A Wake-Up Call for AEJMC

I have a song bouncing around my head:  The Rolling Stones “Out of Time.”   After my time here at AEJMC, I’ve changed the refrain to “baby, baby, baby you’re out of TOUCH.”

My former washingtonpost.com colleague and friend Tom Kennedy captured my feelings well during his session yesterday when he suggested that both news organizations and those in academia need to abandon the print-centric focus of journalism.   A simpler version: WAKE UP!

I’ve been somewhat dismayed at the overall print-centric focus of this conference.  Many, including Dan Gillmor and Eric Newton (who were on the same panel as Kennedy), have said that academic institutions are places where innovation and experimentation can and should be happening.

That refreshing thinking has been noticeably absent in many corners of this conference.  We as educators have a tremendous opportunity at gatherings like this to set the agenda on the future of the industry.  Lamenting about the role of Twitter in news delivery isn’t the way to go.

I went to one panel entitled the “Future of Newspapers” where several editors made clear their Web and print products were separate.

I went to one session on narrative, but it was solely focused on the written form.   No mention of video or audio slideshows.

The us vs. them characterizations of bloggers and the twitterverse has dominated many discussions.

This is my first time at AEJMC, so I’m not sure what I expected. I just didn’t expect this.  But as one friend pointed out last night, AEJ has a newspaper division.


As I sat in on the session on the ‘future of newspapers’ there was literally a black cloud hanging over the panel.  But, it’s the wrong conversation.   It’s not about the ‘future of newpapers,’ it IS about the future of journalism.

And THAT is a tremendously positive conversation.  ASU’s Dan Gillmor said yesterday he was jealous of his students.  Damn straight.  We need more of those conversations and less of the ‘How to save the horse ‘n buggy’ conversations.

I spent many years at The Washington Post trying to persuade print-centric reporters and editors about the values of Web journalism.  It’s kind of weird to be back in that position again.   There is a tremendous opportunity for this organization to be cutting edge.  We need to shift the conversations.


Wake up!

Steve Fox

Multimedia Journalism Coordinator, Lecturer


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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10 Responses to A Wake-Up Call for AEJMC

  1. Pingback: Challenge for journalism profs in a period of change « Reportr.net

  2. ljthornton says:

    Hi, Steve —
    Please, please, please don’t judge the Newspaper Division by its name. It’s an incredibly lengthy process to change it, and as you might imagine, any suggestion carries tremendous emotional charges for some. Despite that, the division has been and still is in the forefront of encouraging and sponsoring innovative research, some of which has nothing to do with the print component and everything to do with changes at the heart of journalism and information distribution and sharing.

  3. journalismprofs says:

    Hi Leslie —

    Thanks for your comment. And, I do understand that large orgs move slowly when it comes to change. I lived it 🙂

    But a “Newspaper Division” perpetuates the myth that there is some sort of future in a print-first mentality. Sure, not everyone thinks that way but having panels that include lamentings of new technology seems a bit counter-intuitive.


  4. ljthornton says:

    Thoroughly agree about what that name suggests (insert sigh here). But the Newspaper Division would be the last one, I think, to have panels lamenting new technology. Did I miss one that it sponsored? I know last year’s emphasis overall was on new tech — I helped arrange them as vice chair and we co-sponsored a preconference day with that topic. Tom Kennedy was one of our panelists. Among this year’s were Chris Grotke and Lise LePage from iBrattleboro.

    Your tweet buddy, lj

  5. ljthornton says:

    Folo: I wasn’t, however, at the Future of Newspapers panel you were at this time, I don’t think. So I apologize if there was a negative tone to it. You and others are very right that it’s an uphill battle to change the mindset. But there *are* those of us trying.

  6. I think the newspaper-centric view of journalism is slowly dying with its audience, who – let’s just put it this way – will be retiring to Florida over the next ten years.

    In the meantime, you’ve got a crop of reporters who actually enjoy picking the platform that fits the information, rather than cramming everything into 12 inches of column space and then hiding it behind a pay wall.

  7. Susan says:

    Steve, just a point for accuracy: The Newspaper Division’s preconference workshop was called “The Future of Editing” and was organized for reasons I think you’d approve of: to help editing professors think about what we’re teaching in editing classes is Web-centric enough. The workshop had four panels designed to take those attendees from the familiar, “The Future of Newspapers” (which was the title of just the first session) and “The Future of Copy Editing” (with requisite lamenting) to “The Future of Online Editing” and then to the practical, “The Future of Editing Instruction.” Unfortunately, I don’t think you stayed for those later sessions. Tweets at @ljthornton and @susankeith preserve some of the discussion, if you’re interested. As for the Newspaper Division’s name, you might find it interesting to see to read the archive of e-mail discussion that ensued after I, as head of the group, encouraged a name change to something more, ahem, modern in 2008: http://aejmc.net/pipermail/news-list_aejmc.net/2008-July/thread.html#start In summary, veteran professors tended to be against it, while (somewhat) younger profs were for it. The problem, though, was that even those in favor of a name change couldn’t agree on what the new name should be. Many people pointed out that the trouble with the word “Newspaper” is that it is bound to an (failing) delivery model and suggested that tying ourselves to another medium-based name (such as my favorite, Newspaper and Online News Division) would be foolish. (Some rightly pointed out that “Online News” leaves out lots of mobile, but not Web-based, news delivery mechanisms.) Several people suggested we do what ASNE has since done and adopt the platform-agnostic name News Division. This, however, drew quick concern (warning: inside baseball ahead) from AEJMC’s Radio-Television News Division, which pointed out that it also does news. That led to suggestions of whether AEJMC’s Newspaper and RTVJ divisions should merge into a News Division. That idea had some merit, but presented a practical problem: If the divisions merged, the resulting mega division would have, under AEJMC’s systems, only half the convention programming rights that the two divisions separately currently have. So we’d have to make room in “our” schedules for discussion of topics that are of vital interest to broadcasters — changes in FCC rulemaking, for example — that probably wouldn’t interest, say, you. The bottom line, though, is that all of us are trying to prepare students for a journalistic future very different from the newsroom careers we experienced. As someone who has recently come from a Web operation, you’re in a great position to help: Propose a better panel or pre-convention workshop than those you saw in Boston for the 2010 convention in Denver. (Proposals will be due in October for most divisions.) I’m sure any AEJMC division, Newspaper included, would love your input, and I’d be happy to help you navigate the organizational maze. Susan Keith

