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Headed to AEJMC as New Journalism Conference Zeroes in on Education

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If it’s August, it must be conference season.
I fly out (early) tomorrow to St. Louis for the AEJMC conference — also known as the annual geek gathering of journalism educators and researchers. It’s also the first of three conferences I’m attending between now and the end of September (as well as moderating a one-night panel at UMass on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.)
The busy start to the Fall semester pretty much made it impossible to attend the newest player on the journalism conference front:  Journalism Interactive: The Conference on Journalism Education & Digital Media at the University of Maryland on Oct. 28-29.  The conference is the brainchild of U-Md. Dean Kevin Close and John Jenkins, the president of CQ Press and looks promising.
“The reason for the conference is to encourage dialogue between journalists, scholars and educators about how journalism schools are incorporating emerging media into their curricula,” says Leslie Walker, one of the co-chairs of the conference.
“The rapidity of change in news is putting pressure on educators to anticipate a future that remains murky. So we think journalism educators need more opportunities to network with peers at other schools to identify promising emerging forms of storytelling, share new teaching approaches to digital media, discuss results of curriculum change and prioritize research questions.”
That’s a space occupied by many — including AEJMC, Poynter and ONA — so it will be interesting to see watch this effort.  While going to another conference with a Jeff Jarvis keynote may turn off some, the roster of speakers is impressive and includes the likes of:  Wisconsin’s Katy Culver and Stephen Ward; Duke’s Sarah Cohen; CUNY’s Jeremy Caplan; ASU’s Retha Hill; UBC’s Alfred Hermida; and Ju-Don Marshall Roberts of Revolution Health.
Walker (a former colleague at washingtonpost.com) says one of the goals of the conference is to create a place for educators to exchange ideas in an environment that seems to be changing constantly. That’s something I’ve wanted ONA to do for a few years now and I’ve been vocal recently about the over-focus on technology with ONA.
The cross-over is something Walker recognizes but she says there is enough room for all groups to co-exist:
“I’ve attended ONA and AEJMC conferences, and think their conferences and training programs are terrific. This is a smaller, more narrowly focused event than those are. We are more focused on education and classroom strategies than ONA, and more focused on digital media than the broader AEJMC conference can afford to be. We are hoping this can complement both AEJMC and ONA and would like to work with their memberships to make sure it’s not duplicative but complementary.”
I wish Leslie and all those involved the best of luck.
Meanwhile, I’m on two panels at AEJMC:  One on sports bloggers and one on how newsrooms and academia can collaborate.  I’ll post more after each panel.
AEJMC is always interesting because of the mix of new school and old school thinking.  But, I’ve been surprised at the number of panels and papers covering new media topics on the schedule.  That’s a good thing….and shows some distinct progress at AEJMC over the past several years.  But, we’ll see.  In recent years, there have been a good number of panels and panelists bemoaning the state of the industry, rather than seeing the creative possibilities.
My friend George Daniel at the University of Alabama provides a nice look at expectations with this blog post, and includes hopes of talk about the possibilities of social media as well as “Strategies for Combating the Mythology about the End of Journalism.”
I’ll give both a big HUZZAH!
More TK…..

AEJMC Day 3: What a difference a year makes

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I’ve heard from more than one person that the mood and tenor at this year’s conference is markedly different from last year’s.  The dour atmosphere that seemed to surround many of the panels last year have been replaced by panels focusing on partnerships, innovation, and a future filled with possibilities for journalism educators and students.

What a difference a year makes.  As my old boss used to say, HUZZAH!

Thursday morning’s session on partnerships, moderated by ASU’s Chris Callahan was typical of many of the sessions devoted this year to the idea of partnerships between academia and professional news organizations.  I took part in one panel discussion late yesterday afternoon.

Medill’s Josh Meyer (a UMass grad!) raised an interesting question during my session.  Is there a template for Memorandums of Understanding that can be shared with programs/departments looking to get a partnership off the ground?  We’re currently beginning the process of developing a MOU with our partner — MassLive and the Springfield Republican — but I admit it would be nice to draw down from some resources out there.

It got me thinking about how best to get lessons learned, documents, procedures all in one central location.  Set up a blog?  Tumblr?  Twitter feed?  Perhaps the new name for the Newspaper Division is the “Partnerships Division” (I’m half-kidding.)

So, what’s the best way for schools across the country and Canada to share information.  Let me know, I’m curious as to whether creating some sort of central sharing station would work and whether there is interest.

Steve

AEJMC Day 2: Notes from my Partnerships Panel

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I subbed in for Wisconsin’s Sue Robinson Wednesday afternoon on a panel with a rather lofty title: “Helping Save Journalism via the Classroom: Student Collaborations
with Citizen Journalists and Industry Professionals.”

