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

December 15 2010

16:55

Introducing Sourcerer: A Context Management System

If you want to follow the news, the World Wide Web has a lot to offer: a wide variety of information sources, powerful search tools, and no shortage of sites where people can voice their opinions.

At the same time, though, the Web can be overwhelming. Hundreds of links turn up in a Google search. Relevant information can be scattered across dozens of sites. Online conversations often generate more heat than light. And if you have a question about a news topic, it's hard to find the answer.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were a website that made it easier to keep up with and understand the news?

Soon, there could be. Let me introduce you to Sourcerer, a website prototype developed this fall by a team of graduate journalism students, including five Knight "programmer-journalist" scholarship winners.

Sourcerer-homepage-withborder.jpg

Sourcerer is a "context management system" designed to help people learn more about a topic by asking questions, answering them, backing up those answers with links, and navigating through previous coverage via a timeline.

Sourcerer emerged out of Medill's Community Media Innovation Project class, which studied the news and information needs of local audiences and the challenges facing online publishers who want to serve them.

Two of the key problems identified by the students:

  • People who don't follow every twist and turn in an ongoing story -- especially one that has deep historical context, such as the achievement gap between white and minority students in public schools -- have difficulty understanding the context of that story. Others have noted this problem as well: Matt Thompson, now of NPR, has written and spoken eloquently about "how journalists might start winning at the context game."
  • At the same time, in every community, there are knowledgeable citizens who dominate discussion boards and comment threads -- often mixing fact with opinion and intimidating those who want to learn more but are afraid of displaying their lack of understanding by asking questions. The Medill team wanted communities to benefit from the expertise of these knowledgeable citizens while creating an environment where discussion could be organized around facts, not just opinions.

Sourcerer seeks to serve people just trying to understand an issue as well as those who already have that understanding. It could be launched as part of an existing news site, or as a collaboration among multiple publishers covering a community or topic.

While the site is not quite ready for a public rollout yet, let me walk you through Sourcerer's key features:

1) Topics

The Medill team concluded that Sourcerer should be organized around topics, rather than stories. Their first challenge was figuring out how to present a complex topic in a way that is not intimidating to someone who hasn't followed the story before. After testing several approaches with users, the students settled on short summaries of key elements, with bold-face highlights and links to external sites providing background.

Sourcerer-topics.jpg

2) Questions

The second key element of Sourcerer is an interface for people to ask questions about the topic. Like many question-and-answer sites, Sourcerer allows users to "upvote" questions they think are particularly good. Questions with the most votes appear at the top, and a Sourcerer site covering multiple topics would highlight the most popular questions.

Sourcerer-questions-and-clip.jpg

3) Answers and clips

What differentiates Sourcerer from other Q&A sites is the fact that answers can be posted only if the answerer provides a link to source material backing up the answer. A key feature of the site is the News Clipper, which enables users to provide a link and also grab a key excerpt of the linked-to page for insertion into the answer on Sourcerer.

4) Voting and flagging

In addition to "upvoting" questions, Sourcerer users can also render their opinions about the answers. As with questions, users can register a "thumbs up" for answers they approve of. They can also flag answers as opinions rather than facts.

5) The timeline

One of the coolest features of Sourcerer is a timeline constructed out of the articles that are linked from the site. The timeline is built dynamically -- as answerers provide links to source material, the linked-to articles are added to the timeline.

The timeline displays the articles as a series of vertical bars. The higher the bar, the more popular the linked-to article. The timeline also shades the articles based on whether users deem them factual or opinion-based.

Sourcerer-timeline.jpg

The timeline displays the articles in chronological order, left to right. Mousing over the timeline displays the article headline and summary. The beauty of this interface is that it provides an easy way to navigate chronologically through articles published about a particular topic -- even articles published on multiple external sites.

You can get a sense of how Sourcerer works by checking out a screencast prepared by Shane Shifflett of the Sourcerer development team. The other developers were Steven Melendez, Geoffrey Hing and Andrew Paley.

We're looking for sites -- and users -- interested in participating in a beta launch. If you're interested, go to Sourcerer.US and sign up.

If you want to know a lot more about Sourcerer, the class' final report provides much more detail about the site as well as the research that led to its development. The report includes a lot of good advice for hyperlocal publishers about audience research and revenue strategies. The class also produced a separate revenue "cookbook" for hyperlocal publishers.

You can see the students present Sourcerer and their other findings and recommendations here. For even more background and context, check out LocalFourth.com, the blog the students maintained during the class. The "Fourth" is a reference to the press -- the Fourth Estate.

December 01 2010

15:00
Medill Students: Audience Research Should Drive Hyperlocal Revenue Strategy

At the Block By Block "community news summit" in September, operators of locally focused websites came together to share what they knew and learn from their peers. Almost all of them were looking for advice on how to support their sites financially.

Here's a start: "Sustaining Hyperlocal News: An Approach to Studying Local Business Markets," a new report from a team of master's students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The report is the first output -- with more to come -- from this term's "innovation project" class.

"To become financially sustainable, hyperlocal publishers need to make revenue a priority rather than an afterthought," the report says.

The report focuses mainly on approaches to generating online advertising revenue in local communities. It draws on interviews with site publishers as well as audience research and advertiser interviews conducted by the class in our "case study" community: Evanston, Illinois, Medill's hometown.

