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August 30 2010


How journalism schools are teaching social media

PBS Mediashift is running a special series called Beyond J-School, taking an in-depth look at journalism education in the digital age.

The series was kicked off by a piece I wrote on how to teach social media at journalism schools:

Teaching social media is more than showing students the mechanics of Twitter. Rather, they should learn how to build a network of relevant followers and how to interact with them to be a better journalist.

In the classroom, we need to stress that social media technologies do not just offer journalists new ways of doing old things. They offer the potential to explore new ways of telling stories, of collaborating and connecting with audiences, of rethinking how we do journalism.

The article looks at how journalism professors are incorporating social media in the curriculum within an academic environment where the pace of change is slow. It includes practical examples of how educators are engaging with students.

The full piece is on PBS Mediashift.


How to Teach Social Media in Journalism Schools

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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.

Editor's Note: This is the first in our special series at MediaShift, "Beyond J-School," where we will take an in-depth look at the state of journalism education and training in the digital age. Look out for more articles all this week and next.

Social media is such a new phenomenon that it is easy for someone to claim to be an expert in the subject. A search on Twitter throws up all sorts of people claiming to be social media gurus. But at journalism schools, professors are working out how to teach social media to ensure that graduating students are proficient, if not expert, in this new addition to the curriculum.

Students use social media in their daily lives, with Facebook an almost permanent fixture on the computer screen. Yet they tend not to think about social media as part of their professional toolkit as journalists.

If anything, anecdotal evidence suggests that students are resistant to adopting social media, seeing it as a personal activity, rather than as part of their work as a journalist. The pressure is on educators to demonstrate the professional value of social media.

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The first step is working out what we mean by social media. After all, there has also been a social aspect to media, whether it was people discussing last night's TV in the office or clipping a newspaper article to send to a friend. But there is something new about services such as Facebook, Flickr and Twitter that let people connect, create, share and mash-up media.

European researchers Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content."
In other words, digital technologies that empower users to interact with each other, and participate and collaborate in the making of media, rather than just consuming media.

Clearly there is more to social media in the classroom than technology. Central to teaching social media is providing an understanding of how these digital tools affect the way students actually do journalism. The issue for many journalism schools is incorporating social media into an established and packed curriculum, within an academic environment where the pace of change is slow.

Lessons in best practices

The question of how to teach social media in a way that enhances journalism reverberated at a meeting of hundreds of journalism educators from across North America. The annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) in Denver provided a platform to discuss ideas on social media in the classroom. In a sign of the growing recognition of social media, the AEJMC even organized a competition for educators to share some of their best practices for incorporating social media into the classroom. (Read MediaShift's previous coverage of the AEJMC conference here.)


One idea mentioned by several speakers at the AEJMC conference was the value of incorporating social media into beat reporting. There are various ways that this can be done. Students can use Twitter to monitor the community chatter on issues in their beats through hashtags. They can also identify and follow key people connected to their beat.

But students also need to understand how to assess the stream of information on social media. Real-time services such as Twitter have established themselves as primary sources for breaking news, so it is important to teach students to critically measure and check the validity of information.

Social media is one way of introducing students to the notion of journalism as a conversation. The key lesson here is that these tools are not just another channel to distribute the finished story. Social media can help journalists reach out to audiences, seeking ideas for stories and fresh perspectives on stories they are working on.

One of the challenges here is teaching the different norms and practices on different social media services. For example, just posting a message seeking information is frowned upon. Instead, students are encouraged to be active on social media, showing they are contributing to the conversation rather than just taking.

Reputation Management

Social media blurs the line between the personal and the professional, so another important lesson is how to build and manage your online identity. Serena Carpenter at the Cronkite School at Arizona State University has students use Google themselves to research their online identity. She has found students are encouraged to adopt social media when they see themselves appear high up on Google.

In a variation of this, I have students Google each other to find out something they didn't know about their peer. The aim of the exercise is to make students aware of how future employers might see them.

The next stage is teaching students how to manage their reputation and establish their credibility. Prof. Carpenter has students complete their bio on numerous sites such as LinkedIn and Google Profile using the same photo, credentials and web links.

Social media has also been used for student-centered learning, for example, to educate students about the strengths and weaknesses of online collaboration. Bob Britten of West Virginia University used Google Maps for students to work together to map retirement homes in the area.

