Morning Tidbits — Let’s Get Radical!

My good friend David said that summers are for lazing around writing books and drinking mint juleps. I kind of like that description but as we laze around, I wonder whether we should also be thinking of how we’re going to be presenting the state of the industry to students in the fall. With the news out of Chicago and Los Angeles yesterday, it’s hard not to get depressed.

We have to fight that urge. As I find myself telling many newspaper people lately, now is a time of hope and excitement. But I don’t see that in a lot of students coming into my classes. Hopefully, when they leave, they are re-energized but we have to understand and realize that this time of revolution in the industry is exciting. The delivery is changing but the journalism is still around and needs excellence more than ever!

Mark Potts weighs in on some of the recent industry developments and once you get past the news, he provides some insights, including this:

If newspapers are to be saved–and that’s very much an open question–they will need that sort of urgency for radical rethinking and surgery, and a willingness by editors and publishers to try new things and to make daring experiments (not merely stretching a three-part series to 12 parts!). That requires a new generation of leadership–and a passing of the old generation that’s still clinging to the top jobs.

So, how can we as a group begin to implement this “radical rethinking” and “daring” experimentation that Potts speaks of? WE are the ones preparing that new generation of leaders…As you sip on your mint juleps, think about how we can get radical….

Because, despite all the “bad news” that we tend to focus on, there are lots of jobs out there. We need to let students know this and that GASP! the industry may even be growing!

Steve

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About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
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7 Responses to Morning Tidbits — Let’s Get Radical!

  1. David says:

    Correction: I said summer was for writing BOOKS and sipping a mint julep between chapters. I also suggested we discuss this very thing: the future, and what kind of journalism do we teach. I am now waiting for my deep thoughts to arrive. (Must be the mint, or perhaps the julep.)

    Procedurally, I note people are having this discussion by email–I thought that was what this blog was for.

    D.

  2. journalismprofs says:

    Steve:

    You raise an excellent and important question:

    “So, how can we as a group begin to implement this ‘radical rethinking’ and
    ‘daring’ experimentation that Potts speaks of?”

    I’m available during the rest of the summer to meet with anyone who wants to
    compare notes in an effort to raise this question and try to begin to answer it.

    During the past few weeks, I’ve begun to try to take a closer look at some of
    the other culture industries — television, music, movies — that are adapting
    to the terms of on-demand markets. I’m studying the shift to on-demand because
    this is what today’s younger people seem to regard as the natural order of
    things, and so I am assuming that they will want their journalism, at least up
    to a point, on demand. My assumption might be nuts, and I’m wide open to hearing
    arguments as to why it is.

    I think that Jan would also be interested in the question that you’ve
    raised.

    What might focus our discussion is to begin with what you’ve identified: the
    question of what the job picture is like, both within news organizations of long
    standing who are trying to recruit the talent that they think will enable them
    to adapt to new realities, and within the start-ups that are native to the web.

  3. journalismprofs says:

    Ralph et al —

    On-demand is definitely here — Ipods, Iphones, podcasts, the list goes on. My kids are growing up in an environment where TIVO is all they’ve ever known. I was explaining the concepts behind podcasting to my son today — and he was jazzed by the idea.

    As for the larger question, I’m not sure we can sell the idea of meetings in July and August 🙂

    But, we can keep the conversation going here.

    As for “radical rethinking,” I certainly have plenty of ideas and I’m excited to hear ideas from others. Let me touch upon one idea from the outset, however. This discussion is just that, a discussion.

    It goes without saying that we all support academic freedom and that we’re not issuing mandates here. But in order to continue the growth, expansion and buzz surrounding the journalism department, we all need to be free to be willing, open and frank here – otherwise we’ll end up running in place. Having been down this road before in a past life, I know there is always a danger of hidden resentments and feelings being hurt — but I think we all realize that we have the same goal in mind: How do we better serve our students!

    Having said all that, Ralph, I think the more we get students thinking in terms of the Web and multimedia, the better. More and more we need to think about teaching “to” the Web or teaching “to” multimedia – in other words, finding ways to incorporate the Web into each and every lecture/discussion.

    For example, in my Politics, Journalism and the Web class I tried to get a video clip to start every class. Often, it was examples of viral campaigning on YouTube – so it was fun, timely and got across the notion that technology is changing the nature of campaigning before our very eyes. Seems to me we can do that for many of our classes.

    Anyway, glad to keep the conversation going.

    Chrs,
    Steve

  4. David says:

    I’m not sure the best journalism has changed that much in the last 100 years –prove me wrong! Formats have changed. But, whether it’s print, radio or TV, it’s always good story telling, about something that takes courage (risks offending some powers that be), changes how people see things, and is accurate, fair-minded (doesn’t just push buttons or invite knee jerks), and verifiable.

