Content Ninja's Weblog

An exploratory journey on the edge of newspaper evolution

Journalism education is dated February 9, 2009

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 2:45 pm
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Math in the afternoon
Image by indoloony via Flickr

Some colleagues and I sat on a panel last week at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.  We were there ostensibly to talk about online reporting, but we spent a lot of time talking about how journalism is changing on a large scale.

Instructor Jane Nesmith and her students were most welcoming, but I suspect that I got  more out of the hour than they did. Here’s why.

I faced up to the fact that formal journalism programs are even farther behind the innovation curve than newspapers and media companies, and that’s a huge disservice to the next generation of journalists.

The media companies that make it will need skill sets that today’s journalism graduates aren’t getting, and while companies will train current staff to adapt, new hires will be expected to bring requisite skills to the table. And the journalism grads that stick with this business need skill sets that no one is advising them to pick up. So let me be one of the first.

As I told the students at Coe, would-be journalists should be blogging. If it’s not required for school, do it on your own. Take some business and marketing classes, to help you manage your career like the entrepreneurial business that it will be some day.  Does your college of choice have a formal journalism program? If so, take a hard look at it. Does it have photography, videography, multimedia classes in addition to the writing courses? How about those marketing and business courses, especially change management? How about graphic design? How about basic web coding? If it doesn’t have those things in the core curriculum, is the program flexible enough that you could pick up the classes in other departments? If it’s not that flexible, is there an all-purpose liberal arts degree that you could get instead and shape the appropriate program for yourself?

I’m serious about this. Classes on the inverted pyramid don’t cut it anymore (not that they did when I was in school, either), and Hunter S. Thompson‘s style of writing hasn’t been cutting edge for  a long time.

Yes, this stuff is being talked about in academia. There may even be J-schools that are thinking, “Gosh, we have to change, too.” The problem is that schools change reactively, not proactively. Don’t I and my colleagues wish that our educations included business courses?

In the meantime, current journalism students are flailing, and they shouldn’t bank on the fleeting advantages of youth. Once more grown-ups figure out it takes only 5 minutes to set up a Facebook account or learn to use nearly any social network, they’ll be less likely to hand over the keys to the kingdom merely because a new hire is younger than 30.

Coe, a small, private liberal arts college, doesn’t have a formal journalism program. Students can, however, craft their education to fit their needs. If I were Coe, I’d put together a “suggested” curriculum for journalists. Then I’d market Coe to would-be journos everywhere.  “See all the courses we have to prep you better than the big guys’ J-schools can? Survive the journalism revolution. Craft yourself a degree that will carry you through the 21st century of journalism.”

Yep, that’s what today’s students need, because that’s what media companies need, too.

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The gospel according to social media January 21, 2009

Filed under: social media — contentninja @ 7:00 am
Tags: ,
Transparent screen attempt
Image by jpstanley via Flickr

Content Ninja is taking the evangelizing on the road.

@jenneumann and @HeatherMSmith have asked me to join them in a presentation next week for the Chamber Academy, a B2B series sponsored by the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

We’ll be talking about why businesses need to get involved with social media and how to use it for business. Some key points we’ll be making: listen, engage, contribute, keep it real and it’s not an age thing.

To register for Social Media Workshop 2.0 – Making it Work for your Business or to get more information, see the Chamber’s site. Also check out the nifty wiki that Jen created. It’ll be stocked with additional info and reading for business owners.

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Lost and found January 20, 2009

Filed under: Because — contentninja @ 11:54 am
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Over the weekend, I saw the trailer for the new “Lost Boys” movie.

It made me laugh for two reasons:

1) I’m now old enough that the “creative” machine in Hollywood is revisiting the movie franchises of my youth. (1987 for original film. I was an undergrad.)

2) Corey Feldman. He still looks 12. What’s he ingesting these days, Dick Clark Elixir? (And how do I get some?)

It also reminded me that I really liked the soundtrack to the original film, so I went looking for the tape. Yes, the tape. I didn’t even own an original. Someone had copied it for me.  It was long gone, lost in the downsizing of some move since college. (Note to self: Look up that soundtrack on iTunes.)

It’s also a timely reminder that today, no matter how crazy and tumultuous, is tomorrow’s nostalgic memory (if not fond, at least distant). I enjoyed that first movie and the music, and if I want to enjoy them now, it’ll be via Netflix and an iPod, not the original media of VHS and cassette tape. I adored college — figuring out who I am, what I like, what I’m good at, all in the unique incubator of campus life. Would I go back to 1987 and that awkward, sometimes painful, period of discovery? Nope, not on your life.