Rather than lecture students on the credibility of Wikipedia, Gary Ritzenthaler, a PhD student at the University of Florida, created a wiki for students to collaborate on study notes for an upcoming test. By participating, the students learned about collaborative writing but also became aware of questions about the credibility of content produced by others.

Thinking About Social Media

Practicing social media is not enough in an academic environment. There has to be a place for student reflection on what they have learned, explaining their understanding of social media. Students should have set out their goals for the use of social media and demonstrate they can assess the most appropriate platforms and services.

Teaching social media is more than showing students the mechanics of Twitter. Rather, they should learn how to build a network of relevant followers and how to interact with them to be a better journalist.

In the classroom, we need to stress that social media technologies do not just offer journalists new ways of doing old things. They offer the potential to explore new ways of telling stories, of collaborating and connecting with audiences, of rethinking how we do journalism.

Photo of AEJMC panel by Hunter Stevens via AEJMC News

Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and journalism educator. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

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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 19 2010


Social Media, Entrepreneurship Dominate AEJMC 2010

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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.

The problem with five jam-packed days of panels and events is that you can't do it all. Presentations and business meetings for the 93rd annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), which was held in Denver earlier this month, ran concurrently from 7 a.m. until, for some, after midnight. I hustled from my booth in the exhibit hall to sit in on sessions across the different groups, but especially to eavesdrop on discussions among attendees and peek over their shoulders as they tapped silently on their iPhones. Below are five key messages I overheard in Denver.

1. Boots on the Ground

"I have to be on the ground, witnessing events with my own eyes ... [War reporting] is not just a cocktail party -- you can't just drop in." - Anne Garrels, former foreign correspondent for NPR

Garrels commanded the room during a keynote address that saw her recount harrowing experiences during her six years as an embedded journalist during the Iraq War -- including false accusations made on her Wikipedia page that she believes could have gotten her killed.

In the face of "raw information" quickly disseminated through new social mediums, Garrels emphasized committed, responsible, on-the-ground reporting. "Having knowledge to put events into context is really key," she said. "Otherwise, information is pretty hollow."

2. Editing Skills to Pay the Bills

"We need to get our students to think of themselves not just as reporters, but as editors." - Eileen Gilligan, assistant professor, SUNY Oswego

Gilligan said the above during a session about teaching convergence in the midst of a climate of ambiguity surrounding priorities in journalism education. Her session, "Teaching through Transition," presented data from several research studies conducted by AEJMC members that revealed an alarming disparity between the skills needed in convergent newsrooms and the core curricular priorities in U.S. journalism schools.

The data underscored the importance of superior storytelling skills. But interpersonal skills (such as the ability to develop sources), news judgment (the right story, the right way), and multi-tasking (the hardest of the three) were cited by news directors as necessary traits to succeed in converged newsrooms. Gilligan said the most meaningful feedback was that editing is a core skill for current students and future journalists.

3. Social Media Everywhere

"Social media showed me that people don't just care about the news, they care about the people who write it." - Arizona State University student Sebastien Bauge, as quoted by Serena Carpenter in her presentation in the AEJMC social media competition

Social media was popular during the conference, both in panels and in practice. One session, "Social Media in the Classroom", shared how instructors incorporate these tools in their courses. Examining Twitter updates during current events -- like the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year -- and hashtagging course names for classroom conversations were among the suggestions discussed. One course at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill invited Pizza Hut's public relations coordinator-turned-"Twitterologist" as a guest speaker to discuss corporate social media strategies. Mich Sineath, who tweeted for @AEJMC during the conference, called it the "hands-down BEST panel of #AEJMC10."

Social media happened to me, too. When inside the large, glass-walled room for Poynter's News University presentation (and announcement of its new syllabus exchange program), I tweeted from @CQPJournalism that it was one of the most well-attended sessions I had seen. Within minutes, professor Jake Batsell of Southern Methodist University responded that he had at least "40+" attendees for his panel on creating and running multi-platform student news websites. Turns out, Batsell was sitting two seats away from me.

4. Entrepreneurship the Answer?

"I'm not even slightly interested in saving the industry." - Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University

The lack of viable business models that can sustain an increasingly complicated news marketplace was still the elephant in the room this year, especially in light of the fact that the conference showed that traditional news jobs continue to disappear. In fact, panelists for the "New Media Economics" panel admittedly had little to offer in terms of successful strategies. Gillmor, author of "We the Media" and a forthcoming book called Mediactive, went on to say, "I've given up the idea that the industry wants to be saved. We've moved on."

