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July 27 2011


Rethinking Journalism Ethics, Objectivity in the Age of Social Media

In response to the rapidly changing media environment, many schools and academic programs are offering novel approaches to journalism education.

This seismic change creates tensions within programs, especially when it comes to how to teach ethics for this increasingly mixed media.

In an earlier column, I put forward some principles for teaching ethics amid this media revolution. But these principles do not address some specific problems.

Whither objectivity?

Today, students don't just learn how to report straight news on deadline. They not only learn to write reports that are neutral or objective; they also learn how to write blogs, use social media, write investigative pieces, and explore point-of-view journalism.

Schools of journalism have always taught, to some extent, what is called "opinion journalism," such as learning to write an editorial that supports a candidate for political office. But the amount of opinion and perspective journalism in programs today is much greater than in the past; and media formats for the expression of this journalism multiply.

One problem is whether the ideal of journalistic objectivity should be emphasized in these changing curricula.

The new journalism tends to be more personal. It prefers transparency to objectivity or self-effacing neutrality. Across journalism programs, there is a trend toward teaching a perspectival journalism that draws conclusions, and argues for interpretations. This challenges the previous dominance of objectivity as an ideal.

So the question is: Should educators maintain or abandon objectivity in their teaching?


Redefining Objectivity

For starters, I think we should address this problem by doing two things: First, we should redefine, not abandon, objectivity as one of the principles that define responsible journalism. Second, we should develop ethical guidelines for specific forms of new media -- guidelines that are consistent with general principles such as truth-telling.

The traditional notion of journalistic objectivity, developed in the early 1900s, defined objectivity as a story that reported "just the facts" and eliminated all interpretation or opinion by the journalist. This notion of objectivity needs to be abandoned. It is an outdated idea that sees everything in black and white: A story is either factual -- and only factual -- or it is subjective opinion. We are given a choice between strict objectivity and un-rigorous subjectivity. This is a false dilemma.

Objectivity is not about perfect neutrality or the elimination of interpretation. Objectivity refers to a person's willingness to use objective methods to test interpretations for bias or inaccuracies. Objectivity as a method is compatible with journalism that interprets and takes perspectives. Every day, scientists adopt the objective stance when they use methods to test their hypotheses about phenomena. The same stance is available for journalists.

Why is the redefinition of objectivity necessary?

Traditional objectivity as just the facts is a false model of how journalists do their work. Journalism is interpretive through and through. It provides little guidance for many forms of journalism, such as point-of-view journalism. In addition, adherence to traditional objectivity can retard curriculum reform. The fear that teaching perspectival journalism entails teaching a "journalism without standards" is unfounded. Perspectival journalism can be more or less supported by the facts, well-argued, and respectful of counter views.

The ideal of objectivity should not be abandoned because it supports important journalistic attitudes such as a "disinterestedness" that follows the facts where they lead.

Guidelines for specific formats

My second suggestion is that educators should develop ethical guidelines aimed at specific forms of journalism.

The evolution of interactive, online media tells us something that journalists have known for years: Ethics of journalism is not monolithic; it's not "one size fits all." To be sure, general principles such as truth-telling, editorial independence, objectivity and accuracy apply across all forms of responsible journalism. However, in addition to these principles, more specific norms apply to certain types of journalistic practice. For instance, the aims and norms of satirical journalism are not the same as those of straight reporting; the aims and norms of column writing are not the same as those of a TV news anchor. What norms are appropriate depends on the form of communication in question.

How do these thoughts apply to the problem of changing journalism curricula?

It means that, while teaching should honor the general principles, ethics courses need to develop "best practices" guidelines for specific forms of journalism. For example, we need to specify what truth-telling and accuracy entail for the live-blogging of events. We need to develop guidelines for the responsible use of Twitter and other social media.

The issue is not whether certain media formats are inherently unethical. The issue is what norms are appropriate for any specific format. We need both comprehensive principles and specific guidelines that allow students to engage new media in a creative but responsible manner.

The first step, then, is to clear away old ways of thinking that act as obstacles to the redesign and the teaching of journalism ethics.

Only a fundamental redesign will allow journalism ethics to make the transition from an ethics constructed for a media from another era to an ethics relevant to today's mixed media.

