Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

July 01 2013

14:57

Monday Q&A: Denise Malan on the new data-driven collaboration between INN and IRE

Every news organization wishes it could have more reporters with data skills on staff. But not every news organization can afford to make data a priority — and even those that do can sometimes find the right candidates hard to find.

A new collaboration between two journalism nonprofits — the Investigative News Network and Investigative Reporters and Editors — aims to address this allocation issue. Denise Malan, formerly a investigative and data reporter at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, will fill the new role of INN director of data services, offering “dedicated data-analysis services to INN’s membership of more than 80 nonprofit investigative news organizations,” many of them three- or four-person teams that can’t find room or funding for a dedicated data reporter.

It’s a development that could both strengthen the investigative work being done by these institutions and skill building around data analysis in journalism. Malan has experience in training journalists in skills of procuring, cleaning, and analyzing data, and she has high hopes for the kinds of stories and networked reporting that will be produced by this collaboration. We talked about IRE’s underutilized data library, potentially disruptive Supreme Court decisions around freedom of information, the unfortunate end for wildlife wandering onto airplane runways, and what it means to translate numbers into stories.

O’Donovan: How does someone end up majoring in physics and journalism?
Malan: My freshman year they started a program to do a bachelor of arts in physics. Physics Lite. And you could pair that with business or journalism or English — something that was really your major focus of study, but the B.A. in physics would give you a good science background. So you take physics, you take calculus, you take statistics, and that really gives you the good critical thinking and data background to pair with something else — in my case, journalism.
O’Donovan: I guess it’s kind of easy to see how that led into what you’re doing now. But did you always see them going hand in hand? Or is that something that came later?
Malan: In college, I thought I was going to be a science writer. That was the main reason I paired those. When I got into news and started going down the path of data journalism, I was very glad to have that background, for sure. But I started getting more into the data journalism world when the Caller-Times in Corpus Christi sent me to the IRE bootcamp, where it’s a weeklong, intensive week where you concentrate on learning Excel and Access and the different pitfalls you can face in data — some basic cleaning skils. That’s really what got me started in the data journalism realm. And then the newspaper continued to send me to training — to the CAR conferences every year and local community college classes to beef up my skills.
O’Donovan: So, how long were you at the Caller-Times?
Malan: I was there seven years. I started as a reporter in June 2006, and then moved up into editing in May of 2010.
O’Donovan: And in the time that you were there as their data person, what are some stories that you were particularly proud of, or made you feel like this was a a burgeoning field?
Malan: We focused on intensely local projects at the Caller-Times. One of the ones that I was really proud of I worked on with our city hall reporter Jessica Savage. She found out that the city streets are a huge issue in Corpus Christi. If you’ve ever driven here, you know they are just horrible — a disaster. And the city is trying to find a billion dollars to fix them.

So our city hall reporter found out that the city keeps a database of scores called the Pavement Condition Index. Basically, it’s the condition of your street. So we got that database and we merged it with a file of streets and color-coded it so people could fully see what the condition of their street was, and we put it a database for people to find their exact block. This was something the city did not want to give us at first, because if people know the condition of their street scores, they’re going to demand that we do something about it. We’re like, “Yeah, that’s kind of the idea.” But that database became the basis for an entire special section on our streets. We used it to find people on streets who scored a 0, and talked about how it effects their life — how often they have to repair their cars, how often they walk through giant puddles.

And then we paired it with a breakout box of every city council member and their score. We did a map online, which, for over a year, actually, has been a big hit while the city is discussing how they’re going to find this money. People have been using it as a basis for the debate that they’re having, which, to me, is really kind of how we make a difference. Using this data that the city had, bringing it to light, making it accessible, I think, has really just changed the debate here for people. So that’s one thing I’m really proud of — that we can give people information to make informed decisions.

O’Donovan: Part of your new position is going to be facilitating and assisting other journalists in starting to understand how to do this kind of work. How do you tell reporters that this isn’t scary — that it’s something they can do or they can learn? How do you begin that conversation?
Malan: [At the Caller-Times] we adopted the philosophy that data journalism isn’t just something that one nerdy person in the office does, but something that everyone in the newsroom should have in their toolbox. It really enhances eery beat at the newspaper.

I would do training sessions occasionally on Excel, Google Fusion Tables, Caspio to show everyone in the newsroom, “Here’s what’s possible.” Some people really pick up on it and take it and run with it. Some people are not as math oriented and are not going to be able to take it and run with it themselves, but at least they know those tools are available and what it’s possible to do with them.

So some of the reporters would be just aware of how we could analyze data and they would keep their eyes open for databases on their beats, and other reporters would run with it. That philosophy is very important in any newsroom today. A lot of what I’m going to be doing with IRE and INN is working with the INN members in helping them to gather the data and analyze it and inform their local reporting. So a lot of the same roles, but in a broader context.

O’Donovan: So a lot of it is understanding that everyone is going to come at it with a different skill level.
Malan: Yes, absolutely. All our members have different levels of skills. Some of our members have very highly skilled data teams, like ProPublica, Center for Public Integrity — they’re really at the forefront of data journalism. Other members are maybe one- or two-person newsrooms that may not have the training and don’t have any reporters with those skills. So the skill sets are all over the board. But it will be my job to help, especially smaller newsrooms, plug into those resources — especially the resources at IRE — the best they can, with the data library there and the training available there. We help them bring up their own skills and enhance their own reporting.
O’Donovan: When a reporter comes to you and says, “I just found this dataset or I just got access to it” — how do you dive into that information when it comes to looking for stories? How do you take all of that and start to look for what could turn into something interesting?
Malan: A lot of it depends on the data set. Just approach every set of data as a source that you’re interviewing. What is available there? What is maybe missing from the data is something you want to think about too? And you definitely want to narrow it down: A lot of data sets are huge, especially these federal data sets that might have records containing, I don’t know, 120 fields, but maybe you’re only interested in three of them. So you want to get to know the data set, and what is interesting in it, and you want to really narrow your focus.

One collaboration that INN did was using data gathered by NASA for the FAA, and it was essentially near misses — incidents at airports like hitting deer on the runway, and all these little things that can happen but aren’t necessarily reported. They all get compiled in this database, and pilots write these narratives about it, so that field is very interesting to them. There were four or five INN members who collaborated on that, and they all came away with different stories because they all found something else that was interesting for them locally.

O’Donovan: This position you’ll hold is about bringing the work of INN and IRE together. What’s that going to look like? We talk all the time about how journalism is moving in a more networked direction — where do you see this fitting into that?
Malan: IRE and INN have always had a very close relationship, and I think that this position just kind of formalizes that. I will be helping INN members plug into the resources of IRE, especially the data library, I’ll be working closely with Liz Lucas, the database director at IRE, and I’m actually going to be living near IRE so I can work more closely with them. Some of that data there is very underutilized and it’s really interesting and maybe hasn’t been used in any projects, especially on a national level.

So we can take that data and I can kind of help analyze it, help slice it for the various regions we might be looking at, and help the INN members use that data for their stories. I’ll basically be acting as almost a translator to get this data from the IRE and help the INN members use it.

Going the other way, with INN members, they might come up with some project idea where data isn’t available from the database library, or it might be something where we have to gather data from every state individually, so we might compile that and whatever we end up with will be sent back to the IRE library and made available to other IRE members. So it’s a two-way relationship.

O’Donovan: So in terms of managing this collaboration, what are the challenges? Are you think of building an interface for sharing data or documents?
Malan: We’re going to be setting up a kind of committee of data people with INN to have probably monthly calls and just discuss ideas, what they’re working on, brainstorming, possible ideas. I want it to be a very organic, ground-up process — I don’t want it to be dictating what the projects should be. I want the members to come up with their own ideas. So we’ll be brainstorming and coming up with things, and we’ll be managing the group through Basecamp and communicating that way. A lot of the other members are already on Basecamp and communicate that way through INN.

We’ll be communicating through this committee and coming up with ideas and I’l be working with other members to, to reach out to them. If we come up with an idea that deals with health care, for example, I might reach out to some of the members that are especially focused on health care and try to bring in other members on it.

O’Donovan: Do you foresee collaborations between members, like shared reporting and that kind of thing?
Malan: Yeah, depending on the project. Some of it might be shared reporting; some of it might be someone does a main interview. If we’re doing a crime story dealing with the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report, maybe we just have one reporter from every property, we nominate one person to do the interview with the FBI that everyone can use in their own story, which they localize with their own data. So, yeah, depending on the project, we’ll have to kind of see how the reporting would shake out.
O’Donovan: Do you have any specific goals or types of stories you want to tell, or even just specific data sets you’re eager to get a look at?
Malan: I think there are several interesting sets in the IRE data library that we might go after at first. There’s really interesting health sets, for example, from the FDA — one of them is a database of adverse affects from drugs, complaints that people make that drugs have had adverse effects. So yeah, some of those can be right off the bat, ready to go and parse and analyze.

