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December 30 2011

15:20

The 5 Tenets of Open Journalism

I'm not a middle-of-the-roader and wasn't aiming for a compromise position with my discussion paper, "The Case for Open Journalism Now: A new framework for informing communities," published early this month by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Innovation Lab. Instead, I sought to identify and propel a culture shift that might build a healthier relationship among those who produce journalism and others who consume news and information.

Yet the values and emerging practices I call open journalism stand apart from the polarizing intramural debate on whether quality journalism in the future will come from institutions, information networks or individuals. (Answer: yes.) This intermittent fight, which broke out again following a recent Dean Starkman piece in CJR, forces people into corners. After a recent USC Annenberg event at the National Press Club where I gave a talk on this paper, a young journalism academic told me he hadn't read "The Case for Open Journalism Now" but added, "I'm probably against it -- the whole thing."

Open journalism should be up for debate, like any idea, but it's built squarely on some of the traditional journalism values we're so quick to protect. "Open journalism" just gives it a name and now, a better roadmap for two-way journalism in the digital era (see the five tenets below).

My open journalism idea sees journalism as acts that provide service in the larger context of Internet-era communication. It recognizes that communities gain from skilled and expert journalism (there never has been enough) and that such work has the best hope of success through robust connections to sources, citizens and other contributors in a networked information universe.

Public affairs journalism, especially the time-consuming work of investigative reporting and accountability coverage that relies on accumulated knowledge and expertise, is indeed a public good and must be responsive to those it serves. Those who provide it need to build trust as well as tangible support such as digital subscriptions, e-book payments, organizational alliances, donations or philanthropic grants. In 2012 and beyond, in the communication age that has blossomed post-Internet, such support involves not blind faith but open and active connection.

Explore transparency

Consider the new "Explore Sources" tool unveiled by ProPublica last week as part of a story by Marshall Allen on a Texas woman's efforts to learn how her husband had died. Explore Sources (which readers can turn on or off) allows web viewers to click on highlighted information and view primary source material. News applications developer Al Shaw's blog post explained both the function of the tool and how it was built, concluding: "While Explore Sources is just an experiment, we look forward to finding new ways to use it to make our reporting process more transparent and accountable, and when we can we'll open-source the code so other newsrooms can show their work, too."

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I began my work at USC Annenberg in June intending to focus on how journalism contributes to community engagement in public life and to spotlight experiments that seemed to be working. I quickly learned that Joy Mayer, a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow, was finishing an academic year's work on this topic and that many interesting experiments were too young to assess in any fair way.

Rather than repeat Mayer's work and other recent explorations, I wanted to build on it. Away from the front lines of most mainstream news flow, I found a web-influenced culture responding in new ways to journalism values of serving community needs and making a difference. Peer-level collaboration was sparking invention and problem-solving, especially involving data journalism and investigative methods. Social media tools were enabling more direct dialogue among news providers and their sources, contributors and customers.

In a small but significant number of exceptions to the norm, and in the ideas of a number of writers and practitioners, I glimpsed a nascent but potentially transformative approach to journalism that could build trust and support (moral and practical) for informing communities in key ways amid media upheaval. Alan Rusbridger and The Guardian called their strategy "open journalism on the web."

Open journalism struck me as the right headline for framing journalism as a true public endeavor: accountable, responsible and accessible, like open government or an open kitchen or "Open Leadership," the title of a book by social media consultant Charlene Li.

My experience leading newsrooms in North Carolina and California taught me that ideas need both support and structure to turn into improvements. I wanted not just to argue for direction, but to offer useful guidance to practitioners -- in any size of newsroom, nonprofit or commercial, and to individuals -- on how open journalism can and does work for quality as well as relevance. I highlighted journalism action, not theories, demonstrating creative and often effective new approaches to the core mission of providing timely, accessible and high-quality coverage.

