April 9, 2011
After Day 1 at the National Conference for Media Reform Friday, one young journalist told me that she felt like the enemy. Indeed.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this conference. Partly because when we talk about “media reform” it’s kind of like talking about ice cream with your cake. Who doesn’t want it?
But, the danger behind that phrase is that the conversation quickly turns into a highly critical one and the conversation turns to media-bashing. But, hey, media-bashing is fun. We all do it. I think it’s in line to become an Olympic sport. Journo-bashing reached crescendo levels with Glenn Greenwald’s comments about the New York Times and Bill Keller And, while Greenwald’s comment about Keller’s “pristine socks” was amusing, his commentary did little to critically analyze the role of the mainstream media in the Wikileaks dumps, the future of such dumps and how they should be handled. It could have been a pretty good conversation.
Journo bashing is cheap.
It’s low-hanging fruit.
And, honestly, it does little to advance the conversation.
Everywhere you turned yesterday, activists were lamenting the lack of a liberal perspective in media coverage. Again, a fairly laughable point but one heard often in the echo chamber here. To those making such claims, go ask a conservative from Texas about what they think about the New York Times.
Listen, we all know what the issues are. But, let’s not spend time journo-bashing. It’s time to look at the Journalism playing field and see solutions and opportunities.
One of the opening panels yesterday was headlined as: “Collaboration Trumps Competition: Breaking Down Barriers Between Citizens, Newsrooms and Journalists.” Some of the smartest, most creative minds looking at the future of journalism were on the panel: Jan Schaeffer, David Cohn, Susan Mernit and Lisa Williams spoke about how those in the audience could collaborate and become a part of journalism.
But, instead, during the question-and-answer session, those in the audience lamented the difficulties in motivating citizen journalists and one attendee even asked about ‘monetizing’ their product. People seemed to be missing the point, and that only continued yesterday.
My hope is that the tenor changes today. There are many forward-looking journalists out there that are experimenting with different platforms and ways to present news. The passion and drive that seems to be present at this conference can be applied to citizen journalism efforts. But, it’s not easy. You can’t just turn on a switch and become a journalist. There is training and procedures involved. There are plenty of opportunities out there but it takes time and effort.
It’s easy to bash journalism. It’s a little harder to get involved with and change the way things are done.
January 22, 2011
The response to David Cohn’s (aka DigiDave) revival of the Carnival of Journalism, has been pretty impressive. My first post focused on a new news literacy with Journalism students and the need to focus on accuracy in the aftermath of the shoddy reporting in the opening hours of the Tucson shootings.
One of the big discussion items so far in the “Carnival” center on the need for universities and programs to be innovative when it comes to the teaching of Journalism — another great topic.
I’m now entering the second semester of a formal partnership between my Investigative Journalism & The Web class and MassLive, the Web site of the Springfield Republican. The class was constructed as an attempt to take an in-depth look at the town of South Hadley and its residents in the aftermath of the tragic suicide of South Hadley teenager Phoebe Prince one year ago.
Students were required to blog throughout the course of last semester — and as more and more incidents made their way into the news, it became clear that bullying was an issue that went way beyond our corner of Western Massachusetts. Students also produced a final package of stories — a combination of text, video and audio.
The class is both an attempt to be innovative by creating a newsroom-like environment and to get students out into the community — attending meetings and events and talking to residents about the bullying issue.
It was not easy.
That is probably the biggest message I would send out to educators looking to begin similar partnerships. As many of us often find out, a great idea often involves a lot of time. Establishing and maintaining such a partnership is a time-intensive undertaking. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed it and see it as an important element in a students’ education but I often find myself editing blog posts at 6 a.m. in order to get them onto the site in a timely manner. And, you find yourself fielding queries from students, editors and sources at all days and hours. Kind of, ya know, like a newsroom.
Some other lessons:
* The need to contact sources before you set up the class is almost mandatory. Let as many sources as possible know what you’re doing before the class starts. In the end, it helps students when they start making calls.
* No matter how much you prepare students, there is a possibility students will find themselves in a confrontation (especially if it’s an investigative class.) Classes on interviews, dealing with sensitive topics and handling confrontations should be an early discussion as well as one you return to frequently. Also, give students your cell phone number in case they find themselves in a difficult situation.
* Set up an editing system with your newsroom partner that allows for multiple set of eyes before publishing. In our case we had at least one set of eyes reading blog entries and the final projects had multiple editors, including myself.
* Identification. Perhaps the biggest confusion comes when students try to identify themselves with sources. It’s best to leave “class project” out of identifiers because sources often think that “class project” means “not published.” Students also have to work hard to be taken seriously by sources. Youth ends up being a negative in the eyes of many sources.
What was exciting about the class was the way that students worked with each other, helped each other and ended up producing a fairly cohesive project by the end of the semester. It became a partnership of sorts and I found myself switching roles between editor and instructor — a mix that many traditional professors aren’t necessarily comfortable with. Professor as “all-knowing seer” needs to be abandoned in such a class. You find yourself working together with students, rather than standing at a podium and dictating what journalism is or should be.