Yes, life is insane right now. Imploding media industry, reorg at work, historical inauguration, cavernous recession. It’s not the end of the world as we know it, however. Keep perspective, and keep looking forward.

Who are you? What do you like? What are you good at? Reach for truly creative opportunities that match your passion. Life shouldn’t be a rerun. Don’t settle for remakes. Let the soundtrack of your life be a mix of your own choosing. No going back.

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Be a blog star, or at least link to one December 19, 2008

Filed under: social media,Uncategorized — contentninja @ 2:01 pm
Tags: ,
A broad metal chain.
Image via Wikipedia

Friend and former cohort in news Tracy Pratt asked me this week for some tips and best practices on blogging to share with a blogger from the community that she’s recruiting. I pounded out a bullet list in no time. It also got me thinking about all the blog newbies I know. So I’m pushing out the list here for all to enjoy.

Like my earlier post on social media tools, advice on building a successful blog abounds. Fellow bloggers with experience, please share your tips for best practices, too.

Note: These tips are more about building brand and audience development for a blog than how to write one. A wealth of advice exists in the writing category and can be easily accessed at your nearest bookstore or Google search bar.

  • Blog 2-3 times a week to build and maintain an audience. You can certainly blog more than that, but 2-3 times a week would be the minimum goal for maintaining your audience’s attention.
  • Find bloggers who speak to the same or similar topic as yours, comment on their blogs and link back to your blog. This helps build your audience.
  • Allow comments on your blog and — most importantly — respond and engage with folks there. If you don’t engage with your audience, you’ll lose them.
  • It’s OK to set rules for commenters about civility and niceness. It’s also OK to delete comments that break the rules, but you should be clear about what the rules are.
  • Give credit where it’s due. Attribute information you get from elsewhere. Even better, link to original source. Research shows that links out of your site can help build traffic. (It also helps search engines find you.)
  • Speaking of search engines, keep headlines short (5-7 words) and avoid abbreviations to make it easier for search engines to find you. A Web user is more likely to search for “Iowa City accident” than “IC accident,” for example.

Image by Toni Lozano

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Building a social media toolbox December 16, 2008

Filed under: social media — contentninja @ 7:00 am
Tags: ,

As promised, here are some recommendations for getting started in social media.

You certainly don’t have to take my word for it. You could spend days, literally, letting search engines put you in touch with other bloggers who have written good things on this topic. (See what Zemanta found below for starters.) So begin here, or do your own research. Just do it! And please share your recommendations and links to good primers in the comments here.

Chuck Peters recently pointed to an excellent primer on Twitter, and @bldngnerd, a local Twitterer from North Liberty, recently posted this video how-to for TweetDeck, a good tool for managing and filtering your Twitter stream.

I won’t go into detail with Facebook, which is intuitive to use and great for personal stuff. Sign up, have fun, but don’t be stupid. If you’re friending your boss, don’t join groups like “You look better the more I drink” or throw a Bahama Mama at him/her. There are lots of sophomoric Facebook applications mixed in among the cool stuff, such as Goodreads, so be choosy.

LinkedIn is good for professional connections. LinkedIn will connect with SlideShare (a site for uploading and sharing slide presentations), so you can share/show-off your work on a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn also can be used to request and obtain introductions to professionals you don’t know but would like to. Comfort level with that will vary among individuals. I for one won’t introduce someone I don’t know well to someone I do without the latter’s consent. Some people use it as a digital resume. Recruiters and headhunters have been known to use LinkedIn to find and make initial contact with potential employees.

FriendFeed is one example of an aggregator tool. You follow people you know or who share your interests. FriendFeed will then track your and your friends’ activities on many social networks. If you use iGoogle for your home page, there is a FriendFeed widget that puts these updates in front of you, so you don’t have to work hard to use it. In that widget you can rate and comment on friends’ postings. FriendFeed is not by any means a universally adopted tool, but I like it for its integration with Facebook. It will push my tweets, delicious links and notices of blog postings to my Facebook page, which extends my reach for sharing information.

An excellent aggregator for links is delicious. Find a Web page you want to keep and share? Bookmark it and tag it through delicious. People who subscribe to you on delicious can see your links (FriendFeed also will track your delicious bookmarks), and you have a handy reference tool for links that is searchable by tags that are relevant to you. I really like it for keeping up with what Chuck Peters is reading. :)

If you choose to really get into the social media thing, consider ping.fm, which is a broadcast tool. I don’t use this one, but Chuck does, which might be recommendation enough for some folks. You update once at ping, and it pushes that out to all the social networks you desire.