You can find examples and references linked throughout the discussion paper and highlighted in a sidebar element called "100 Ideas, Arguments and Illustrations for Open Journalism." Additionally, I offered "Action Steps for News People" in the five key categories I identified for open journalism to emphasize:

5 tenets of open journalism

  • Transparency: Buzzword or not, this is a contemporary cultural value that connects deeply to journalism tradition. Yet it's a value news providers must more openly embrace in the processes and the presentation of news coverage. For instance, established media sites rest on "brand" and rarely explain their missions or practices. New information and news sites, perhaps because they're introducing themselves and working to build brands, routinely tell users who they are, what their editorial mission is, and how they're funded. The best of them provide easy links to staff at all levels and take the next steps to embracing "show your work" tactics such as posting original data, using blogging to explain how journalism is made, and inviting others to make use of resources. News organizations here and there are opening up or webstreaming news meetings, sharing working story lists, soliciting questions and input, and explaining how corrections are handled.
  • Responsiveness and engagement as central functions rather than add-ons: Open journalism makes newsgathering and dissemination two-way practices that ask and answer questions and invest trust even while expecting to be trusted. This matters for community value but also has benefits as business practice. The Internet has changed the expectations of viewers and readers -- more broadly, customers. Companies learn the hard way about failing to monitor or respond to user input, which now often happens via social media. In this environment, providers of news and information suffer when lines of communication are unmonitored (online story comments being the case in point) or miss opportunities when these lines operate as one-way channels (e.g., here's our story, what do you think?) By seeing engagement as part of newsgathering rather than as link promotion, journalists can pick up on news tips and promising sources and, in turn, make their work more useful by delivering on requests for certain information.
  • Substantive and mutually rewarding participation: The interplay among news providers and others who exchange and supply information gets more attention than other aspects of open journalism and fuels the most debate (over citizen journalism, for instance, a term almost no one likes). Yet notable experiments such as HuffingtonPost's OffTheBus presidential campaign crowdsourcing effort in 2008 (back for 2012) are being joined by a rapidly expanding menu of ways that news and community information sites are tapping contributions and knowledge. On most news sites "user generated content" gets little respect or attention, and again the vandals who troll online comment sites consume far too much of the resources newsrooms have for interaction. We're ready for the next steps in understanding that people want to participate in life, not news sites. Some news sites are improving interaction tools, using forms and other mechanisms to streamline participation and engaging in more active social media dialogue with contributors.
  • Collaboration: This is an overused word, perhaps, because true collaboration is less common than an expanding list of cross-promotion and content sharing. Yet the open-source ideas infecting some newsrooms via the influence of programmers and technology have produced direct benefits for some kinds of journalism. Practitioners working to analyze data and to map and graphically display their findings regularly share knowledge and software via traditional channels (such as Investigative Reporters and Editors) and new ones including the GitHub software website.
  • Networked presence: Information-sharing happens online through many crisscrossing networks, from fan communities and social media to highly specialized knowledge blogs and discussion forums. It also happens in person, often in conjunction with digital community-building. News sites may be where most people, in one way or another, pick up headlines and traditional news, but other networks supply a vastly greater variety and style of information. By understanding the greater context and looking for ways to carry out their service missions, news providers can make an important leap forward from the gatekeeper role that defined journalism for so long. The next conceptual leap involves community-level collaboration around the goals of information as a service.

"The Case for Open Journalism Now" is one of the first "Future of Journalism" efforts by the Annenberg Innovation Lab, built as a simple website with a response function. Please add your thoughts, criticism and links. However far the Internet has taken us already, those who believe in quality journalism as public service have only begun to comprehend the opportunities ahead.

The only thing certain is that we're building journalism's future now through our actions and our omissions. I prefer the former.

Melanie Sill is the Executive in Residence at the USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. Before joining USC Annenberg Sill was senior vice president and top editor at the Sacramento Bee in California and The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. Raised in Hawaii, Sill earned her journalism degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1993-94.

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March 15 2011

22:16

Why Missouri's J-School Should Rethink Its Approach to Twitter

Do you check the official Twitter feed for the Missouri School of Journalism on a regular basis? Probably not, based on its dismal number of followers.

As of today, the official Twitter account of Mizzou's J-School had just 630 followers. That is a far cry from most other top journalism schools and a negative reflection on our own.

