Home

My “Quest” and the Future of Journalism Education

3 Comments

I’m on a quest.

It’s a quest to bring responsible journalism to live-tweeting.

It’s a good quest, a quest to change the work ethos of journalists when it comes to tweeting during breaking news events. I’ve written and spoken about this topic at a number of different conferences and I’ve adopted a new tactic in my quest:  Calling out poorly reported information passed along by journalists during a breaking news event.

My quest has lead me to a few Twitter discussions with journalists during breaking  news events. Some have not received my questions well. In the rush to be first, journalists and their news organizations continue to publish false information. Joe Paterno, Gabby Giffords, Sandy Hook, Boston Marathon Bombings, Navy Yard shooting, LAX shooting, New Jersey mall shooting. The list of news events where “spaghetti-against-the-wall journalism” occurs just keeps growing.

It’s a vicious circle. Amateur journalists feed social media, social media feeds broadcast outlets, who feed Twitter….round and round we go.

But there’s hope.  Some of my former students who were working and covering the Boston Marathon bombings story were tweeting out questions about why speculation and rumor was being tweeted out by amateur and professional journalists. And, in the end, they were acting a lot more responsibly as they reported during a crisis situation.

Why were rookie reporters acting more responsibly than seasoned veterans?

Which brings me to the return of the Carnival of Journalism. David Cohn’s idea to have a group of writers blog/comment about a different topic every month is back after a bit of a hiatus and tackling a topic which is getting a lot of ink these days: Journalism Education. Specifically, the question reads:

Student news organizations have traditionally existed to give students experience before entering the workforce. The kinds of journalism jobs and journalism companies have changed considerably in the past 10 years, and most student news organizations are set up to mimic traditional print or broadcast news outlets. How would you set up a student news organization in 2013 or how could an existing college news organization modernize itself?
Issues to consider:
  • Ideally experience at a college media organization would help a student learn relevant skills for the workforce and help students land a job.
  • If you work at a news organization, what kinds of skills do you and your organization look for in new hires?
  • What kind of “clips” should college students have by graduation?
  • You can approach this as your advice to college media organizations or as if you were a theoretical adviser or manager of a student news organization. Or as a theoretical employer imagining the ideal experience a just-graduated student should have gotten.

I try to follow most of my students after they graduate, seeing where they land in the profession and watching their progress over time. Some of them have had experience working at a student-run publication, some of them have had internships and some of them have taken my Investigative Journalism class. That class partners up with a news organization each semester — and is where they get their stories published. In the past we’ve partnered with The Boston Globe and MassLive and we’re currently partnering with The Huffington Post.

There’s a lot being written these days about the future of Journalism Education. Ideas range from teaching students code, data visualization, computer programming — they all jockey for the trending subjects of the day. Which is all fine. I support all of that.

But none of it means a damn if news organizations continue to get it wrong. At times I wonder whether spaghetti-against-the-wall journalism is the wave of the future. Some think so. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram wrote last year that:

“The way that inaccurate news reports about a mass shooting in Connecticut filtered out through social media has brought up many of the same criticisms as Hurricane Sandy — that social media isn’t an appropriate forum for journalism. But this is simply the way news works now.”

I refuse to buy that. I’m not going to throw up my hands and surrender to inaccuracies being the norm.

What I like about this current generation of students/alums, is that they really seem to get it. They understand technology. They’ve grown up with it. They understand the amplification effect provided by social media.

UMass Journalism graduate S.P. Sullivan was at the scene of the recent New Jersey mall shooting, live-tweeting for NJ.com. His first-hand reports were balanced and authoritative and a BBC producer told him that at one point they were reading his tweets on air. The importance of the moment was not lost on S.P.:

“There were hundreds of RT and mentions….kind of drives home the responsibility you have, as someone attached to a news organization and on the ground, to not tweet bullshit.”

I’m all for student news organizations training students but students really begin to realize how serious our profession is when they work together with professionals in another news organizations. That’s really where the focus needs to be. Those classes that provide partnerships also allows for training that really seems to drive home the point that speed means nothing if you get it wrong and “tweet bullshit.”

We need more of that.

