Networked Journalism Education

News for a future

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Oldest astronomical clock still in operation, built in 1410, Prague. (Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

Oldest astronomical clock still in operation, built in 1410, Prague. (Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

I’ve been recently inspired by the work of the Long Now Foundation and a book by Stewart Brand about The Clock of the Long Now. It makes me think that one problem with the news is its relationship with time.

Whether you expected the Jetsons, Hal 9000 or the Singularity, there was a time when we had collective imagination about some kind of future. Now the future is like a parody of itself. Who has time to think about the future?

Michael Chabon‘s description of his son’s vision of the future reveals a bleakness once reserved for the most cynical old people: “If you ask my eight-year-old about the Future, he pretty much thinks the world is going to end, and that’s it. Most likely global warming, he says—floods, storms, desertification—but the possibility of viral pandemic, meteor impact, or some kind of nuclear exchange is not alien to his view of the days to come… My son seems to take the end of everything, of all human endeavor and creation, for granted. He sees himself as living on the last page, if not in the last paragraph, of a long, strange and bewildering book.”

News has a lot to do with this sense of impending disaster. We observe and record the disasters of the world in seconds and minutes. It exhausts our ability to think in months and years. We report as if the president of the United States should be able to reverse an economic disaster years in the making before the next poll. We are so busy recording hourly drama that we’re losing the capacity to prepare for the deep transformations necessary to sustain what we know and love. We’re not only exhausting ourselves, we are actively exhausting the imagination of everyone who comes in contact with the news.

Analog communication set rhythms that governed the producers and consumers of news. An hourly schedule, perhaps, for radio. A 24-hour period for early television news and newspapers. A weekly, biweekly or monthly cycle for magazines. Deadlines were incessant but still provided moments for reflection, release, escape. The news could be consumed over dinner and then life would resume.

Digital news imposes no deadlines. The only deadlines we live by are those we impose ourselves and we break those constantly. A friend told me about a reporter at The New York Times who pitched a story to his editor and discovered the Times had already published an identical story the month before. And he had written it. In the blur of reporting, writing, posting he had no memory of it whatsoever.

As journalists, we have no external deadlines with space between; just one long deadline with no relief. As consumers we have no break between breaking news.  News is now a river that rushes through every channel and vein in our lives; it binds the personal and private with the public and universal. It takes the rhythm of daily living and invades every moment. The pace is neither comprehendible or sustainable.

We need to create news that helps people order their thinking and understanding. We need a longer now for the news.

This doesn’t mean we give up on timely updates. Perhaps it means we isolate those updates to manageable spaces and create new spaces for context, longer views, reflection, and wisdom. A time-starved media narrative is robbing us of a sense of future possibility at the precise moment we most need it. (See Matt Thompson’s pleas for context.)

We also need a longer view for managing digital news organizations. John Kao (Innovation Nation) says it well:

“We need to see our work on innovation as involving disciplined practice, not the quest for short-term wins. This is an obvious problem in our instant-gratification, quarterly-earnings-based culture in which corporate managers (and politicians) are evaluated and rewarded based on their success at maintaining a continuous upward trend that produces immediate results. At times, it seems like the question ‘What have you done for me lately’ approaches the status of a business model. If resource allocation, decision-making processes, and career-path planning all obey a short-term logic, while the important challenges facing both organizations and society are mostly long term, isn’t the disconnect obvious?”

Most digital journalism resembles an endless billboard of digital clocks measuring only seconds. There are no minutes, no hours, no days, no weeks, no months, no years, no decades, no centuries.

This approach to the news is robbing our politicians of the time and patience needed to craft policy and for our citizens to understand it. It blurs the present and obliterates the future.

Communication technology may be driven by Moore’s Law but our minds and emotions do not have the flexibility of integrated circuits. Cramming more and more in a denser space and time will not end well. Our challenge is to create news that has context for longer time periods than a very short now.