Some other data sets we might be looking at will be a little harder to get, will take some FOIs and some time to get. There are several major areas that our members focus on and that we’ll be looking at projects for. Environment, for example — fracking is a large issue, and how environment effects public health. Health care, especially with the Affordable Care Act coming into effect next year is going to be a large one. Politics, government, how money effects influences politicians is a huge area as we come up on the 2016 elections and the 2014 midterms. And education is another issue with achievement gaps, graduation rates, charter schools — those are all large issues that our members follow. Finding those commonalties and dealing with data sets, digging into that is going to be my first priority.

O’Donovan: The health question is interesting. Knight announced its next round of News Challenge grants is going to be all around health.
Malan: I’m excited about that. We have several members that are really specifically focused on healt,h so I feel like we might be able to get something good with that.
O’Donovan: Health care stuff or more public health stuff?
Malan: It’s a mix, but a lot of stuff is geared toward the Affordable Care Act now.
O’Donovan: Gathering these data sets must often involve a lot of coordination across states and jurisdictions.
Malan: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I am a little nervous about is the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Virginia case where they can now require you to live in a state to put in an FOI. That might complicate things a little bit. I know there are several groups working on lists of people who will put an FOI in for you in various states. But that can kind of just slow down the process and put a little kink in and add to the timeline. I’m concerned of course that now they know it’s been ruled constitutional that every state might make that the law. It could be a huge thing. A management nightmare.
O’Donovan: What kind of advice do you normally give to reporters who are struggling to get information that they know they should be allowed to have?
Malan: That’s something we encountered a lot here, especially getting data in the proper format, too. Laws on that can vary from state to state. A lot of governments will give you paper or PDF format, instead of the Excel or text file that you asked for. It’s always a struggle.

The advice is to know the law as best you can, know what exceptions are allowed under your state law, be able to quote — you don’t have to have the law memorized, but be able to quote specific sections that you know are on your side. Be prepared with your requests, and be prepared to fight for it. And in a lot of cases, it is a fight.

O’Donovan: That’s an interesting intersection of technical and legal skill. That’s a lot of education dollars right there.
Malan: Yeah, no kidding.
O’Donovan: When you do things like attend the NICAR conference and assess the scene more broadly, where do you see the most urgent gaps in the data journalism field? Is it that we need more data analysts? More computer scientists? More reporters with the fluency in communicating with government? More legal aid? If you could allocate more resources, where would you put them right now?
Malan: There’s always going to be a need for more very highly skilled data journalists who can gather these national sets, analyze them, clean them, get them into a digestible format, visualize them online, and inform readers. I would like to see more general beat reporters interested in data and at least getting skills in Excel and even Access — because the beat reporters are the ones on the ground, using their sources, finding these data sets or not finding them if they’re not aware of what data is. I would really like this to be a bigger push to at least educate most general beat reporters to a certain level.
O’Donovan: Where do you see the data journalism movement headed over the next couple years? What would your next big hope for the field be?
Malan: Well, of course I hope for it to go kind of mainstream, and that all reporters will have some sort of data skills. It’s of course harder with fewer and fewer resources, and reporters are learning how to tweet and Instagram, and there are demands on their time that have never been there.

But I would hope it would become just an normal part of journalism, that there would be no more “data journalism” — that it just becomes part of what we do, because it’s invaluable to reporting and to really helping ferret out the truth and to give context to stories.

April 02 2013

12:12

March 25 2013

12:15

September 05 2012

17:30

Bill Grueskin: News orgs want journalists who are great at a few things, rather than good at many

Editor’s Note: It’s the start of the school year, which means students are returning to journalism programs around the country. As the media industry continues to evolve, how well is new talent being trained, and how well are schools preparing them for the real world?

We asked an array of people — hiring editors, recent graduates, professors, technologists, deans — to evaluate the job j-schools are doing and to offer ideas for how they might improve. Over the coming days, we’ll be sharing their thoughts with you. Here’s Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, talking about the need for specialization.

For many years, striving journalists seeking their first jobs would consult the back pages of Editor & Publisher magazine. The Help Wanted ads went on for pages, filled with pleas from small-town newspaper editors who would often say they were seeking reporters “would could do everything.”

In those days, “everything” meant a day comprised of covering a town commission meeting, typing school lunch menus and, before leaving, emptying the tray of D-76 developer solution in the darkroom.

This one-size-fits-all approach demonstrates a lack of nuance about the tremendous transformations in our business.

Editor & Publisher is a much smaller publication now, alas, and the stench of D-76 no longer permeates newsrooms. But this idea of the “do everything” journalist has persisted into the digital age.

The phrase we hear now is the “Swiss Army knife” journalist. Meg Heckman, web editor of New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor, referred to this when quoted in an AJR article earlier this year, adding that reporters “need to know a little bit of everything.” LinkedIn features a number of journalists who tout their multiple skills. One describes himself this way: “Photographer, videographer, web designer, graphic designer….I was a Swiss Army knife in the office.”

Where the industry leads, journalism schools usually follow, and as a result, many of us have launched programs designed to imbue our students with a buffet of digital skills. Those have included photo, video, radio, web design, search engine optimization, social media, and data visualization. Thus armed with this wheelbarrow of talents, journalism graduates could tell employers that they were as adept at Final Cut Pro as writing nut grafs, as versed in long-form video as in short-form breaking news.

It’s true that some newsrooms do want one-size-fits-all journalists. And the reasons are clear and understandable. Many publishers face shrinking personnel budgets, as well as escalating needs to boost traffic to websites and apps. Given that advertisers are usually willing to pay higher rates for video pre-rolls than display ads, or that photo slideshows drive far more pageviews than articles, it follows that editors want young reporters who can cover meetings with a camera as well as a laptop.

But this one-size-fits-all approach demonstrates a lack of nuance about the tremendous transformations in our business. Yes, journalism is going digital. But that means many different things.

Crafting web video, deploying Twitter as a reporting tool, and presenting data-driven graphics all fall within the umbrella of “digital journalism,” but they have little in common with each other. Indeed, the skills barely overlap.

Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism has a robust Career Services office with a career expo that regularly attracts more than 100 employers a year. Those news organizations don’t often ask for “do-it-all” journalists these days, says Ernest Sotomayor, dean of students.

Instead, they are chiefly focused on students who understand the value of reporting, news judgment, and writing. They often say they want students who can demonstrate proficiency in a specific digital skill or two. Having additional skills is a plus, but without strong fundamentals, they don’t land top jobs.

And universal digital training belies pedagogical reality as well. Students usually come with, or develop over time, an intense interest in one or two formats. Asking them to become proficient at more than a few of them sets unreasonable expectations and, more importantly, deprives them of the need to excel at something rather than everything.

The Swiss Army knife is a useful tool on camping trips, but you’d be unlikely to use one in your kitchen if you have a great paring knife or corkscrew nearby. Journalism schools that send out graduates with rudimentary training in a large number of platforms are providing little value to their students, and are disserving the business that is fighting a battle for survival.

August 13 2012

14:02

April 20 2012

17:42

Journalism Inside®

I wonder whether we should be teaching journalists to embed themselves and their abilities into the world rather than always making the world come to them. Thinking out loud…

The other day, when Amazon peeved me by suddenly trying to sell me software — who has bought a box of software in years? — it occurred to me: After software left store shelves, demand for the programmers who make it has only grown. So why, as newspapers, magazines, and books leave shelves, is there not more demand for the journalists who make them?

Companies are clamoring to hire more programmers and investors are dying to back what they do. Everybody wants more code inside their endeavors. So imagine an economy in which companies and investors want journalism inside: “We need to get us some journalists!”

It’s not quite as insane as it sounds if we rethink what a journalist does. Journalists and programmers aren’t really so different. In the the research on innovation and news we commissioned at the Tow-Knight Center, Nick Diakopoulos notes their similarity: “One of journalism’s primary raisons d’être is in gathering, producing, and disseminating information and knowledge…. What is perhaps most interesting about these processes is that they can, in theory, all be executed either by people, or by computers.” Nick’s point is not that technology would replace journalists but instead that technology provides new opportunities for news.

Programmers and journalists create similar value — or they could. Each makes sense of information. Technology brings order to the flow of information; journalists ask the questions that aren’t answered in that flow. Each brings new abilities to people — functionality (in software terms) or empowerment (in journalistic terms). But programmers don’t produce products so much as they produce ability: your ability to get what you want. Shouldn’t journalism act like that? Shouldn’t we teach them to?

Imagine a perpendicular universe in which an organization or community says: “We need someone to help make sense of this information, who can add context to it or find and fill in missing pieces or present it in a way that will make sense to people — as a narrative or a visualization. We need to get us a journalist.”

It so happens that our entrepreneurial journalism students just had the treat of hearing from Shane Snow of the startup Contently. He is offering a service to companies — brands in particular — that are indeed asking the question above. Brands, haven’t you heard, are becoming media. Instead of placing their ads around others’ content, brands are putting content around their ads. Contently lets them search its 4,000 writers’ profiles and use its reputation system to find the right writer or community manager or video maker or infographic whiz. Contently also offers to manage these tasks.

Isn’t that just PR, working for a brand? No, Shane says, because Contently provides writers to make content an audience will value instead of a message a company wants to get out. Messaging is marketing. This is more analogous to the soap opera model — or the show Northern Exposure: P&G underwrote those shows so it would have a place to put its ads. Now more brands are doing that on the web. YouTube, too, is underwriting the creation of independent content — without owning it — just so more people will have more good stuff to watch there. Advertising still subsidizes content but the chicken and the egg are trading places.