Thoughts & Musings from #ONA13

Leave a comment

I wanted to do a blog entry after my visit to Atlanta for ONA13 but I couldn’t focus on just one thing.  So here are some thoughts and musings (in no particular order):

* I left before the awards dinner and in general I try not to get caught up in awards-mania but I will say that honoring Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com’s coverage of The Boston Marathon Bombings was a sign that good journalism matters and still gets recognized. The Boston Globe’s web sites — which won for Breaking News — provided authoritative, credible information via its live blog. The professionalism of those working on the sites provided them with the strength to shy away from the hysteria and rumor which swept through much of the Twittersphere on that horrible day. Kudos.

* And, the indefatigable Michelle Johnson and her crew from the Boston University New Service also received well-deserved recognition for their efforts. Student journalists can perform at stunning levels when inspired by the right professor. Michelle is one of the special ones.

* Listening to Boston.com’s Teresa Hanafin talk about the days of the bombing at the breaking news panel – and watching the gripping video again — was one of the more emotionally powerful moments of the conference.

* I forgot how much Lisa Williams makes learning new technology fun.

* Lisa’s sessions — and all the hands-on technology sessions — were standing-room only. Probably the most popular sessions of the conference.

* Those sessions were part of the different feel to the conference. Josh Hatch described it as “NICAR-ish.” Definitely true, but there was something else. Part of it was the strong presence of first-timers (657) and a much younger crowd. The University of Georgia was No. 2 on the list of top-five organizations represented at the conference. And, academics — both students and professors — made up almost 200 of those represented at the conference.

* Got to hang with my academic friends and also did a little brainstorming with fellow professors at the “Hack the Curriculum” session. I hope this is the start of something larger — would love to see ONA sponsor some efforts for academics and professors to get together and develop specific guidelines for curriculum at journalism schools.

* The “Circle of Life” was a phrase heard from a few professors. While I had one student (Brittney Figueira) doing great things in the student newsroom, the “Circle of Life” comes when you see former students (Eric Athas) and former interns (Patrick Cooper) becoming conference regulars.

* Amy Webb’s “Top 10 Tech Trends” session was well-attended and talked about by many. I couldn’t make it this year but the strong Twitter presence at the conference allowed me to catch up via Twitter. There were 30,000 conference tweets. Wow.

* Got to hang out with the Digital First Media crew for a bit Thursday night. Great to see a dynamic, young group excited about the future of journalism.

* I missed last year’s conference so I don’t know if this is a trend but the Thursday-Friday night receptions have had some amazingly good food in past years. That was missing this year. Bring back the rocking chefs!

* I did like the band, though. Any time horns are on stage it’s a good time.

* Because Mark Briggs can’t sit for very long, he’s developed a food app dubbed FORK. Check it out.

* The ONA conference is reunion central — I couldn’t walk very far without bumping into an alum from The Washington Post or the University of Maryland. The talent at The Post’s web site in the early 2000s was stunning. That talent is now scattered all over the country at different places and it’s great to see everyone’s successes. And, keep a close eye on what the gang at Maryland are doing — some strong innovation is coming from Terp-land.

* Loved seeing (and taking part in) the ONA Ethics session. I’ve been pushing for something similar for a few years now, leading Lisa Williams to tell me she dubbed it the “Steve Fox session.” Huzzah!

* And I finally attended the legendary Greg Linch Karaoke Night…..legendary indeed.

Until next time…..

The Real Question for Jeff Bezos: Time to Invest in Journalism?

1 Comment

It’s been fascinating to watch the cheerleading that’s gone on since the announcement that the Graham family was selling The Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

When the announcement was made, the reaction from technologists and Web journalists was pretty reflexive.  Many out there are describing Bezos as a savior, as the person who will finally help The Post get its digital act together. Lots of cheerleading about the possibilities with new packaging, and the “bold” business acumen of Bezos.

We’ve seen letters to Bezos from former Posties and declarations of hope from former Posties who worked for Bezos. We’ve seen a little finger-wagging from current Posties as well as a long parade of sentimentalism praising Don Graham, and reminiscing of a time gone by.

It seems we’ve seen both ends of the spectrum — cheerleading from technologists and other journalists who seem almost giddy that a rich tech guru will become a major media player — and those lamenting the end of an era.

Where’s the healthy skepticism?