More from photographer Roger H. Goun on Flickr.

Stephen J. A. Ward is director of the Center for Journalism Ethics in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the founding chair of the Canadian Association of Journalists' (CAJ) ethics advisory committee and former director of UBC's Graduate School of Journalism's in Vancouver, B.C.

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July 06 2011


How Important Are Writing Skills for Modern Journalists?

When I ask my university journalism students why exactly they want to be journalists, a majority tell me it's because they "like to write."

Considering most of them are in their 20s and grew up with the Internet, this response always surprises me. With a seemingly endless supply of emerging technology and digital storytelling tools at their fingertips, why pursue journalism exclusively for love of the written word?

A love of writing is one of many reasons I chose to pursue journalism, so I understand where they're coming from. But after working as a newspaper reporter from 2000 to 2004, I took a job as assistant editor at an online magazine in San Francisco, where my priorities shifted from words to podcasts and audio blogs. During a fellowship that followed at a national magazine, I took on all sorts of web duties: blogging, content management systems, video, digital audio, and visualized data projects. I continued to write, but it was only one of many daily newsroom tasks. The web was opening the floodgates in terms of how journalists tell stories, and I've been embracing it ever since.

I relocated from San Francisco to London nearly three years ago when my wife took a job here, and I've been lucky enough to take these web experiences and apply them to teaching postgraduate and undergraduate journalism classes at City University London and the London School of Journalism. Because students come to me for classes in online journalism -- in which writing takes a backseat to widgets, HTML, audio, video, live-blogging, tweeting, and data visualizations -- I often feel like telling my students who really love to write: "Sorry, you've come to the wrong place. The creative writing lecture is down the hall."

Writing is low on the priority list in our online journalism classes, not because I want it to be, but because we've got limited time to focus on other things. During two-hour classes, students create individual or group websites and learn how to operate online content management systems. They produce audio slideshows, podcasts and videos. They join online communities or create their own. They gather raw data and use it to create online visualizations. They tinker with HTML and CSS, and dissect their website's analytics, among many other tasks.

By the end of term, students will produce a body of multimedia journalism work and become active participants in an online network throughout which they can disseminate their work. Students complete many of our projects without writing a piece of text longer than an average tweet, which can be a major letdown for budding wordsmiths.

Wait, this is what I signed up for?


The student journalists my colleagues and I teach are not being trained to be writers; they're being encouraged to become multimedia producers, mobile reporters, hackers, graphic designers, website scrapers, and web entrepreneurs. With these goals in mind, we give them tools to help them get started. But how happy are they about it? Sometimes, not very. This past term, student uneasiness and confusion over the online journalism curriculum became so heated that one large hall lecture was interrupted by a large group complaining that the assignments were confusing and did not benefit their journalism career ambitions. At least one special discussion session with an instructor had to be scheduled outside of lectures to soothe the tension, and I spent several subsequent classes explaining the purpose of the assignments, rather than teaching actual skills.

This incident made me wonder if we, the lecturers, are more excited about the possibilities of web journalism than the students are. Their dream to write is easily deferred by a curriculum that leaves little room for discussion about writing style and technique. We're constantly telling them to write snappier, say what they need to with as few words as possible, and link to the rest, so how can they truly develop a unique writing voice in our classes? They need to do that on their own time or in another class, which inevitably causes some of them to then draw a line between "real" journalism and "web" journalism.

Maybe half of my students are from the U.K., and the others come from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the United States. Their online journalism perspectives vary greatly. Some have already created websites, utilize multiple social networks, can produce digital audio, and know Final Cut Pro. Some do not know what a memory stick is, what acronyms like "CSS," "HTML" or "CMS" stand for or how to connect to WiFi. Some are eager to learn tech skills, but many spend a lot of time asking what all of these digital tools have to do with journalism in the first place, and are eager to get back to writing.

The strange thing is, when I do set aside time to discuss or critique their online writing, I'm surprised at how lackluster some of it really is. Many lack a firm grasp of the Who, What, Why, Where and How. They have a difficult time explaining seemingly simple but important details such as "what has happened?" and "why does it matter?" or "how did it happen?" and "who is affected?" When they do write, it often lacks specificity. For some, this is partly attributed to the fact that English is not their native language. But the majority of them are anxious to throw content up on the web quickly without properly explaining what the content actually is.

