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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Embrace the disruption and win the war November 11, 2008

Filed under: innovation,journalism,video — contentninja @ 1:56 pm
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My New Video Camera

Image by Ezalis via Flickr

Brit Paul Bradshaw attended the Society of Editors 08 meeting in the United Kingdom recently and posted at his Online Journalism Blog video of Michael Rosenblum’s presentation.

Rosenblum is a former CBS news producer turned independent video journalist.  Bradshaw presents Rosenblum in three videos, totalling roughly 20 minutes. Yes, it’s linear video, and it’s worth every minute. (There is some blue language about halfway through first video.)

Rosenblum rocks the boat, and it’s a wonderful ride.

I’ve been chided for not exploring the future of TV news enough in this blog. Rosenblum takes it on, no holds barred. His point is that TV news, as it’s always been done, is ridiculously overpriced. You no longer need all those editors, producers and $500,000 editing bays, he says. Hire six quality journalists,  outfit them each with an $800 point-n-shoot video camera, teach them to edit on a Mac laptop and send them out the door to find stories in their communities. Heck, they can even work from home. It’s not just talk; he’s doing these things.

Are you listening, newspapers? Rosenblum says newspapers need to stop fighting that disruptive technology known as the Internet and start doing this, too — because the Web demands video, that’s why. “You are not in the newspaper business!” he says, explaining that we’re in the business of delivering stories to our communities and charging advertisers for the eyeballs. And we can still do that on the Internet, he says, and save money, too.

And lest we get all dismissive and elitist about those less-expensive VJs — as we journos are wont to do with experimental stuff (see mainstream media’s hypercritical response to David Cohn’s crowd-funded Spot.us) — Rosenblum points out that there are talented journalists who can be tapped for these jobs and that mainstream media companies will attract them.

“Journalists aren’t made; they’re born,” Rosenblum says, quoting a colleague. Damn right we are, and we can do this.

Still have doubts? Rosenblum points out that embracing disruptive technology has been a winning strategy since 1356. Listen to his Edward III story in second video for details.

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iJournalism? October 14, 2008

Filed under: journalism,newspapers — contentninja @ 7:00 am
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Into the woods

Image by ~jjjohn~ via Flickr

What if newspapers could adopt the iTunes business model?

Leonard Witt, lead blogger at the Public Journalism Network, wonders about that.

“What if  — and this is really a big ‘what if’ — what if news organizations put together divisions that worked at producing blockbuster productions that people might actually want to download via iTunes or something similar. What if you had produced a video or audio production that was so popular that 100,000 people downloaded it at 99 cents. Getting 100,000 sales would pay for one journalist.”

Witt speculates that such content would not be hard news and not made by the newsroom. His “pop culture division” would live separate from the news operation, like today’s advertising department. And like advertising, the division’s revenues would support hard news journalism.

This former features editor finds it heartwarming to think that features content could be the salvation of newspapers. It’s good work if you can get it. :)

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Merge ahead June 10, 2008

Filed under: community,journalism — contentninja @ 5:23 pm
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The Schuylkill Expressway, approaching Center City from the North.

Image via Wikipedia

OK, our future is going to include citizen journalists in our communities contributing side by side with professional reporters, but sometimes well-meaning folks get stuff wrong or they’re reporting unverified information. How do we separate rumor and myth from reliable, relevant content?

(Don’t get your knickers in a knot. I’m not suggesting the pros always get it right. We are paid to make the effort, however.)

Dan Schultz, writing Sunday over at MediaShift Idea Lab, has a plan. He envisions a five-step process that pairs the critical thinking of the community collective with computer smarts. It looks like this:

“Technique 1: Purgatory – New articles of any type will start in a section of the site dedicated to unchecked information. This content will not be ‘elevated’ to the mainstream area until it has been collectively rated and categorized, and meets a certain quality threshold. By placing content here the users’ critical abilities will be explicitly triggered, they will be reading the content specifically to judge it.

“Technique 2: Context – The system’s tagging process will make it possible to display potentially related articles for curious readers. During article purgatory this will help inform critical ability; a lone report about a huge explosion in Montana might not be credible, but seeing that there are 500 of them alongside links to a breaking story from the AP would make the piece much more believable.

“Technique 3: User history – Has the user contributed anything in the past? What is the average quality of those contributions? Has the user tended to write opinion or report pieces? The system can provide this information to readers, once again in the name of empowering critical ability.

“Technique 4: Intelligent systems – Spam is automatically caught by mail and forum filters all the time. Although our situation will still require human input, the system could flag particularly suspicious-looking or particularly good-looking content in order to help guide purgatory readers.

“Technique 5: Targeted moderation – Since people will define topical and geographic interests, new articles can be targeted during the moderation process. This would mean that Philadelphians would have higher clout when judging a story that is relevant to Philadelphia and that those who like nanotechnology would be more trusted to review the latest report on the nano-bot 5000.”

My first reaction was, wow, how time-consuming. Not necessarily, Schultz argues. “This probably all sounds like a lot to ask of Joe User, but it actually isn’t so bad. It will just involve spending a minute or two reading an amusingly bad or refreshingly good article about a topic that is likely to have been targeted (i.e., of interest) to them.”

A wiki-type interface for the ninja communities has been one option from the beginning. I believe Schultz’s system just might work with a wiki. What say you?