It’s been hard to find. As another former employee of the Post Company (I worked at washingtonpost.com from 1996-2006) I’m also curious as to how this new transition will work out but I’ve hesitated to jump on the Bezos bandwagon.

There have been a few out there who have registered concernsJeff Jarvis tweeted: “One thing about Bezos and a newspaper: He is no proponent of openness. A more secretive tech company it’s hard to find.” And, Christopher Mims tweeted:  “Jeff Bezos now owns both Washington Post, $600 million server cloud for CIA. That won’t be a conflict of interest.”

And, Felix Salmon pointed out some basic management issues that may not sit well at The Post: “It (Amazon) also employs, mostly indirectly, thousands of workers in warehouses around the world, picking and packaging the goods it sells; those workers are treated badly, and enjoy effectively zero slack in their working lives.”

Yet, it’s been difficult to hear any real analysis amongst the cacophony of cheerleaders saying Bezos will create a Post where the readers will finally get what they want (like with Amazon.) What exactly does that mean? More coverage of the Royals? More video of car chases? More shallow news of the weird?

There’s been plenty of commentary about what a technologist like Bezos can bring to a company like The Washington Post. And, yes, after stagnating for the past 15 years, The Post will finally have to change its business model and those not on board with a “digital-first” mindset will not last long.

But, what about the journalism? Yes, The Post was a great newspaper but just because the delivery mode is changing doesn’t mean the journalism should.

The real questions for Bezos have not been asked — or answered.

Will he invest in a timely, costly investigative pieces?

Will he devote time and resources to foreign reporting?

Will he re-open bureaus that have been closed in the past decade as cost-cutting measures?

Some have described Bezos as a bottom-line kind of guy, well the bottom-line is that good investigative journalism takes time and money. And, Bezos won’t see much return on his investment, unless you can start quantifying “afflicting the comfortable” and holding government accountable.

Since the onset of Web journalism, there has been a wrestling match over the role of journalists and editors. The gatekeeping role has disappeared — no longer do journalists and editors determine what the user/consumer should read.  The Great Decoupling, as JD Lasica put it.  That unwillingness to give up the gatekeeping role and create new roles hurt The Post and many other news organizations.

But, it’s beginning to feel like the pendulum needs to swing back a little. We live in a scary, secretive time where the idea of privacy is laughable and where the public, press, and judiciary all seem to support the right of the government to eavesdrop and collect information on the citizenry at will. Jay Rosen recently asked how we can get ourselves back to an informed citizenry.

Jeff Bezos can go a long way to doing that by investing in journalism. I think many are hoping he will. We’ll see.

Why Is Everyone So Pissed Off?

Leave a comment

“Why Is Everyone So Pissed Off?”

We see it everywhere. From Facebook to Twitter and e-mail: People seem really pissed off — and aren’t shy about being rude and crude in public discussions. Overall, civil discourse seems to be the exception, not the rule. And, well, I’m kind of wondering why. I have my own theories but in the fine tradition of crowdsourcing, was wondering what people think. And, this is research. I’m mulling at least a blog post and possibly a larger piece.

So, have at it. Agree/Disagree? Any research out there you can point me to?

Feel free to weigh in on the comments board here or e-mail me directly.

UMass Journalism’s Howard Ziff Leaves Behind Larger-Than-Life Legacy

Leave a comment

Howard M. Ziff, professor emeritus of Journalism at the University of Massachusetts, died early Tuesday morning. He was 81.

On the “Friends of Howard Ziff” page on Facebook, Ziff’s son Max reported Tuesday that his wife, Jane, and children Ellen and Donald (“Max”) were with him during his short stay at the Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst.

“An informal kaddish and gathering will be held at the Ziff house in Amherst in a few days. A memorial get-together is being planned for this summer. Details will be announced soon. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to “The Howard Ziff Lecture Series” at the Journalism Department of the University of Massachusetts,” Max Ziff wrote.

“Howard was a force of nature.  Of the hundreds of students telling stories about him now, it’s amazing how many of them never had a class with him,” said Karen List, the director of the UMass journalism program.

“He changed their lives through his personal interactions with them—advising them, getting them internships and jobs, having their backs, as more than one of them have said.  For Howard, it was all about the students, and the Journalism program strives to continue that legacy.”

Mark Stencel, NPR’s managing editor for digital news, will be joining UMass journalism students and faculty during the week of April 16 as the program’s first Howard Ziff Journalist-in-Residence.

