Keep scholars away from running journalism programs
  • Hire professionals and make them equal with scholars
  • Create professional doctorates
  • Make journalism schools nimble
  • Connect with the rest of the university
  • Innovate with digital tools
  • Master more open, collaborative tools
  • Become teaching hospitals

I have three concerns about these recommendations:

(1) Hiring more professionals isn’t going to fix journalism education. There are probably more change-resistent professionals in j-schools than out-of-touch academics. Some of the biggest obstacles to change in journalism programs are professionals who defend old habits and socialize students into believing that ‘real’ journalists make fun of Twitter and would never ‘engage’ with the audience and taint their independence.

The truth is both scholars and professionals can be innovative or resistent to change — the difference has a lot more to do with attitude and mindset than training. My concern is that reviving the anti-intellectual thread in American journalism that has contributed in some measure to the current crisis doesn’t help journalism education or the industry and in fact could do a great deal of harm. Simply adding more professionals to journalism programs — absent other changes — will not make schools more nimble, open, or innovative and in many cases could slow these initiatives.

(2) Arguing for large stand alone journalism programs overlooks other models that might generate new ideas. Journalism programs have to connect with the rest of the university — on this we are in agreement. Whether that’s best done between colleges, or between colleagues within colleges, is an open question. For example, journalism faculty could play critical roles in interdisciplinary programs that combine computer science, art, business and other disciplines, regardless of how the journalism program is configured.

Eric argues that journalism schools should be both large and nimble, a difficult mix. Rather than dictating institutional structures, however, why not rigorously experiment with different types of programs, large and small, in various configurations? ASU, Missouri and Columbia are like The New York Times — institutions to aspire to but not applicable to every organization in every university.

(3) The teaching hospital metaphor is of limited usefulness in journalism education.                   A colleague and I are presenting a paper at ISOJ in April that explores this topic in much more depth. The primary component of our argument is that teaching hospitals focus on delivery of content — the same mindset as the professional news organizations that are imploding. They are all about supplying more and better journalism.

But as the demand for what we supply is radically shifting, we need fresh ways of working, not formal institutional structures with external obligations. We need flexibility and nimbleness to build one product one semester and something entirely different another semester. In an era of tight budgets, investing in year-round news making infrastructure works only for the largest, most well-funded journalism education programs.

The students and journalists who infiltrate the rest of the working news world need more flexible and entrepreneurial training.  More journalism programs should be about educating the future disruptors. We need more than ‘teaching hospitals’ to create new routines and practices and help students understand that journalism includes a wide array of important work that might not look anything like the front page of the Washington Post or the ABC Evening News.

The Knight Foundation has been the leading funder of innovation in journalism. The Knight News Challenge grants and Information Needs of Community program have kickstarted an explosion of  entrepreneurial initiatives. But the foundation’s message on journalism education has been much more mixed. More good work is going on than is apparent in the broadsides aimed at the academy.

We hear our critics — they are sitting in the front rows of our classes every day. What we need is the equivalent of News Challenge grants for educational initiatives. Empowering the kind of thinking that has gone on in that competition — encouraging educators, students and others to build on the disruptive transformation going on in education as well as journalism — could remake journalism programs from the slow moving creatures that Eric criticizes to truly transformational programs.

Written by Donica

March 22nd, 2013 at 10:26 am

Posted in curriculum,Education

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

An experiment in journalism education from France

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Le Monde has announced its own educational program designed to expand the diversity of its journalists. Rather than hiring from the ranks of college graduates trained in journalism, the respected daily newspaper is sponsoring a competition to select 68 aspiring journalists from many different backgrounds, who will then be mentored by Le Monde journalists:

France’s Le Monde launches plan to lure fresh talent- and readers- into the fold
…Le Monde Academie, launched Wednesday, is a two-part competition and training programme that will offer 68 aspiring journalists from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to be mentored by the newspaper’s staff and published within its pages. It will culminate a year from now, with three ambitious young talents receiving a rare prize: jobs within one of France’s best-respected media companies. ….With the Monde academie, the 68-year-old daily is seeking new voices from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, which will attract new eyes to a publication that has traditionally been written by and for an educated elite. (Editors Weblog)

This approach made me think of the findings of a Betty Medsger study that showed prize-winning journalists tended to come from disciplines besides journalism. Medsger found:

  • 59 percent of print journalists who won Pulitzer Prizes never studied journalism;
  • 75 percent of broadcast journalists who won DuPont Awards never studied journalism;
  • 58 percent of journalists awarded Nieman Fellowships never studied journalism, and;
  • 51 percent of journalists awarded Knight Fellowships at Stanford University never studied journalism.