By that Gillmor meant that the news industry should look toward new types of social and media entrepreneurship. He explained that journalists and entrepreneurs must have an appreciation of risk and be attuned to the current media culture.

"Innovation," he said, "is doing something better than how somebody else is doing it."

5. Enrollment Changing Along With the Industry

"Everything is changing, not dying" - Guy J. Golan, chair of the new Political Communication interest group

During the conference, I frequented the Starbucks on 16th street, just across from the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel. It was a place to refuel, charge my laptop, and access free wireless, which was not available in the conference rooms nor in hotel rooms. When I reached over to unplug my laptop, Golan handed me my cord and we chatted about the conference. He corrected my assertion that the common perception is that the news industry is "dying" and yet enrollment rates are rising in journalism schools.

It's the PR and advertising programs that are gaining students, he said, along with niche beats like sportswriting and political coverage. That was an interesting distinction to note. It was also borne out by some of the association business that was taken care of during the conference: political communication and sports communication became newly-minted interest groups this year, and the Communicating Science, Health, Environment and Risk Interest Group (ComSHER) was raised to division status at the conference.

Golan, currently a "free agent" professor, interviewed for work during the conference job fair, along with the many grad students I ran into at a school-sponsored evening social. He said there are "lots of jobs, and lots of candidates" in the world of journalism and communications education.

Christina Mueller is an Assistant Editor in the College Division of CQ Press, a division of SAGE Publications. She comments at @CQPJournalism and blogs for the journalism and mass communication line of books. The opinions of this post are that of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of SAGE Publications.

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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.

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

August 05 2010


AEJMC: Trends in the US newspaper industry

At the AEJMC conference, Richard Karpel, executive director of the ASNE, provided an assessment of the state of the newspaper industry in the US.

He said the US had 14,000 daily newspapers. But in 2009, the industry had lost 5,200 jobs, about 11% of full time jobs. This compares to 5,900 job losses in 2008

Now there were around 41,000 jobs in the newspaper business. Karpel expected the decline in positions to slow, partly because papers that were in the red are profitable, largely by cutting costs.

Karpel said the major trends in the newspaper industry was a rapid move to online and to mobile platforms.

It meant that newsrooms were seeking to employ journalists with multimedia and social media skills.

Additionally, due to a 24/7 news cycle, Karpel said reporters needed to be able to report and write faster, maintaining an acceptable level of accuracy.

There was also a greater need for journalists to be aware of the business side and be more enterpreneurial.


AEJMC: State of local TV news in the US

The state of the media in the US was the focus of one of the panels at the AEJMC annual conference.

Bob Papper of Hofstra University reported on the state of TV news in the US from a survey of local TV stations.

His message was that things aren’t as bad as they seem. TV news was still making money, though there has been a slight decline in revenue, coupled with a fall in loses due to cost-cutting.

Papper said 45% of station revenue came from news, a figure that has held steady for more than a decade.

The number of jobs in TV had dropped by 5.8% since 2007. But Papper put this in context by pointing out that the figure mirrors what is happening in the wider economy in the US.

In 2009, started with 770 TV stations producing local news and ended up with 762.

Papper said TV news departments are supplying content to more outlets than ever behalf, with half providing content to local radio outlets and to mobile devices.

“The big picture is that the TV news department is not just on TV,” said Papper.

He suggested the figures showed that TV stations had realised that they will have to make up on loss television revenue by moving to other platforms.

Another trend was TV stations being more heavily involved in cooperative ventures, with 60% collaborating with somebody else.

Papper said the typical station has several digital channels. Only 4% had all news channels, with just over 20% offering a weather channel.

TV stations seem to be embracing social media. 67% are covering it newscasts, 58% incorporating it in storytelling and 78% integrating it in website. But, Papper added, the quality and way of using social media varied widely.

In terms of Twitter,  38% of TV newsrooms constantly used it and 35% used it on a daily.

69% of stations had a three screen strategy: TV, web and mobile, with TV as the top priority.

By comparison, 61% of radio stations were not using social networking.

The picture for pay was promising, said Papper. TV news salaries rose 2.5%  in 2009 while radio news salaries were uncharged.

Starting salaries remained low, with the median being $24,000 in TV and $19,000 in radio.

Papper predicted there could be further news expansion, with more all news digital stations and a rebound in jobs in television.