Techie or journalist?

Some students, consciously or not, separate "online" journalism from "print" journalism because the former doesn't involve the traditional type of writing they're used to. If my students are a legitimate qualitative litmus test, it's safe to say there's a gap between student ideas of what journalism is, and how we actually train them to do journalism in 2011. Since we, as online journalism instructors, focus on instruments of technology rather than artful prose, there's an element of confusion among students as to what online journalism really is. Is it journalism, or is it technology? For many, the combination of both is jarring, and bridging the gap between the two is a struggle, especially for aspiring writers.

Because of this gap, many students confuse online journalism with information technology or tech support, which makes me think that we need to do more to help close that gap. For example, one of my students, in a recent email request to join their LinkedIn network, included a message that sums up this confusion in one brief sentence: "Hi Gary, I was in one of your IT classes last year. Hope all's well!"

I don't teach IT classes. Or do I?

Written word photo by Jeffrey James Pacres on Flickr.

Gary Moskowitz is a freelance journalist based in London. He blogs for the New York Times and Intelligent Life and has written for TIME Magazine. He teaches at City University London and London School of Journalism.

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December 15 2010


J-School Incubator News21 Balances Investigations, Innovation


Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

During the slow news week of Thanksgiving, two articles about the shortcomings of the National Transportation Safety Board were published on the websites of Fox News and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland. On the busiest travel week of the year, their story selections would be unsurprising were it not for their provenance. Both were written over three months earlier by students taking part in News21, an immersive journalism education program.

So what exactly is News21? The program's full title is "News for the 21st Century: Incubators of New Ideas" and it is part of a three-pronged journalism education initiative of the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The incubators referred to in the name of the program are high tech school newsrooms, which for 10 weeks each summer are hosted by some of the many journalism schools participating in the project. These temporary bureaus have been working to produce not only original reporting, but also a fundamental shift in the way journalism is taught and practiced.

Those are lofty goals for a summer program, but there's evidence News21 is making progress toward achieving them. To chart News21's progress and challenges, I spoke with students who had recently gone through the program as well as administrators both past and present. While the student reporting has been solid and has received distribution in mainstream media outlets, there's still room for improvement in community involvement, continuity over the years and innovative forms of journalism.

(Disclosure: News21 has been a sponsor of MediaShift in the past.)

The Foundations

Merrill_Brown10.jpgFirst, a bit of history. In the summer of 2006, the first class of News21 fellows collaboratively examined the balance between liberty and security in the U.S. From 2006 until 2008, News21 had "kind of an ad hoc home" at the University of California-Berkeley, according to News21's former national director Merrill Brown.

Brown coordinated 44 fellows from UC-Berkeley, Columbia University, Northwestern University, the University of Southern California (USC) and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. All but Harvard hosted their own incubators. Each summer the schools used their combined journalistic firepower to cover a broad American issue: Liberty vs. security the first year, religion in the second, and finally the 2008 elections.

The program gained great exposure in its first year when CNN devoted a full hour of "Anderson Cooper 360" to the reporting by the UC-Berkeley students, who examined the personal lives of U.S. troops on peacekeeping missions around the world. By the second year, it was also producing informative and innovative storytelling tools like this still useful Moral Compass, which allows users to quickly compare the answers that nine different religions have for common questions of morality.

Inevitably, there was overlap between the topic areas chosen by the different incubators. When PBS MediaShift executive editor Mark Glaser reported on News21 in the fall of 2007, many fellows complained to him that their newsrooms featured "more competition than collaboration among the schools involved" for stories and resources.

The Additions

A more wide-angle focus for the project in 2009, Changing America, seems to have reduced intra-school rivalry. Although a new grant from the Carnegie-Knight initiative in 2009 added incubators at Syracuse University, University of North Carolina, University of Maryland, and Arizona State University (ASU) to the mix, the umbrella theme for summer was so broad that it would have been unlikely for the eight bureaus to step on one anothers' toes. (The universities of Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas at Austin also joined as associate schools like Harvard.)