How does the Mizzou J-School Twitter feed compare to other journalism schools? Well, let's look at how many people follow the Twitter accounts of a randomly selected sample of top undergradate and graduate J-Schools across the country:

* Columbia University: 5,624
* Arizona State University: 4,893

* University of Southern California: 3,826

* University of North Carolina: 3,047

* Northwestern University: 2,312

* New York University: 1,988

* University of California - Berkeley: 1,107

* University of Kansas: 549

* University of Illinois - Urbana: 301

Why Twitter Matters for J-Schools

As students at the Missouri School of Journalism, we're familiar with the J-School's reputation as one of the top journalism schools in the country. For years, Mizzou has sat comfortably at the top, alongside universities such as Columbia and Northwestern. But because we are a school that prides itself on innovation in online media, why is it that our Twitter efforts are lacking?

At least we have more followers than arch-rival Kansas... but not by much. And that's important: The number of followers is the most objective way to measure the value of the content one posts on Twitter. Simply put, the Missouri School of Journalism does not have many followers because it is not posting enough valuable information.

A quick look at the Missouri Journalism School's feed reveals that its tweets are made up entirely of press releases. They're about J-School students and professors winning awards and other news that boosts the school's reputation. This information is important to include, as Twitter is a great public relations tool. At the same time, press releases can be boring, and unless one is mentioned or knows someone who's mentioned in the release, most people on Twitter won't bother to read them -- or, it turns out, follow @mojonews.

Plus, the feed has had a measly 15 tweets since the Spring 2011 semester began, so Mizzou students can hardly count on Twitter to keep up with the happenings in the J-School. Maybe that's why just a month and a half after we began publishing J-School Buzz, a blog about the Missouri School of Journalism, our Twitter account already has 931 followers, about 300 more than the journalism school's.

How Other J-Schools Are Using Twitter

Columbia Journalism School uses its Twitter feed to remind students of workshops and lectures as well as to publicize content that its students have published. It even engages in conversations with students, sometimes @ mentioning them and responding to their comments. Its Twitter presence is friendly, interesting and consistent, with about two tweets per day.

The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications has a similar approach. It also retweets students and other UNC accounts on a regular basis. One can read tweets about upcoming events, view students' work and even find links to internship and job opportunities.

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The University of Southern California's Annenberg School has one of the most conversational Twitter accounts I saw, with an average of 10 tweets per day. It uses the hashtag #ascj, for Annenburg School for Communication and Journalism. Students, alumni and professors have joined in, so it's easy to communicate. They even encourage prospective students to use the #ascj hashtag to chat with current J-School students.

New York University's J-School does such a good job of filling their Twitter feed with interesting content that it took me a full five minutes of scrolling through tweets to find an actual press release.

More than just Content

Of course, the relationship between Twitter followers and the quality of content or interaction is not a direct one, as the millions who've read @charliesheen can attest.

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In the case of J-School Twitter accounts, the size of a J-School program or its location may matter.

But look at Columbia University: Its graduate program has only 400 students. By comparison, Mizzou's J-School has a combined 2,300 journalism students in its undergrad and graduate programs. Yet Columbia's Twitter feed has about nine times as many followers.

Of course, Columbia benefits from being located in America's largest city, so it's likely that it has a following in the community beyond its Morningside Heights campus. That's certainly not the case for UNC's J-School in cozy Chapel Hill, which had a population of only 54,492 people in 2007. @UNCJSchool has thousands more followers on Twitter than the University of Missouri, despite Mizzou's location in Columbia (2010 population: 108,500), a city nearly twice the size of Chapel Hill.

A Twitter Model for J-Schools

Like many other typical college students, checking my Twitter account is one of the first things I do when I sit down at my computer. And because we spend so many of our waking hours (and some of our non-waking ones) in the J-School, it's only natural to expect more communication from it.

I want to visit @mojonews and find links to students' work, reminders about club meetings, and announcements of speakers and films being shown in the J-School. These are the kind of tweets we feel obliged to send out at J-School Buzz because @mojonews does not. I want to see links to relevant news stories and other content that students would find helpful and interesting. The Mizzou J-School should be using social media not just as a mouthpiece for its own achievements, but also as a learning tool for students.