Stencel’s visit will be highlighted by a public discussion on Wednesday,  entitled “Instanews:  Depth and Context in Motion,” where he will analyze the rapid changes occurring in the news business and how these changes affect the future of the business of journalism.  The talk will be in Room 227 in Herter Hall and will begin at 7 p.m.

Tributes to Ziff have been flowing since Journalism alum Jon Hite set up the page last week.  The page has grown to nearly 300 members, with everyone sharing thoughts and remembrances of Ziff the person and Ziff the professor.

A sampling:

* “When I started at UMass, I was a sit-near-the-back kind of kid. I started moving toward the front in Ziff’s class, simply for those wonderful stories. He’d wind up, get going, I’d lean forward, straining to hear … and his words would sink right into that professorial beard. If I sat near the back, I’d keep missing the punch line. So I moved up. And found my voice and my place at UMass.” — Darienne Hosley Stewart

* “The very first class I took at UMass, September 1983, was intro to journalism with Howard. Wasn’t sure I really wanted to major in journalism, or even be a journalist. He walked into that lecture hall — someone (probably many people) said later that he looked like he was there to take out the trash — and started to talk, and I knew I’d made the right choice. Howard, thanks for the encouragement, the stories, the advice, the complete lack of bullshit. RIP.”  — Phil Serafino

*  “My thoughts today are with the family and friends of Howard Ziff, a man much loved and admired by students and the community for his abilities as a journalist, teacher and mentor, and for his larger-than-life personality. I still remember the movie review program he hosted years ago on public television and how my Saturday was never complete until I had watched the movie he had recommended. We’ll miss you, Howard.”  — Stan Rosenberg

*  “I had Howard as a professor at the end of his long teaching career at UMass (I can’t figure out if he taught another class after the one I was in). I had always thought editorial writing was easy, until I took Howard’s class.

“I never understood how difficult it is to write 400 words and cover every detail, never mind doing it twice a week on top of a course load, writing for the Collegian and the other responsibilities/fun that comes with that. Howard would read our crappy editorials that we wrote the night before at 2 a.m. or just before class out loud and critique us, there was usually more red pen on the page from him with notes than our own work. Some students didn’t like his direct approach. I loved it. I loved that he cared. I loved that he wanted us all to succeed. I loved that he loved newspapers, reporting, and all the leg work forgotten by so many reporters now. He wanted us to live and breathe our 400 words every other day. And I did, even if I was crap at it. I looked forward to that 9 a.m. (10 a.m.?) class, even if I was a little hung over or barely awake.” — Kevin Koczwara

* “So I never took a course with Howard. But somehow I knew him, and he knew me. I remember the day one of my more senior Collegian colleagues told me that Howie “knew who I was.” I was awestruck. He represented all that so many of us wanted to be.”  Anne McCrory

* “I think back to when Howard saved my Irish arse after I fell below the academic Mendoza Line. There was little reason for his coming to the rescue of this teenage screw-up other than that enormous heart we all know so well. Through his intercession I got reinstated in school, with the bonus of a signature Chicago-style Howard story that will forever make me smile. In the many years since, I’ve tried to pass along some of that kindness, and when I have there is a straight line back to Howard’s empathy. At this hour I sit with immense respect for him, and gratitude for the privilege of knowing him. And affection, most of all affection.” — Daniel Guidera

*  “I just dug out my notebook from the summer of 2008, when I spent a few afternoons with Howard for a Journalism 300 profile assignment. In no particular order, here are some quotes:”

“You’ve got to read and understand the cultural forces that journalism comes from, the great traditions that it partakes of, the political and social philosophy and, at the center, good writing.””You’ve got to have the street experience — I don’t want to be an old fart but these days, people want to be journalists but they don’t want to walk the streets.”“We’re not social scientists; we’re writers and historians.”And, my personal favorite: “I like to say I was shot at three times in Chicago but only twice in Korea.” — S.P. Sullivan

NPR’s Mark Stencel to visit UMass as first Howard Ziff Journalist-in-Residence

4 Comments

Mark Stencel, NPR’s managing editor for digital news, will be joining UMass journalism students and faculty during the week of April 16 as the program’s first Howard Ziff Journalist-in-Residence.