David D. Kurpius of Louisiana State made the point that we weren’t necessarily trying to “save” journalism with our partnerships, but rather viewed partnerships as a way to pursue innovation within journalism schools and media organizations.  I agree.

So, in case you missed it, here are the notes from my presentation:

I’m currently in my second semester in having my Investigative Journalism class collaborating with one of the local newspapers – the Springfield Republican, which is part of the Advance group.  I’ve also begun collaborating with ESPN as part of our new Sports Journalism concentration.

There are many reasons to pursue collaboration between academia and industry professionals.   Simply put, both sides gain from the experience.

If you’re considering such an enterprise, there are many issues to consider. It kind of breaks down to preparation/ maintaining relationships and the teaching.

TEACHING:

•    Editor role.  You’re very much in the role of an editor/mentor.  In a sense the class is pretty free-flowing.  You can plan some of the class out but you are often feeding off of what students are working on.  If a blog is in your agreement, plan on lots of editing time.

•    Deadline. Make sure to build in early deadlines on their stories so if angles fall apart they can regroup and pursue other story ideas – you are grading their work after all.
•    Newspaper role. Make sure you get time with newspaper editors.  Managing that relationship becomes key throughout the course of the semester.

But before you get to the teaching, there is a considerable amount of prep time.  I’ve come up with 5 key points to deal with before you get to the teaching.

First is a three-pronged body of support.
•    No. 1:  Home School Support.  Line up as much support as possible up the chain of command – before your class begins.  I’ve let everyone up through the Dean’s office know what the class is doing next semester and tried to make sure there is buy-in on the topic.
•    No. 2:  Written Support.  Also, the attorneys from the newspaper and the university are putting a formal agreement in place.  You want to make sure you cover all your bases are on liability issues/editing roles and publication details.
•    No. 3:  Support of the professional organization.  You need to find the logical person in the department to run point on any collaboration.   Once you’ve found that person, you have to find the right/logical contact within the professional organization.  Start slow, share ideas and grow the confidence.  The coverage topic will be the largest discussion.  Allow time for the discussion.   Don’t take the relationship or contacts for granted.  You need to meet and stay in contact with them – foster them before, during and after the collaboration.  These are busy people and you need to remind them how important this project is.

Other keys to success:

•    Notification.  Another key to success is to contact sources beforehand.  You are protecting yourself, the class and your students by trying to let sources know about your collaboration.  You’re not going to reach everyone, but you can make an effort.
•    Student Buy-In:  If you want the collaboration to succeed, you need students to buy into the concept.  A lot.  Best way to do that is to get a topic they relate to.   The idea of getting published and generating clips should also generate buy-in. Spending a semester analyzing tax plans is probably not the way to go☺  Affect of casino gambling in your state?  Much better.  Guest speakers who are major players in your topic helps create buy-in.
•    Formats.  Vary the formats.  If possible, have students blog, do video and audio slideshows.   This is where the real value comes in for your professional partner – having students more comfortable (yes, more comfortable) in multimedia storytelling producing across platforms for the publication will help grow the publication.  And, you are also helping to set the groundwork for jobs for your students.
•    Editing.  For the fall semester I will have students in my investigative class blogging as well as producing a package of stories.  There will be two layers of editing – one layer with me, one with an editor – no students will be able to publish live to the site.   All blog entries will be done in draft form and will not be published until two editors have looked at the entry.  This is a decent amount of commitment from the academic side (depending on how often students blog) but I believe it creates credibility and trust with those on the professional side.  Remember, you are building something for the long haul.

Talking about partnerships at AEJMC

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There was a real refreshing discussion Tuesday night here in Denver at the Preconvention Workshop:  Journalism Schools as News Providers: Challenges and Opportunities.

There was a mix of hope and reality as educators and administrators spoke about the many possibilities journalism schools have in partnering with news organizations.  I was also happy to hear that there are many partnerships out there at J schools.  I’ll be contacting many of them as the partnership between our program and MassLive continues to grow.

The entire discussion felt progressive and a panel filled with lawyers made many in the audience consider how important it is to let students know that they can and will be held accountable for their newsgathering practices, not just what they produce.  What I came away with was a need to protect students, faculty and the program.  I’ll be consulting with attorneys in the weeks to come and hope to draw as much information as possible during my time here.

The Value of Academic-Industry Partnerships

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As a kick-off to my AEJMC panel Wednesday (and, I hope, several days of conversations on the topic) I asked one of my former students, Eric Athas to weigh in on the value of partnering with professional news organizations.  Eric, one of the founders of amherstwire.com is now a news producer at washingtonpost.com.