Suzette Heiman, director of planning and communications for the Missouri School of Journalism, maintains the J-School's Twitter account. Heiman says the account is used primarily as a publicity tool. And while including more information on Twitter is a good idea, it's more complicated than it sounds.

"It's a matter of how it's going to be monitored, and having proper organization," said Heiman.

Currently, J-School students receive relevant news and information via email. Heiman says for the foreseeable future, that system will remain in place.

How do you think the University of Missouri School of Journalism can better use its social media? Let us (and the J-School) know in the comments below, or better yet, tell them yourselves on Twitter.

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Jennifer Paull is a senior at the University of Missouri, majoring in convergence journalism and minoring in psychology. She is also the social media editor for J-School Buzz. While journalism is her first love, after graduation she plans to pursue her masters degree in school counseling.

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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.

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March 09 2011

20:30

From Argo to R&D: Vivian Schiller’s legacy of innovation at NPR

With the departure of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller today, and the January resignation of Senior VP for News Ellen Weiss — not to mention threats of the loss of government funding that have been escalating in the past couple of months — things look like they could be pretty scary for NPR at the moment.

In the wake of all of this turmoil, though, it’s worth taking a look at Schiller’s and Weiss’s legacy. Under their leadership, NPR has been doing things that have been helping to set the standard for innovation across the industry — in broadcast and beyond.

I say this after being involved with NPR on the research end since 2008, after the Knight Foundation gave NPR $1.5 million to retrain 400 digital journalists, and gave USC $2.4 million and UC Berkeley $2.8 million to help the transformation happen. I worked with Knight Digital Media Center head Vikki Porter and USC professor Patricia Riley in studies of NPR that included field research, interviewing, and leadership workshops at USC.

Here are some of our findings about NPR under Schiller and Weiss:

• Continued audience growth, not just on traditional airwaves, but in on demand forms, such as through podcasting and streaming radio
• Exposure of large numbers of staff to multimedia training and digital news concepts
• The incorporation of digital news staff into the traditional radio newsroom
• The relaunch of the NPR website
• The opening of the NPR API for programmers and anyone else to experiment with — making it possible for a volunteer firefighter, who happens also to be an NPR fan, to create a streaming mobile app called NPR Addict
• The development of an active social media team, which can both create social media content from NPR and also harness everything from audience Flickr efforts to user comments
• The willingness to experiment with an in-house social media platform on NPR’s community page
• More followers on Facebook — 1.5 million at the moment — than any other media organization, Schiller has said
• The expansion of the NPR brand beyond radio to include visuals (such as flash graphics), video, photography, and — a challenge for any radio or broadcast organization — text
• The active presence of NPR Labs, an R&D team inside NPR that can bake new ideas into initiatives throughout the news organization and at other public radio stations
• The launch of project ARGO, a network of public radio digital sites, which represents a commitment by NPR not to leave member stations in the lurch as it moves forward

Now let’s take a look at the outlook for NPR, something I heard articulated by Schiller when she spoke at USC in November:

• NPR understands that its mission is to increase “interactivity,” as Schiller put it, and to be “more respectful of citizens” in its work — to continue, as she put it, to “put the audience first”
• NPR will continue to give people context and avoid tabloidization
• NPR wants to compete in new ways with other news outlets through new technology
• NPR wants to address the fact that “not all listeners are invited to the party” and to focus on making it more inclusive
• NPR wants to give people on-demand content
• NPR has a goal of “transparency through new technology” — an openness to giving people everything from access to its API to the ability to share and comment and provide feedback

In all of this, there has been something of a revolving door that never stopped in the plans for making NPR an innovator in digital news. In 2008, Ken Stern, NPR’s CEO, left the organization, in part because, some say, his vision for NPR digital news didn’t do enough to include member stations. Maria Thomas, Senior VP for Digital Media also left. Jay Kernis, the Senior VP for Program (and one of the creators of Morning Edition) departed, as well.