Stencel’s visit will be highlighted by a public discussion on Wednesday,  entitled “This Just In: News and Context in Digital Time,” where he will analyze the rapid changes occurring in the news business and how these changes affect the future of the business of journalism.  The talk will be in Room 227 in Herter Hall and will begin at 7 p.m.

“Journalism is looking forward to having Mark with us for a week,” said Program  Director Karen List.

“The depth and diversity of Mark’s experience will allow him to add significantly to our continuing conversation on Journalism and its place in society.  And that conversation is a perfect tribute to Howard and the legacy he’s left this program.  We’ll make sure it continues in the years ahead as we bring in a wide variety of journalists, including many of our own distinguished alums.”

Stencel’s bio is extensive and his career has spanned both the digital and print worlds.  His bio reads in part:  “Since Stencel joined NPR in 2009, the network has been recognized as one of industry’s leading digital news services, honored with the 2011 Eppy award for best journalism website from Editor & Publisher, a 2010 National Press Foundation award for excellence in online journalism, two Edward R. Murrow Awards, a Peabody award, and the 2011 Webby and People’s Voice awards for news from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.”

Stencel’s visit is being made possible by funds from the Journalism Program’s Howard Ziff Lecture Series, created upon Ziff’s retirement from UMass in the Fall of 1998. In the early 1970s, Ziff facilitated the move of journalism into a separate degree program called Journalistic Studies (later called the Journalism Department) in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

During his visit, the digital pioneer will visit a number of different beginning and upper-level journalism classes.  Most professors are opening up their classes for visitors but you should check beforehand if you want to sit in.  Mark’s schedule:

April 17

9:30-11 a.m.           Newswriting with George Forcier (DuBois 720)

12:30-2:30 p.m.    All Faculty Lunch to discuss Journalism’s Future (107 Bartlett)

3:35-6 p.m.             Business of Media with Marc Berman (Bartlett 312)

April 18:

9:05-10:30 a.m.           Introduction to Multimedia with BJ Roche (DuBois 767)

11:30-1 p.m.                Lunch at Faculty Club with students

1:25-3:20 p.m.           Magazine Writing with BJ Roche (767 Dubois)

3:35-5:30 p.m.           Newswriting with Mary Carey (767 Dubois)

7-9 p.m.                       Public Talk, “Instanews:  Depth and Context in Motion” (227 Herter)

April 19

9:30-10:45 a.m.             Introduction to Journalism withDavid Perkins and Journalism Ethics with Karen List (301 Bartlett)

11:15-12:30 p.m.            Multimedia Journalism with Steve Fox (107 Bartlett)

2:30-3:45 a.m.               Investigative Journalism & the Web with Steve Fox (107 Bartlett)

Carnival of Journalism: Journalists as Capitalists

2 Comments

Haven’t we spent enough time asking what journalists can and can’t do?

Haven’t we spent enough time asking what the definition of journalism is?

Seriously, enough already.

When I saw this month’s Carnival of Journalism prompt from Michael Rosenblum, I appreciated the passion with which he challenged the traditional definitions of journalism (haven’t we all been there?) I especially appreciated the challenges to the dinosaurs’ belief that journalists should not be out there thinking about making money:

“Making money is no crime. In fact, it is the ulimate good. With money you can do stuff.  Without it, you are the perpetual victim and the perpetual employee, which is what most journalists are.  And that is crazy.”

Indeed.  Enough already.

Rosenblum cites Jeff Jarvis as the leading educator out there in the Entrepreneurial Journalism movement.  Indeed, but Jeff is not the only one.  My colleague BJ Roche teachers an Entrepreneurial Journalism course here at UMass, and like Jarvis, we are looking to expand our offerings.

Some will succeed.  Some will try and fail.  As the David ‘The Rad One’ Cohn has said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “experimentation is good.”   I tell my students that anyone who tells them anything is not possible in journalism today is “full of crap and doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Seriously, enough already.

Students and entrepreneurs are the wave of the future of journalism.  Let’s stop trying to put the profession in a box.

I’ve spent years trying to convince old-school professionals and educators about the positive direction of the profession.  But, at some point we all have to say enough already and move on.

Can journalists make good capitalists?  Sure.  Why not?

Enough already.

Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers