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October 19 2010


Knight Fellows Switch from Sabbaticals to Hands-On Projects

For much of the past 40 years, the idea of a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University was a dream come true for mid-career journalists, most of whom came from major newspapers. The journalists were paid a decent salary, could shape their school year away from work with study and in-depth projects and thinking. And best of all, they could take their learning back to the newsroom and continue where they left off.

But during the fellowship class of 2005-2006, something was amiss. Seven of the fellows saw their newspapers sold, or they were offered buyouts. The jobs they thought they would have upon return had vaporized. That class of fellows was more concerned about the changing state of journalism than their own personal projects. How could they relax and learn when they weren't sure what kind of work, if any, would be there at the end of the program?

Pam Maples was a Knight Fellow that year. She came from senior management at the Dallas Morning News. She's now the innovation director of the Knight Fellowships, which changed course last year to focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. The Fellowships are now not so much about mid-career journalists; they're about journalists who want to bring change to the industry.

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After her fellowship, Maples went from the Morning News to a post at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and even became vice president of editorial at the startup Newsy in Columbia, Mo., before taking the position at the Knight Fellowships earlier this year. In a wide-ranging phone interview, she told me how she would describe her job as innovation director.

"One of my primary jobs is to work with [fellows] on their projects," she said. "We like to think of it as being kind of like a coach. Part of my job is to help them keep themselves accountable. It's also to watch out for the program. We expect them to produce something tangible during this year. And that can be broadly defined, but part of my job is to help them decide what that's going to be."

Maples said prospective fellows have to pitch ideas to get accepted for a fellowship, and have to prove they have what it takes to make those ideas a reality. But she also admitted the program has had stumbles in making the transition from free-form sabbatical to results-driven projects and startups. The following is an edited version of our conversation with some audio highlights.


When they said they were changing the program, did that make sense to you? Do you think they should have made the changes sooner?

Maples: Yeah, one thing that really affected them was not just people in the [fellows] class I was in and what was going on for them in the industry -- but we wanted to talk about it, and not just cry over spilled milk. We wanted to talk about journalism and what was going on. It used to be that fellows were really into disconnecting. We organized some of our things, we were a very entrepreneurial group [when I was a fellow] and we wanted to talk about what was going on and how to navigate it not just as individuals but as fellows. And what could be some of the answers.

The change should have been made sooner. I don't think we missed the opportunity, but it made total sense ... Jim [Bettinger, program director] or Dawn [Garcia, deputy director] would tell you that they wished all this happened faster.

What's your assessment of the first class of fellows with this new direction? What worked and what didn't work?

Maples: The first class was really messy, and I mean that in the best way you can. A lot of things were being figured out as they went along. There was a lot of trial and error. Jim and Dawn were also changing what the staff [of the fellowship program] do. Think of it as trying to manage 20 high-performing reporters. So we learned some things from that first class of fellows. Their feedback was great.

Their feedback was that the year started too slowly. The message they say they got in the beginning was, 'Don't sweat your project so much at the beginning, during the first quarter. Get your feet on the ground, relax a little and enjoy the fellowship experience.' For some of them who wanted their project to become their livelihood, by the spring they were saying, 'Man I wish I had started harder earlier.' So we changed the pace of the beginning of the year.

Maples explains how some fellows are taking classes with the design school at Stanford, and they're even running a bootcamp in collaboration with the school:


How much of a role does technology now play in the work and study of fellows in the program?

Maples: We look at innovation broadly, so it doesn't mean it's just technology. I sensed in the spring that there were fellows who were trying to create technology-based initiatives. Some of the other fellows were feeling like, 'Oh that's what I have to do!' You can get infected with that out here [in Silicon Valley]. 'I got to do a startup!' I had a conversation with a fellow who wanted a risk-free startup. She didn't say that, but I said, 'You need to ask yourself if this is the life for you, and it's OK if it's not.'

So we've tried to be clear with folks about that. If you come here with a concept and want that to be your future livelihood, it's not impossible, but it would be unusual to take a very broad concept to a funded startup in nine months. We've tried to be clear about what you can expect while also walking a line to not dampen [their enthusiasm]. We had some folks, and that's what they were trying to do, and it was getting late in the year and they were trying to find money. We've been clear that we're not a seed organization. Well really we are, we invest in this year, we pay for this year, but we're not a financing organization or an angel [investor].