    What seems to me to have changed is the community of readers/consumers. That the audience(s) is more participatory (which too often means commenting loudly and superficially without independent reporting), is divided into fragmented interest groups, and has forgotten distinctions between entertainment, sports, reporting, and analysis, is a problem.

    I had a dinner discussion with someone recently who really thinks he gets “news” from Limbaugh–and he’s a college teacher. (His partner, a college educated woman and a school teacher, also thinks oil is being made under the earth every day, and all wee need to do is tap it.) It’s very hard to have a real discussion if you can’t even agree on the starting point. That’s one thing I worry about. There are many people who think we have a model health care system in this country.

    So, two things we can teach our students is: 1. Respect and learn from the best reporting and writing (past and present, in all media). and 2. Think about what intellectual honesty IS and whether we’re getting it in our media today, not least the new media.

    If we can do that, we will be turning out journalism grads who can put the new technologies to good purposes. I’m not sure we, as teachers, should be radicals. Are we going to invent anything? Should we try? Is that our job?

    Now, that julep.

    D.

  5. journalismprofs says:

    Good points, David.

    I don’t think too many folks will argue that our industry is undergoing a fairly radical transformation. So, that’s where the “radical” designation comes from. So, yes, I do think it’s our job to keep up with what is happening with the industry, and train students accordingly. Otherwise, we’re in danger of becoming irrelevant.

    Ideas like community/conversation and on-demand information are certainly large keys to that transformation, as are many other ideas and issues.

    Having said that, I’ve (unfortunately) been a part of many “either-or” industry discussions during my professional career. And, I don’t buy into it. I think the issues you outline, especially media literacy and “good journalism” of the past, will continue to remain relevant and important as the revolution continues.

    I think what BJ is doing with the freshman class is extremely important and this semester I plan to spend even more time on ethical issues, given what is happening in the industry.

    Howard Schneider of Stony Brook is leading a huge media literacy effort there. After hearing him speak at Densmore’s NENF workshop recently, I’ve spoken several times with him and I’m going to visit there and check out their operation in September. I promise to report back on my visit.

    The question of who/what is a news source seems to be a real murky issue with students — Jon Stewart seems to be the top source for many. It’s definitely a discussion where we can all work in Web and multimedia references.

    Steve

  6. Devon says:

    Hey everyone.

    As a recent graduate of the journalism program, I must admit that there is a sort of stigma in the consumer community about newspapers. In my current job, I interact with many new students and adults, many of whom ask what my degree is in.

    When I tell them, the reaction is mostly initially positive, with a “good for you, that’s wonderful” sort of response, but quickly turns somber.

    The conversation sort of crumbles into “so…what do you think about what’s happening to papers” and “aren’t you worried about your future employment?”

    I sense people’s alarm of the state of the industry, but I feel very confident about the wide array of skills and ideas I was taught as a UMass student. I’ve had the opportunity to write for large audiences with the Collegian, intern at the ABC television news station, and create an online portfolio of well-researched and comprehensible stories for people to read.

    Despite what people may think about the future of this amazing art, I still feel confident that I can compete and market my skills effectively when it comes time to put my degree to the test.

    This is a great discussion, thanks.

    -Devon

  7. Deehan says:

    Steve/David/Ralph/Devon,

    More and more editors are willing to take chances with new hires as they become convinced that they’re going to need a staff with more technical skills and vision to incorporate MM into the news product. However, most aren’t going to hire an entry level kid with a journalism degree, a couple of internships and a some clips. Look how many of these job opening from the McAdams blog require 2-3 years experience. They want experienced reporters that have the capacity to work in whatever the new normal turns out to be, making the core journalism story-telling skills as important as ever. J-Students today shouldn’t be taught techie stuff in place of reporting skills, they need to do it all.

    That makes me think about a theoretical “Exclusively Practical Training” Journalism Department, with more news writing and reporting, less history, ethics and Lit. It’s a terrible idea. In writing about a professor recently, I thought about what shaped my college experience and really focused on how knowledge of the historical and ideological basics really fueled my passion for truth and news. I wrote that knowing history made me a better reporter in many ways. So what if I carry six different electronic devices on me at all times and know what type of mic to use for what kind of room (such as my Ohio Clock Room special,) editors want writers first. Don’t ever lose focus of that.

    Being unemployed for about a month has given me far too much time for mint juleps and blogs. I thought I could get away with being a tech-savvy reporter, but then I realized I wasn’t even much of that! So its off to the 10k circulation Wichita Informatier or the Anchorage Harpoon or some other fictional podunk paper so I can do my yeoman work for a few years and then return. Granted, I’ll have no knowledge of current mm techniques after that amount of time, but I can fake it well enough.

    (And Steve, children are easy, try explaining podcasts to a newsroom full of (not even) greyhairs. They run a newswire service on MS frontpage and don’t even know what RSS is. Great reporters, love them to death, and they will not be named her, but my God. Must be like being McCain’s social network guy feels like.)

    Mike

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