The starting point, the students contend, is "getting to know your audience ... really getting to know them." The report describes the audience research process undertaken by the class, with suggestions on how hyperlocal publishers can adapt and replicate this research.

Based on an analysis of local advertising in Evanston, the report also identifies business categories most likely to be interested in advertising locally: home furnishing, retail, banking, community organizations, restaurants and professional services. Beyond that, the students conclude that new and growing businesses have different advertising needs than "legacy businesses," which are well-established in their communities.

"Sustaining Hyperlocal News" was researched and written by the class business/revenue team, which was led by Frank Kalman and Jesse Young,one of five Knight "programmer-journalist" scholarship winners enrolled in the class. You can read Frank's take on the report on the class blog, LocalFourth.com

The class will also produce a longer report addressing more of the challenges facing hyperlocal publishing on the web, as well as a website prototype demonstrating new forms of online interaction around local news.

For readers in the Chicago area, the class's final presentation next week is open to the public.  It's  scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, in the Forum (first floor auditorium) of the McCormick Tribune Center, 1870 Campus Drive, Evanston. RSVP here. If you can't attend the presentation, it will be live-streamed (and archived for later viewing) at bit.ly/CMIP2010.

The class is being supported by the Community News Matters grant program. Community News Matters is overseen by the Chicago Community Trust, which initiated the program as part of the Knight Community Information Challenge.


November 23 2010

13:52

Scholarship winner wants to help media "explore new digital revenue models"

When a Knight News Challenge grant made it possible to award journalism scholarships to people with backgrounds in computer science, no one -- not even the first scholarship applicants -- knew what career opportunities would be available to "programmer-journalists."

Five Knight scholars will graduate from Medill in December. Here's the second of a series of posts describing them and their career goals and plans. Other profiles: Geoffrey Hing.

Jesse Young

Jesse Young has worked for two Internet startups in the Bay Area, but he came to Medill in part because of his love for magazines -- the printed kind. He's particularly interested in the challenges of making magazines financially viable online.

In the Medill innovation project class he's currently enrolled in (along with the other four Knight scholars), Jesse is one of the leaders of the business team, which is identifying revenue strategies for hyperlocal publishers. He'd like to do the same for a magazine like Harper's.

"I'm interested in finding ways to help media get back to profitability," Jesse says. "Companies need to explore new digital revenue models that aren't just throwbacks to print."

While at Medill, Jesse reported on the telecom industry, writing about broadband technology, consumer protection and mobile applications.

He and some of his classmates also launched Flood Magazine, a Web site that garnered some attention earlier this month when Jesse showed how easy it was for a technically savvy non-subscriber to bypass the publication's "paywall" barrier.

Before coming to Medill, Jesse earned a degree in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California-Berkeley.  He has worked as a developer and software engineer for MOG and Howcast.

For more information about Jesse, check out his LinkedIn profile.

November 22 2010

17:24

Graduating Programmer-Journalist Wants to Help Underserved Communities

When a Knight News Challenge grant made it possible to award journalism scholarships to people with backgrounds in computer science, no one -- not even the first scholarship applicants -- knew what career opportunities would be available to "programmer-journalists."

One of the first two Knight scholars wrote a guest post for Idea Lab suggesting eight different career paths for people who, as I like to put it, are bilingual in journalism and technology.

Five Knight scholars will graduate from Medill in December.  Here's the first of a series of posts describing them and their career goals and plans.

Hing_cropped.jpg

Geoffrey Hing's goal is to collaborate with people who aren't well-served by media or other information sources get the information they need to make important decisions, improve their lives or better understand their communities. He sees his future not exclusively as a journalist or a software developer but more as an information designer who helps solve problems by drawing on technology, community insight and knowledge, and the multidisciplinary skills of diverse collaborators.

"I am interested in using technology to try to meet the information needs of communities that aren't served or likely to be served by industry," he says.

Projects that have excited Geoff recently include Voces Móviles (Mobile Voices), which enables immigrant workers in Southern California to create and publish multimedia stories from their mobile phones, and Between the Bars, a project at MIT (written about recently on Idealab) that crowdsources the transcription of prisoner letters into blog posts. He is interested in exploring participatory design methods like the ones surveyed in a recent article from the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.

In his time at Medill, Geoff wrote articles on housing issues such as eviction and affordable rental housing, the intersection of race and political power in Chicago, uses of social media for community empowerment and neighborhood conflict across race and age.

He missed doing programming work. "At Medill it was very frustrating not to do more technology development, especially when there were problems that could be solved with a little hacking," Geoff said.

Geoff has has a bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering from the Ohio State University. After graduating, he worked for an Internet service provider, the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project (which provides reading material to prison inmates), and the research technologies department at Indiana University.

Geoff has settled in Chicago and would prefer to stay here. His ideal job would be about one-third programming, one third management and strategy, and one third training or community organizing.

"I would love to be the go-to developer for community-centered media projects in Chicago, especially short-term, fast, agile ones," Geoff says.

You can learn more about Geoff on his Web site, The Reality Tunnel.

November 19 2010

22:24

Graduating "programmer-journalist" wants to help communities underserved by media

When a Knight News Challenge grant made it possible to award journalism scholarships to people with backgrounds in computer science, no one -- not even the first scholarship applicants -- knew what career opportunities would be available to "programmer-journalists."