So maybe it makes sense to have a seminar on getting funding?

Maples: One of our roles is to help them get the tools and knowledge they need to pursue their project. We're running a little survey with them. They have so much initiative. There are some things they are going to teach each other. There will be a special set of seminars. Some of the fellows have volunteered to teach other fellows things they know. For things they don't know, I'm putting together seminars on things like 'How to Write a Business Plan,' 'How to Make a Pitch' and have some investors there -- not to put money down but to listen to pitches and give critiques.

How have you changed the requirements for Knight Fellowships? It used to be for mid-career journalists but that's changed. How many people are doing it and going back to organizations and how many aren't?

Maples: We don't have the same sort of requirements any more. One of the things we changed was who we consider an applicant and how we define it. In last year's class of fellows, we had more U.S. fellows not going back to organizations than people who were. We don't have language about 'mid-career' journalists in our literature anymore. Our average age is close to what it was, but the span is wider. We have people in their late 20s this year, and people in their late 50s -- it's a broader mix.

People have to pitch their idea in either entrepreneurship, leadership or innovation -- or in all three of those. Somebody can have a fabulous idea but if you don't see any sign that they've ever been entrepreneurial or pushed an envelope, then we think about that. What's our sense of whether this person could effectively pursue this? We found that a few last year completely changed their projects, and the world changes so fast now.

When you're accepting more freelancers, do you also accept people doing journalism on a blog rather than with a traditional media outlet?

Maples: Absolutely. Absolutely. We have a woman this year, Wendy Norris, who is editor and publisher of WesternCitizen.com, an independent investigative news network of journalists and citizens who participate in crowdsourcing. She started her life as a social worker and came into journalism. It used to be that you had your organization's support, and they promised to give you a leave and you promised to go back. What we say now, because some organizations won't promise anymore, is that if you do promise to go back, then you have to keep that promise.

We have a guy this year, Dan Archer, who's a comics journalist. You wouldn't have seen that in the Knight program three or four years ago. He's doing some very interesting work and thinking about telling stories visually.

Maples talks about a fellow in Ecuador who was working on making newspaper opinion pieces more interactive, and a fellow in Nepal who was helping people in community radio share content:


How do you define success with projects -- especially after you changed the way projects are done?

Maples: We're still talking about the ways to define success and figuring that out. We looked at this as a program that helped one journalist at a time, in the old days. And now we look at it as a program that tries to help journalism through these people. In some respect, some of the successes will be projects that actually happen -- whether it's about technology or not. We probably won't know the impact [of many projects] for a few years. If some web initiatives actually launch and become companies or non-profits, that's a concrete sign of success. For some things, the project is less important than what the person takes away, but that's hard to measure.

There was one former fellow, Teru Kuwayama, who ended up getting funding through a Knight News Challenge grant. Do you think there will be more of that kind of synergy between those programs?

Maples: We're talking about that. But Teru did that on his own. They don't hold a slot for a Knight Fellow and we didn't ask them for that. We are in an interesting spot because we have our own endowment, we don't get our money from that part of Knight. But we're in communication with them.

How much input did they have in the change you made?

Maples: They didn't. They're very happy with it and they talked about that, but Jim and Dawn and the board did this on their own. We technically don't answer to them [because of our endowment]. The Knight Foundation gave this money to Stanford and it's a separate endowment. We keep them posted on what we're doing, and we've been talking about how we can take advantage of the expertise they have [at Knight].

Maples talks about how Knight Fellows work with the computer science school and business school at Stanford:



What do you think about the new direction by the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford? Have you taken the program before, and what was your experience? How do you think it could be improved? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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August 31 2010


5Across: Beyond J-School

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5Across 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.

Just as traditional media has struggled with disruptive technology and the Internet, so too have the institutions that run journalism education. Most journalism schools and training programs are run by people whose careers were framed by print, broadcast and traditional PR, so how can students get the skills they need in the digital age? We convened a group of journalism educators, a trainer, a student and a J-school dropout to discuss how journalism education is shifting.

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The discussion flowed from the changing curriculum to the student's mindset -- why do students still believe in the romance of a journalism career when there are so few jobs? How should educators teach new multimedia skills, as well as collaboration with other journalists and even the people formerly known as the audience? And finally, do students even need a journalism degree or can they learn it all themselves. We discuss this and a whole lot more on this spirited episode of 5Across, part of our two-week special on journalism education at MediaShift. Check it out!

5Across: Beyond J-School


>>> Subscribe to 5Across video podcast <<<

>>> Subscribe to 5Across via iTunes <<<

Guest Biographies

After dropping out of journalism school in 1998, Lea Aschkenas wrote a story about her experiences for Salon. Her post-journalism school career includes a stint as a staff reporter, itinerant freelance writer, and author of the memoir, "Es Cuba: Life and Love on an Illegal Island" (Seal Press, 2006). She has also written for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle. Currently, she works as a public librarian and teaches poetry-writing through the California Poets in the Schools program.

Kelly Goff is a senior in the journalism department at San Francisco State University, focusing on print and online journalism. She recently moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles, where she earned her associates in journalism from Pierce College. She is also an assistant events planner with the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

Jon Funabiki is a professor of journalism at San Francisco State University and executive director of the Renaissance Journalism Center, which conducts projects to stimulate journalistic innovations that strengthen communities. Funabiki is the former deputy director of the Ford Foundation's Media, Arts & Culture Unit and was the founding director of San Francisco State University's Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism. As a journalist with The San Diego Union, he specialized in U.S.-Asia political and economic affairs and reported from Japan, China, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries.

Lanita Pace-Hinton is the director of the Knight Digital Media Center, a
continuing education program based at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. The Knight Digital Media Center offers free week-long workshops that provides journalists with hands-on training on multimedia storytelling and how to use web tools and social media. Lanita has served as director of career services

and industry outreach for the UC Berkeley journalism school. She advised students on skills development and how to prepare for their entry into the profession.

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

Howard Rheingold is a prominent author, educator and speaker on technology and the Internet. He wrote best-sellers about virtual reality and virtual communities, and was the founding executive editor of HotWired. He also founded Electric Minds in the mid-'90s. Rheingold has taught as appointed lecturer at UC Berkeley and Stanford University and has spoken about the social, cultural, political and economic impacts of new technologies.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I've broken them down by topic below.

Shifting the Curriculum

The Student's Mindset

The Good and Bad of Social Media

Journalism School Necessary?

Teaching Tech Skills


Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Corbin Hiar, research assistant

Singeli Agnew, camera

Julie Caine, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS and the Knight Foundation

Music by AJ the DJ


What do you think? Are you an educator or student with thoughts on how journalism should be taught? Do you think a degree in journalism is necessary to become a journalist? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

news21 small.jpg

5Across 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 ».

December 10 2009


Stanford Program Breaks Down Walls Between Business, Tech Journalism

I am so used to hearing about innovation in journalism that when I first heard about the Innovation Journalism program at Stanford, I assumed that's what it focused on. Not exactly.

The VINNOVA-Stanford Research Center of Innovation Journalism actually focused on helping journalists cover the field of innovation. David Nordfors, a Swedish punk rocker-turned-molecular-physicist-turned-journalist, found that journalists were stuck in silos of "business journalism" and "technology journalism" and couldn't see the big picture of innovation.

In 2003, Nordfors started the Innovation Journalism program, bringing mid-career journalists from around the world to Stanford University as fellows. They were placed in San Francisco Bay Area newsrooms to learn the new ways that reporters and bloggers were covering technology and innovation. Those newsrooms include the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, CNET and even the Technologizer blog. There's also an annual Conference on Innovation Journalism at Stanford, where the fellows present their work and discuss related topics.

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While the program was set up to help journalists do a better job of covering the topic of innovation, there is now a need for journalists to do a better job of covering innovation in journalism itself. Nordfors told me that journalists charged with covering the media are good practitioners of innovation journalism, because they are mixing business, technology, lifestyle and political journalism in one beat. He stresses that journalists need to break out of their silos and go across disciplines for better coverage of innovation.

I recently sat down with Nordfors at Stanford to talk about the Innovation Journalism program, and get his take on the current state of journalism, and how media companies -- and even journalism schools -- need to change. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation, including audio and video clips.