The renewed grant also included funding to hire a three-person administrative team for the program, now based full-time out of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. During the summer, News21 national director Jody Brannon travels the country to ensure the increasingly decentralized incubators have the digital tools and editorial guidance they need to produce top-notch journalism. In addition to helping alleviate the perceived resource crunch, Brannon also helped organize the launch of a second newsroom at ASU in 2010.

This new national incubator is probably the most important addition to News21 since its inception. Having drawn one top student from each of the 12 member schools, it is News21's most diverse incubator by composition. The focus of the newsroom is also nationwide. Last summer, News21 fellows collaborated with two data specialists from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) in Washington, D.C., to examine sprawling databases from the National Transportation and Safety Board.

Inside the National Incubator


When the incubator opened for business, management of the project was split between two highly experienced editors. Kristin Gilger, an associate dean at ASU's Cronkite J-school, was essentially the managing editor of the national project and worked closely with the fellows in Tempe.

"I did the first thorough 14th edits -- or however many it took -- on all the stories," Gilger said, only partially kidding.

In addition to Gilger, final copy was reviewed by Leonard Downie Jr., a professor at Cronkite and former longtime executive editor at the Washington Post. Downie was also in contact with CPI and the Post, where much of the team's work would be published.

The Post ran four News21 articles on transportation safety during the last week of September. The newspaper's website linked to additional reporting from the national incubator on the landing page for the series, Traveling Dangerously in America. In the same week, MSNBC.com ran another four stories on trucking and aviation safety, which Gilger said, "prompted huge conversations online."

Commenting on the accomplishments of the national incubator, Christopher Callahan, the founding dean of the Cronkite School at ASU, described it as "the formula for success...The work of those 11 students had more distribution than the work of the entire News21 program in its history combined."

And like all News21 content, the 23 stories produced by the national project are freely available to any interested publication. Speaking with Gilger before the holiday, she was keen to point out that, in addition to it being great investigative reporting, most of the national project's output was "fairly evergreen." Her observation is anecdotally supported by the clips from Thanksgiving weekend. Both were drawn from the archives of the "Traveling Dangerously" series.

Innovate or Investigate?

Those two text-heavy stories embody the challenge at the heart of News21: The program seeks the widest possible exposure possible for its students, but it is also focused on fostering innovation. With a deep investigative project like the "Traveling Dangerously" series, there was just not much scope for innovative storytelling.

This reliance on text-based reporting is partly due to the fact that it is much harder to get innovative projects published in national news outlets.

"Breaking a story or breaking new ground on a story is way easier to get attention for than analytical, feature-y work," said Brown, the program's founding director. "One of the ambiguities that people involved in the program have [to deal with is] we all know that investigative journalism is hard to do and when you do it well you get attention for it. The stuff that's deeper, richer, more multimedia is harder to get the larger media to pick up on it, see it for what it is, and distribute it. That's one of the balancing acts the program has."

The current administrators are aware of the challenges this dual focus poses.

"Our mission is to do innovative and investigative journalism. It is difficult for a single project to be both," said Brannon, the current national director. "Those are both measures of success."

No Time To Reinvent the Wheel


Groundbreaking investigations or cutting edge innovations would both be better served by more preparation for the intense summer program. Whether, like in the national incubator the work began in the spring, or, as was the case at Medill where student Andrew Paley said they had only a "handful of meetings" before the summer, all the fellows I spoke with felt News21 would work better with more lead time.

The Medill incubator made great strides in soliciting audience feedback -- something previous iterations of News21 lacked -- but these efforts were hampered by time constraints. Talking about how his team elicited 300-word blog posts from Latino community leaders, Paley said, "that's one of the things we really hit our stride on six weeks in. It's probably something we would have explored more," had they started community engagement options sooner.

In place of staging preparatory sessions during the school year, administrators could also save students time for reporting by making the website design process more streamlined. As it stands, some five years' worth of project websites are currently scattered about the web, loosely connected by various iterations of the News21 host site.

"I'm quite interested in visualization and ways to tell stories that are non-traditional and scalable," Paley said.

Sustained Focus in the Future?

News21 administrators often steer the program in an entirely different direction each year. Which raises the question: What happens to all the leads and issues that were exposed but left unexplored?