One of the first two Knight scholars wrote a guest post for Idealab suggesting eight different career paths for people who, as I like to put it, are bilingual in journalism and technology.

Five Knight scholars will graduate from Medill in December.  Here's the first of a series of posts describing them and their career goals and plans.

Hing_cropped.jpg

Geoffrey Hing's goal is to collaborate with people who aren't well-served by media or other information sources get the information they need to make important decisions, improve their lives or better understand their communities. He sees his future not exclusively as a journalist or a software developer but more as an information designer who helps solve problems by drawing on technology, community insight and knowledge, and the multidisciplinary skills of diverse collaborators.

"I am interested in using technology to try to meet the information needs of communities that aren't served or likely to be served by industry," he says.

Projects that have excited Geoff recently include Voces Móviles (Mobile Voices), which enables immigrant workers in Southern California to create and publish multimedia stories from their mobile phones, and Between the Bars, a project at MIT (written about recently on Idealab) that crowdsources the transcription of prisoner letters into blog posts. He is interested in exploring participatory design methods like the ones surveyed in a recent article from the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.

In his time at Medill, Geoff wrote articles on housing issues such as eviction and affordable rental housing, the intersection of race and political power in Chicago, uses of social media for community empowerment and neighborhood conflict across race and age.

He missed doing programming work. "At Medill it was very frustrating not to do more technology development, especially when there were problems that could be solved with a little hacking," Geoff said.

Geoff has has a bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering from the Ohio State University. After graduating, he worked for an Internet service provider, the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project (which provides reading material to prison inmates), and the research technologies department at Indiana University.

Geoff has settled in Chicago and would prefer to stay here. His ideal job would be about one-third programming, one third management and strategy, and one third training or community organizing.

"I would love to be the go-to developer for community-centered media projects in Chicago, especially short-term, fast, agile ones," Geoff says.

You can learn more about Geoff on his Web site, The Reality Tunnel.

September 09 2010

16:30

Columbia, Medill Training New Breed of Programmer-Journalists

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

Roughly two years ago, a group of prominent journalism educators, administrators and academics gathered in a room at Columbia University.

Attendees included Nicholas Lemann, the dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism; Bill Grueskin, the school's dean of academic affairs; Clay Shirky, the noted author, academic and adjunct professor at New York University; Jonathan Landman, who was then a top New York Times editor overseeing the paper's online operations (he's now its deputy managing editor); and Duy Linh Tu, an assistant professor and the director of digital media at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. Notably, the meeting also included representatives from Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

mediashift_edu stencil small.jpg

"It was just a small room with eight or 10 of us talking about how we can work together and combine forces between the engineering school and our school," Tu said. "Part of the reason for it was that so much of journalism is online now ... there is a lot of potential that hasn't even been tapped."

That meeting, along with a lot of other discussions, planning and hard work, eventually led to Columbia's April announcement of a new Master of Science Program in Computer Science and Journalism. The program will kick off in fall of 2011 with an expected first class of roughly 15 people.

As MediaShift contributor Megan Taylor outlined in a post last year, many of today's programmer-journalists got to where they are thanks to self-directed education and hacking together courses and other educational opportunities to build their skills. But the new Columbia program, along with other initiatives, suggests that the next wave of programmer-journalists could be trained in specialized education programs that combine a traditional engineering/computer science degree with a traditional journalism education. Universities are working to either alter existing journalism programs or create new joint degrees to formalize the training of these workers.

Along with the Columbia program, Medill has been graduating programmer-journalists since 2008, and Georgia Tech is also home to a class in "computational journalism" taught by computer science professor Irfan Essa. It bills itself as "a study of computational and technological advancements in journalism with emphasis on technologies for developing new tools and their potential impact on news and information."

Along the same lines, former Washington Post database editor Sarah Cohen is now the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University where her focus is on computational journalism. She recently worked with engineers to create of a new kind of timeline tool built for investigative journalists. Cohen sees a need for programs that bring programming and journalism closer together in order to help change the way newsrooms operate.

"There's a problem with the way things are organized in newsrooms," Cohen said. "Editors are word people and until that changes it will be hard to get reporters to focus on anything but words."

As with any emerging area or discipline, many big questions remain with programmer-journalist degrees. Are there enough people with a background in engineering or computer science interested in pursuing a career that's at least somewhat related to journalism? How many jobs are there out there for graduates? And what role will they ultimately play in journalism?

Altering Journalism Classes at Columbia

One of the basic questions about the new Columbia program is exactly how it differs from multimedia journalism programs and instruction.

Duy.jpg"I've learned by having to do a bunch of interviews and explain the program that a lot of people confuse it with building websites or learning to use Flash," said Tu. "We have a great program that does that. The analogy I like to use is that our students in the digital media class in the regular program use Photoshop or Flash; people in this degree would invent Photoshop."

Here's what Julia Hirschberg, professor of computer science at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science told Wired in the spring:

The IT Department [at a news organization] comes up with software programs that the journalists don't use; the journalists ask for software that is computationally unrealistic. We aim to produce a new generation of journalists who will understand both fields.

Applicants to the program are required to have a bachelor's degree in computer science or the equivalent. As for the journalism side of things, one of the most important qualifications is a passion for news and information.