He forecast that TV could recoup all the job losses that took place in 2009.

August 04 2010


AEJMC: Newsrooms slow to move towards convergence

John Russial of the University of Oregon posed a provocative question at the AEJMC annual conference.

In a research paper, he and co-author Arthur Santana studied whether the industry wants every journalist to have cross-platform skills.

In a survey of 210 US newspapers, he found that different members of the newsrooms rated skills differently.

Russial argued that if role convergence was real, then newsrooms would share a common view of the essential journalism skills of staff.

The most role convergence was among the online staff, who tend to work across media as a rule.

The survey also found a slight increase in the creation of video by newspapers. But most were online doing a few video reports a week.  And this was mostly done by photographers.

Russial suggested that there was movement towards cross platform work but questioned if this was as extensive as some might believe.

The study found that convergence of skills was taking place in the online parts of the newsroom, but much less elsewhere

Russial concluded that job specialisation remained the dominant organizing principle, with editors prizing depth rather than breadth.

Change, he suggested, was taking place in newsrooms but not on internet speed.


AEJMC: Teaching social media in the classroom

At the AEJMC conference, Serena Carpenter of Arizona State talked about her experiences in teaching social media.

She only spends between 6 to 8 hours teaching social media but tries to weave it into other parts of the course. Her main areas of focus are blogging, Twitter and reputation management.

Carpenter said students tend to treat all social media like Facebook, so it is important to teach them the different norms and practices on different social media services.

One of the ways she encourages student discussion is by using CoveritLive when she brings in a speaker.

Among her teaching ideas:

  • Create a Facebook album cover using Photoshop
  • Find a story and source via social media
  • Twitter list
  • Twitpic contest

She asks students to consider why they are using social media. Students have to name goals for their use of social media and then consider which are the most appropriate platforms and services.

Carpenter also has students Google themselves to research their online identity. She has found students are encouraged to adopt social media when they see themselves appear high up on Google.

Students have to write a reflection paper on their participation in social media.  By the end of the class, students are talking about how they have to participate online or they don’t exist.

Carpenter is going to incorporate social media into her teaching methods by creating a Facebook page on her course and posting due dates and handouts.


AEJMC: Rebooting the mindset of journalism education

During a panel at the AEJMC annual conference on rebooting journalism education, Rich Beckman from the University of Miami in Florida highlighted one of the big issues in journalism schools.

Beckman spoke about the need to have faculty with the skills, knowledge and experience to teach new and emerging forms of digital journalism.

He argued that re-educating existing faculty members is a myth. In his view, taking a weekend course does not mean you can then teach multimedia.

Beckman hit on a key point. Teaching digital journalism is not just about knowing the tools. He stressed he doesn’t teach software.

He described this as a waste of his time when students can learn by taking online courses.

Instead, he focuses on teaching the students about storytelling.

Teaching journalism today is much more than teaching students how to use a piece of software or coding.

Rather, I would argue it is a mindset. It is understanding how digital is changing journalism norms and practices and how to teach students to tell compelling stories in creative and critical ways.


AEJMC: Challenges to rebooting journalism education

An early morning session at the AEJMC conference, educators discussed one of the big issues in journalism education: what do journalism students need to learn to succeed in the industry.

Amy Eisman of American University outlined six challenges to rebooting the curriculum within an academic environment:

  1. Glacial pace of change at universities
  2. Belief that established ways of doing things are best
  3. Slow acceptance of game changers such as wikileaks
  4. Hesitation to move ahead of the industry
  5. Question of equipment
  6. Culture of constant change and evolution

Among the things that American is trying:

  • Courses with vague titles so that the content can change
  • Students rotate with professors who teach specific multimedia skills
  • Testing smaller module units, with 1.5 credit courses
  • Partnering with local media so students get experience in a newsroom
  • Twice weekly publication, the American Observer, run by students who rotate through different roles

AEJMC: How to plan, launch and run a student website

Here are the slides from my presentation at the AEJMC annual conference in Denver for the panel on planning, launching and running a converged student news website.

The panel is on today, Wednesday 4 August, from 1.30pm-3.30pm, room Plaza Court 4.


AEJMC: Innovative approaches to community journalism

The final panel at the pre-AEJMC conference workshop on the role of journalism schools as news providers looked at innovative initiatives.

Joe Bergantino gave some background to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University. It works as a 24/7 newsroom run by professional journalists with students as researchers and trainees. Students learn by working with at the center.