But funny you should mention PR. Its role, too, changes. In What Would Google Do? I spoke with Rishad Tobaccowalla, strategist for Publicis, and we thought of a reverse world in which public relations exists to represent the public to the company, not the other way around (a professionalization of Doc Searls’ Vendor Relationship Management). We now see companies looking for that skill. They call it community management but that’s a misnomer unless you mean it in Doc’s context: that the community manages the company (the company doesn’t manage the community).

As I wrote this, I got a lucky visit from Kevin Marks, now of Salesforce, ex of Apple, Google, and Technorati, who teaches me much about technology. He posed the programmer-v-journalist comparison another way, arguing that each models the world, one with algorithms, one with narrative (and each faces the problem of “imperfect mapping”). He called it the tension between the storyteller and the builder.

That’s a very telling contrast for journalism schools. Many of our students want to build things, which we encourage, but we constantly struggle with balancing technology and tools vs. journalism and its skills in the time we have to teach. There’s also a tension regarding what they build: journalists pride themselves on being storytellers but is that all they should build? They might build visualizations of data — which, yes tells a story, sans narrative — but shouldn’t they also build tools that enable the public to dig into its own information (see: Texas Tribune) and platforms that let them share their information?

These new opportunities have led some to believe we should turn out the mythical journalist-coder, the hacking hack who does it all. I am not so sure that unicorn lives in nature. Yes there are some; it’s possible they exist. But I don’t think that journalists must become coders to take advantage of new technologies. They need to know how to work with the coders, how to spec and modify and use these tools. They need to understand and exploit the opportunities.

They also need a different culture. Rather than seeing ourselves as the creators (and owners) of products (content), shouldn’t journalists — like coders — see themselves as the providers of services, as the builders of platforms, as the agents of empowerment for others? That’s how developers see themselves. They build things, yes, but no longer shrink-wrapped. They build tools people use; they add value to information they produce. Journalists, in addition, have seen themselves speaking for the little guy but as Kevin Marks put it to me, that role becomes subsumed by the network when the little guys can speak for themselves. Still, there’s value in using new tools to help them do that. Is that a new journalism or is that a new PR? Gulp! Depends on who gets there first.

So where do journalists fit in in the world? And what do we teach them?

Well, we still start by teaching what my dean calls the eternal verities: accuracy, fairness, completeness. Implicit in that is a sense of service and given the rise of the network we need to consider what our fundamental service is.

We teach them to gather, make sense of, present, and most importantly supplement information through reporting — but there are now so many new ways to do that, so now we don’t just teach reporting but also data skills.

We teach them to build — yes, stories, but now in more forms, and also more than stories: tools and platforms.

We also teach them to build businesses. We teach them sustainability.

We teach them to go out into their communities, but now I say we need to make them see that they are a part of and not separate from those communities, no longer envisioning ourselves at the center, gathering everyone’s attention, but instead at the edge, serving their needs, providing communities elegant organization. This is a difficult skill to teach. Since starting what we call interactive journalism (not “new media”) at CUNY, I’ve struggled with finding ways for the students to have a public with whom to interact. One way we’ve done it is The Local with The New York Times, but we need more ways.

If we consider the programmer worldview, then we need to teach journalists how to fit in to the world differently, to spread their skills and value (and values) out into other enterprises, institutions, and communities rather than making the world come to us for journalism: Need some reporting, some editing, some sense-making, some empowerment, some organization, some storytelling, some media making…? “We need to get us some journalism!”

Now, of course, the journalists will worry that when working in the employ of others, they lose the independence that their journalistic institutions afforded them (so long as those companies were rich monopolies). That is well worth the worry. But again, consider the programmer who brings her skills to an enterprise but still must decide whether the enterprise is worthy of them. Consider, too, how programmers work in open-source to spread their value — and grow it — among anyone who sees fit to use it. They don’t own coding the way we thought we owned the news. They spread it.

Shouldn’t we spread journalism out beyond our walls as not only a skill set but also a worldview, getting more people to see and create a demand for the value of accurate and reliable information (“trust is the new black,” says Craig Newmark), organized information, context, and so on? Shouldn’t we want to embed journalism the way programmers embed code? Then we wouldn’t just teach journalists to go to work for news organizations — or, for that matter, start them — but also to organize news everywhere? Whether and how to do that, I’m just beginning to wonder….

/thinkingoutloud

July 26 2011

10:28

Notable moments in student journalism - Chris Spurlock's famous infographic resume and 9 more stories

Who says traditional journalism is dead? - Onlinecollegecourses.com shared their favorite post called "10 Notable Moments in Student Journalism" with me today. It is a collection of stories about students making strides in the field of journalism before they’ve even started their careers. From breaking news to becoming "Internet famous" - hope YOU will make a difference as well :-) 

Online College Courses :: (Here is one of the stories shared:) --- Everyone knows that experience working on the school newspaper is great for your resume, but if you’re Chris Spurlock, now known just as Spurlock, what you’ve learned from your work on the school paper can make you go viral. Spurlock became "Internet famous" after his infographic resume became a meme.

You like to read more about all the other 9 examples of "10 Notable Moments in Student Journalism"?

Continue to read  www.onlinecollegecourses.com

July 25 2011

19:02

Why Missouri J-School Should Rescind Its Apple Laptop Requirement

This story originally appeared on J-School Buzz and was edited and adapted for MediaShift with permission. It was written by David Teeghman, a recent graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.

To incoming students in the Missouri School of Journalism planning to buy an Apple MacBook just because it's a J-School requirement, don't do it.

Apple computers offer almost nothing to the average journalism student you can't find on a less pricey laptop, and certainly not enough to justify the outrageous price tag. And besides, what sense does it make to require all incoming students buy a laptop in the first place when there are so many computer labs throughout Mizzou's journalism school with all the software we could ever need?

One of the first things the J-School tells you when you show up for Summer Welcome before your freshman year (right after the part about how you will totally find a job, LOL) is that you need to buy an Apple laptop from the MU Bookstore with all the accessories.

The official line from the Mizzou J-School is that you just need a laptop equipped with Windows Office when you enroll. In reality, you will be ostracized and made to feel unwelcome carrying any laptop not emblazoned with the Apple logo. If you have ever seen the picture at the top of this post of a Mizzou journalism lecture class, you can see the J-School has been pretty effective at driving home the message that you need an Apple MacBook to make it there.

The cheapest MacBook option from the MU Bookstore is more than $1,300, while the most expensive one is closer to $2,800. Each package includes such non-essentials as a specially branded Missouri School of Journalism backpack, flash drive, notebook lock and Microsoft Office.

For all the good this laptop will do you as a journalism student, you would be better off buying a cheap Windows laptop from Dell, uploading all of your documents to Google Docs and Dropbox and your music to Amazon Cloud Drive or Google Music Beta, and downloading the free Open Office suite of software. That will save you more than $800 on the cheapest package from the bookstore, and more than $2,000 on the most expensive one.

An unfair 'suggestion'

I wasn't going to say anything about this, but then I read this story in the Columbia Tribune about an incoming journalism student named Katie Bailey:

Right in front of a Tiger Tech booth at a University of Missouri Summer Welcome fair, Lana Bailey is ready to cry.

Her daughter, Katie, needs a laptop before she starts college in the fall, but they're not sure which to buy. A pre-journalism student, she has been told the school requires, or at least prefers, a Mac. But she's not sure what type of journalism she's going to pursue, and that will make a difference.

We later learn that Bailey is a first-generation college student and the child of a single mother. She is also making some hefty sacrifices to afford her college education, like paying for this laptop herself and skipping the dorms (er, residence halls) and living with a family friend in Columbia to save on room and board.

Don't put yourself through this misery, Katie. The Mizzou J-School has a habit of putting in place technology requirements whose benefits are not clearly articulated to students, particularly those who come from a lower socio-economic class. It's an intriguing irony for a school based on the art of communication to mass audiences.

I just graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism last month, and I can say with complete certainty that I never once did an assignment in a journalism class that I could not have done on a Windows-based computer. There is no piece of software or functionality in the line of Apple laptops that is essential to a journalism student at Mizzou or any other journalism school.

The Mizzou J-School usually trots out the iLife suite of software programs on MacBooks as proof that these computers are essential to journalism students. The idea is that Apple computers come with programs that allow you to edit video, photos and even audio. But you will never use iMovie to edit video for a journalism class, never use iPhoto to edit photos, and never use Garage Band to edit audio. You will use top-of-the-line software programs like Final Cut Pro, Avid, Adobe Audition and, of course, Photoshop to do that work.

Few Requirements Elsewhere

In my reporting for this post, I heard from graduates and professors at the journalism schools at Loyola University in Chicago, Columbia University, New York University, University of North Carolina, University of Oregon, and Northwestern University, and it was only Northwestern's Medill that has any sort of technology requirements in place like Mizzou's.

macbookflickr_Mikael_Miettinen.jpg

As Loyola graduate Emily Jurlina wrote in a comment on the original version of this post on J-School Buzz, "I am a Mac user by choice and would never think of switching, but I was never once made to feel like I couldn't complete my assignments as well or as good if I didn't have a Mac. Loyola seemed to understand that not everyone chooses the Apple route and made it a point to have the computers available for all students."