Tell me a little about your background going from Sweden to the U.S.

David Nordfors: I was in the first generation of punk rockers in Sweden, and then I broke that off to become a quantum molecular physicist. After a number of years doing that, I decided that I was much more interested in the interaction of people. I wanted to think about how knowledge creates value when it spreads in society. I looked at my own research and wondered, "who has a use for this?" It was the process of spreading the knowledge that fascinated me. I had worked as a journalist for a computer magazine and [found] some joy in it, and some success. Physicists are heavy users of super-computers so I covered that for a Swedish computer magazine. I became the science editor of that magazine.

Then I got a job offer to help build up a new foundation about innovation and the introduction of information technology in Sweden, and [and about] collaboration between industry and universities. I jumped at it, I had to take it. What I brought with me from the magazine was that all these research structures in society were very bad in communicating to the outside world. They produced brochures but never served the needs of journalists. My point of view as a journalist was that all these booklets have the same message: "We have a booklet!" They have nice color, glossy paper, but the message is "booklet." To get knowledge out there, you need to have journalism! And journalism wasn't part of that system.

So we said science had to interact with society, and get research out so people could interact with it. Normally, science is about intra-community -- you publish for peer review. If scientists are in the outside world being very visible on TV and newspapers, their colleagues will stop taking them seriously and think they are vulgar or sensationalists. We tried to change that. I always pushed journalism as part of the system.

Nordfors discusses how power is shifting from Washington D.C. to Silicon Valley boardrooms:

What was your impetus for starting the Innovation Journalism program?

Nordfors: We aren't able to have a public discussion [about innovation] because journalism is organized in those same darn verticals as the rest of society. So you have one part of innovation stories on the business page, another part on the tech page, one part is on the politics page, one part on the lifestyle page. All these editors have one part of the story and have no intention of collaborating with the other editors. You have the same stack of silos in the newsroom as out in society. If you're into changing things and finding new solutions, the opportunity is to go across disciplines.

When I started with Innovation Journalism, I said we must cross the barrier between tech journalism and business journalism [that existed] in early 2000. I talked to a business journalist about it and he said, "It sounds interesting, but you know it won't work. We business journalists don't cover products. That might give companies control over us." His job was covering the numbers from the company, but it's impossible to cover a company if you don't cover both how it's managed and the products it makes.

If we want to discuss the iPhone or Nokia or the future of the U.S. car industry, we have to discuss their ability to make future products, and there's no way to do that without crossing the silos of tech, business, politics and lifestyle. And these barriers can be very high. I was lucky to be at a small magazine where all our readers were engineers, so we could write enlightened things for enlightened engineers -- but we couldn't set the public debate.

How has the program evolved over the years?

Nordfors: We started it as a Swedish program, I came here as a visiting professor at Stanford and then after a year I was hired by Stanford. Pretty soon Finland joined; there was a guy here as a Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Seppo Sisättö. He started the first commercial news outlet after communism in Finland. Finland has the most robust innovation journalism program [operating] today. They send three journalists a year here to work in the program and work at news outlets here. They sent researchers here, who returned to Finland and got funding to do research on innovation journalism. [It's a] similar story in Slovenia.

You are training people who are mid-career journalists, right?

Nordfors: Yes. The first innovation journalism fellow we had from Finland, Jyrki Alkio, had covered Nokia for five years for the largest daily newspaper in Finland. He was at Red Herring, and he did a lot of valuable reporting for them, and brought valuable training back to Finland about how to report on innovation. He became very influential in Finland, and co-founded FINJO, the Finnish association for innovation journalists.

What makes me most happy is what we've done in Pakistan, which is such a dark horse. There's basically only one story going on about Pakistan and that's [based on] what we envision [about the country], but in all countries there are people doing all types of things. I also learned the same thing while living in Israel -- that under the toughest of circumstances, you can find the best people. If you have a country with great working conditions, average people can do very good things. But if you're in a country with challenges and war and corruption, you have to be very good to make things happen.

I've been fortunate with a collaboration in Pakistan. Amir Jahangir headed the Pakistani Innovation Journalism Initiative after being a fellow here. They started things like citizen journalism and reporting. They took tips from the audience, and they started a series on innovation in Pakistan that has been extremely successful.