I suggest Google Reader for aggregating blogs you want to follow. Simply subscribe by copying the blog URL into Google Reader. It will track new posts for you, and you have the option of reading them at Reader or click through to the blog. You can “share” items with friends on Google Reader, and FriendFeed will even note what you’ve shared.

Whew. That’s a lot to start. Don’t be intimidated. It’s doable, and I’m glad to help.

Remember: Share what you know, too. Add your favorites here, and if I get enough, I’ll post a complete list at a later time.

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Social media is not 1 size fits all December 15, 2008

Filed under: social media,Uncategorized — contentninja @ 4:31 pm
Tags: ,
Grumpy German lady and oversize teddy bear.
Image by robleto via Flickr

We’re getting serious finally about big change fast, and I’m being asked a lot about finding the value in social tools and how to manage the noise.

The key point to remember is that social media is not one size fits all. What works for me, the company president or your nephew in college may not hold the greatest value for you.  Experimentation is the point.

You have three tasks when you jump into social media:

  • Try: Sign up and use a social network or two. Often recommended around here are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Learn the ropes. Figure out how to upload a photo, embed a video, create a link. Read blogs and comment there. Start your own blog, link out often and use trackbacks to promote your blog around the Internet. Update your e-mail signature with links to your social networking profiles.  Listen to what people in your network say about these and other tools, and then try their recommendations.
  • Weed: Let go of  the tools that don’t add value or relevance to your conversations and information gathering for tools that do. Or maybe the tool’s just fine, but some of the people you’re following in a particular network are not adding value. Let go of them. It’s OK, and it’s normal. Value is determined by the individual. (And it’ll help you understand why it’s so difficult to connect with our customers, who are making their own value judgments, too.)
  • Share: Tell others what you’ve learned and recommend the tools you like. Tell folks why you like those tools and how you use them (i.e., personal vs. professional social networks. Yes, Virginia, there is a difference.) Teach a co-worker how to add a link to an e-mail signature or embed a slideshow. Mind you, your favorite tools won’t work for everyone, but it gives them a place to start, too.

Last point, it’s not an age thing. Anyone can learn and use social media, and then teach it. If you’re too young and hip to teach it, or too old to learn it, you’re part of the problem.

Tomorrow: Some tools for starting your social media toolbox.

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Crunchberry Project rolls forward November 18, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 1:35 pm
Tags: , , ,
Drawing of an early Pelton wheel (also known a...

Image via Wikipedia

Word came Friday that the Crunchberry Project application for a Knight Foundation News Challenge grant is moving forward to the next step in the application process.

This doesn’t mean that we get a grant. It means I get to fill out a longer application. :) Due date is Nov. 30. Winners won’t be announced, however, until summer 2009. When you consider that more than 2,300 applications were made for $5 million in grants, we’re incredibly lucky to still be in the race.

Crunchberry is, of course, the name given to the project by professor Rich Gordon‘s master’s students at Medill, the J-school at Northwestern University. We partnered with them this semester for Gordon’s innovation class.

The students are Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, recipients of Knight scholarships for programmer-journalists; Kayla Webley; Angela Nitzke; Joshua Pollock; and Stuart Tiffen. Pay attention to those names; they’re gonna go places.

What’s the project (besides cleverly named after one of Cedar Rapids’ signature scents)? The students have been exploring how news Web sites can improve upon community conversation around content. By the final presentation in early December, they will have prototyped three new styles of commenting, all using  Facebook integration via the developers’ beta Facebook Connect. Those comment structures are, in highly simplified terms, Q&A, short-form and letters to the editor.

One semester isn’t much time, actually, and while the project is off to a kick-butt start, it won’t be finished. That’s why we asked for a grant — to help fund the next phase of development. Things like bug fixing and integration with our clunky, er, fantabulous legacy systems. Even without the grant, though, we’ll test the features in some way on our content and collect user feedback.

I’ll be learning a handful about grant-writing in this application process, and our friends at Northwestern — Gordon and Medill Associate Dean Mary Nesbitt — will be helping. (To prevent me from messing it up too badly, thankfully.)

It’s important to note at this point that we (read: Gazette Communications Inc.) do not “own” this project. We sponsored the class and we’re applying for the grant, but the project is the result of the students’ hard work. We gave input that helped them determine a direction and focus for the project, but the ideas are theirs.  And the project is built on the promise that the end result is open source, meaning anybody can have the code.

I think the results of the Crunchberry Project will be impressive, and I admire the students’ entrepreneurial efforts. The speed at which they are delivering is enviable. (If only companies could be this nimble, eh?)

So keep your fingers crossed for the Crunchberry Project and the grant app.

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