In “The Clock of the Long Now,” Stewart Brand notes that the ancient Greeks had two kinds of time. He writes: “Kairos is the time of cleverness, chronos the time of wisdom.”

How might a newsroom with routines measured by chronos rather than kairos operate? What would news look like that assumes the well being of our children’s children’s children matters to the decisions we make today?

Imagine a journalism that defined value by its worth to future generations. That would be a very, very different front page.

Written by Donica

August 16th, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Posted in journalism,time

What is award winning journalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Donica

July 16th, 2011 at 3:33 am

Escaping the academic pit of despair

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OurTahoelogoI love my job at a small state university. I love my colleagues and my students. But despite all that love, we failed big time at building a new graduate program in journalism that could have been a huge success.

I could say we failed because our visionary leader died suddenly in the first year of implementing the project. Or that we got so passionate and attached to our ideas that two team members ended up leaving the university altogether as a result of constant fights. Or that our reach extended our grasp. Or that we were totally unrealistic in estimating what it would take to make the idea fly.

But honestly, looking at my part of it, I just got tired. I didn’t believe long enough or understand enough to overcome the conflict of competing visions for what the idea could be. For a couple of years I couldn’t even think about it because it was so painful. I’ve been thinking about this post for two weeks (in the shower, mostly) and it’s only now that I’m starting to think that actually, maybe we didn’t fail. We’re just not done. It needs to morph.

Our idea took shape in 2005 as a new graduate program for our journalism school. In the first year we won an honorable mention in the Knight Batten innovation awards and a first place from the Online News Association for student projects. Our first cohort of students found interesting jobs and we were full of ideas about how to improve the program for its second year. But the energy to sustain a truly innovative program in academia takes an immense amount of work. The administration didn’t provide any recognition for the extra effort. Colleagues were either ambivalent or hostile. Grief from the loss of our colleague, Cole Campbell, compounded the angst.

When energy flagged, I didn’t look for ways to solve that problem. I failed to push through what might have been a temporary growing pain to discover what we might have learned had we continued. Instead, I gave up. I didn’t keep trying to make it work. I let it die without even a burial.

But we actually did learn a lot. We learned about the value of focusing on one community and how important it is to define that community. We learned that participation is different from coverage. We learned that preconceived ideas about what matters to a community is an arrogant way to start. We discovered that living 40 miles away from the community we wanted to focus on is laughable. We learned about steep learning curves (Drupal) and more flexible publishing (WordPress). We learned that academics and graduate students don’t generally share visions for what would make a great project. People have their own ideas about what they want to do and learn. It takes a great effort to get people on the same page.

But I am also realizing that those lessons could be put to use now, if I have the courage to try again. Academia should be a place where failures are milked for all the good we can possibly get out of them. We build on the shoulders of giants — and giant mistakes. It’s so easy to stay comfortable and go with the status quo. But what good does that do? It’s time to get up and fail again.

Thank you to everyone for their inspiration today on #jcarn fail.

Written by Donica

May 5th, 2011 at 5:21 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

The Carnival of Journalism lives again

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carnival_of_journalismDavid Cohn, aka DigiDave, outdoes himself yet again in organizing — and then daring to instantaneously summarize in a logical, readable, invaluable post — a new round in the Carnival of Journalism. More than 50 bloggers contributed posts on the subject of universities and the information role they can play in their communities. We could build a year’s worth of faculty meetings around this one round-up: A Confetti Carnival of Journalism.

One of my favorite entries is Will Sullivan’s vision of how quickly and how radically a university experience could change. He says:

A few years ago, the vision behind Wikipedia looked like a pitiful impossibility, probably the way Wikiversity looks today. I absolutely would not discount the possibility that a free, crowd-powered educational experience might become a formidable competitor to an expensive degree program, and sooner than you think. I hear the derisive guffaws of a thousand assistant professors, fresh off another long night of grading their students’ work. I used to know a journalist or two who thought that way.”