But in came fresh blood, such as Kinsey Wilson, who moved from USA Today to become the general manager of digital media, and NPR executive editor Dick Meyer, who helped Schiller and Weiss build their vision.

You can look to NPR’s work just over the past week to see that vision brought to life. And anyone who has been paying any attention to the uprisings in the Middle East knows that NPR is not just a radio station; it has become a curator for information around the world, thanks to Andy Carvin (@acarvin) and his efforts to curate for the rest of us the on-the-ground efforts.

NPR has been hailed by many media activists, scholars, and generally anyone concerned with the future of news as a model for both innovation and for quality reporting. The Downie and Schudson report from late 2009, for instance, praised NPR’s new website as well as its growing audience and its capacity to do journalism on a local, national, and international level — in a comprehensive way that few news organizations still can.

The question is whether all of this progress can continue, given today’s shakeup. But if all the revolving doors haven’t stopped NPR so far, it’s possible to continue to think that it will keep moving forward.

December 09 2010

19:15

J-Schools Shift from Learning Labs to Major Media Players

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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.

In June 2006, I published "On Behalf of Journalism: A Manifesto for Change." It examined nine propositions likely to have an effect on the future of journalism, and culminated in a number of recommendations. They focused on the role of corporations, the rise of not-for-profit media, the responsibilities of journalists, the role of government and of the public, and what was called (rather lamely, it seems in retrospect) "new forms of media."

Over the ensuing years, I have reexamined the Manifesto in light of the fast-moving changes in media and -- most recently -- with an eye toward what it might offer journalism education. (You can read my latest version of by downloading this PDF. The 2008 version is also available here in PDF.)

In pondering this new application for the Manifesto, I am struck by how powerfully two of its themes in particular resound in the world of journalism education. First, as legacy media are hollowed out by the collapse of their economic model, educational institutions are playing a far more powerful role in helping to meet the information needs of the public.

Second, the journalism academy is a key player in the search for new economic models for journalism. A myriad of new economic possibilities has appeared, from micropayments, pay walls and search-related advertising to methods that enable news consumers to opt-in to pay.

A Greater Role for Non-profits

Perhaps the most striking change for journalism schools is the degree to which we have shifted from being learning labs whose actual journalism (if any) was limited in its distribution and impact, to being significant -- even major -- media players in our communities. This is not to ignore substantial local news outlets such as at the Missouri School of Journalism, which has long operated in Columbia, Mo., on television, radio, newspaper and magazine platforms. Nonetheless, it is clear that in journalism schools across the United States major projects are increasingly making substantial contributions toward filling the holes left by the hollowing out of local "legacy" media.

In their October 19, 2009, report, "The Reconstruction of American Journalism," Len Downie (former executive editor of the Washington Post) and scholar Michael Schudson cataloged numerous ways in which colleges and universities are contributing to independent local news reporting, from the southern Florida alliance of newspapers using work from Florida International University to Northeastern University students' investigative reports appearing in the Boston Globe.

Screen shot 2010-12-09 at 9.26.18 AM.pngSimilarly, the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is a partner, along with the New York Times, in the Bay Citizen, whose content appears in the Bay Area edition of the Times. New York University's collaboration with the New York Times, The Local - East Village, appears on the newspaper's website and includes coverage of the university's immediate neighborhood.

In a speech at our school, USC Annenberg, Schudson said that "more journalism schools are going into the business of actually producing journalism." Our work mirrors several of the above-mentioned models. Neon Tommy, the voice of Annenberg Digital News, is our own web-based report, including content from classes (on science, for example, or religion) original work from the Neon Tommy staff (revealing swine flu deaths covered up by county officials) and collaborations with KPCC and with the Los Angeles Times in its Homicide Report, which focuses on documenting the lives of murder victims. Other projects have been completed in collaboration the Center for Investigative Reporting and California Watch, and appeared in the Los Angeles Times, KQED and newspapers across California.