Not only is Mizzou unique in that it very strongly recommends students buy the much more expensive (yet not much more useful) Apple brand of laptops, but many journalism schools don't require you to cough up money for any kind of required technology. The journalism graduates I spoke to said their schools did not have any set of requirements on what kind of phone, computer or audio recorder they buy. This came as a complete shock to me, as I have watched Mizzou's J-School go so far as to even discuss the possibility of an iPad requirement (yes, really).

Mizzou's J-School is littered with top-notch computer labs that have the latest and greatest hardware and software that can do everything from edit video in Final Cut Pro to design a graphic in InDesign. Yet every freshman must buy a laptop of their own, preferably one of the most expensive brands out there. That doesn't add up.

brian-brooks.jpg

Mizzou's J-School sees things differently. Associate Dean Brian Brooks told me in an email interview, "For years, students and parents asked us for guidance on buying a computer at the start of college. Almost everyone does it -- our survey eight years ago showed that almost 90 percent of freshmen bought a new computer for college."

To paraphrase, the first justification for the wireless requirement is that everyone is already buying one, so we might as well make it a requisite. Ninety percent is an awfully high figure, and though I couldn't see the raw numbers for myself, my own experience has shown that a good majority of incoming students bought new computers, even if they weren't required.

But the slim minority who did not buy one must have had a good reason for doing so. Maybe it was financial burdens similar to the ones Katie faces, a problem that is certainly widespread in this economic recession.

The justification

Brooks also said the school requires wireless laptops because, "The laptop is portable and can be used to take notes and do work while a student is on campus between classes. A desktop provides less mobility and requires the student to go back to the dorm to work."

Now, I don't want to be one of "those" people, but I should point out that a pen and notebook have the same capabilities to take notes on the fly. Estimated cost: the change rattling around in your pocket.

So, that's the justification for a wireless laptop requirement for every incoming student. It's weak, but at least it exists. Why the strong Apple suggestion?

"We wanted to start teaching the basics of audio and video editing as part of the curriculum," Brooks told me. "iLife, while simple, helps students learn the basics. They then easily graduate to more sophisticated programs in their advanced classes."

This makes sense in theory. Students start out with simple media editing programs and move on to more complicated ones. But J-Schoolers don't touch the iLife programs for any class. They might use it to Photoshop their head onto Mike Tyson's body or edit a video for YouTube in their free time, but they won't be doing it for a grade in journalism school.

As Engadget and others have pointed out, Mizzou makes these Apple items "required" partly to manipulate financial aid rules. You see, financial aid will only cover items that are required by the school, not those that are optional or recommended. It's not enough for the J-School to recommend we all buy Apple products; it has to "require" that we all buy them so we can include these expensive gadgets in our financial need estimates.

I'm sure we can find more useful ways to spend that financial aid money than on admittedly non-essential and pricey Apple products. And maybe someone should tell incoming students that this "requirement" is more like a "requirement nudge nudge say no more!"

That said, I am typing these very words on a MacBook Pro I received as a graduation gift from my parents. What's more, I carry this laptop in the Missouri School of Journalism-branded backpack I got as a freshman. It's a great computer, and given a choice between a Windows-based computer and a MacBook I would go with the MacBook every time.

But I have been blessed to come from a family that can afford such extravagances. Not every potential journalism student is so lucky, nor should they be. Diversity in every respect should be encouraged in this journalism school, be it financial or racial or intellectual.

From rising tuition to the journalism industry's reliance on indentured servitude to stagnant salaries, it is becoming less and less feasible for students who don't come from at least a middle-class background to make it in journalism. Mizzou's J-School should not make it even harder for the less economically fortunate to succeed in journalism with superfluous Apple laptop requirements.

MacBook photo by Mikael Miettinen on Flickr.

David Teeghman is a recent graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, and the founder and publisher of J-School Buzz. Teeghman will soon be a Secondary English teacher in Indianapolis as part of Teach For America.

jschoolbuzz logo.jpg

A version of this story originally appeared in JSchoolBuzz.com, a site dedicated to reporting the latest news and analysis about the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Founded in October 2010, J-School Buzz is produced by current J-Schoolers. You can follow JSB on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

July 13 2011

06:55

For j-schools? - College offers scholarship for Twitter "essay"

USA Today :: That's the price of a full scholarship, and that's exactly what a student hopeful can win in a contest the universit has dreamed up that takes electronic communication to a new level. The University of Iowa is asking prospective students to submit a 140-character tweet in place of a second essay. It is "an attempt to make students get to the point quickly and to improve their social media skills."

Continue to read Luke Kerr-Dineen | Natalie DiBlasio, www.usatoday.com

February 03 2011

12:00

Medill and McCormick launch a news innovation lab with $4.2 million in Knight funding

In 2009, while announcing that year’s Knight News Challenge winners at a conference at MIT, Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen mentioned the foundation’s desire to launch “test kitchens” for journalistic tools: laboratories where innovative ideas for news production, distribution, and financial sustenance might be devised, improved, and put to use.

Today, Knight is announcing a definitive step in the test-kitchen direction. It’s giving a grant — $4.2 million over four years — to Northwestern University to establish the Knight News Innovation Laboratory. The Knight Lab will be a joint initiative of the Medill School of Journalism and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern — at its core, a partnership between journalism and computer science. It’ll be populated by Northwestern faculty and students, as well as, possibly, technologists and members of the media at large. And it will aim to help build and bolster the digital infrastructure that will guide journalism into its next phase.

“Speeding up” media innovation

“This is a significant step forward in terms of collaboration between journalism and computer science,” says Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at Medill (and one of the Knight Lab’s four faculty overseers). The Knight Lab joins a smattering of similar hacker-journalist-oriented programs popping up at J-schools across the country — Studio 20 at NYU, the joint Journalism/Computer Science M.S. at Columbia, Medill’s own journalist/developer scholarship, and on and on — all of them responses to the recognition that the content of journalism will increasingly be connected to the tools we use to create it.

Indeed, “to advance journalism excellence in the digital age, we must use the tools of the digital age,” Eric Newton, vice president of Knight’s journalism program, put it. “We hope this pioneering partnership between a school of journalism and a school of engineering will demonstrate how a major university can speed up media innovation in its surrounding community.”

One of the ways the Knight Lab is unique, though, is in its focus on outcomes. Though the Knight Lab is set in a school, its goal is pretty much to escape the ivory tower. And, to an extent, to topple it. The Knight Lab will team up with Chicago-area news outlets — partners so far include The Tribune Company, Chicago Public Media, The Daily Herald, the Chicago Community News Trust, and the Chicago News Cooperative — with the goal of improving the information available to the communities those outlets serve. In that, the Knight Lab’s mission is aligned with the general mission of journalism, Gordon says: to “accelerate media innovation in ways that advance the interests of journalism and well-informed communities.”

The Lab’s initial focus is the Chicago area simply because, Gordon notes, the Evanston-based Medill already has connections with the Chicago community and the publishers who serve it. “It makes sense,” he notes, ” to focus our energy on the community that we understand best.” That doesn’t mean that expansion won’t be a possibility for later on, though. “We assume that if we find ways to create things that are valuable to Chicago, it’ll be available to everybody.”

Closing the loop

One of the intriguing aspects of the Knight Lab project is its connection to the Knight News Challenge. The Knight Lab will make it a point to work with the technologies that have been created by News Challenge winners. News Challenge projects have generated myriad journalistic tools with large amounts of back-end code; one of the Knight Lab’s goals is to ensure that those technologies remain relevant even after their Knight funding runs out. It hopes to maximize the use of the code that’s been developed through the News Challenge, refining it and improving it and making it as helpful as possible to the media outlets who might put it to use.

Some of the plans for doing that include:

  • Cataloging and organizing software projects that have been supported by Knight Foundation grants to date;
  • Evaluating the software and determine if there are technical reasons why these systems have not been more widely adopted;
  • Determining which features of larger systems can be abstracted into freestanding tools that might have a greater chance of being adopted;
  • Looking for feature overlap that argues for the integration of multiple systems – and, if warranted, do that technology integration; and
  • Integrating these tools with existing publishing platforms as needed – for instance by creating plug-ins for popular content management systems.
  • There’s a strong component of pragmatism to all this: The goal isn’t just to improve code in general, but to improve it, in particular, according to the value it could present for media users. (And then, Gordon says, to “do whatever we have to do to get that code more widely adopted.”) In some sense, to be ultra-nerdy about it, Knight Lab : Knight News Challenge :: OpenBlock : EveryBlock.

    Another noteworthy aspect of the Knight Lab is its focus on information as its own kind of platform for innovation. Medill has departments not only in journalism, but also in Integrated Marketing Communications — and Chicago, with its storied national newspaper and its buzzing field of niche news sites, offers a particularly vibrant landscape to study. Part of the work of the Knight Lab will be to analyze, in detail, how people actually consume news: what they want from news, what they need from news. “There are opportunities to better undestand both how and why technologies are adapted by real people looking for news and information,” Owen Youngman, Medill’s Knight Chair in digital media strategy (and another Knight Lab faculty overseer), told me. The overall mission, he notes, is akin to journalism’s more broadly: to ensure that citizens and the communities they live in get the news and information they need.