He then goes on to make specific recommendations: teach “Your City 101” and let anyone register, whether officially part of the university of not. “Build a Local Wiki” is a proven idea that more journalism programs should adopt and experiment with. Encourage blogging among journalism students to build expertise in specific areas. Encourage professors to do more applied research — these ideas are doable, valuable and would build exactly the kinds of ties and expertise we should be developing.

Daniel Sinker, a punk rock magazine editor turned assistant professor, nails our never-ending curriculum conversations and says what I think (but have so far failed to act on):

We talk about updating curriculum, but what I really want to see is an update of the thinking of what journalism is and what a journalism education should be. We need to better reflect a changing landscape, not just by creating classes in social media or data journalism (though by all means, do that too), but by reflecting the change itself. We need to show students that change is a part of the process, that risk is something worth taking, that the unknown is something to embrace.

The Carnival subject also included the topic of media/news literacy. Since we’re actually a step along that process I should have written about it too, but maybe tomorrow. For now, some of the ideas I liked the most include Suzanne Yada’s observation that her media literacy class was cool but she doesn’t remember anything from it, whereas a class in critical thinking changed her life. We need to make sure our literacy classes have that kind of impact.

P. Kim Bui, social media and community editor at KPCC in Los Angeles (and who, unrelatedly, just retweeted our ad for a digital news professor) writes of her disappointment in the weak response to changes in journalism from her alma mater, the Greenlee School at Iowa State.

Since I’ve left Greenlee, I’ve worked for traditional media and technology companies and had I not learned how to fail publicly with grace, I would not be where I am today. I am worried that is not being taught to students. I’m worried that the ability to form partnerships and understand the business side of journalism as a journalist and a entrepreneur is not being taught, but instead we’re relying on others to teach our students this.

Let’s stop teaching students that they are the ultimate source of information as journalists. Let’s teach them that their ultimate goal is to learn from the audience as well as their sources. Let’s teach them to talk to the audience that they are working for.

Let’s work with start-ups, the business school, newsrooms and beyond to have students understand why storytelling is the most important skill you have as a journalist — but not the only one necessary to survive.

Yes, it’s a lot to ask of journalism programs. But if we’re asking so much of our students, shouldn’t we ask that much of our teachers?

Adam Tinworth, an Editorial Development Manager at RBI and who teaches part-time in Cardiff, speaks to the academic mission of journalism as well as its teaching mission: “Any university which fails to poke at the changes of journalism with a sharp, academic stick is failing in its duty,.. We need more solid research into the changes in this industry. Too much is anecdote, evangelism and guesswork right now. The more hard facts and evidence we have to shape the publishing choices we make, the better.” He also argues that journalism programs still make sense as a university degree, but only if the curriculum is geared for 2011 and not 1991:

Largely, I would suggest, that means teaching journalism students the core skills of journalism, and detaching them as much as possible from the skills of expression. To me, the core streams that Jomec offers – broadcast, magazine and newspaper – seem meaningless in the second decade of the 21st century. While all these streams still exist – at least for now – not a single one of them thrives in isolation any more. TV journalists blog and connect with their audiences on Twitter. Newspaper journalists may spend more time writing for the web than for the dead tree edition. Magazine journalists may be doing more audio (for podcasts) and video than their nationally broadcast colleagues.

And some of those students might well be looking for “none of the above”, for a career in purely online reporting. And those careers exists, both in personal journalism startups, and in businesses like RBI, where we now have titles that exist online-only. And I tell you what, when we recruit for those roles we look for both core traditional skills, as well as experience and awareness of everything from data journalism to content promotion and audience engagement through social media.

What does this all mean for us in Nevada? That our current efforts at curriculum redesign should be deeper and more structural than we’ve attempted. Yes, we face terrible budget cuts and don’t have enough faculty to offer everything we want to do. Many of our students are seriously underprepared for college and need our full attention. So? That means we have to be as creative, enterprising and ready for change as they do. Not to be trite, but we have to be the change we know they need.