"Someone asked what kind of programming languages the student will be learning and that's kind of missing the point: They already know the programming languages," Tu said. "They know C and Java -- they are nerds who want to turn their nerd knowledge into developing whatever technologies can help with the creation of journalism or the distribution of journalism."

To make that happen, the journalism school is altering some of its existing courses. The standard entry level reporting and writing class is being rejiggered for students in the dual master's program, but Tu said the students will absolutely learn how to report, even if that's unlikely to be their role in the workforce.

"The course is being revamped with an emphasis on the profession and teaching them how to be a journalist and [to get them] thinking of how they can apply what they just learned about the process of producing journalism to technology and how tech can make that better," he said. "They will learn to be journalists. There's no watching from the sidelines. They will go on their beat and find sources and have to understand that process."

He said graduates could end up in a range of workplace situations: at a news/information startup, as part of an in-house team at a news organization, or part of a team at an information-focused company such as Google.

Medill's Scholarships

Google also came up in a discussion with Rich Gordon, a professor and the director of digital innovation at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He said it was the launch of Google News that got him thinking about the need to create what he calls "bilingual" people who are equally versed in journalism and programming/engineering.

Rich Gordon

That resulted in Medill applying for and receiving a grant from the Knight Foundation to create scholarships for programmers to study journalism at the school. To date, nine students have received the scholarships, of which four have already graduated. They study at Medill for 12 months and exit with a master of science in journalism. Since they already have the programming skills, the focus is on building out their knowledge and journalism skills.

(Full disclosure: Medill is a longtime sponsor of MediaShift, and the Knight Foundation provided funding for MediaShift Idea Lab, where Gordon blogs about the scholarship program.)

"It I can have a really great programmer and make them literate in journalism, or take a journalist and give them some literacy in programming, then that's great," Gordon said. "The more we work on both sides of this gap, the more impact it can have. The premise is that we think it will be interesting to have bilingual journalist-programmers and they will come up with ideas, answers, programs and innovations that someone not equally proficient in both would not."

One similarity between the Medill and Columbia programs is that both are looking for people who already have programming skills. In each case, they say it seems easier to add journalism skills to a programmer, rather than the other way around. Brian Boyer was the first journalist-programmer to graduate from the Medill program, and he's now the Chicago Tribune's news applications editor. He agrees with this approach.

"Not to knock journalism, but I think it's probably easier to teach journalism to programmers than vice versa," he said via email. "It takes years of practice to become great at either, but the tools we use to make journalism -- words, etc. -- are generally accessible to a programmer. Whereas programming concepts are not general knowledge. Of course, we also use phone calls and other human contact to make journalism -- so the programmers do have much to learn."

Gordon said the challenge for these programs is to find programmers with a passion for journalism. After all, they may have to accept a lower salary in the world of news than what's offered to engineers in other industries.

"The biggest challenge is to find programmers for whom this would be a good fit," Gordon said. "All have done quite well in our program. I was dreading picking up the phone and having one of my colleagues say, 'Oh this guy who you admitted just can't hack it.' And that has not happened at all. In fact, it's been the opposite: My colleagues said it's one of best things we've done at Medill. They bring a new perspective to classes."

Future Prospects

The Medill scholarship recipients have so far had no trouble pursuing a career in line with their degree. Boyer has even hired a fellow Medill grad to join him at the Tribune. In another example, two other grads have launched a start-up, Stats Monkey. It remains to be seen where Columbia's grads will end up, but Tu is confident that they will not go wanting for work.

For the educational world, however, the question is whether these kinds of programs should become an essential part of journalism schools, or if they will remain niche programs at a small number of institutions. How many advanced programmer-journalists will be needed in the present and future? Will the tens of thousands of dollars spent by the Columbia grads be worth it in terms of their career prospects?

"The question I have is, is there a market for it?" Gordon said about the intensive dual degree being pitched by Columbia. "I suspect that without significant financial support for students there isn't a market for it. But if there is a market for a two-and-a-half or three-year joint degree ... and if Columbia proves they can make that work, that would be fabulous."

As much as these are academic programs, they are built to graduate students that can have an impact in the workforce. On that point Boyer, the first programmer-journalist to graduate from Medill, seems fairly optimistic.

"In the last six moths, I've run across job descriptions from a number of news organizations -- at several old-school/printy shops, at AP and Reuters, and at the new-wave web-centric non-profit shops like California Watch and Texas Tribune," he said. "This last bunch ought to be especially interesting to the hacker journalist. From what I've heard, they're getting a lot of traction out of their news applications, relative to their written work."

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and the managing editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is founder and editor of Regret the Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review and BusinessJournalism.org. He also serves as digital journalism director of OpenFile, a collaborative news site for Canada. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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

September 03 2010

19:33

Business, Entrepreneurial Skills Come to Journalism School

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

For decades, journalists in mainstream news organizations were shielded from the revenue side of the operation. Many argued their lack of knowledge helped avoid even the appearance of commercial influence in the editorial well. But with increased stress in the news industry and new disruptive technologies giving even entry-level reporters an understanding of audience behaviors and income streams, things have started to shift.

Journalism educators have increasingly been helping students learn the workings of the business side of news. The trend mirrors similar changes in the newsroom. Plus, with many journalists being laid off, having the business skills to run their own media enterprise -- whether it's a blog, podcast or independent news site -- is vital to many more people.

mediashift_edu stencil small.jpg

"It came to be recognized that journalists needed to play more of a role in the future of their enterprises," said Stephen Shepard, who talked to me recently in a phone interview. Shepard is the founding and current dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek magazine.