    Oh! And they’re hiring

    Medill-McCormick is looking for a full-time executive director to run the Knight Lab’s day-to-day operations. It’s also looking for a director of software engineering and several full-time software developers. If you want to learn more — about the job openings, about the Knight Lab in general — Knight and Northwestern will be formally announcing the project later today. And at 4pm CST, they’ll be hosting a “virtual Q&A” session about it here.

    [Disclosure: The Knight Foundation is a financial supporter of the Nieman Journalism Lab.]

    January 21 2011

    15:30

    This Week in Review: The Comcast-NBC marriage, j-school 2.0, and questions about paywall data

    Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

    Huge merger, big reservations: One of the biggest media deals of the past decade got its official go-ahead when the Federal Communications Commission approved the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. As Ars Technica noted, the deal’s scope is massive: In addition to being the nation’s largest cable provider, the new company will control numerous cable channels, plus the NBC television network, Universal Studios, Universal theme parks, and two professional sports teams.

    The new company will also retain a stake in the online TV site Hulu (which NBC co-founded with News Corp.), though it agreed to give up its management role as one of the conditions the FCC placed on its approval. Lost Remote’s Steve Safran called the requirement a forward-thinking move by the FCC, given how far Comcast’s content outpaces Hulu’s right now. Another of the conditions also protects Bloomberg TV from being disadvantaged by Comcast in favor of its new property, CNBC.

    The decision had plenty of detractors, starting with the FCC’s own Michael Copps, who wrote in his dissenting statement that the deal could lead to the “cable-ization of the Internet.” “The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real,” he said. In the current issue of The Columbia Journalism Review, John Dunbar wrote a more thorough critique of the deal, arguing that it’s old media’s last-gasp attempt to stave off the web’s disruption of television. Josh Silver and Josh Stearns of the media reform group both penned protests, too.

    A few other angles: GigaOM’s Liz Shannon Miller looked at the FCC’s emphasis on online video, and All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka explained why the deal might make it more difficult to give up cable. Finally, Steve Myers of Poynter examined NBC’s agreement as part of the merger to create new partnerships between some of its local stations and nonprofit news organizations.

    Rethinking j-school: The Carnival of Journalism, an old collaborative blogging project, was revived this month by Spot.Us founder (and fellow at Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute) David Cohn, who directed participants to blog about the Knight Foundation’s call for j-schools to increase their role as “hubs of journalistic activity” and integrate further integrate media literacy into all levels of education.

    The posts came rolling in this week, and they contained a variety of ideas about both the journalistic hubs component and the media literacy component. The latter point was expounded on most emphatically by Craig Silverman, who laid out a vision for the required course “Bullshit Detection 101,” teaching students how to consume media (especially online) with a keen, skeptical eye. “The Internet is the single greatest disseminator of bullshit ever created. The Internet is also the single greatest destroyer of bullshit,” he wrote.

    CUNY j-prof C.W. Anderson pointed to a 2009 lecture in which he argued for education about the production of media (especially new media) to be spread beyond the j-school throughout universities, and Memphis j-prof Carrie Brown-Smith noted that for students to learn new media literacy, the professors have to be willing to learn it, too. Politico reporter Juana Summers made the case for K-12 media literacy education, and POLIS director Charlie Beckett talked about going beyond simplistic concepts of media literacy.

    There were plenty of proposals about j-schools as journalistic hubs, as well. City University, London j-prof Paul Bradshaw wrote about the need for j-students to learn not just how to produce journalism, but how to facilitate its production by the community. Megan Taylor tossed out a few ideas, too, including opening student newspapers up to the community, and J-Lab editorial director Andrew Pergam and CUNY’s Daniel Bachhuber looked at the newsroom cafe concept and NYU’s The Local: East Village, respectively, as examples for j-schools. Cohn chimed in with suggestions on how to expand the work of journalism beyond the j-school and beyond the university, and Central Lancashire j-prof Andy Dickinson argued that j-schools should serve to fill the gaps left by traditional media.

    A few more odds and ends from the Carnival of Journalism: Minnesota j-prof Seth Lewis urged j-schools to create more opportunities for students to fail, Cornell grad student Josh Braun pondered how the rise of online education might play into all this, and Rowan j-prof Mark Berkey-Gerard listed some of the challenges of student-run journalism.

    A pro-paywall data point: One of the biggest proponents of paid news online lately has been Steven Brill, whose Journalism Online works with news organizations to charge for content online. This week, Brill publicized findings from his first few dozen efforts that found that with a metered model (one that allows a certain number of articles for free, then charges for access beyond that), traffic didn’t decline dramatically, as they were expected to. The New York Times — a paper that’s planning a metered paid-content modelwrote about the results, and a few folks found it encouraging.

    Others were skeptical — like The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum, who wondered why the story didn’t include information about how many people paid up online and how much revenue the paywalls generated. Rick Edmonds of Poynter pointed out the same thing, and tied the story to a recently announced paywall at The Dallas Morning News and tweaks at Honolulu Civil Beat’s paywall.

    Elsewhere in the world of paid news content, Michele McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center talked to the editor of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald about his newspaper’s paywall experiment, who had a warning about technical challenges but encouraging news about public feedback.

    Cracking the iPad’s subscription code: Publishers’ initial crush on the iPad seems to be fading into ambivalence: The New York Times reported this week that magazines publishers are frustrated with Apple’s harsh terms in allowing them to offer iPad subscriptions and are beginning to look to other forthcoming tablets instead. Apple is cracking down overseas, too, reportedly telling European newspapers that they can’t offer a free iPad edition to print subscribers.

    One publication is about to become one of the first to seriously test Apple’s subscription model — Rupert Murdoch’s much-anticipated The Daily. Advertising Age reported on the expectations and implications surrounding The Daily, and the Lab’s Ken Doctor took a look at The Daily’s possible financial figures. Mashable’s Lauren Indvik, meanwhile, wondered how The Daily will handle the social media portion of the operation.

    In other iPad news, a survey reported on by Advertising Age found that while iPad users don’t like ads there, they might welcome them as an alternative to paid apps. The survey also suggested, interestingly enough, that the device is being used a lot like home computers, with search and email dominating the uses and usage of media apps like books and TV lagging well behind that. Business Insider also reported that AOL is working on a Flipboard-esque iPad app that tailors news around users’ preferences.

    Reading roundup: Tons of other stuff going on this week. Here’s a sampling:

    — Two titans of the tech industry, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt — announced this week they would be stepping down (Jobs is taking a temporary medical leave; Schmidt stepping down as CEO but staying on as executive chairman). Both were massive tech stories, and Techmeme has more links for you on both than I could ever intelligently direct you to.

    — Another huge shakeup, this in the media world: Dean Singleton, co-founder of the bankrupt newspaper chain MediaNews, will step down as its CEO. Both Ken Doctor and the Lab’s Martin Langeveld saw Alden Global Capital’s fingerprints all over this and other newspaper bankruptcy shakeups, with Langeveld speculating about a possible massive consolidation in the works.

    — As I noted last week, Wikipedia celebrated its 10th anniversary last Saturday, prompting several reflections late last week. A few I that missed last week’s review: Clay Shirky on Wikipedia’s “ordinary miracle,” The New York Times on Wikipedia’s history, and Jay Rosen’s comparison of Wikipedia and The Times.

    — Pew published a survey on the social web, and GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and The Atlantic’s Jared Keller both offered smart summaries of the Internet’s remarkable social capacity, with Keller tying it to Robert Putnam’s well-known thoughts on social capital.

    — A few addenda to last week’s commentary about the Tucson shooting: How NPR’s errant reporting hurt the families involved, j-prof Jeremy Littau on deleting incorrect tweets, Mathew Ingram on Twitter’s accuracy in breaking news, and the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s study of the shooting’s coverage.

    — Finally, a wonderful manifesto for journalists by former Guardian editor Tim Radford. This is one you’ll want to read, re-read, and then probably re-read again down the road.

    December 01 2010

    12:30

    ProPublica and Jay Rosen’s Studio 20 class at NYU team up to build — and share — “a better explainer”

    NYU media guru Jay Rosen is announcing a new partnership between his Studio 20 graduate students and ProPublica. Their goal is to research the most effective ways to unravel complex problems for an online audience, and then build new kinds of explainers to illuminate ProPublica’s research into issues like the foreclosure crisis, finance, healthcare, and the BP oil spill.

    It’s an ambitious project, and one that fits Rosen’s goal of transforming journalism schools into the R&D labs of the media industry. As part of the project, the students have launched a website, Explainer.net, that will grow into a database of the best and worst “explainer” techniques from within the news business and beyond. (One of their research projects, for example, was to analyze which media outlets explained the WikiLeaks cable story in the most helpful and compelling ways.)

    I sat in on a Studio 20 class on Monday and talked with several of the 16 first-semester graduate students involved in the project. The metaphor they all used, drawn from Rosen’s SXSW panel speech on “the future of context,” was that reading daily news articles can often feel like receiving updates to software that you haven’t actually downloaded to your computer. Without some basic understanding of the larger, ongoing story, the “news” doesn’t actually make much sense. As NYU and ProPublica put it in today’s press release:

    Bringing clarity to complex systems so that non-specialists can understand them is the “art” of the explainer. For instance, an explainer for the Irish debt crisis would make clear why a weakness in one country’s banks could threaten the European financial system and possibly the global recovery. A different kind of explainer might show how Medicare billing is designed to work and where the opportunities for fraud lie.

    Rosen has been calling for a rigorous rethinking of how media outlets provide context since 2008, and, as Megan has noted previously here at the Lab, ProPublica has put itself at the forefront of explanatory, public-interest reporting. This summer, they redesigned their website with the goal of making it easier for users with different amounts of knowledge about a subject area to teach themselves more about a topic. (They’ve also created a broadway song about complex financial instruments.) Rosen, who brought several students to pitch the project to ProPublica in late September, said the investigative outfit was immediately enthusiastic about the partnership, which will run through the rest of this academic year.

    The Explainer project will approach the problem of understanding complex systems both from the perspective of users trying to gain context on an issue, and that of journalists who need new mediums for telling background stories and sharing data that might not fit into an article format.

    For that, the students will divide into three groups tasked with exploring different elements of explanation. One group is interviewing the members of ProPublica’s news team, from reporters to news app builders to the managing editor, in order to understand the organization’s workflow, what it does with the data it collects, and how its reporters explain what they’re learning to themselves as they report a story.

    Journalists “love starting from zero and gaining mastery,” Rosen said. “What they disgorge by way of story is quite inadequate to what they learned. Creating containers, formats, genres, tricks, tools to make that knowledge available is part of the project.”

    Another group is building Explainer.net’s WordPress website, which sometimes means teaching themselves and each other skills on an ad hoc basis. (Studio 20 is designed to be a learn-as-you-go program, in which a group of students with different specialties share their skills and pick up new ones.)

    A third group  is researching the different “explainer” genres. They’re starting with examples of good and bad explanatory journalism, from maps and timelines to more specific visualizations like The National Post’s chilling illustration of how a stoning is carried out in Iran. But they’ll also be reaching far outside the media world to research techniques used in many different fields. Rosen suggested that they focus on situations where people “can’t afford to fail,” like people fixing combat aircraft, or NFL teams explaining complicated plays. The students are also looking at the “For Dummies” book franchise and the language-learning software Rosetta Stone.

    When I spoke with Rachel Slaff, who’s leading the research group, she said they have found many more examples of failed explainers than background reporting that’s actually working well. It’s not just that some videos are boring, or that a timeline is clunky or a graphic too text-heavy. “The overwhelming theme is: This isn’t actually explaining anything to me. I watched this video or I looked at this chart and I left more confused than I came in,” she said. The major exception has been the BBC, which she said produces consistently effective explainers. The other group favorite has been the RSA Animate video series, in which a hand cheekily illustrates a topic as it’s being explained.

    Part of the reason the project is going public so early is to connect with journalists interested in explainer or “future of context” issues. The Studio 20 group will be producing a periodic newsletter with updates on their progress, as well as building a Twitter feed — all ways to broaden the reach of the project, as well as give the graduate students practice in using social media tools.

    The “build a better explainer” project is just a first step in figuring out how context-focused reporting will evolve online, Rosen said.  Google’s Living Stories and newspaper topic pages are all aimed at a larger, more complicated problem: “Where does the news accumulate as understanding?”

    You can think about the accumulation of understanding in terms of a body of text, a URL where different stories are gathered together, or the way that knowledge builds in a single user, Rosen told me. Whatever the potential model, the next question is, “how do we join to the stream-of-updates part of the news system, a second part of the news system, which gives people a sense of mastery over a big story?”

    In other words: Once you’ve built a better explainer, the next challenge is building it a place to live.

    October 15 2010

    14:00

    Columbia developing a year-round news outlet to let students learn how to build and serve an audience

    It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that journalism schools, even more than other media institutions, are experiencing an existential crisis under news’ new conditions. On the one hand, schools are upholders of tradition and journalistic principles; on the other hand, their practical mandate — “to prepare the next generation of journalists” — requires them to be forward-looking in ways that would intimidate even the most prescient futurists among us. And the schools are navigating the common anxiety in remarkably unique ways: CUNY, under the guidance of Jeff Jarvis, is bringing a new focus to journalistic entrepreneurialism; Arizona State’s Cronkite School is partnering with The Arizona Republic and 12 News to fact-check politicians; NYU recently launched The Local East Village, a community-driven, hyperlocal site, in conjunction with The New York Times; Columbia has developed its Tow Center for Digital Journalism, which launches this Tuesday, and established its joint master’s program with the university’s engineering school.

    To Columbia’s list we can now add another innovation: The j-school is developing a new site that will function as a year-round, standalone news outlet. It will be topic-based rather than hyperlocal — think broad concepts like health, crime, government spending, etc. — but it will be focused on New York City (or, as the j-school’s dean of academic affairs, ex-WSJ.com managing editor Bill Grueskin calls it, “our local hometown of 8.3 million people”). The site is still in its early planning stages, and details are still being worked out; as a strategy, though — and as a symbolic step forward — it has a mission that feels appropriately back-to-the-future: The site, Grueskin told me, will be about “doing journalism that’s of real value to the community.”

    A permanent home for content

    Websites featuring student work are nothing new, of course, at Columbia or other programs: Columbia’s introductory reporting and writing courses have web presences that act as training venues and work-distribution outlets, as do many of its content-specific courses (one of which, Columbia News Service, distributes its work via the New York Times News Service and Syndicate). And, school-wide, The Columbia Journalist exists to showcase some of the best student work produced during the academic year. Those products don’t, however, operate year-round; on the contrary, their content yields to the semester system, complete with vacations, interruptions for exams, and, of course, the summer hiatus. “You create these beautiful sites,” Grueskin points out, “and then two months later, they go dark.”

    To change that — to create a site that produces content year-round, enabling it to be a destination rather than simply a means of distribution — the school will establish a new post-graduate fellowship program, along the lines of its Columbia Journalism Review and digital media fellowships, both of which currently take two students from each graduating class to work at the school for a year after graduation. (I was one of the CJR fellows after I graduated from the school.) Though the number of fellows to be hired, and their pay, remains to be determined — everything depends on the amount of money the school is able to raise for the project — the influx of journalistic manpower will add to the crop of students who stay on to contribute something and, in the process, extend their education. It will also combat the dark-site problem.

    The new importance of audience

    Which is only a problem, of course, if you care about building an audience for your work — if you define a school’s mission not only in terms of educating students, but also in terms of education more broadly: cultivating a community around journalism. That’s where Columbia’s upcoming site becomes especially significant: It’s merging the two goals, broadening its definition of good journalism education to include those clichéd-but-crucial new media buzzwords: “user engagement.” That’s a pedagogical mandate. Understanding the nuances of building and keeping an audience “is a crucial skill,” notes dean Nick Lehmann — particularly given the increasingly common assumption that editorial content will be produced in some kind of partnership with consumers as journalism reinvents its compact with the public. (The people formerly known as, and all that.) So “a big next step for us to take is to have a real audience for one of our sites that we can interact with,” Grueskin says.

    That really is a big next step. J-schools, in the “conservatory” model of arts programs, have often regarded journalism not only as a public service, but also as a craft. In that, they’ve prided themselves on their very separation from the vagaries of the marketplace — which is to say, from audiences. The site’s bid for audience alone marks a significant shift in the role j-schools are carving for themselves in the new media landscape. “Journalists love to have impact,” Grueskin puts it, “and you want to feel that the journalism that you’re doing is being read or watched or listened to, and then acted upon.” There’s also the nice education loop a standalone site provides: “If this got up and running, it could actually create a fair amount of data and information that could feed back nicely into the way that we continue to try to improve the way that we teach journalism.”

    Part of the work of the outlet — and, from the pedagogical perspective, part of the instruction it will offer to the students staffing it — could be in collaborating with other outlets to customize that content, and those platforms, for their needs. “We are probably less interested in pairing up with a single news organization, and more interested in acting as what you might call ‘a news service for the 21st century,’” Grueskin says: “news, or tools for news, that can be adopted by other media players, large, medium, and small.” (Think along the lines of ProPublica’s embeddable and adaptable news applications, for example — or, from a content perspective, data sets that “can be very easily localized and adapted by either big players or small.”) So “while there would be a website associated with the effort,” Grueskin says, “that wouldn’t be the sum total.”

    Indeed, the site, like most news sites nowadays, would be only one aspect of the school’s broader push toward community engagement and journalistic impact. “Because of who we are and what we do and the larger institution we’re located in,” Lehmann says, “we can probably do year-round, meaningful local news coverage more cheaply and sustainably than a standalone, de novo, web-only organization can do. So we may be a more efficient way to meet that social need — and that’s a good motivation for us, too.”