"We hoped at the beginning that there would be a way to institutionalize things far more than we were then," Brown said. "It would be really good for more and more experimentation to take place in all 12 months so that the coverage doesn't die with the start of the new school year. These schools could really become mini-ProPublicas, where the faculty and students are engaged in covering a topic quasi-permanently."

By way of example, Brown suggested Columbia could cover Wall Street while USC could stay on issues related to immigration and borders. The stories they produced could then be available to newspapers and television stations for nationwide syndication. "That was one of the things we dreamed of. And maybe we'll get to that sooner or later," he said.


The program's administrators are likely considering that among many other possible models for the future of News21 at their next bi-annual meeting. As ASU's Callahan told me, because the Carnegie-Knight grant only runs through the end of the summer of 2011, it will be "the last year of News21 in its current configuration." And for the next grant period, "there is literally nothing that's not on the table."

"Could I foresee New21 growing over time where you have multiple projects throughout the year?" he asked. Not next year, Callahan said, but "could I see it down the road? Yeah, I could." Echoing Merrill Brown, Callahan went on to say, "I think the analogy would be more like a ProPublica or Center for Public Integrity: A project-oriented multimedia site."

News21 has already come a long way since its founding under Brown and it appears to be moving in the right direction with Callahan, Gilger, Brannon and Downie. The new leadership still has a number of issues to address, namely the balance between investigation and innovation, and the continuity of design and focus. But if they do, the quality of reporting from News21 incubators and innovations to journalism they have produced will likely continue to improve.

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of The New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at The Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar.


Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

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December 09 2010


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.


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).


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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September 29 2010


How Journalism Teachers are Failing, and How to Stop It

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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.

I am writing this article on an iPad which is tapped wirelessly into a coffee shop's WiFi. The device knows where it is in space and, if I allow it, will broadcast that information to any application I choose. Nearby, a young man browses the web on his iPhone. A woman is using a Blackberry. We are all online, all wireless and all capable of sending video, audio or text anywhere in the world.

In an instant, I could convert my iPad into a magazine-style newsreader using one of a dozen applications such as Flipboard, River of News, Early Edition or FLUD. Beautifully formatted pages, filled with images and videos which my social media friends have flagged, will flow and slide across the screen.

The young man could do the same using applications like Reeder or The Pulse on his mobile phone. Our news packages would be culled, collated and laid out not by editors and graphic designers, but by crowds and CPUs.

This is neither new nor uncommon. It is becoming the norm as millions of people snap up iPads and smartphones and a dozen new tablets wait in the wings -- a new one from RIM being just the latest offering.

But, despite that, much of the fundamental (and sometimes final) training we offer journalism students is dished out as if none of it were happening. As if the boulder-sized granularity of the news cycle had not melted in a quicksilver stream. As if the line between author and audience has not been smudged to grey and as if, really, nothing much had changed about the fundamentals of journalistic narrative, despite a wholesale remaking of the information landscape.

They Know What They've Been Taught

Many journalism profs, I'd wager, have never used Flipboard, done a podcast, played with Foursquare or Gowalla or have really seriously engaged in an online social community. Nor have they paid attention to the video blogs and online networks that bear as much resemblance to a traditional television studio as a unicycle does to a Hummer.

How do I know this? I teach third and fourth year and post-grad level online journalism courses at two universities in Ontario, Canada. Over the course of the past 15 years, I've done the same at a handful more.


I have seen fourth year students who, when I show them examples from the This Week in Tech Network, Rocketboom or Buzz Out Loud, say they've never seen them before.

I have third year students who have never edited digital audio. Who write heads and leads with no thought to how they will be atomized and abstracted in RSS feeds and on the screens of mobile phones and tablets. I have a class of MA journalism students, the majority of whom don't even know what an RSS feed is.

And, I have to ask: How can that be? How can intelligent students go through semester after semester or even year after year of modern journalistic training and be so ignorant of some of the fundamental concepts, tools and shows that are shaping the way
citizens ingest and participate in journalism and content? How can it be that they only seem to (maybe) know the basics of radio, television, magazine and newspapers? How can it be that they often treat online with some derision and fear, and as if it were

nothing more than a place to shovel, unaltered, the products of other media?