Increased Role for Schools

So, a great deal of work is being done by journalism schools in meeting the public's need for high quality information. But what are the particular contributions of the academy? We are seeking to answer that question, too, at USC Annenberg. For example, a project based in the city of Alhambra seeks to identify how a community incorporating different language groups can come together to solve civic challenges. The Alhambra Source is a community news website that aims to bolster civic engagement in measurable ways. Researchers, led by professor Sandra Ball-Rokeach, worked in Alhambra for two years before building a site tailored to the community's specific information needs. Among the program's goals is to build a model for local media outlets in ethnically diverse communities.

"Reproducing some of the journalism of the past is not necessarily a high value activity for J-schools," said Donica Mensing, associate professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. "For this work to have value, the standards, organization, editing and networking of new models must be incorporated into the creation and distribution of the journalism. We owe it to students and to the health of the discipline to push for new skills and mindsets for the future, and avoid absorbing all energy into reproducing work we already know how to do."

Interestingly, this increased role for journalism schools -- providing more journalism to a public ever more in need of information in the public interest, while having a greater impact, more notice and more influence -- raises its own questions for the university. How do you report "without fear or favor" from within an institution that emphasizes collegiality and must balance such contending interests as protecting student privacy, raising money and burnishing community relations? Independence is one of the central values of ethical reporting. Carving out that independence within the university will not come easily.

Economic Support for Journalism

News corporations have experienced substantial economic shock, with several newspaper companies in bankruptcy, many newspapers having folded, and the remaining ones undergoing round after round of severe cuts. Yet the need for those who provide the news to keep an eye primarily on the public interest has not gone away; rather, it has been distributed. There are now multitudes of news providers. How they do their work, and what principles they hold dear, continues to matter greatly.

This opens two interesting arenas for journalism schools. One is the need for research on new economic models to supplement -- some would say replace -- the models that have been collapsing as the barrier to publication has fallen and new ways of advertising have arisen. This is a center of significant activity in the journalism academy. The City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism has a New Business Models for News Project under the leadership of Jeff Jarvis that conducts experiments and research about revenue possibilities for news.

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Similarly, Arizona State University's Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, directed by Dan Gillmor, seeks to teach ASU students entrepreneurial thinking and skills for the new media environment they'll be entering.

At USC, our research and experimentation has led us in several directions. We joined with the Knight Foundation to bring to Los Angeles the Spot.us model born in the Bay Area, which seeks to test the notion of crowdfunded journalism. Another important part of the equation is foundation support. Annenberg's Center on Health Reporting is funded entirely by the California HealthCare Foundation. Being part of a foundation-funded start-up provides invaluable experience in the challenges of protecting journalistic independence in this very different funding environment.

Moving from experimentation with new funding models to creating an environment of entrepreneurship for our students, we ran last summer a two-week, fellowship-supported experiment in collaboration with USC's business and engineering schools, bringing together our own journalism students with students from those two disciplines to develop news applications for mobile phones.

Meanwhile, Annenberg has also launched an Innovation Lab, supported by corporate contributions, enabling the research and development of new ways of providing information and new ways of supporting it.

As this new world of widely varying funding models emerges, new ethical challenges arise. The journalism academy will be essential to solving these effectively. For example: It is widely agreed that a key ethic of the new media environment is transparency. If news consumers can identify the sources of funding, for instance, of a given information outlet, they have an invaluable piece of information in judging its credibility.

Yet J-Lab's Jan Schaffer said recently that she is finding many foundation funders reluctant to be cited publicly as supporters of these new media outlets. Clearly new media forms require new ethical formulations, and the academy has a role here. The University of Wisconsin-Madison recently sponsored a symposium on ethics that included a look at donors, non-profit journalism and new investigative models. It issued a report on ethics for the new investigative newsroom. (See the PDF link within the preceding URL).

Conclusion

My review draws one clear conclusion: In the old media world, with its top-down monopolistic configuration, the problems were there to be solved by a relatively few people operating in a rigid environment. Most of those challenges are pretty much the same: It's a constant struggle to keep the public's information needs at the center of our thinking. It's unclear how we will pay for high-quality journalism. Those doing journalism (or in any way serving the public's information needs) must be held accountable.