    September 17 2010

    14:00

    This Week in Review: J-schools as R&D labs, a big news consumption shift, and what becomes of RSS

    [Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

    Entrepreneurship and old-school skills in j-school: We found out in February that New York University and the New York Times would be collaborating on a news site focused on Manhattan’s East Village, and this week the site went live. Journalism.co.uk has some of the details of the project: Most of its content will be produced by NYU students in a hyperlocal journalism class, though their goal is to have half of it eventually produced by community members. NYU professor Jay Rosen, an adviser on the project, got into a few more of the site’s particulars, describing its Virtual Assignment Desk, which allows local residents to pitch stories via a new WordPress editing plugin.

    Rosen’s caution that “it is going to take a while for The Local East Village to find any kind of stride” notwithstanding, the site got a few early reviews. The Village Voice’s Foster Kamer started by calling the site the Times’ “hyperlocal slave labor experiment” and concluded by officially “declaring war” on it. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, on the other hand, was encouraged by NYU’s effort to give students serious entrepreneurial skills, as opposed to just churning out “typists and videographers.”

    NYU’s project was part of the discussion about the role of journalism schools this week, though. PBS’ MediaShift wrapped up an 11-post series on j-school, which included an interview with Rosen about the journalism as R&D lab and a post comparing and contrasting the tacks being taken by NYU, Jeff Jarvis’ program at the City University of New York and Columbia University. (Unlike the other two, Columbia is taking a decidedly research-oriented route.) Meanwhile, Tony Rogers, a Philadelphia-area j-prof, wrote two articles (one of them a couple of weeks ago) at About.com quoting several professors wondering whether journalism schools have moved too far toward technological skills at the expense of meat-and-potatoes journalism skills.

    They weren’t the only ones: Both Teresa Schmedding of the American Copy Editors Society and Iowa State j-school director Michael Bugeja also criticized what they called a move away from the core of journalism in the country’s j-schools. “I expect to teach new hires InDesign, Quark or Twitter, MySpace, FB and how to use whatever the app of the week is, but I don’t expect to teach you what who, what, where, when, why and how means,” Schmedding wrote. TBD’s Steve Buttry countered those arguments with a post asserting that journalists need to know more about disruptive technology and what it’s doing to their future industry. “Far too many journalists and journalism school graduates know next to nothing about the business of journalism and that status quo is indefensible,” said Buttry.

    A turning point in news consumption: Like most every Pew survey, the biennial study released this week by the Pew Center for the People & the Press is a veritable cornucopia of information on how people are consuming news. Tom Rosenstiel of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has some fascinating musings of the study’s headline finding: People aren’t necessarily ditching old platforms for news, but are augmenting them with new uses of emerging technology. Rosenstiel sees this as a turning point in news consumption, brought about by more tech-savvy news orgs, faster Internet connections, and increasing new media literacy. Several others — Mathew Ingram of GigaOM, Joe Pompeo of Business Insider, Chas Edwards of Digg — agreed that this development is a welcome one.

    The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and paidContent’s Staci Kramer have quick summaries of the study’s key statistics, and DailyFinance’s Jeff Bercovici pointed out one particularly portentous milestone: For the first time, the web has eclipsed newspapers as a news source. (But, as Collective Talent noted, we still love our TV news.) Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman took a closer look at news consumption via social media, and j-prof W. Joseph Campbell examined the other side of the coin — the people who are going without news.

    The Pew Internet & American Life Project also released an interesting study this week looking at “apps culture,” which essentially didn’t exist two years ago. Beyond the Book interviewed the project’s director, Lee Rainie, about the study, and the Lab gave us five applications for news orgs from the study: Turns out news apps are popular, people will pay for apps, and they consume apps in small doses.

    Did social media kill RSS and press releases?: Ask.com announced last Friday that it would shut down Bloglines, the RSS reader it bought in 2005, citing a slowdown in RSS usage as Twitter and Facebook increase their domination of real-time information flow. “The writing is on the wall,” wrote Ask’s president, Doug Leeds. PaidContent’s Joseph Tarkatoff used the news as a peg for the assertion that the RSS reader is dead, noting that traffic is down for Bloglines and Google Reader, and that Google Reader, the web’s most popular RSS reader, is being positioned as more of a social sharing site.

    Tech writer Jeff Nolan agreed, arguing that RSS has value as a back-end application but not as a primary news-consumption tool: “RSS has diminishing importance because of what it doesn’t enable for the people who create content… any monetization of content, brand control, traffic funneling, and audience acquisition,” he wrote. Business Insider Henry Blodget joined in declaring RSS readers toast, blaming Twitter and Facebook for their demise. Numerous people jumped in to defend RSS, led by Dave Winer, who helped invent the tool about a decade ago. Winer argued that RSS “forms the pipes through which news flows” and suggested reinventing the technology as a real-time feed with a centralized, non-commercial subscription service.

    Tech writer Robert Scoble responded that while the RSS technology might be central to the web, RSS reading behavior is dying. The future is in Twitter and Facebook, he said. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and media consultant Terry Heaton also defended RSS, with Ingram articulating its place alongside Twitter’s real-time flow and Heaton arguing that media companies just need to realize its value as its utility spreads across the web.

    RSS wasn’t the only media element declared dead this week; Advertising Age’s Simon Dumenco also announced the expiration of the press release, replaced by the “real-time spin of Facebook and Twitter. PR blogger Jeremy Pepper and j-prof Kathy Gill pushed back with cases for the press release’s continued use.

    Twitter’s media-company move: Lots of interesting social media stuff this week; I’ll start with Twitter. The company began rolling out its new main-page design, which gives it a lot of the functions that its independently developed clients have. Twitter execs said the move indicated Twitter’s status as a more consumptive platform, where the bulk of the value comes from reading, rather than writing — something All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka tagged as a fundamental shift for the company: “Twitter is a media company: It gives you cool stuff to look at, you pay attention to what it shows you, and it rents out some of your attention to advertisers.”

    GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and venture capitalist David Pakman agreed, with Pakman noting that while Google, Facebook and Twitter all operate platform, users deal overwhelmingly with the company itself — something that’s very valuable for advertisers. The Lab’s Megan Garber also wrote a smart post on the effect of Twitter’s makeover on journalism and information. The new Twitter, Garber writes, moves tweets closer to news articles and inches its own status from news platform closer to a broadcast news platform. Ex-Twitter employee Alex Payne and Ingram (who must have had a busy week) took the opportunity to argue that Twitter as a platform needs to decentralize.

    On to Facebook: The New Yorker released a lengthy profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and while not everyone was crazy about it (The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal thought it was boring and unrevealing), it gave the opportunity for one of the people quoted in it — Expert Labs director Anil Dash — to deliver his own thoughtful take on the whole Facebook/privacy debate. Dash isn’t that interested in privacy; what he is worried about is “this company advocating for a pretty radical social change to be inflicted on half a billion people without those people’s engagement, and often, effectively, without their consent.”

    Elsewhere around social media and news: Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik wrote a fantastic overview of what news organizations are beginning to do with social media, and we got closer looks at PBS NewsHour, DCist and TBD in particular.

    Reading roundup: Plenty of stuff worth reading this week. Let’s get to it.

    — Last week’s discussion on online traffic and metrics spilled over into this week, as the Lab’s Nikki Usher and C.W. Anderson discussed the effects of journalists’ use of web metrics and the American Journalism Review’s Paul Farhi looked at the same issue (from a more skeptical perspective). The Columbia Journalism Review’s Dean Starkman had the read of the week on the topic (or any topic, really), talking about what the constant churn of news in search of new eyeballs is doing to journalism. All of these pieces are really worth your time.

    — The San Jose Mercury News reported that Apple is developing a plan for newspaper subscriptions through its App Store that would allow the company to take a 30 percent cut of all the newspaper subscriptions it sells and 40 percent of their advertising revenue. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum was skeptical of the report, but Ken Doctor had nine good questions on the issue while we find out whether there’s anything to it.

    — Another British Rupert Murdoch paper, News of the World, is going behind a paywall in October. PaidContent was skeptical, but Paul Bradshaw said it’ll do better than Murdoch’s other newly paywalled British paper, The Times.

    — The Atlantic published a very cool excerpt from a book on video games as journalism by three Georgia Tech academics. I’m guessing you’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the next couple of years.

    — Rafat Ali, who founded paidContent gave a kind of depressing interview to Poynter on his exit from the news-about-the-news industry. “I think there’s just too much talk about it, and to some extent it is just an echo chamber, people talking to each other. There’s more talk about the talk than actual action.” Well, shoot, I’d better find a different hobby. (Seriously, though, he’s right — demos, not memos.)

    — Finally, a wonderful web literacy tool from Scott Rosenberg: A step-by-step guide to gauge the credibility of anything on the web. Read it, save it, use it.

    June 11 2010

    15:24

    Elizabeth Spiers’ media-entrepreneur summer school

    This summer Elizabeth Spiers is teaching summer school, and you can apply for a seat in her class.

    The media consultant, founding editor Gawker, and builder of DealBreaker, several Mediabistro blogs, and other sites is looking for a handful of people with smart ideas for a small business — but not experience launching one — to join her two college interns in a 90-day class. By the end of the summer, Spiers expects her students to have learned everything they need to get their media projects off the ground.