Rhetorical questions. They know and repeat what they have been taught. And their basic training, in my experience, does not have folded into its DNA an understanding that not all audio ends up on time-constrained, broadcast, appointment radio.

That not all news has to be produced in cumbersome, equipment-laden studios with business-suited and scripted anchors.

That not all words will wind up on paper first, nestled luxuriously in a contextual bed of carefully laid-out cousin stories on crafted, immutable pages.

That not all acts of journalism have to be committed by journalists. And that not all audiences are passive.

That not all video needs to be shot with unwieldy, obtrusive cameras. Nor with cameras at all, but rather with smartphones tethered timelessly to social networks and embedded players.

No. The students I see know little if anything of the online world or of emerging media. Their own personal experience extends to Facebook and texting, for the most part. And their journalistic training reaches only a tentative few feet beyond the same traditional media and means it always has. What little exposure they do get is often provided by itinerant lecturers or faculty with little real practical experience who have to rely on technical teaching assistants to show students fundamentals.

Basic online training often extends only as far as how to use content management systems (CMS) that treat online only as digital Tupperware for other more traditional forms. The argument for this is that these are systems that are used in newsrooms today. But learning a CMS isn't a course; it's an uninteresting class. And, frankly, looking to most newsrooms for best online practice is like visiting a glue factory to learn about race horses.

A Different Approach

All this needs to change now, and in first year. Why? Because the nature of story and storytelling has been altered forever. Instructors who teach basic print need to acknowledge that not only will headlines, subheads and other microcontent be torn apart and scattered to tiny screens and tablets; but it must also survive the dissection and distribution of Twitter and other microblogging services.

More importantly, they need to acknowledge and explore how the very nature of an ongoing narrative -- which is at the core of much news reporting -- changes when you factor in real-time audience participation, distribution and creation. They need to discuss layout, not as static (print) nor somewhat unpredictable (web) processes, but rather as a user or CPU choice. Witness apps like Flipboard that seize and transform feeds, text and graphics on the fly.

Instructors need, in my opinion, to reconsider how stories are brainstormed, sourced, researched and even edited, given a public with an increasing desire and ability to be talked to, engaged with, crowdsourced and mined in a collaborative dance of narrative creation.

Acting as if nothing has changed, or, that what has changed can be layered on like a parka in the winter season of a student's learning doesn't work anymore. I see the fruits of that kind of thinking term after term. It breeds scared students who feel unprepared for the
emerging world and resentful of educational opportunities missed.

"Fine, great," I hear critics say. "That's all well and good in theory, but we have students who come to us knowing nothing about the craft. How can we possibly teach them more stuff?"

But I'm not advocating for more. I'm advocating for acknowledgement and change. And, a second note: Along with that honest concern I hear an undertone, a dark counterpoint that thrums, "I fear, I fear, I fear." Many instructors don't teach differently because they don't
know what is different. They know something has shifted, some foreign refraction by an unseen lens, but its nature eludes them, scares them or leaves them cold. Or all three. They resist changing because they have so little experience of the changed world.

Radio instructors, from day one, need to consider that the idea of appointment radio is becoming quaint. Students who listen to podcasts or have downloaded the NPR, BBC or CBC app to their mobile device don't really understand that there was a time when you Screen shot 2010-09-28 at 10.40.37 PM.pngheard a show once and once only. They have unpinned audio from time. Surely the
teaching of even the basics has to account for that. Surely the inexorable shift from broadcast to IP delivery of audio alters how we think about story telling for the ear and mind's eye. After all, our audiences are now traversing our acoustic work more like Doctor Who than like a steadfast hiker.

Television instructors must show students not just the evening news and documentaries, but also the small, entrepreneurial, web-based news and entertainment productions that fill Vimeo, You Tube, Daily Motion and set top box offerings. Surely the TWiT Network, which produces over a dozen high quality, and extremely profitable, videocasts a week is a model worthy of consideration when larger, more traditional television newsrooms are folding in on themselves.

Surely webisode entrepreneurs like the highly articulate Amber MacArthur are equally if not more valid role models for young men and women than vapid weather people, boisterous sports hosts and always-standing television personalities and reporters who ask silly questions of ignorant people on busy street corners.

Surely smartphones and streaming applications are viable tools that have a place beside larger and more labour intensive processes and hardware.