Nordfors explains how the news industry is slowly giving up control of the medium with the switch to digital:

Do you work closely with the journalism school here at Stanford?

Nordfors: We have good relations with them, and with the Knight Fellowships. I have lectured for the Knight Fellows and they will be lecturing for my fellows. My fellows interact with the journalism program and Knight fellows. The difference is that my fellows are off-campus in newsrooms, and the Knight fellows and students are on campus most of the time.

We place fellows in newsrooms such as Fortune magazine, Fast Company, Science magazine, Technology Review, PC World, CNET, San Francisco Chronicle, Red Herring. We had single bloggers like Technologizer, Harry McCracken. It's not that these guys from other countries come to see how things work perfectly here. It's to work together with U.S. peers and with people who are knowledgeable in journalism ... to dive in and develop their expertise.

So they work for the newsroom here [in the Bay Area] or their home newsroom?

Nordfors: They have a desk in the newsroom -- if the newsroom has desks -- and work for the ones here. In 2004, back when people wondered whether blogs should be taken seriously, and we had a guy named Marcus Lillkvist who did some marvelous investigative work on an Icelandic company called Decode. This earned him his fellowship and here he was at the Wall Street Journal, and did the first story in the Journal about blogs getting advertising. They're also in classes here at Stanford ...

We also have our own copy editors, because fellows say it's hard to get into the almost artistic literary writing that's required for journalists in the U.S., instead of just writing the facts as people are used to in Sweden or Finland. We have a copy editor who has been covering the Valley, so it helps the fellows turn in good first versions of stories to their hosts.

Nordfors discusses how journalists should address solutions for problems such as global warming, rather than just pointing out the problem:

There are some schools that are teaching journalists programming and how to do database journalism. What do you think about that?

Nordfors: That's very good. We need to redefine journalism. It has always been defined by its relationship to its medium. We need to redefine journalism by its relation[ship] to the audience. Journalists focus public attention on topics of interest to the public, with a mandate from the public. If their mandate is from the sources, then they are PR guys. Why shouldn't it be possible for journalists to be programmers? They can develop applications that focus public attention on issues that interest the public, and help to build the story, the shared narratives in society, and help us discuss topics like global warming.

If it adds to the journalistic knowledge of a subject, then it's journalism. I'm all for that.

Who's doing innovation journalism well, in your opinion?

Nordfors: If you go to publications like TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Engadget, CNET -- some independent bloggers that have been around awhile -- you can get a good picture on what's happening here. The journalism here is opening up to take in the social stories, and the politics a bit. What was Obama's platform on this? I'd like to see a bit more journalism around how well Obama is keeping his promises around this. That's maybe what's missing here in the Valley -- it's a bit weak on the public policy, but it's strong on mixing business and technology.

It's important that we don't just see this as tech, but as innovation in society. It's not the tech gadget that's the news. It's the increased ability of us humans to live improved lives, with new improved abilities, and how we use it. Tech is a central part of that story as a key enabler.

How do old ways of journalism need to change?

Nordfors: Journalists have to tear down the wall to the marketing guys, and have to accept that they're part of the equation. And the technology guys who sit in the basement have to build an elevator up from the basement so they can come up and talk to the people in the light, and sit down and figure out how to co-develop this. It's not about journalism or marketing or technology, but it's about co-evolving these so we get good journalism.

Today, journalism companies have to focus on technology, but technology isn't the answer. Technology will always remain the tool for developing a useful story for the audience to participate in.

There's so much in the structure of journalism that has to be changed. It's the curriculum: the principles of journalism that talked about objectivity and not being involved, which we all know is not true. So we need to take that one by the horns and figure out how we are involved, and still uphold the principles of journalism. The Constitution of Sweden, and even of the U.S., talk[s] about freedom of press and who is a journalist. They define a journalist by the medium. That's got to be changed. That's important. I think the First Amendment is important and it's heading over the cliff, because not everyone who's writing on the Internet is [seen as] a journalist. You can't define a journalist by their medium.

Nordfors talks about journalism schools and how they could change by focusing on the storytelling rather than the medium:


What do you think about the Innovation Journalism program at Stanford? Do you think journalists could do a better job covering innovation? How? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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

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