CUNY's J-school and a raft of other journalism schools and institutes have introduced business courses into their curricula, teaching students to read and create basic financial statements and the principles of media management. They are also launching new training programs for mid-career journalists and editors.

Janice Castro is the senior director of graduate education and teaching excellence at Medill. She told me that at Northwestern University, the Medill School of Journalism and Kellogg business school have cooperated "for a long time" in developing a media management and research center.

Full disclosure: Medill is a longtime sponsor of MediaShift.

janice_castro.jpg

Four years ago, as Medill revamped its curriculum, seats in two courses in media management at Kellogg were reserved for Medill students. Medill graduate students are also required to take either a course in "Audience Insight" or "How 21st Century Media Work," and have the option to take Kellogg classes in finance.

"We think it's really important for students who are going out to operate as journalists to understand the business of media," Castro said. "It's going to help them make better choices in where they're going to work, because they'll be better able to size up the company and its direction and its vision. They'll know more than the brand or the name of a big media organization. They'll be able to assess it."

Students will also better be able to help guide the organization strategically, according to Castro and Shepard. "When you have a student who's graduated and immediately put on the management track at a major media company, that's not something that used to happen," Castro said.

Demand for Entrepreneurial Instruction

There's also increasing demand from students joining or launching startup ventures.

CUNY this month expects to announce the formation of a master's degree program in Entrepreneurial Journalism, further enriching and extending courses offered since the school's inception four years ago.

cronkite.jpg

At the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship" is devoted to the development of new media entrepreneurship and the creation of innovative digital media products," according to its site. (Read this previous MediaShift article about how the school teaches digital media entrepreneurs.)

Retha Hill is the director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Cronkite.
During a lab-focused semester, Cronkite school students "have to think about the business implications of their ideas or the information they are gathering," Hill told me via email.

Even at Columbia University, where school founder Joseph Pulitizer in 1904 wrote that he found the idea of teaching business "repugnant," students are required to learn business principles. All Masters of Science students, about 85 percent of matriculants, take a class on the "Business of Journalism" that was conceived and introduced last year by dean of academic affairs and former Wall Street Journal Online managing editor Bill Grueskin.

The course includes a Harvard Business School case study about a Norwegian media company called Schibsted that moved its business more strongly into digital media; instruction on managing profit and loss in a business; the differences in advertising and circulation revenues; principles of ad pricing; and other business issues.

Grueskin told me via email that the faculty at Columbia overwhelmingly supported the course. In a letter to them, Grueskin wrote that while Pulitzer "went out of his way to exclude business courses from the curriculum," today "journalists are increasingly being called upon to make business models work. We owe it to our students to give them a grounding in that field."

Training Institutes Step In

Training institutes, too, are helping journalists and editors learn business principles.

The Knight Digital Media Center, based at both the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, in May held a week-long "News Entrepreneur Boot Camp."

Full disclosure: Knight Digital Media Center is a sponsor of MediaShift.

Attendees, many of them mid-career journalists, learned disciplines such as business models, building a feasibility plan, customer acquisition and web analytics.

The Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank and training center where I contribute articles and have lectured on business principles, in July named two Ford Fellows in Entrepreneurial Journalism who are mentoring startup initiatives and teaching business disciplines.

Heartening Trend

While some journalism purists may bemoan what they consider fuzzing the lines between "church (journalism) and state (business)," I find the move to integrate business into journalism education encouraging.

It's healthy, I think, that reporters and editors now believe they should understand what it is that brings in the money that goes into their paychecks.

This is not to say they should pander to commercial or financial interests -- and there is certainly a danger as even junior reporters learn how many page views (and by implication advertising impressions) a story they produce garners. One journalism educator told me that even in his "little blog" he considered whether to disrupt the center column with an ad and make more money.

It's always been a balancing act, though, even if the rank-and-file weren't completely aware. At BusinessWeek, "ad placement was always an issue," Shepard said.

That even new J-school graduates now understand some of the struggles is probably a good thing -- as long as they also are grounded in what Shepard called the "professionalism and judgment" to not "cave in all the time to advertising demands in a way that would hurt the reader or viewer."

In the long run, those guiding journalistic enterprises must understand both the editorial principles that over time bring in and maintain a community of readers and participants, as well as the business principles that sustain the operation.

If they can do so successfully, perhaps the new news businesses they are molding and creating can then survive the fate of so many of today's severely stressed news organizations.

A former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA, Dorian Benkoil has devised and executed marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk.

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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

August 11 2010

16:40

Programmer-Journalists Apply Talents to News21 Multimedia Project

Manya Gupta and Andrew Paley are the first Knight "programmer-journalist" scholarship winners to participate in the News21 multimedia reporting project, an initiative in its fifth year that engages some of the nation's top journalism master's students.

The Northwestern University team that Manya and Andrew are part of is focusing on young urban Hispanics and "how they are transforming American politics, media and education now and will continue to do so over the coming decades" said Steve Duke, director of Northwestern's project and associate professor at the Medill School of Journalism.