Oh, and lest anyone think it’s all doom and gloom in the journalism biz these days, Paul Bradshaw and his Online Journalism Team have started JollyJournalist.com, which celebrates all the reasons it’s a great time to be a journalist.

Bradshaw and team even posted their Top 10 list of reasons on the blog. You can add your reasons at JollyJournalist. Go on. Spread the enthusiasm.

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It’s alive! May 29, 2008

Filed under: innovation — contentninja @ 3:58 pm
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Ready Position

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Paul Gillin’s post Wednesday at Social Media Today is a nice string of briefs on innovative experiments in journalism today.

Among others, he highlights the San Francisco Chronicle’s success with user-generated content for money-making niche print products and the Hartford Courant’s reverse publishing of hyperlocal UGC from an online community. (Hmm. Smells like a ninja project.)

Also interesting is the Press Gazette (UK) plan to merge three newsrooms into a platform-agnostic workforce. This is the separate-content-creation-from-product-creation concept. Journalists from the Guardian, the Observer and the Guardian’s Web site will create content for department editors (product managers), who will push it out through various forms of distribution. The reporter doesn’t work for any one product; the reporter just gets the news.

Gillin notes: “One radical concept: Journalists will have the freedom to publish directly to their audiences on timely stories, without the intercession of an editor.”

This is taking the disruption of social media right down to the frontlines. As Clay Shirky argues in “Here Comes Everybody,” institutions were created to manage the output of large groups. Social media tools, however, make it possible for larger groups to manage themselves, thereby disrupting an institution’s management structure. In other words, we may not need so many managers.

Now’s a perfect time for our industry to re-evaluate every process, protocol and structure we have. If we make our newsrooms truly 24/7, tech-savvy places, then we don’t need separate online departments b/c every reporter is living it. And if we’re living in that space with our audiences, we need to talk directly with them, not just at them.

Am I saying we don’t need editors anymore? Not at all, but I do think editors need to get out of the way sometimes.

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Stone soup May 21, 2008

Filed under: content,innovation — contentninja @ 4:52 pm
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UPC-A barcode image

Image via Wikipedia

The Association of Food Journalists asked me to help judge its annual writing contest again this year. I was given my choice of categories, and I jumped at the chance to judge the online category.

Although I cannot give specifics (winners will be announced in October), I shall say I was rather disappointed. Entries were relatively few and — get this — on paper. It’s hard to miss the irony in that. Only one of the entries made reference to an alternate delivery form (audio) or clearly contained links for more and related information for greater context.

Only ONE.

And not one made reference to related video.

In fairness, it should be noted that the category is actually called “best food writing on the Internet,” not best online or multimedia food content, which is what I think the category should be.  (In my mind, traditional newspaper writing that just happens to pub online doesn’t warrant a separate writing category. Same stuff, different delivery.)

I’m told that the category will be reworked for next year. That’s great. AFJ is a group of earnest, sincere people with a love for food journalism. I’ve no doubt AFJ can see where it needs to go and is trying. Being ahead of the curve this year, though, would have been even better.

In an ideal world, entries wouldn’t come on paper. Contest judges would get a list of links to interactive packages online, where not just the words would be reviewed. Audio and video tracks could be played, and links could be followed. THAT’S what an online journalism contest should look like.

Of course, there are issues. Like whether that awesome multimedia package from six months ago is still alive somewhere when a contest rolls around. And visiting the actual Web site would conflict with AFJ’s usual MO of keeping entries anonymous to the judges.

I’m hopeful, though, that as journalists embrace online delivery methods and multimedia tools, they’ll insist that their work be judged differently. And AFJ has an opportunity to drive that change.

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In my tribe April 30, 2008

Filed under: innovation,journalism,social media — contentninja @ 2:50 pm
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Content Ninja is back from last week’s reconnaissance missions, and I must say, context gathering is a beautiful thing. But I digress. Some cool things I’ve come across, now that I’m caught up with feeds, e-mail, voice-mail and meetings.

Paul Bradshaw has a terrific post at Online Journalism Blog on the myriad ways “Journalists Can Master Twitter.” The post is worth reading just for his list of recommended Twitter tools that can stock your contacts list. I especially like Gridjit.

J.Deragon defines a new term — socialutions — in his post “What is Socialutions?” at Social Media Today. He defines it this way:

“(P)eople, communities and organizations leveraging technology to interact with people for the purpose of solving problems. The act of working together with others to create new solutions to old paradigms of communications and interaction without boundaries and with limitless reach.”

He further suggests that old paradigms must be completely abandoned.

“For the old to adapt and flourish in the new paradigm they must understand the dynamics, the tools and the methods of Socialutions. Otherwise any attempts to leverage the new paradigm by forcing it to fit into old methods will create social rejections and the old problems will remain however the results will be worse than previously experienced.”

And lastly, Francois Gossieaux shares a slide presentation at Emergence Marketing in his post “2008 Tribalization of Business Study-Preliminary Results.” Which is an incredibly academic title for a really accessible slide show on community building and what works. (To see slides, click “view” next to Slideshare icon below.)

Although the presentation was written from a marketing perspective, it has value for us, too. I found slides No. 16 (“Community features contributing the most to effectiveness”) and No. 17 (“The biggest obstacles to making communities work”) to be most relevant.

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