Addendum: As I continue to read posts from the Carnival, here are more tidbits relevant to our school:

…innovation without a problem and a hypothesis is aimless. Universities don’t need to create new stories or better stories for a market in which there’s insufficient demand. They need to formulate precise questions with answers that will impact the free exchange of ideas and support communities’ information needs….

Universities aren’t going to lead the journalism industry by providing undergrads with new skills. They will only lead if they are providing a new roadmap founded in research.

(Ryan Thornburg, Journalism at Universities: Research Should Lead, a Journ.D. Would Raise the Ante)

Ryan also suggests accrediting amateur journalists. From his description, it would be akin to offering a certificate program in journalism. We could do this. We could develop a program through Extended Studies of 9 or 12 credits that would help local bloggers, writers, videographers, advocacy groups and others gain skills in writing, reporting, social media, communication ethics and law.

Addendum 2: Jacob Caggiano from the Washington News Council provides a good summary of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy and the way the University of Washington has been working to connect citizens, students and faculty. He describes two projects that illustrate how a university can prompt civic engagement and participation among students and community members. It’s definitely worth a read for concrete examples: The University of Washington’s Center for Communication and Civic Engagement – An example for the Knight Commission.

Addendum 3: As he does every Friday, Nieman Journalism Lab’s Mark Coddington has a smart round up on the future of news. He has a number of excellent highlights from the Carnival, including several on media literacy I’ve not gotten to yet: This Week in Review.

Written by Donica

January 21st, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Universities should be information hubs for their communities

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News organizations and universities have grown up together. Both flourished in a progressive era that welcomed scientific progress and valued objective expertise. Both have had long, healthy runs dispensing knowledge and information to the public. And now, for related reasons, both are often seen as isolated, inflexible mammoth institutions deaf to public needs. A new generation thinks reading newspapers and sitting in classroom lecture halls is equally lacking in stimulation.

My vision is that journalism faculties — all faculties! — will start working to make their insights and observations and research applicable to the big and small problems gripping their communities. As with journalism, we (at least, some of us) need to shift our emphasis from production of highly structured, particular types of knowledge to participation in the creation of knowledge that binds people and places in tangibly constructive ways. And done in collaboration with students, the ‘service learning,’ applied research and community involvement may ignite more enthusiasm than we’re seeing in many college classrooms.

Both journalists and professors can be highly focused on defining what they do and doing it, regardless of whether anyone else needs or wants it. There is still a place and a demand for some of that, of course, but the great need, as I see it, is to radically rethink what our work is about and who it is for.

What might that look like? I see journalism faculty and students acting as facilitators, connecting communities of particular needs with appropriate faculty and students in the university. In the process, greater two-way information flow will foster more applied and more relevant research and teaching.

Here’s an example: our university is doing a great deal of interdisciplinary research on climate change. Scientists have their research questions. Funding agencies have their mandates. Everyone gives lip service to outreach. But little attention is spared for identifying what information people in the state actually need to know, when and in what form.  No politicians or policy makers are giving citizens advice about how to respond to climate change economically, socially, politically. Community organizing has never been a traditional role for professors or for journalists, but now that’s exactly what’s needed in our state, fractured by competing interests and limited resources.

We could start anywhere. Say we started with the problem of ranching and how it might be affected by climate change. Or growing plants. Or running ski resorts. Rather than asking students to ‘cover’ an issue for a semester, we teach them to find the community of people who care about addressing the problem and listen to them. A lot. Find out what they need. Figure out the critical information gaps that prevent progress. Listen and watch carefully to learn what people need to know. Follow Jonathan Stray’s suggestion and find out where the misperceptions lie. At the same time, find faculty on campus who have relevant expertise. Talk to them. Reframe the problem. Bring them together. Get students to participate. Facilitate relevant research and related service. Help participants to make media about what they are doing. Communicate the process as a participant and enabler, rather than a detached observer.

Lots of problems would need to be solved before a scenario like that could really work. But they are problems that can, theoretically, be solved through agreement and reordering of priorities. Our communities need us, desperately. Will we have the courage to reorient who we work for, in what ways and how?