But if the problems remain identical, they now rest in the hands of multitudes. For good and for ill, the old challenges are newly distributed throughout the population, and the solutions -- if and when they come -- will come from the many rather than the few. It's a more unsettling prospect than the familiar world of controlling monopolies and rigidly fixed patterns. It is also, in my view, a more promising one.

Geneva Overholser is a professor and director of the journalism school at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Previously, she held the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting for the Missouri School of Journalism, where she was based in the school's Washington bureau. She was editor of the Des Moines Register from 1988 to 1995, where she led the paper to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. While at the Register, she also earned recognition as Editor of the Year by the National Press Foundation and was named "The Best in the Business" by American Journalism Review.
She has been a columnist for the Columbia Journalism Review and frequent contributor to Poynter.org. She is co-editor, with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, of the volume "The Press," part of the Oxford University Press Institutions of American Democracy series.

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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.

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August 20 2010

17:27

Stroome Helps Journalists Collaborate via Online Video Remixing

This post was co-authored by Nonny de la Peña

Stroome, a winner of the 2010 Knight News Challenge grant, fosters a social network that allows journalists to collaborate together by sharing content and stories that can be edited right in a browser and then pushed across the web.

Prototyped at USC Annenberg's pioneering Online Program on Online Communities in the fall of 2008, the idea was strikingly simple: Create a place where journalists can efficiently work together to create a culture that offers accurate, contextual news in real-time.

The result was Stroome, an online video editing platform crossed with a social network that allows you to upload, edit, and share thousands of clips from different users. In short, the perfect toolset for journalists aspiring to retool in the digital age. Learn more in the below video:

Knight News Challenge: Stroome from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Why Stroome? Why Now?

Anyone who has tried to work on a video project in which the stakeholders are in geographic locations knows the problems inherent in online collaboration. File transfer slows down the process; there are breakdowns in communication; the flow of critical information is often lost in the mix.

Stroome breaks that technological and communication bottleneck by offering revision histories and intuitive, collaborative editing tools that allow individuals and groups work together for the good of the whole to foster a supportive culture that can quickly produce accurate news stories.

Stroome not only enables the next generation of digital journalists to upload and edit content right in the browser but, more importantly, allows stakeholders in disparate locations to create a community around that content -- from small groups to national news outlets.

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Whether it's a small group of journalists working to get out a story quickly, or a community remixing pieces to reflect their points of view, Stroome focuses on visual journalism as a participatory process. Our unique browser-based platform allows you to upload, edit, and share thousands of clips from different users in real-time. Then you can push your projects out across the web to the major social media sites or share them on Stroome with other users so that they can open and edit your clips, too.

But the real breakthrough is that by publishing content quickly and allowing diverse geographic communities to communicate, we believe Stroome will rejuvenate the relationship between a news organization and its audience by radically increasing responsiveness with an inexpensive, agile online solution.

But don't count out the satellite trucks just yet. We fervently believe participatory video is the future of visual storytelling on the web, and we are devoted to trying to use the technology to support the idea that content creation can be a communal experience instead of merely a tool for passive viewing. But we also recognize that what we are asking will require a significant shift in thinking.

The Future of News is Digital

For us, that shift begins today. Over the next few weeks, our team will be working with local news outlets to set up a series of beta experiments in which the Stroome platform will be implemented in the field and in the classroom. So if you have a unique case study you'd like to test, email us info@stroome.com.

January 28 2010

05:01

Separation of news and state? How government subsidies buoyed media

For those who think government support of journalism is just something they do in Europe — or that talk of state subsidies are new to this particular downturn — a new report from USC Annenberg is a useful corrective.

The study, set to be unveiled today, carefully illustrates that the separation of news and state has never been particularly strong — that for most of American history, journalism has been heavily subsidized by federal and state government. The public support, including tax breaks, postal subsidies and public notice requirements have meant billions for the industry.

But the troubles in the news business have coincided with a continued drop in government subsidies. Postal subsidies alone, for example, were worth $1.97 billion in the mid 1960s (in 2009 dollars). Today, those subsidies are worth $288 million — a 75 percent drop. Victor Navasky, longtime publisher of The Nation, reports that a recent postal fee hike hiked the magazine’s mailing costs $500,000 a year, at a time when the magazine was already losing more than $300,000 annually. In 2000, public notices were worth an estimated 5 to 10 percent of community newspaper revenue; now that era is ending, as cash-strapped state and local governments turn to the web to publish themselves.