Looking ahead, the center is working to develop products and revenue streams to replace foundation dollars. One of the ways it brings in revenue is by charging for the content it provides to news outlets.

Bergantino said the center would need to raise $300,000 a year to be sustainable. One of the ideas under consideration is having a separate “research for hire” business.

The main goals of the center are to boost quality of investigative reporting, reach underserved communities through partnership with ethnic media and deliver long-form investigative work online.

Digital experimentation

An intiative still at start-up mode is the Reese Felts Newsroom at UNC-Chapel Hill. Monty Cook said the project has received five-to-seven years funding to explore digital news experimentation and audience research.

The project has an applied side. It will hire a staff of students to work in the newsroom and the curriculum will feed content into the newsroom, together with freelancers and student volunteers.

But also key is to research digital business models and experiment with journalism forms. Cook said it could result in the creation of a platform or software.

The project aims to look beyond digital journalism what it is now and expand it to data visualisation, gaming, geolocation to enable journalists to enhance public understanding. It is due to launch in the autumn.

Going local

Richard Jones of NYU talked about the East Village Project. One of the things the project is doing is reaching out to other parts of the university. For example working with computer science to work on apps to enable contributors to provide real-time content.

Part of the process of integrate the project into an ecosystem, said Jones, was looking at ways of working more closely with the community.

But he added that they were also thinking about new ways to engage with partners, such as local news outlets.

Test kitchen

The University of Colorado, Paul Voakes explained, seeks to apply applied experimental research to community journalism.

Voakes ran through a list of projects at the Digital Media Test Kitchen.

One of the ones he showed was a project called The Resolving Door, where questions are posed and crowdsourced. The next stage is hiring a web designer to turn the experiment into a news product.

Another project is called Slices of Boulder, aimed at better the diverse communites in the city.

Sustaining  journalism

Len Witt ended the panel by talking abut the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw. Its approach is to focus on a topic that is under-reported, in this case reporting on juvenile justice in Georgia.

The goal is to post three new pieces of information every day.

Witt doesn’t expect to reach a mass audience, but hopes that enough people will think that juvenile justice is important and will fund the initiative.

Currently, the project costs about $125,000 a year.

August 03 2010


AEJMC: The challenges for j-schools as news providers

A pre-conference workshop at the annual AEJMC conference focused on the changing role of journalism schools.

Karen Dunlap at the Poynter Institute expressed some optimism about student journalists filling the void left by declining news coverage.

She said the students might see communities in new ways and explore new forms of story-telling, guided by faculty.

But top of her worries was the assumption that student journalists could fill the void. But she was also concerned that students would lose out on a liberal arts education.

She was concerned about editing of student work and above all the liability that comes with publishing. This was a big one, she said.

Role of j-schools

Geneva Overholser from USC Annenberg said she was a big believer in having students do journalism that is seen by the world.

She agreed that it doesn’t fill the void but supplements it. It serves students as they are doing work that makes a difference and ties them more closely to communities.

Among the issues she identified was working with legacy media such as the Los Angeles which has its own set of expectations, such as having an exclusive on a story produced by a student.

Another was local figures complaining to university officials about the hard-hitting reporting by students.

“We ought to be to our craft what business and medical schools have been to their discipline,” said Overholser.

Connecting with audiences

Nicholas Lemann of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism said with the advent of the internet, the logistical cost of producing journalism dropped like a rock.

Every class that produces journalism at Columbia has to have a website. In every academic year, dozens of websites are produced.

But Lemann said that the websites bloomed and withered quickly, so they do not have substantial audiences.

The big hurdle at Columbia, said Lemann, was how to be a continuous content provider.

“We would like to have a direct, local coverage site that operates year-round and posts every day.”

His idea to achieve this is to follow the medical residency model. So graduating students would get a modest one-year fellowship and this would keep the site populated all year round.

Columbia is now exploring how to fund such an operation that would, in Lemann’s view, enable the school to build and engage with an audience.

Encourage innovation, reward failure

Lynda Kraxberger of Missouri explained how the journalism school has a history of publishing and broadcasting student work.

She said that while she appreciated some of the concerns expressed about student journalism, Kraxberger argued that it was better for students to make mistakes on what she called “a small stage.”

Many students, she added, come to j-school already having published online, albeit to usually small audiences.

