Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wanted: Big Ideas

"Why aren't journalism schools coming up with solutions to the newspaper problem?" I was asked recently.

It's a great question and a potentially damning one. It's not that journalism educators aren't obsessing about the stresses being placed upon the profession. It's a fair question to ask what all that obsessing in the halls of academia has produced.

When one thinks about great journalism schools, does one imagine them as places of innovation and experimentation that test new methods of news gathering, presentation and delivery? Are they incubators of new industry models or is that more the province of business schools?

Where do new ideas in the journalism field come from?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Big Ideas and Where to Find Them

While it may seem likely that journalism schools would be the places generating new ideas and solving the problems that plague our industry, I haven't seen much of that happening - that is, at least not at our journalism school. While we have a strong newspaper program led by a plethora of talented reporters and editors, what we as students are learning is very basic stuff. Anyone can learn to write a good lead, and anyone (except me, for some reason) can memorize all of the rules of AP style. That's a given.

But when it comes to true innovation, the fact of the matter is that we don't have the framework to support new discovery or new techniques. The business school continually improves the rating of its international business program, the schools of public health and nursing are ever-increasing in size and popularity, and the university's research efforts are on the brink of making the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cells a reality for this country.

Meanwhile, back at our ranch, we're plodding through the basics. I've never been in more than two journalism classes at a time, but my accounting major friends spend all day correcting budgets and doing audits. My pre-med friends kill mice from noon to five every Wednesday and Thursday. They're getting hours and hours of substantial experience and exposure in their classes every day while we're learning concepts for only a few hours a week.

If journalism schools want to innovate, they have to give us the tools to really know what we're doing. Where is the class on HTML coding? When are we going to learn about new media? (Does anyone know what that means yet?) I get anxious knowing that I'm going into a field that I'm not fully prepared for.

Journalists have to be ready for all possibilities. At present, we're only ready to scramble for dwindling jobs in a dying medium. If j-schools want to innovate, they need to offer some kind of instruction in areas where the innovation is happening instead of leaving us to figure out those uncharted waters on our own. Once we have the tools to figure some of this stuff out (internet advertising, content generation, effective blogging and vlogging and the like), we'll be able to experiment with and develop our own approaches to the dire problems our industry faces.

New Ideas

When I think of great journalism schools I do assume that they are doing whatever is necessary to bring about change to the field. I don’t think that anyone would want to go to a place where they won’t learn the newest and more efficient way to gather information and deliver it to the masses. Innovation and experimentation is all apart of advancing in this industry, so it only makes sense that our universities should be doing this also. By learning these new models now while in college, it will place deep into the race of advancement and not lagging trying to catch up to the new technology. I believe that it is the responsibility to give us and create now ways to do our jobs, because if they didn’t we would be greatly unprepared for the world we choose to work in.
New ideas for journalism come from the people who take the risk and use new technology in a different way. Because it doesn’t take long for people to catch on, others will begin to see that the new way of using a program or device will be easier than the old. The whole field is about trial and error, and journalists are continually reinventing their crafts to fit the medium for which they work. It would help if colleges and universities would continually update their journalism curriculum that fit the changing world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We need a tweak things a bit

I believe it is a Journalism School's job to prepare future journalists for the profession, and that even means pushing the boundaries.

As you asked, "does one imagine them as places of innovation and experimentation that test new methods of news gathering, presentation and delivery?"

The answer is, yes. College is where you can try new things, and where new ideas are incubated, so when the newly trained journalist gets in the work force, they can present those ideas learned in college to the higher ups at a paper/magazine/website/etc. I believe our school should adapt to the new environment, and experiment with some new teaching and curriculum tactics, while still providing the solid base it has become known for.

Even though we have a print medium, and should keep it, our curriculum should include more online journalism classes, since that is the medium things look to be going. That way, our curriculum can help form new ideas to improve journalism.

And, as you asked: " Are they (schools) incubators of new industry models or is that more the province of business schools?"I don't believe it is solely up to the business guys to decide things, but that is where our new endowment for business journalism comes in. Not only should that branch focus on covering business, but also it should focus on the business of journalism, so we can fix this whole mess we are in now.

It is said that journalists are chameleons, that we can go and fit into any environment, and adapt to it. We are currently adapting to the digital takeover of information, so shouldn't our journalism schools be equally adaptable?

I think so.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Adler's Luck

Straight talk from a straight shooter, way to go, Steve Adler you continue to fulfill your journalistic role of sharing useful, succinct and timely information.

So the ‘sky is not falling,’ there is the possibility of a future but it’s all on me, good to know.

It is scary time to begin this process. The whole landscape and nature of the business is shifting, and where it's going is only partially apparent. Throughout the country newsrooms are being forced to cut their staff and their budgets. Some have shifted to online only while others have closed all together.