Gupta, Paley and their teammate Kennedy Elliott are developing the website for the Northwestern project. Paley is building the technical infrastructure and developing a "data wall" with information about Hispanic voting patterns, elected officials, population growth, educational attainment, and more. Gupta is developing graphics and interactive pieces for stories written by her and other News21 reporters.

Here are their reflections on the experience, which wraps up later this month

ManyaGupta-238px-wide-withcaption.jpg

Describe your role in the Northwestern project

Gupta: As a true multimedia journalist, I am reporting and writing a media story, creating the introductory info graphic for the project, building data driven flash packages for two stories and helping in Web design and development of the Northwestern News21 website -- serving as media reporter and web developer.

Paley: Most of my work at News21 has been focused on database-driven, geolocation-specific visualizations that cover a wide array of datasets compiled from the Census, the American Community Survey, NALEO and other sources. The idea is to supplement the team's reporting with a "data wall" that presents the user with a trove of pertinent information based on his/her location -- down as low as the county level whenever possible (when data's available at that level). Beyond that, my work here has also comprised web development, technical assistance on other members' projects, WordPress theme building, and server administration where necessary (in concert with Medill's IT department).

What have you gotten out of the experience?

Gupta: The fact that the Hispanic population is growing at a rapid rate is well-known. But during the course of reporting on my media story and working with other people on different stories, I have learned how the market, institutions and the American landscape are evolving to cater to this audience. I was always interested in web development and creating interactive graphics, but this was the first time that I attempted a data-driven infographic using the Adobe Creative Suite tools. I came up with a simple design and used colors strategically to represent multi-layered data in a clean, accessible format. I am thrilled to have received great feedback on it and have become a more confident designer.

apaley-238px-wide-withcaption.jpg

Paley: I suppose the valuable piece of all of this for me has been the opportunity to continue to work with databased-driven visualization techniques. A lot of what I'm doing now was informed by my prototyping of the American Visualizer project, though I'm now working with a different visualization library (based in Javascript instead of flash).

Other thoughts?

Gupta: I think News21 is a great platform. It not only gave me an opportunity to use my technical and journalism skills in creating some wonderful news pieces, but also further proved to me that today's world of news has several opportunities for programmers like me, who can use their technical skills, learn journalistic skills and blend them all together to create news packages that are appropriate for today's audience.

Paley: It's been interesting to have the experience of working with a team of journalists outside the guided classroom environment. Our experiences in News21 have been largely self-directed on a day-to-day basis -- though the overall topic and focus was chosen by Medill -- and that self-direction has afforded us some room to experiment and collaborate in ways that we might not have had otherwise.

June 16 2010

14:00

Four More "Programmer-Journalists" Reach Halfway Point

Ever since the first Knight "programmer-journalist" scholars enrolled in the journalism master's program at the Medill School, I have checked in with them around the midway point -- and taken the opportunity to introduce them to the Idealab audience.

As we mark the end of Medill's spring quarter, it gives me great pleasure to introduce our largest cohort of Knight scholars ever: Geoffrey Hing, Steven Melendez, Shane Shifflett and Jesse Young. Including Manya Gupta and Andrew Paley, who enrolled before these four, we now have six programmer-journalist scholarship winners here at the same time. All six are accompanying me this week to the Future of News and Civic Media Conference on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Here each of the four gets a chance to answer a couple of questions.

Geoffrey Hing

Geoffrey Hing has a bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering from the Ohio State University. After graduating, he worked for an Internet service provider, the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project (which provides reading material to prison inmates), and the information technology department at Indiana University. He's also a musician whose band -- Defiance, Ohio -- is touring this summer.

Why journalism and why now?

Through my work with non-profits and grassroots organizations, I was always engaged around the news and information in my community.  I felt like many of the roadblocks towards solving community problems that became framed as ideological conflicts were, at their roots, a result of an information gap within the community.  People didn't understand what was happening, how government or institutions functioned, and the stories of different people with different orientations around community issues.  Journalism seemed like one of the fields best positioned to help meet the information needs of communities, and efforts such as the Knight Commission indicated that there was traction for framing the work of journalists beyond traditional news media.

I was also becoming frustrated with my role as a technology maker. I loved coding, but it was often an experience that was isolating from other people and from important things happening in the world.  Through networks such as the Allied Media Conference, I saw that there were exciting possibilities for using technology and technologically-mediated information to engage in the world, but I needed support to move in this direction.

What have you learned so far at Medill?

I've come to appreciate the difficulty in comprehensively reporting complex topics,  not to mention the time and resources that it takes. Personally, it's been really good for me to feel a stronger sense of responsibility for making sure that my understanding, and the understanding that I convey, is as true and complete as I can make it. The process of writing the news has made me realize that many of the things that frustrated me about the mainstream media were driven, not so much by bias, but the limitations of different media (inches in a newspaper, minutes in the nightly news) and making tough decisions about the kind of content that will help a media organization be economically sustainable. 

Steven Melendez

Steven Melendez majored in computer science at Harvard and worked after graduation for a litigation consulting firm, reading source code and writing reports in patent and copyright cases.

What have you learned so far at Medill?

I've certainly honed my writing. I've also improved my multimedia skills, which were pretty much nonexistent before I started here. I'd barely used a video camera and never done any audio or video editing. I'm not an expert in these fields now, and I probably never will be, but it's definitely nice to have some understanding of how things are done. I've also found myself reading newspaper and magazine articles more critically -- paying more attention to how they're arranged, who the reporters spoke to and what kind of information they've chosen to highlight.