And, surely, we need to step back even further than that and consider what we must bake into our most basic instruction when our audience members are geo-locatable with breathtaking precision; and when they can share what they see, hear and think with the facility that, ten years ago, was only afforded a remote van or a satellite uplink.

We need to understand how our audiences relate to and use news when they are not reading it on paper, but instead, multitouching it, exploring it with their hands and playing with media as if it were so much fingerpaint just below the surface of their portable glass
tablets. Touch is the new click. The hand is the new desk. Where is the new when and glass is rapidly becoming the new paper. They have to change how we teach our news. From the beginning, from the core. From now on.

Time to Play, To Experiment

But, how do we do that? By playing. By living in the present, if not the future. If you teach magazines and haven't used Flipboard on a tablet, you don't really know what's going to happen to your industry. If you teach television and haven't shot, edited and published a news item from your smartphone, you're missing an important part of on-the-ground news coverage by journalists and citizens. And, more importantly, you're unable to think creatively about how to use that skill to tell great stories new ways and how to weave that
understanding into what you teach every day. We can't teach skills we lack, offer wisdom about tools we've never used nor provide even the most rudimentary opinions of social media experiences we've never had.

And we can't think creatively, generatively, about how to weave online journalism into the fabric we cloak our students with from the first day they fall to our care. They expect that of us, and they are right to do so.

Wayne MacPhail began in the industry as a magazine photographer, feature writer and editor. In 1983, he moved to the Hamilton Spectator where was a health, science and social services columnist, feature writer and editor. In 1991, he founded Southam InfoLab, a research and development lablooking into future information products for this Canadian national newspaper chain. After leaving Southam, he developed online content for most Canadian online networks. Wayne now heads up w8nc inc., helping non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, charitable organizations and associations develop and implement technology-based, marketing driven communications strategies. He also teaches online journalism at the University of Western Ontario and Ryerson University. He serves on the board of rabble.ca where he founded the rabble podcast network and rabbletv. He's a regular tech columnist for the website and for mondoville.com.

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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 article was originally published on J-Source. J-Source and MediaShift have a content-sharing arrangement to broaden the audience of both sites.

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

September 20 2010


Professors Speak Out About Changes Coming to J-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.

This article was co-authored by Abby Moon.

A previous article on MediaShift mined the OurBlook series of interviews with leading journalists and academics to outline some of the skills that future journalists will need. Interviewees described the future journalist as a multi-tasker who is technologically savvy, a versatile storyteller who can produce content for any format and a brand and community manager who cultivates a constant and interactive conversation with their readership.

In order for future journalists to live up to these high expectations, journalism programs, departments and curricula need to adapt to the changes in order to better prepare students for a career in a fast-paced, technology-driven field.

OurBlook is currently conducting an interview series on journalism departments and how they are adapting to the new media landscape. Here are some of the observations and recommendations we collected:

  • Journalism departments across America are converging classes and majors to become more streamlined.
  • Curricula should include more social media, production and multimedia training.
  • Traditional skills and ethics are still vital to good journalism, regardless of the platform.
  • Professors need to stay current, embrace technology and find ways to incorporate new media in the classroom.
  • Some professors may be resistant to change or may feel negatively toward the industry, but journalism is not dead -- it's evolving.

Experts Weigh In

"I think increasingly we're seeing companies ask their journalists to be armed with a pad, a pen, a camera, a laptop, a mobile device ... It's being able to take a story and be fluent in a variety of formats and being able to produce for those formats... It's understanding how to repurpose your content across those platforms." -- Tom Ksiazek, communications professor at Villanova University

"I think a lot of the schools are being very slow to react, to be honest, I think there are individual pockets within each program where an individual teacher is being very innovative in terms of new media and entrepreneurialism, but curricula as a whole are not changing very quickly." -- Andy Mendelson, chair of journalism at Temple University

"The technological aspect is important and I think that when schools are operating under tight budgets, there is that demand of being able to keep up with that technology. But the technology changes so quickly ... It's that continuous updating and upgrading of equipment that has to take place in a tight resource environment. I think that's a real challenge, but ultimately my default position on some of that is that you have to learn the craft. The technology that you have is critically important but ultimately you can have the most expensive camera in your hand or the best computer to use, but if you don't know how to go out and gather content and tell stories, then that's not going to be the make or break for a student." -- Andy Nelson, the R.M. Seaton Professional Journalism Chair at Kansas State University