My Journalism 201 professor, Auggie Grant takes a positive look at these paradigm changes. He says this is the most exciting time to be in this field and if you can adapt and learn and be on the cutting edge you will have no problems.

He said this with the obvious idea that first you must write well, and in addition be on the cutting edge. It is good advice. I plan to focus on my tech skills and writing, stay positive and work hard. Hopefully, I will have a bit of Adler’s luck.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Thoughts on Plain

1. Your career will probably depend on luck.

That is true. It is all about being at the right place and the right time, and knowing the right people.

2. Few journalists write really well, so you have an advantage if you can, especially as editing resources shrink.

No matter what happens to the form journalism is presented, great writing will always take precedent.

3. Despite the current hard times, students have an advantage over professionals because they have tech skills, and aren’t entrenched in the hierarchy.

That is true. Just another example of Structural economics.

4. Attitude counts more than ever.

Hope it doesn't count too much.

5. You’ve got to get known, because editors tend to hire people they already know. (Note, this is when Adler mentioned that he’s interviewed “children of board members of companies they cover” for jobs.)

Like I said in question 1. It is all about who you know, not so much what you know.

6. Be essential, not discretionary.

Yes.

7. Advertisers have much more power than ever, and that’s an enormous problem.

Since they pay, they have a lot of leeway. I'd also think Magazine subscribers have a good bit a leeway.

8. An editor-in-chief spends less than half his time doing anything even remotely journalistic.

Mostly business talk.

9. Analog dollars make digital pennies, but online may save the industry.

Let's hope it does.

10. The skills of a journalist have value, even if it’s not in journalism. (Especially helpful to hear when Adler predicted that journalists’ salaries will likely take a downward turn.)

Once hired, it is all about what you bring to the table. Who know gets you in the door, what you know and what you do makes the paycheck.

A good home for investigative journalism

Atlanta Unfiltered is a good example of the journalism watchdog role continuing and adapting in the face of the changing media venue. The site and others like it are sure to be a part of the future of journalism. Likely reporters will continue to create niche sites, including some that specialize in investigative reporting, as they find traditional media venues offering less or unable to continue to employ them in the areas they specialize in.

Online sites are the perfect vehicle for upstart investigative reporting as the overhead is low and the writer can focus on specific stories without specific time frames or deadlines, as investigative pieces can take time to flesh out. As the sites develop, the more popular sites will likely grow and become more slick and user friendly. One could envision such sites growing in readership and then being bought out by bigger media venues, as happens with other popular online sites.

I think we will see more reporter operated investigative sites develop and I think it is a good thing. The worst problem I could think of is the development of sites that operate outside of traditional ethical standards, but I think that the audience will be able to discern the good from the bad.

I know the Internet is a great venue for local, regional and international investigative reporting. I have been reading a fantastic investigative reporter online for about six years. Greg Palast, http://www.gregpalast.com/, offers great investigative reporting, though it is of a progressive nature. Palast uncovered a variety of issues following the 2000 and 2004 elections, and then went on to uncover eerily similar irregularities in the national Mexican election. His site has grown in popularity and become more polished and slick since i first began reading it and since then he has himself turned a great deal of the issues first developed on his site into a book. Palast has been able to grow his site through quality in depth reporting and self-marketing. He is offering a valuable needed commodity to his community of readers, a need which other media outlets -at least American ones - are not providing and is fulfilling the watchdog role. I think it is up to the reader to judge the product of sites like Atlanta Unfiltered and Palast and decide if they are serious quality journalism. It is up to the writer to produce and self-promote and find the audience.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Atlanta response

I have to agree with Charlotte. But the problem, I think, doesn't end with the news sites not being universally accessible or universally trustworthy for consumers.

It seems like high-ranking sources that would be ideal for interviewing in hard-hitting news stories would be less willing to cooperate with these independent outlets. Especially when it's hard to differentiate between the good Web sites and potential time-wasters.

I can't imagine that, without the backing of an institution like The State or The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it's going to be possible for very long for independent news sites to actually get tough questions answered for investigative stories.

But maybe these independent Web sites will be able to make enough of a name for themselves to create some sort of loyal following and be taken seriously by potential story subjects. Matt Drudge has a job, doesn't he?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Atlanta Unfiltered Response

If the future of serious journalism is independent Web sites, then we're in trouble.

First of all, newsrooms should be doing investigative journalism. But layoffs and consolidation have created a tough environment that makes it hard for journalists to do their jobs. I think the business mindset of the newsroom is more to blame than the economy. It's a regrettable situation, and it needs to be fixed.