What do you think are some interesting career opportunities for people who blend journalism and technology knowledge?

That's a good question, and I'm as curious as anyone about the answer. I think there's going to be tech-intensive work in migrating journalism to new platforms: smartphones, Kindles and iPads. It's harder for me to predict what the journalism-intensive work for people with technical know-how will be. More and more information is becoming available from the government and from the Internet at large, and there are certainly stories to be told if someone can extract them. Exactly how they'll do it and where they'll put what they write, I'll be curious to see.

Shane Shifflett

Shane Shifflett graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a degree in computer science. He then worked for American Century Investments, programming voice-response systems and contact center software.

How did you get interested in journalism?

I've always had a strong interest in writing and telling stories.  Some of my favorite undergraduate classes were English classes.  I gravitated to videogame development because it was a medium where outrageous stories could be told.  So part of my interest comes simply from wanting to tell stories.  Given my interests, experiences and the state of the industry, I feel at home working towards ways to better serve the information needs of society.  On a personal level, it felt like the natural next step; a good way to blend my programming background with purposeful storytelling. 

What have you learned at Medill so far? How has the experience changed your outlook?

I'll spare everyone my soapbox, but since coming to Medill I've learned what incredible feats good journalists are capable of.  Being able to transmute ideas and express concepts in words concisely can be challenging.  To do so honestly and without bias is even harder.   To do it all on a deadline is ... well, it's a lot to ask for, to put it mildly.

I  have come to the realization that it takes a lot of work, and sometimes a lot of risk, to get a good story out.  The news industry isn't something that can be easily replaced by a cohort of bloggers and citizen journalists. A steady paycheck gives reporters the ability to do consistent, reliable work and not have to pander to their audience for approval.

Jesse Young

Jesse Young earned his degree in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California-Berkeley. He worked as a developer and software engineer for MOG and Howcast

How did you get interested in journalism?

It was by pure chance that I came across information for the Knight scholarship through a blog post. I'm not convinced that journalism is dead, nor do I think the iPad is its savior. Now is an exciting time to be in this industry because we will eventually make sense of all this commotion.

What have you learned at Medill?

I've learned that Microsoft Word hasn't changed much since the last time I used it in high school. Though it doesn't crash as often as before, the grammar feature is still pretty broken. Somehow, this makes perfect sense because we've grown so accustomed to its interface that any changes would be anathema.

I think the print industry is a lot like Microsoft Word. It's so deeply rooted in tradition that any adjustments will have to be incremental lest it completely alienate its readers.

What do you think are some interesting career opportunities for people who blend journalism and technology knowledge?

The R&D lab at the New York Times is doing some really cool stuff with new web and mobile designs for its content. Google is also continually improving their news aggregator and experimenting with novel ideas such as Living Stories. I think these sort of jobs will become more common within media and tech companies. But, as always, there will be a demand for good content.

June 15 2010

17:29

Fifth "Programmer-Journalist" Helps Develop Visualization Tool for Census Data

There is probably no government data used more by journalists -- and non-journalists -- than the trove of population and demographic information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. But while the bureau has kept improving its tools for online data access, it's still a challenge for someone not well-versed in the workings of the census to find the most useful information -- let alone identify ideas for a journalistic story.

So when my colleagues and I at the Medill School of Journalism were thinking about interesting data sets that we might make more useful for journalists, the Census was an obvious choice. It seemed like just the right focus for a new, experimental class focused on developing "tools for journalists" and enrolling a mix of journalism and computer science students.

The class -- "Collaborative Innovation in Media and Technology" -- just wrapped up last week, with five interdisciplinary student teams presenting prototypes of tools journalists could use to make Census data more valuable. All of the tools are interesting, and I will likely write more about them in the future, but for today, I want to highlight one of them: American Visualizer.

Andrew Paley

American Visualizer, now in a functional "alpha" form, is worth the attention because it was the most fully realized of the tools created in the class, and because it was developed by a team including Andrew Paley, the fifth "programmer-journalist" attending Medill on a Knight News Challenge scholarship program intended to bring skilled programmers and Web developers into journalism.

Andrew, along with journalism master's student Monica Orbe and computer science student Daniel Kim (and with guidance from Medill Prof. Owen Youngman and Northwestern computer science professors Kristian Hammond and Larry Birnbaum) developed American Visualizer to make it easier to identify interesting stories from the Census.

The site uses information from American FactFinder, the online query tool developed by the Census Bureau to provide public access to its data. American FactFinder, though, is a "data labyrinth," the students said. And even if a user can find his or her way through the labyrinth, the data is delivered in tabular form. Rendering the data graphically -- often the best way to understand its significance -- requires importing the data into a spreadsheet or other software and then creating a graph.

"This tool instantaneously translates data into meaningful information -- from unintuitive and overwhelming collections of American FactFinder tables into immediate, concise and engaging visualizations," Andrew says. "And it does this on demand for whatever geographic region the user wishes.  It also allows for the comparison of two regional datasets."