The report’s authors, Geoffrey Cowan and David Westphal, laid out some guidelines for thinking about how government can help journalism today:

— Avoid the urge to harm the current round of innovations by artificially propping up the old model.
— Let innovation run its course, then promote that innovation, as government has done in the past for other technologies.
— Last, make sure the help is content-neutral, like tax breaks and postal subsidies. (As evidence from other countries has shown, giving government too much leeway in who to help leads to unfortunate levels of government friendliness.)

I spoke with Westphal Wednesday when he was on his way to Washington for the report’s unveiling at the National Press Club. Here’s an edited version of our conversation about the report, the relationship between government and the news, and what government should be doing to help the industry.

What was the impetus for the study? What made you think to look into government and the news?

The obvious underlying factor is the realization that the news business is in search of revenue, a new revenue model — and in search of funding. So we were thinking about the ramifications of that, but we were also thinking about the various ways the news has been funded historically. Geoffrey Cowan is my colleague at USC and former dean at Annenberg and has been interested in this arena for some time, about government’s role historically and currently in funding the news. He thought it would be both interesting to explore that and to just ask the question: Is there a role now for government, just as there have been times in our history from the very beginning?

In the report, you refer to a quote from Mizell Stewart III of the Evansville Courier & Press: ”Take money from the government? I don’t let anyone else pick up the check.” What do you say to someone who says “no bailout for journalism”? What is your pitch?

The idea that government and the press should remain separate is a very, very powerful notion in American culture. It’s a view that’s very widely held. Is that likely to change with this report? No. We don’t expect a massive sea change. We don’t take issue with someone who says, whatever the history has been, I don’t think going forward that the government should be involved. We don’t argue with that. That’s an entirely legitimate position to hold.

What we think doesn’t work is to say there has always been a church/state kind of separation between the government and the press. There just hasn’t. In fact, there are interesting ways that the government’s funding of the news plays against some stereotypes. A common statement about government and press is: How can the citizens trust the press to cover government when it’s being partially funded by government? Well, in fact, Americans do trust public broadcasting, which is, in the aggregate, funded 40 percent by government of all kinds, much more than the commercial press, which has less government subsidy. There are, in some ways, what we think of as mythologies abut the relationship between the government and press. To the extent that there can be a re-framing, we think it’ll be in the area of understanding about what our history has been.

What was the most interesting historical finding in the report?

I think probably, in each case of the areas we studied, it was crystallizing the dimensions of government involvement in fairly specific ways — very specific ways in postal subsidies and state and federal tax breaks, less so for public notices. It’s clear, though, that public notices involve hundreds of millions of dollars — probably in the $1 billion range.

You take those three categories and you’re probably pushing $4 billion in various kinds of government support. I was aware of each of these, but I was unaware of the size — the collective size. When we’re adding those three up — I should note, that most of the postal subsidies have gone away — but there was a time when you look at it in today’s dollars that you had in the late ’60s, you had the government putting that amount of money into the commercial news business.

At the end of the report you have a list of guidelines. If you were to follow those guidelines yourself, and you were in some policy making capacity, what would you do?

To me, the most important of those is number two — it’s innovation. That’s where government has traditionally been the most successful. Often times, it’s been sort of an accident that its success in technology innovation, for example, has had huge implications for the news business. The federal government’s role in creating the Internet would be an example. This was thought of as a university research kind of thing. I doubt if there were ideas at the time that it would have this impact on the commercial news business. Investment in infrastructure, such as the telephone system that the federal government helped build out, especially in rural areas. Inventions such as the satellite technology that has allowed us to have the kind of telecommunications and movement of information that we have today. Those are the areas that government has traditionally played the most helpful role and I think that would be our guiding star in that framework we set out.

Photo of graffiti by Wally Gobetz used under a Creative Commons license.

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