    Here’s Spiers’ take on why you should apply:

    What you get in return: dialogue with other beginning entrepreneurs, some good contacts for your project and what’s essentially free consulting from me (the latter of which would be price-prohibitive for most beginning entrepreneurs if I were charging.)

    I spoke with Spiers about the project and why she decided to do it. Turns out she’s a kind-hearted boss: She didn’t want her two interns completing only menial tasks all summer. So she’s requiring them to spend at least 10 hours a week on their business idea and to meet weekly to discuss their progress. Her idea, she notes in her Tumblr post, is ripped off of a similar project Seth Godin ran that he called an alternative MBA.

    Spiers, who teaches at The School of Visual Arts Design Criticism program (and is off for the summer), also said she sees a lack of support for entrepreunerialism in journalism schools. Her current interns are writers with the editorial skills you need to run a new media project, but not the business savvy.

    “That’s one thing that I think — in journalism programs, they don’t really equip people to start new media products,” Spiers explained. “They equip them to work within the context of an existing publication. I’m just trying to fill in the gap a little bit.”

    There are, of course, j-school professors already teaching classes which require entrepreneurial spirit. Among them is our Lab colleague C.W. Anderson at CUNY, whose course Entrepreneurial Journalism requires students to cook up new media ideas. (He’s also working on a white paper on innovation in j-schools. If you know of a school working on something innovative, let him know.)

    For j-schools wondering how much time to devote to more business-side coursework, consider Spiers’ 10-hours-a-week-for-90-days argument. “Starting a new company seems more intimidating than it is,” she told me. “I do think it’s the kind of thing you can transform and ramp up in 90 days. As long as you have a process in place, I don’t think it’s as difficult as people think it is.”

    (If you need funding, though, then you’re looking at a longer timeframe. Tack on extra months to the process to get your project actually going.)

    When I asked Spiers if she would keep readers posted on her students’ progress, she said (earnestly, no Gawker snark) she has high hopes for her students. ”I sort of expect that some people are actually going to go out and launch their projects, and I’d be happy to promote them. And intend to do that anyway,” Spiers said.

    Photo by Robert S. Donovan used under a Creative Commons license.

    March 05 2010

    16:00

    This Week in Review: Surveying the online news scene, web-first mags, and Facebook patents its feed

    [Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

    The online news landscape defined: Much of the discussion about journalism this week revolved around two survey-based studies. I’ll give you an overview on both and the conversation that surrounded them.

    The first was a behemoth of a study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism. (Here’s Pew’s overview and the full report.) The report, called “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer,” is a treasure trove of fascinating statistics and thought-provoking nuggets on a variety of aspects of the world of online news. It breaks down into five basic parts: 1) The news environment in America; 2) How people use and feel about news; 3) news and the Internet; 4) Wireless news access; and 5) Personal, social and participatory news.

    I’d suggest taking some time to browse a few of those sections to see what tidbits interest you, but to whet your appetite, the Lab’s Laura McGann has a few that jumped out at her — few people exclusively rely on the Internet for news, only half prefer “objective” news, and so on.

    Several of the sections spurred their own discussions, led by the one focusing on the social nature of online news. GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram has a good summary of the study’s social-news findings, and Micah Sifry of techPresident highlights the sociological angle of news participation. Tech startup guy Dave Pell calls us “Curation Nation” and notes that for all our sharing, we don’t do much of the things going on in our own backyards. And Steve Yelvington has a short but smart take, noting that the sociality of news online is actually a return to normalcy, and the broadcast age was the weird intermission: “The one-way flow that is characteristic of print and electronic broadcasting is at odds with our nature. The Internet ends that directional tyranny.”

    The other section of the study to get significant attention was the one on mobile news. PBS’ Idea Lab has the summary, and Poynter’s Mobile Media blog notes that an FCC study found similar results not long ago. Finally, Jason Fry has some hints for news organizations based on the study (people love weather news, and curation and social media have some value), and Ed Cafasso has some implications for marketing and PR folks.

    A web-first philosophy for magazine sites: The Columbia Journalism Review also released another comprehensive, if not quite so sprawling, study on magazines and the web. (Here’s the full report and the CJR feature based on it.) The feature is a great overview of the study’s findings on such subjects on magazines’ missions on the web, their decision-making, their business models, editing, and use of social media and blogs. It’s a long read, but quite engaging for an article on an academic survey.

    One of the more surprising (and encouraging) findings of the study is that magazine execs have a truly web-centric view of their online operation. Instead of just using the Internet as an extension of their print product, many execs are seeing the web as a valuable arena in itself. As one respondent put it, “We migrated from a print publication supplemented with online articles to an online publication supplemented with print editions.” That’s a seriously seismic shift in philosophy.

    CJR also put up another brief post highlighting the finding that magazine websites on which the print editor makes most of the decisions tend to be less profitable. The New York Times’ report on the study centers on the far lower editing standards that magazines exercise online, and the editing-and-corrections guru Craig Silverman gives a few thoughts on the study’s editing and fact-checking findings.

    Facebook patents the news feed: One significant story left over from last week: Facebook was granted a patent for its news feed. All Facebook broke the news, and included the key parts of Facebook’s description of what about the feed it’s patenting. As the tech blog ReadWriteWeb notes, this news could be huge — the news feed is a central concept within the social web and particularly Twitter, which is a news feed. But both blogs came to the tentative conclusion that the patent covers a stream of user activity updates within a social network, not status updates, leaving Twitter unaffected. (ReadWriteWeb’s summary is the best description of the situation.)

    The patent still wasn’t popular. NYU news entrepreneur Cody Brown cautioned that patents like this could move innovation overseas, and New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson called the patent “lunacy,” making the case that software patents almost always reward derivative work. Facebook, Wilson says, dominates the world of social news feeds “because they out executed everyone else. But not because they invented the idea.” Meanwhile, The Big Money’s Caitlin McDevitt points out an interesting fact: When Facebook rolled out its news feed in 2006, it was ripped by its users. Now, the feed is a big part of the foundation of the social web.

    What’s j-schools’ role in local news?Last week’s conversation about the newly announced local news partnership between The New York Times and New York University spilled over into a broader discussion about j-schools’ role in preserving local journalism. NYU professor Jay Rosen chatted with the Lab’s Seth Lewis about what the project might mean for other j-schools, and made an interesting connection between journalism education and pragmatism, arguing that “our knowledge develops not when we have the most magnificent theory or the best data but when we have a really, really good problem,” which is where j-schools should start.

    An Inside Higher Ed article outlines several of the issues in play in j-school local news partnerships like this one, and Memphis j-prof Carrie Brown-Smith pushes back against the idea that j-schools are exploiting students by keeping enrollment high while the industry contracts. She argues that the skills picked up in a journalism education — thinking critically about information, checking its accuracy, communicating ideas clearly, and so on — are applicable to a wide variety of fields, as well as good old active citizenship itself. News business expert Alan Mutter comes from a similar perspective on the exploitation question, saying that hands-on experience through projects like NYU’s new one is the best thing j-schools can do for their students.

    This week in iPad tidbits: Not a heck of a lot happened in the world of the iPad this week, but there’ll be enough regular developments and opinions that I should probably include a short update every week to keep you up to speed. This week, the Associated Press announced plans to create a paid service on the iPad, and the book publisher Penguin gave us a sneak peek at their iPad app and strategy.

    Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson and tech writer James Kendrick both opined on whether the iPad will save magazines: Anderson said yes, and Kendrick said no. John Battelle, one of Wired’s founders, told us why he doesn’t like the iPad: “It’s an old school, locked in distribution channel that doesn’t want to play by the new rules of search+social.”

    Reading roundup: I’ve got an abnormally large amount of miscellaneous journalism reading for you this week. Let’s start with two conversations to keep an eye on: First, in the last month or so, we’ve been seeing a lot of discussion on science journalism, sparked in part by a couple of major science conferences. This is a robust conversation that’s been ongoing, and it’s worth diving into for anyone at the intersection of those two issues. NYU professor Ivan Oransky made his own splash last week by launching a blog about embargoes in science journalism.

    Second, the Lab’s resident nonprofit guru Jim Barnett published a set of criteria for determining whether a nonprofit journalism outfit is legitimate. Jay Rosen objected to the professionalism requirement and created his own list. Some great nuts-and-bolts-of-journalism talk here.

    Also at the Lab, Martin Langeveld came out with the second part of his analysis on newspapers’ quarterly filings, with info on the Washington Post Co., Scripps, Belo, and Journal Communications. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum drills a bit deeper into the question of how much of online advertising comes from print “upsells.”

    The Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles has a provocative post contending that the distinction between creation and aggregation of news content is a false one — all journalism is aggregation, he says. I don’t necessarily agree with the assertion, but it’s a valid challenge to the anti-aggregation mentality of many newspaper execs. And I can certainly get behind Niles’ larger point, that news organization can learn a lot from online news aggregation.

    Finally, two great guides to Twitter: One, a comprehensive list of Twitter resources for journalists from former newspaper exec Steve Buttry, and two, some great tips on using Twitter effectively even if you have nothing to say, courtesy of The New York Times. Enjoy.

    Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
    Could not load more posts
    Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
    Just a second, loading more posts...
    You've reached the end.

    Don't be the product, buy the product!

    Schweinderl