I’ve added his comments in their entirety here.  They point to a new kind of student, those with an entrepreneurial flair who are willing to strike out and experiment on their own:

My first three years of college life at UMass were spent at the campus newspaper. The experience was wonderful and convinced me of what I wanted to do in life. But after spending my junior year as editor of the Daily Collegian, I decided to step down so my final year in college could be spend doing something else.

I wasn’t sure what “something else” was, but I knew before I graduated, I wanted to broaden my body of work to include more industry-based work.

That summer I reached out to The Springfield Republican, a local newspaper that covered UMass, about doing some freelance work for them. I met with the managing editor and news editor and began formulating pitches.

It was easy to come up with story ideas (I lived the beat, afterall) and it was great to work with people who were already in the profession, rather than preparing for the profession. And a class assignment to keep a blog allowed me to have an outlet for the multimedia I produced while reporting.

My work with The Republican and on my blog caught the eye of MassLive.com editor Ed Kubosiak. We met in January and came up with an idea for a MassLive blog entirely devoted to UMass. Not long after, UMass 101 was born.

The idea was for it to be multimedia-based and cover everything and anything UMass. In the end, the blog honed a lot of my online skills and was an excellent precursor to the professional world. Additionally, because I was covering the very school I was attending, the blog served as a bridge from my academic life to the outside world.

I found that as a student, I had access to a lot of information a regular beat reporter/blogger never would — campus events, internal e-mails, and good old word of mouth.

When a student studying abroad suddenly died in Spring 2008, I broke the news on UMass 101 and covered it far more extensively than any other news organization. Reason being — I had access to campus chatter and quickly got the idea that there was more to the story than the official report. I also went to academic mentors for advice as I blogged.

As it turns out, this story resulted in a couple of long-form investigative pieces that stretched over two years.

I showcased the blog when applying for jobs, including the one I currently hold. Future employers were pleased with the fact that I was connecting with the industry while in school.

Most importantly to me, the blog still lives. I passed it to another student, who has now passed it to a third student blogger. Hopefully this will continue to give students a platform for years to come.

What’s In a Name, Part II

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About this time last year, I was attending my first AEJMC (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) Conference.  As I wrote last year, I was disappointed but not necessarily surprised at much of the thinking and mood surrounding the conference.

As I get ready to head out to Denver, site of this year’s conference, I’m hoping the mood and tenor will be different.  I’ve seen some positive changes in recent months, including AEJMC’s active use of social media to get information out.  AEJMC’s Mich Sineath has been fairly active on both Twitter and Facebook — a development I’m taking as a positive sign.

In recent weeks, Mich has been promoting this blog, which he developed to contain the 49 blog entries from educators across the nation tackling the subject of teaching social media in the classroom.  The authors of three blog entries were chosen to take part in a panel on the topic (one that needs much discussion) on Wednesday morning.  I’m hoping this one is well-attended.

There are a number of panels on how those in the industry and those in academia can collaborate (including my panel: Helping Save Journalism via the Classroom: Student Collaborations with Citizen Journalists and Industry Professionals, Wednesday at 5 p.m.) Mich also reports (via Twitter) that: “New pres, Jan Slater, is kickstarting regional JMC ‘Idea Summits’ between academia/industry.” Another positive development.

I’m especially looking forward to Tuesday’s Preconvention Workshop:  Journalism Schools as News Providers: Challenges and Opportunities. That’s the discussion educators need to be having.  I’m hoping that session is well-attended.

My hope is that the cloud that seemed to be hovering over many panels last year will be gone.   I believe this organization should not focus on how to save the newspaper industry or dwell on the good ‘ole days when reporters and editors had days to work on stories.  Rather, we need to teach and take advantage of the many new journalism opportunities out there and confront the many ethical issues we face in the new 24/7 environment.

Which brings us to the proposed name change for AEJMC’s Newspaper division. The proposal/discussion, originally raised a few years ago, has resurfaced.  The blog I link to here contains the current thinking, as well as links to past discussions.

As I say on the comments board:

“It’s not really about the name. It’s more about the mindset. A mindset focused on newspapers is a mindset focused on the past….The focus for this division, whatever the name, needs to be on the journalism. The delivery form has/is changing and there are many forward-thinking issues to tackle. The content and the many new ethical issues that have arisen with ‘new media’ matter and need to be at the center, not somewhere out on the margins.  That should be the focus of the ‘Newspaper-related-issues-but-not-really-focused-on-the-dying-print-newspaper-model division.'”

As I read through the history of this discussion, I’m not sure where all this is going to lead.  One thing is clear, AEJMC is a large organization and there are several mentions on the discussion board of potential turf wars with other AEJMC divisions.

Sound familar?  Well, it should.  This debate echoes much of what newspaper/media organizations have been going through for the past 15 years or so.  One person on the message board feared 10 years of discussion/study which would then generate a report.  I’m hopeful for a consensus before then.

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