The nature of the project required a certain amount of failure — some stories and blog entries were not going to pan out — so in the end you end you have to find a way to come up with a grade that reflects both the work and the effort.
Most importantly, I believe the project has kept the discussion going about bullying, teen suicide, the Phoebe Prince case and other issues. Coverage has helped that conversation continue and in an age of decreasing resources with newspapers, that’s the biggest value Journalism programs can bring to communities.
October 29, 2010
One of the reasons I like coming to the ONA Conference every year is to meet up with Mark Briggs — one of the true online visionaries out there who always has a positive perspective on the state of the media.
I got a good dose of upbeat Briggs Thursday night.
Friday morning brought the traditional naysayers.
The first official panel today chose to focus on the negatives of online commenting. Alicia Shepard, the ombudsman for NPR who has come under fire lately, framed the discussion of online comments in a framework that felt a bit dated. Much of the discussion focused on the negative feedback that reporters and editors for news organizations receive. At one point last year, Shepard became so upset by the “trolls” that she suggested to NPR honchos that comments on articles should be removed from NPR’s Web site. Much of her focus was on the criticisms that reporters and editors receive.
Comment boards, both the good and the bad, are a part of the new journalistic world of interactivity. And, as one person in the audience pointed out on Twitter, it’s a little hard to interact with your audience if you’re automatically casting them in a negative context.
The genie is out of the bottle.
The era of reporters and editors as aloof, “experts” whose stories go unchallenged has come and gone. The fact that this panel focused so much on this idea that comment boards are bad gave me flashbacks to the early years of Web journalism. Haven’t we had this discussion already? Several times?
The bottom line?
Reporters and editors today need a thick skin. Yes, there are critics but as several in the audience pointed out, make the comments work for you!
I remember a few times when I worked at The Washington Post’s web site where I had to tackle a few columnists to prevent them from responding in kind to negative comments on the Web.
If you’re thin-skinned, you’re going to have to adapt. Eat more ice cream. Watch the sun rise over the mountains, but don’t cast interactivity in a negative light. It’s where we are and you need to find ways to engage the audience.
And, let’s move on…
October 28, 2010
Blogging, Business of Journalism, Future of Journalism, MassLive, Partnerships, Phoebe Prince project Blogs, Business of Journalism, Future of Journalism, Mass Live, Partnerships, Phoebe Prince project, Steve Fox Leave a comment
I’m here in Washington D.C., at the Online News Association’s annual conference, being held in Washington D.C. this year, and hoping once again to push conversations about partnerships between news organizations and academia.
These partnerships are slowly growing around the country and the partnership between my Investigative Journalism & The Web class and MassLive, the web operation of the Springfield Republican is having some success. Students in the class are investigating the aftermath of the Phoebe Prince tragedy in South Hadley, Mass. and looking at how a community moves forward after such a tragedy. They are blogging regularly and trying to interview as many people as possible surrounding the story.
On Tuesday night, most of the students from the class attended a talk given by Barbara Coloroso, a renowned expert on bullying, who has also played a critical (and ongoing) part in the Prince narrative. As part of our partnership with MassLive, the editors and I came up with a coverage plan for the night and the students executed it pretty much to perfection. Given how many ways things could have gone south (technology failing, hostile interviews, etc.) it was a pretty impressive performance.
During the speech, one student provided live blog coverage of the event for MassLive via Cover it Live, providing scene details and reporting while also interacting with the online audience by responding to questions. At one point during the Q&A, Greg Saulmon, a reporter for the Republican who is working with us on the Bullying Project, asked Coloroso a question that we received from the online audience. It was a pretty impressive example of the interactivity that we as educators always talk about. It’s one thing to talk about interactivity in class but students saw multiple levels of interactivity on an up close and personal level Tuesday night.
One student provided a story on deadline for the Republican, which ended up on Page 1 of the print version and was the lead story on the Web site for much of Wednesday as well, along with photos shot by another student. The story was also posted to the blog almost immediately at the end of Coloroso’s talk.
We had two other students shooting video and three other students working the crowd, getting quotes and comments (including a number of SH residents applauding the efforts of the class.) Students were able to develop a number of story ideas, sources and ledes (including a couple of disturbing ones.) Much of the information they obtained will provide story ideas and reporting opportunities moving forward.
When I got to the South Hadley Town Hall just before the talk, I walked in and saw four of the students doing a stand-up with Coloroso. Two were shooting video and two were recording audio and taking notes. I sat in and the questions were probing and well thought out. We talk about living in a mobile universe and students handled the mobility of the night as if it was the norm. Filing from the scene of an event always presents its own sets of pressures but what struck me about the students’ performance was how at ease they felt working in a mobile environment.
Several students sat next to Saulmon in the back of the audience with a laptop, taking part in the live blog. Another student picked up her laptop she had been taking notes on and went into another hallway, plugged in her audio recorder to get quotes and jammed out her story. Another student took his laptop, uploaded his photos and filed them to MassLive.
I gotta tell ya, it was quite the sight…and perhaps a sign that students are capable of more than we think.
August 5, 2010
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.
August 5, 2010
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.
• 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.
August 4, 2010
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.
August 3, 2010
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.