Secondly, an independent website does not have nearly the same clout as an established news organization. Anyone can publish anything on the Web. Jim Walls may have great credentials, but how does the casual browser tell the difference between a sham site and a legitimate one? People often glance at a website and gauge its credibility based on how professional the design is and who the sponsoring organization is.

Also, the Web may be world wide, but it still has limited reach. Newspapers are affordable and widely available. Internet access is not. Residential internet service is a luxury, and many people do not have internet access at home or at work. A 35 or 50 cent newspaper is easier to get than an open computer at the local library.

This is not to say that there shouldn't be watchdog sites on the internet, but it is especially hard online to tell what is trustworthy information and what is not. These sites will have to build credibility with readers, just as traditional news organizations have. And hopefully, traditional newsrooms can regain some of the credibility they've lost with layoffs. Society needs its watchdogs. Letting public officials operate without oversight is certainly not an option.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The new face of journalism

In the recent years, "journalism" has become more adorned with flashy graphics, high def TV touch screens, and perfectly groomed reporters. This change over the years has led journalists farther from getting to the truth and "peeling the onion" and more about ratings and spin.

Jim Walls Atlanta Unfiltered is, I believe, a perfect representation of where journalism, actual investigative journalism, is going in the future. It's unpolished look IS a representation of where we are, but it is also an homage to the muckrakers of the past. Those journalists weren't afraid to crawl through the muck of society and get a little dirty to get the facts, and neither is this site.

Journalism is going to go through a trend were it will no longer be about flash, graphics, and image, but be more about substance. Walls' site looks to do this.

I truly believe that this will be the future of journalism. In the art and design world, trends are pushed to the limit until they look tacky, and then artists come in and scale back, and journalism is getting ready to go through that trend design wise. This site is the best example.

And I don't believe that is a bad thing. Journalism seems to have lost its mind and turned into a conglomorated business venture and has forgotten the people it works for. It has become too much about style and look, and not about getting to the bottom of stories. This will be a welcome change, and I believe, this is where journalism will be heading.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Generation

I don’t think that there is anything with local newspapers, but I’m not all that surprised that the younger generation doesn’t seem to have a use for it. With the rise in technology and with interesting events happening all over the world, I think that the younger generation has traded local events with world and national events. Most civic life isn’t interesting to a generation that wants the information before it even happens. I think the appetite for knowledge of all kinds in insatiable for the younger generation and it’s become easier to receive that information by other means. If my local paper can email updates to my Blackberry just as the Washington Post does then maybe I’ll read it, but it’s just easier to sit down with and watch WIS for local events while I also read my online papers and Twitter from a phone. Reading a paper takes time and concentration, and I’m afraid that maybe the younger generation doesn’t want to make that time.
I do believe that if the civic papers want to gain youth readership that they should cater to that audience. There can be a way to include information that everyone should want to read, and I think that the younger generation is somewhat being ignored and that the internet has picked up on that and has decided to encroach on this market. Journalists need to find a way to make it work. They need to find whatever it is that will pull us in and make us want to read that paper. I also think that as new, younger interns and journalists enter the field that we will see a shift in the content of local papers. As we bring new ideas and information we will also bring a new readership along with us. But mostly it’s important for newspapers to keep up with the way we receive our information.

Adapt, Adopt and Reach

The journalist's role has not changed.  He or she should gather information, process and present it in an honest and intriguing manner.  The journalist's responsibilities have changed - they have increased.  Getting the message out in as many different formats as possible including print, online, cell phone, ect..., has moved to the top of the list.  Who are we writing for and how do we reach them? 

The unprecedented growth in voter turnout among 18- to 29-year olds in 2008 was a response to identification.  Young voters identified with a candidate and a set of issues including change of the status quo, ethics and anger over the war and the economy.  These voters did not have to read the paper the previous day to know the most up to date information, because they were saturated with information from a variety of traditional and non-traditional sources.  Information was available on TV and from online sources.  Information was available directly from the candidate as e-mail and cell phone updates.  Information broke on cell phones first in some cases.

The newspaper is not the easiest or best media source for all users anymore, particularly the younger demographic, but that does not translate to a failure to understand the value of a free press to a free society.  Parker does not offer any data to make the case or compare past and present media use and understanding for the 18- to- 29 demographic.   I would guess from my own experience that today's youth are more aware of what is going on than in the past.  That they are more reachable than ever.  However, the journalist is now competing with many other players on these newly opened roads for access to the media user.  It is then the journalist's responsibility, as one of the few players on the road who was trained to be accurate, objective, ethical and concise to go through as many media sources so he or she can to reach the user.

That said, the journalists and everyone else inside and outside of newspapers should find a way to do whatever possible to preserve newspapers.  Endow newspaper?  Story for another time.