Written by Donica

January 21st, 2011 at 1:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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

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

My post-faculty meeting manifesto

without comments

Our faculty meeting today was a difficult one. No one came to blows, no one said anything they will regret, we all clapped at the end. But the question of how to fill a critical vacancy revealed again uncertainty and disagreement about the nature of our future.

For context, our school has three unfilled faculty positions with another retirement scheduled for the end of this school year. For these four vacancies, we have permission to hire one, with dismal prospects for filling the others in the foreseeable future. All four of these positions were filled by respected, experienced professionals and so, like many others, the pressure to do more with less forces us to make difficult choices.

For a little post-meeting therapy, I need to think through how this question might be considered: What is a reasonable response to a very difficult dilemma?

First, ours is school that has acknowledged change, identified innovation as a key strategic goal, built convergence into our beginning courses and expect all students to be versatile in multiple media. We have professors on iPads, who Twitter and blog and create amazing multimedia stories. (We are not failing in the ways alleged by Wayne MacPhail). Yet we still get stuck in habits of the past.

Here are my assumptions, premises and questions:

(1) My beginning premise is that journalism schools have the same mission as universities in general: to teach students and to produce research of value. Not all faculty members need to have Ph.D.’s but we do need to be active public scholars as well as skilled and committed teachers.

(2) Few of our students are going to go into traditional journalism jobs. Nearly all of the students at the university are engaged in some form of journalistic behavior, from sharing news stories to creating multimedia stories about their lives. I believe an emphasis in our work should be to cultivate a passion for public affairs and a capacity for accurate, truthful communication among a wide diversity of students, not just those intending to pursue professional journalism.

(3) At the same time, students pursuing journalism as a career should have deep knowledge and expertise in something. Average generalists are populating content farms and generating press releases; talented specialists are experimenting and building new forms of journalism and communication.

(4) We accept the principle that advertising and public relations students need to learn to report and write and tell stories. We should consider a similar principle in reverse: news students need to learn to think strategically about their communication and understand how to reach audiences.

(5) We live in one of the most screwed up states in the country. Is creating another traditional reporting class to cover public affairs in Nevada the best way for us to contribute to our state? (i.e. Is it a lack of reporting that is adding to our problems?) Or is there a more innovative way for us to address the truly awful problems we face in our community? What could a project look like that forged new ways for journalists and strategic communicators to work together to solve public problems?

(6) Is solving public problems our mission? Is making connections within, and between networks, the added value we bring to an information economy? I think our mission is far more than “informing” the public about an issue, a company or a product. We are in the business of solving public problems. And ALL parts of our school should be about that mission. Advertising and public relations can be public problems if practiced in routine ways. We should place our mantle on an explicit purpose of journalism that applies to all students in the school.

(7) Mass media isn’t dead, but it’s not the future. Plenty of j-schools are teaching students to operate in that world. Networked journalism is the future and we would do better to hire someone who can help us figure out what that means than someone who will teach our students to succeed in the mass media of the past.

(8) The person we hire should be active in public conversation, analysis and experimentation in the future of journalistic communication. The industry (journalism/PR/advertising) isn’t doing the R&D that’s required to make this transition. Engaging in the problems of civil society is the least we can do in service of our land grant mission. Teaching is one leg, research and public scholarship is another, service to the profession and the community is the third. If this is our only hire for a state-funded position in the foreseeable future, we have to aim as high as we possibly can.

So: here’s my current proposal:

HELP WANTED: A creative, talented journalist/communicator passionate about making the world a better place through the use of intellectually honest and engaging public communication. Must have a proven track record of accomplishments that demonstrate a high regard for ethical methods, quality standards and effective results in an online environment. Must have demonstrated expertise in either written or visual communication and a demonstrated commitment to participating in public scholarship about journalism for the future. Teaching experience preferred, advanced degree required.

Written by Donica

October 15th, 2010 at 4:46 pm