“If I want to model innovation with my students, the last thing I want to do is squash it due to some fear in the future.”

Kraxberger said that grading mechanisms are one of the challenges. The current system does a very poor job of encouraging innovation as grading does not reward failure.


AEJMC: Four transformational trends in journalism education

Ahead of the annual AEJMC conference in Denver, a pre-conference workshop looked at the role of journalism schools as news providers.

The workshop brought together journalism practitioners and educators to discuss how j-schools are filling gaps in news coverage through student journalism.

Eric Newton from the Knight Foundation opened the session by outlining four transformational trends for journalism education:

  1. Journalism schools are becoming better connected to other university disciplines and departments, expanding the definition of what it means to be a journalist.
  2. Journalism schools are playing an increasing role as content and technology innovators.
  3. Journalism schools are emerging as master teachers of collaborative, open approaches.
  4. Journalism schools are becoming news providers that understand the eco-system of their communities. In the digital age, said Newton, j-schools are trying to engage more deeply with the people we called the audience

Newton said these trends are key to the success of journalism schools going forward, but he added that these trends are built on existing practices.

Newton concluded by saying that we will know when the transformation has taken place when these are not emerging trends but our new traditions.

August 02 2010


AEJMC workshop: Journalism schools as news providers

The annual AEJMC conference in Denver kicks off with a pre-conference workshop on Tuesday 3 August journalism schools as news providers.

The workshop brings together journalism practitioners and educators to discuss how j-schools are filling gaps in news coverage through student journalism.

At the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, you can see examples of student reporting on local issues on TheThunderbird.ca and on our sister video site, ThunderbirdTV.ca.

I’m looking forward to learning about what other schools are doing and sharing ideas for best practice.

Here is the schedule for the Denver workshop.

3:00 – 3:15 pm Registration
3:15 – 3:30 pm Welcome by Geanne Rosenberg and introduction by Eric Newton

3:30 – 4:25 pm Panel One: What Is Changing and Why
Moderator: Joshua Benton.  Panelists: Karen Dunlap, Lynda Kraxberger, Nicholas Lemann and Geneva Overholser.

4:30 – 5:25 pm Panel Two: Grappling with Legal Risks and Other Challenges
Moderator: Geanne Rosenberg. Panelists: David Ardia, George Freeman, Jane Kirtley, Rose Ann Robertson, and Steven D. Zansberg.

5:30 – 6:25 pm Panel Three: Innovative Approaches to Community Journalism
Moderator: Steve Shepard. Panelists: Joe Bergantino, Monty Cook, Richard Jones, Paul Voakes and Leonard Witt.

Closing Remarks – Susan King

6:30 – 8:00 pm Networking Reception


12 vital WordPress plugins for your student website

At the AEJMC annual conference in Denver, Aug 4-7, I am taking part in a session entitled Planning, Launching and Running a Convergent Student News Website.

I will be explaining how I created and launched the student publication, TheThunderbird.ca, at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism.

We use WordPress for the site, using a number of plugins to extend its functionality. Here are the ones I will mention in my presentation:


Get social:

Under the hood:


These are just a handful of the plugins available for WordPress. The list is intended as a starting point for journalism educators planning or overseeing a student website.

If there is a plugin that you find essential, please add it in the comments.

If you are at the AEJMC conference, please come along to the session on August 4 from 1:30 to 3:45 pm.

Links from the session will be posted on delicious, and handouts will be also put online. The Twitter tag for the panel is #aejmcsite

February 04 2010


Is online news just ramen noodles? What media economics research can teach us about valuing paid content

The New York Times’ announcement that it would be charging for some access to its website, starting in 2011, rekindled yet another round of debate about paywalls for online news. Beyond the practical question (will it work?) or the theoretical one (what does this mean for the Times’ notion of the “public”?), there remains another question to be untangled here — perhaps one more relevant to the smaller papers who might be thinking of following the Times’ example:

What is the underlying economic value of online news, anyway?

Media economist Iris Chyi [see disclosure below] has a few ideas about this problem. An assistant professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas, she has been researching the paid-vs.-free, print-vs.-online conundrum since the late ’90s. Her research has consistently found that even while online news use continues growing, its preference lags behind that of traditional media. In other words: Even as audiences transition from TV/print news consumption to the web, they still like the traditional formats better for getting news, all other things being equal.

Now, this seemingly makes no sense: How could a format as clunky, messy and old-school as print “beat” such a faster, richer and more interactive medium on likability?

Chyi believes she found the answer in the economic principle of “inferior goods.” The idea is simple: When income increases, consumers buy more “normal goods” (think: steak) and fewer “inferior goods” (think: ramen noodles). When income goes down, the opposite occurs (again, all things being equal in economics terms). Inferiority, in this case, isn’t so much a statement of actual quality as it is of consumer perception and demand. If we get richer, our desires for steak go up and our desires for ramen go down.

What does this mean for journalism? “Users perceive online news in similar ways — online news fulfills certain needs but is not perceived as desirable as print newspapers,” Chyi said.

She and co-author Mengchieh Jacie Yang make this point through an analysis of data on news consumption gathered from a random sample of U.S. adults; their findings are published in the latest issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, the flagship peer-reviewed journal for AEJMC. (See the related news release, overall highlights, and the full-text PDF). Chyi and Yang summarize their key findings as follows:

This analysis, based on data collected by the Pew Research Center in 2004, identified a negative relationship between income and online news consumption: When income increases, online news use decreases; when income decreases, online news use increases, other things (demographics, news interest, and/or other news media use) being equal — suggesting that online news is an inferior good among users. In contrast, the print newspaper is a normal good.

Such findings, at first glance, may surprise media scholars as well as online news professionals. After all, in communication research, no news products have been labeled as inferior goods before. In addition, major U.S. media companies have invested heavily in their online ventures, offering an array of interactive features and multimedia content — most of which are unattainable by print newspapers. It is therefore difficult to understand why online news could be an inferior good. Yet, from an economic perspective, “goods are what are thought of as goods.” Any product’s economic nature is determined by consumer perception and response. Based on this particular data set, which consists of survey responses collected from a national sample of online news users by a major polling institution in 2004, online news is an inferior good among users.

Clearly, the use of 2004 data is a limiting factor here (although the authors explain why more recent Pew surveys couldn’t be used for this kind of question). Yet, if we accept these findings, we’re left to unravel two mysteries: Why is online news perceived as an inferior good in the first place? And what should that mean for the future of web journalism?

On the first question, there are at least several possibilities, as Chyi suggests. Maybe the computer screen just isn’t an enjoyable reading device. (And how might that compare with smartphones and e-readers?) Or maybe online newspapers still have content/design problems — think of all the ads for teeth whitening and tummy tightening, not to mention the general lack of contextual cues afforded by print. Or maybe it’s simply because online news is free — and, as behavioral economics research has indicated, sometimes consumers perceive higher-price products as more enjoyable. In any case, as Chyi puts its: “More research, as opposed to guesswork or wishful thinking, on the perception of news products is essential.”

Then there’s the second question: What does this suggest about the future of online news? Perhaps nothing too dire, as people still do pay for ramen noodles when it suits them — when the price, convenience, or alternatives make ramen noodles the preferred choice. This isn’t to suggest that consumers invariably will pay for online news, but rather that they might if the perception calculation is right.

The key here is to recognize that consumers are rapidly adopting online news not necessarily because they prefer the medium to print, but because online news is “good enough” — cheap, convenient, flexible, and sufficient to satiate our information cravings. (This takes us into territory related to disruptive innovations and fidelity vs. convenience — interesting stuff, but something for a later post.) But the danger is in taking a “platform-neutral” approach if that leads one to assume that content value remains constant between print and online — that, basically, you can charge for content either way. Chyi suggests that is like trying to market ramen noodles as steak: Newspapers do so at their peril.

So, what does all of this say about the Times and its paywall? Perhaps not much because, after all, “the Times is the Times.” Yet, the notion of online news as an inferior good highlights a few salient points for thought: (1) news usage doesn’t always correlate with preference, counterintuitive as that is; (2) publishers hoping to charge for niche content need to understand where their offering fits in the normal-inferior goods relationship, and how that should affect pricing and marketing strategies; and (3) there’s a critical need for R&D to help us grasp why consumers perceive online news as inferior, and how that perception might vary among different demographics of users and/or according to different types of news content.

In the meantime, enjoy your ramen noodles.

[Disclosure: Chyi and I have collaborated on several research projects through her Media Economics Research Group in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas — including a recent peer-reviewed article on newspapers' effectiveness in penetrating the local online market (PDF). Also, she's currently a member of my dissertation committee.]

Photo of ramen by Broderick used under a Creative Commons license.

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