(From Getting Journalism Education Out of the Way by Betty Medsger.)

Le Monde is not making itself into a teaching hospital; it is mentoring promising journalists who bring with them a variety of experiences and perspectives. By attracting the best talent from across all disciplines, rather than the most educated from within journalism, they are betting that their work will become stronger and more inclusive.

If half of all practicing doctors never studied medicine, then it would make more sense to model journalism education after medical education (read Eric Newton’s recent argument for this approach and the article Shaping 21st Century Journalism). The current state of American journalism suggests that trying to make journalism a professional field from the ranks of undergraduates has some built-in limitations.

Perhaps our efforts should be spent on creating educational programs that attract the smartest, most creative and passionate storytellers, programmers and community-minded citizens we can find. Perhaps the curriculum of the Le Monde newsroom is exactly what would excite a group of people who might never sign up for an undergraduate curriculum that focuses on newswriting and technology.

Right now, accredited journalism schools teach a curriculum shaped in large part by the professionals who serve on The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. Instead, what if we developed a curriculum designed to attract the brightest and most creative students to journalism? How might journalism be changed by changing the students who study it?

Written by Donica

June 11th, 2012 at 4:43 am

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


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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

Storytellers that enable storytelling

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If we want to teach our students genuine collaboration skills, we could spend more time teaching journalism from the point of view of enabling storytelling as opposed to focusing solely on being a storyteller. The Tiziano Project could be an excellent way to experiment with developing a different mindset among students.

The Tiziano Project recently won a $200,000 Knight News Challenge Grant for its work in creating a platform that enables people to tell their own stories. The project’s mission statement acknowledges the link between reporting stories and improving lives; between having the right equipment and having the right affiliations:

The Tiziano Project provides community members in conflict, post-conflict, and underreported regions with the equipment, training, and affiliations necessary to report their stories and improve their lives.

The Tiziano Project uses a classroom metaphor to present its tools and learning modules — which could lend itself to using in a basic journalism school classroom as well as classrooms on the street.

The future of journalism is collaboration — collaboration as a means of presenting all sides of a story and providing every individual, whether in a conflict zone or on Wall Street, with the ability to present their voice to the world.

In the most connected era of human history, it is a return to the humanization of the events surrounding us. Iraq is no longer a war thousands of miles away, but the story of a girl who is learning how to drive or the fastest go-kart racer in the country, who has no arms.

It’s not that we are merging activism with journalism; in many ways, that was done long ago. What we are doing is spreading the opportunity for communities to share in the global conversation about their own societies and to help shape perceptions about the world in which they live.

Written by Donica

November 19th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Posted in Collaboration

The rise of the moving image

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This is my response to this month’s Carnival of Journalism question: ” “What is the role of online video in the newsroom of the future?

My speculation is that video will grow to be a dominant form of communication in the near future. Newsrooms will learn to use video along with the rest of us — through testing, experimentation and messing around. The role of video will naturally grow until it’s so natural we don’t even think about it.

I think this for two reasons:

First, I am pretty convinced that we are entering a new era of communication. My belief has been shaped in part by Mitchell Stephens in his 1998 book, The rise of the image the fall of the word, who argues that we are transitioning “from a culture dominated by the printed word to one dominated by moving images.”  In the preface he writes:

In the sixteenth century Rabelais exclaimed, “Printing…is now in use, so elegant and so correct, that better cannot be imagined….” Almost half a millennium has passed. My contention, simply stated, is that we are finally ready to imagine better, that once again we have come upon a form of communication powerful enough to help us fashion new understandings, stronger understandings.

This argument on behalf of video may discomfit my fellow print lovers. I have tried, however, to write with an appreciation for the grand accomplishments of the written and printed word and, therefore, for what it means to state that the moving image will surpass those accomplishments.

(Interestingly, like a snippet of lost video found on an old hard drive, an annotated conversation about Mitchell’s argument published in FEED mag is still available online.)

What this means to me is that we are in the throes of a much larger shift in communication than newsrooms can contain or manage. The transition is happening. Newsrooms will adapt or they will shrink, morph or disappear.

The second reason I believe this is that video is inherently more social than printed words, and social is where we are. My students read less and less; they love to watch video. They love to watch it in class where we can follow along at the same pace, laugh at the same places and transport ourselves — together — in ways that would be impossible in print. (Print can also transport us in ways that video can’t, but reading is essentially a solitary experience. My students crave connection and rarely allow themselves to experience solitariness.) Given that they are the future and they choose video, I think that’s our future, too.

Written by Donica

September 30th, 2011 at 7:36 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