"Journalism schools teach very specific skills - writing skills, reporting skills, and with respect to those programs, I think that the knowledge base has to be expanded. The efficiency I see, which is one thing we are trying to address here at my school, is that those skills can be learned in a very short period of time - how to be fair to both sides, how to be objective, how to be balanced. But I think what is really lacking is this knowledge base, for example, about economics, about science, about history. Students don't have that context anymore, and I think it's really hurting journalism education. What I think journalism fans are racing to do is keep up with the technology but we're missing the forest for the trees." -- Mary Cardaras, chair of the Digital Media & Communications Department at the New England Institute of Art


"There's never been a more challenging, exciting and scary time to get into journalism, nor a more important moment. Our schools are in the front-line of the struggle over the future of American journalism because it's our students who will shape the new media world and our mission to help them develop the values, sensibility and tools to do so." -- Glenn Frankel, incoming director of the School of Journalism of the University of Texas at Austin

"Journalism grads need to be flexible -- not morally or ethically -- but about the methods, distribution means and methods of gathering and sharing stories. They need to understand all the available tools -- not so they are experts in using those tools -- so that they know what is possible and can use the right tool for the job." -- Jeremy Gilbert, assistant professor, Medill, Northwestern University

"A lot of programs are feeling the negativity that pervades the journalism industry right now. A lot of people are falling into a depressing cynicism that students pick up. That's too bad, because I believe the times provide amazing opportunities for graduates. It's not just the faculty. We have to be careful what guest speakers to bring into classes. Many professionals have one message: 'Get out! Change majors!' That's too bad. We must remember that what we do is essential for democracy and there will always be a need for journalists." -- David Cuillier, journalism professor at the University of Arizona

"In a nutshell, all journalism majors should be able to perform 'new media' skills at a professional standard. New media skills include digital photography, desktop publishing, and online proficiency. However, we encourage good writing skills first and foremost. We also emphasize the importance of being willing to learn new things. The journalism field is ever-changing. The recent growth in social networking is one example of how the field changes very rapidly." -- Mia Moody, journalism professor at Baylor University


"Technology is the key. This is where the money and opportunities are. Technology first, journalism second. While that's frustrating to so many of us, myself included, since we're very passionate about great editorial -- this is the reality today for most grads." -- Cynthia Good, founding editor and CEO of PINK & Little PINK Book

"At the Greenlee School we opted for a 'converged' curriculum to match the converged media landscape. What that means, simply, is we eliminated silos ... those emphases like newspapers, photojournalism, magazine, broadcasting, etc. That's not to say that traditional media aren't important ... they are; the difference is, in today's digital environment, our journalists and advertisers must learn to write, report and create across platforms. And students aspiring to work in PR must know each intimately as well. A converged curriculum also makes you focus on what's important and what isn't. So our operations are as streamlined as they are inclusive." -- Michael Bugeja, director of Iowa State University's Greenlee School of Journalism

"Become current. Stay current. Develop working ongoing partnerships with the best digital minds in the professional community that you can find. Understand that you need to work harder than ever to remain relevant. Also, it would be really smart to pay attention to IDEO and design thinking as you think about the future of news." -- David Slayden, executive director of Boulder Digital Works at the University of Colorado at Boulder, offering advice for professors


"It will take a while to get the wave of people through graduate school who are prepared to teach in these new media areas. But in the short term, the advice I would give is to use temporary lecturers, visiting professionals, editors-in-residence -- people who have recent professional experience, are perhaps between jobs. [They] have an opportunity to get their feet wet in the classroom to see if it's something they would like to do, and to use a series of short courses. We have something in our catalog called 'special topics' which enables us to create a course without having to go through the university curriculum committee." -- Kenton Bird, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the Internet since 1997. Currently, she helps run OurBlook.com, a collaborative online forum that gathers interviews from today's top leaders in the hopes of finding tomorrow's solutions. Since December 2008, the site has been conducting a Future of Journalism interview series. Sandra also heads up the Facebook page, "Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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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 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 ».

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