  8. Steve:
    I must respectfully disagree with your conclusion that AEJMC as a whole, and Newspaper Division in particular, is out of touch and anachronistic. a conclusion that apparently is based on somewhat limited observations of programs we presented. To do this is to damn us on incomplete evidence, when there are many more facts that support a different conclusion.
    For starters, the session on “The Future of Newspapers” was actually just one panel in a larger half-day session devoted to “The Future of Editing,” much of which focused on how the jobs of content editing and copy editing are changing in response to the need to produce online news.
    But aside from that, the division — its name notwithstanding — presented numerous programs that had little or nothing to do with purely ink-on-paper presentation of news, and featured academics and professionals exploring exactly what you say needs exploration — the future of journalism, rather than the future of a platform. For example:
    – We had a well-attended session at the offices of the Christian Science Monitor, featuring discussion with editor John Yemma and several members of his staff about the Monitor’s move to end daily print production.
    – Some of our other industry analysis panels addressed the same topic, including “(Ad?)Ventures in Online Journalism: Seeking New Ideas, New Ways of Doing Business” and “Nonprofit Models for News: What’s Working in This Environment?” The featured panelists in this session were all from online operations: Florence Graves, director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University; Jennifer LaFleur, director of computer-assisted reporting for ProPublica; and Maggie Freivogel, founding editor and publisher of the St. Louis Beacon.
    – Our panels on teaching were oriented toward preparing students for a converged, multimedia world, including two with the titles of “Teaching Writing and Basic Journalistic Skills in a Media Convergence Environment” and “Preparing students for 21st Century Media Careers: Teaching Critically When to Use What Platform and Why.”
    – The Breakfast of Editing Champions, while not technically a Newspaper Division-sponsored event, included myself and Future-of-Editing organizer Susan Keith as part of the program but had as featured speakers Josh Benton of the Nieman News Lab and David Beard of Boston.com, both talking about the opportunities of online journalism.
    – Even our stodgy research sessions addressed the evolving world, with more than a dozen of them specifically investigating online news operations. (The titles are listed at the end of the comment; I hope you’ll present them but you may need to edit them out depending on how long you are willing to let this comment run.)
    So I would argue that the Newspaper Division and AEJMC in Boston were trying to do anything but “perpetuate the myth that there is some sort of future in a print-first mentality.” Aside from some comments about how the business model for traditional papers has become a bit unglued, I didn’t see much “lamenting of new technology” either. As I recall, the four top editors at the “Future of Newspaper” panel to which you refer also addressed how retraining veteran staffers in how they present their stories is one of the things that helps keep their staffs jazzed in the face of some trying financial times.
    Far from being anachronistic, I think we’re doing our level best to be forward looking in assessing the new world of journalism and preparing our students to enter into it.

    Jack Rosenberry
    AEJMC Newspaper Division Chair 2008-2009

    Titles of some research papers presented:
    – Are Blogs Changing the News Values of Newspaper Reporters?
    – Attracting the Newspaper Reader in a New Domain: Dimensions of User Interest in News Content Online
    – Obituaries Online: New Connections With the living — and the Dead
    – Dynamic Content in American Online Newspapers: Life and Updates in Lead News
    – The New Dynamic in Corporate Media Relations: Are Fortune 500 Virtual Press Rooms Useful to Journalists?
    – Effects of a Trend: The Influence of User Comments on Readers’ Perceptions of Online Newspapers
    – Experimenting with Interactive Media: Negotiating the Role of Digital Media in News Organizations
    – One Product, Three Markets: How Market Segmentation Informs Newspapers about their Online Readership
    – Perceived Differences in Credibility of Traditional News Channels Compared to Online News Channels
    – Role Call: 2008 Campaign and Election Coverage on the Websites of Leading U.S. Newspapers
    – Information Recall of Internet News: Does Design Make a Difference? A Pilot Study
    – Interactive News Presentation and Its Effects on Evaluative Perception: Is Being “Closer” to the News Better?
    – It’s All About the Web Hits Here:” How and Why Journalists Create Audio Slideshows
    – U.S. Online Newspapers’ Performance in Local Markets: A Struggle of Inter- and Intra-Media Competition
    – Website Format or Media Experience Driven? A Test of Perceptions of Online Messages
    – When Reporters Blog: Gatekeeping in Mainstream Newspapers’ Blog Coverage of Ongoing and Breaking News Events

  9. Suzanne says:

    Just wanted to throw in my two cents: I was on Dan Gillmor’s panel, and before I flew out to Boston, I asked the students what they wanted to relay to the AEJMC crowd. Much of what they were desperate to tell them reflect exactly what you’re saying right here.


  10. Pingback: What’s In a Name, Part II | UMass Journalism Professor's Blog

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