In its current form, American Visualizer makes 10 different datasets available -- five for general visualizations and an additional five for comparison visualizations. Here are some suggestions for seeing its utility (best viewed with the latest version of the Firefox browser):

  • From the opening screen, enter a city and state and a type of data you're interested in (housing, population by age, population by race, population by gender and population by level of education). Click "Create" to see a graph of this data. (Note: for a big city, the search results can be a bit slow, since at this point American Visualizer aggregates data from multiple zipcodes.)
  • To see other types of visualizations, click on the "Advanced" button in the lower right. Here you can extract data for individual zip codes, compare cities to one another and compare zip codes as well. You can display the data based on raw numbers (for instance, the number of owner-occupied vs. rental units) or based on percentages of the whole. For the comparison of cities and zipcodes, there are additional data sets available: Labor force, mean commute time, median household income, and population below the poverty level.

Technical details: American Visualizer takes advantage of the Open Flash Chart open source visualization library.  Beyond that, the underlying architecture is built on standard and widely available LAMP stack server technologies--mainly PHP and MySQL.

Of course, since this is just an "alpha" release, there are many improvements and enhancements that Andrew and his team want to make: speedier query results; additional data types; user-generated customization of fonts, colors and layout; the ability to embed the visualizations, and a mobile app that would generate data based on the user's geolocation.

"Data alone can tell stories. The problem is that data-only stories can be hard to read," Andrew says. "But pictures, as the saying goes, are worth a thousand words."

This was the third interdisciplinary class Medill faculty members have co-taught with Hammond and Birnbaum -- and the first to focus on tools for journalists. These collaborative classes are conducted under the auspices of the Medill-McCormick Center for Innovation in Technology, Media and Journalism.

The first collaboration, last spring, served as a capstone class for the Medill master's students who participated. In that class, student teams created working prototypes of five products combining journalism and technology. One of them, dubbed "StatsMonkey," which writes baseball game stories from box scores and play-by-play information, has attracted a fair amount of attention. One of the team members who developed StatsMonkey was Nick Allen, one of the Knight "programmer-journalists." Asst. Prof. Jeremy Gilbert and I served as the Medill faculty for this class.

The second collaboration, taught by Gilbert, Hammond and Birnbaum, took place in the 2010 winter quarter and enrolled undergraduate students from the two schools. I haven't written about it here because none of the Knight scholars were involved.

Andrew enrolled at Medill last September and has one quarter of graduate study left at Medill, which he'll complete this fall. This summer, he will be working on News21, a multimedia reporting project involving journalism schools from around the country. (Also working on News21 will be Manya Gupta, the 4th Knight "programmer-journalist" scholarship winner.)

Among our scholarship winners, Andrew is somewhat unusual in that he actually studied journalism before -- as an undergraduate at Saint Michael's College in Vermont. Before coming to Medill, Andrew was a musician and a Web developer, most recently for LongTail Video, best known for its open-source media player.

Learn some more about Andrew in this Q&A:

Tell us about your background.

I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and spent my childhood split between Madison, Wisconsin, and the hills around Burlington, Vermont.

After high school, I went off to Boston to study new media at Emerson College, but the program was in its infancy then -- and I was already becoming versed in web design/development -- so I switched gears/schools.

I ended up back in Vermont at Saint Michael's College, pursuing a journalism degree and a concentration in fine arts. While there, I co-founded, designed and helped launch the first online publication at the school and was a finalist in an international competition to re-imagine Internet browsers. I graduated in 2006, but I hadn't been on campus since 2004, finishing through a protracted series of independent studies that I arranged with key advisors.

My departure from the college campus was due to my other life in music. I spent most of 2004 through 2007 recording and touring the continent (and, eventually, Western Europe in 2009) with my band and through other projects. I continue to write, record and play with a couple of projects.

After many years of itinerant life, I settled temporarily in Brooklyn in 2008 and took a job as lead designer and web developer at LongTail Video. I'd been doing regular freelance and volunteer design/development work for a wide array of companies, bands, non-profits and politics-related entities throughout touring, and the timing worked out.

And then I came back to journalism.

How did you get interested in journalism?

I've always been a political junkie and a writer. It was a natural fit. After a few years away from it I came back because information is a powerful and potentially overwhelming thing, and I'd like to play some part in figuring out how to parse the glut of it growing online into something meaningful and useful. That's really going to be the key going forward -- not just information access, but information clarity and context. Beyond that, I think that the media has been failing us (and our local, national and global debates) for many years, and I'm hoping to be involved in changing that.

What do you think are some interesting career opportunities for people who blend journalism and technology knowledge?

There are all the (newly) traditional places that a tech-oriented person could show up in the newsroom: web producer, database spelunker, interactive designer, etc. But that's an incomplete portrait of the possibilities.

In the same way that creative development and information design have upended much of the old world media -- from Napster to to Bittorrent to YouTube to Twitter to hundreds of other innovations big and small -- I think news is next. And in many cases, the new media barons at the helm of all this innovation came out of literally nowhere. They were 20- and 30-somethings with big ideas and enough development prowess to get them done. That's where the real opportunity for tech-minded people who have a passion for news and information lies -- creative innovation (with both existing tools and those yet to be created).

News is ripe for this kind of directed reinvention, and I think it's already starting to happening with many of the open government and "sunlight" initiatives taking hold online (not to mention the ways those other innovations -- say, YouTube and Twitter -- have altered the way news happens). Pushing forward will require developers to build the new platforms and re-imagine existing ones and journalists to make them meaningful. I would imagine that those who will do this most effectively will be the ones who understand both journalism and technology.

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