Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Town-Gown" journalism projects

A short Twitter exchange with two former students inspired me to compile a list of exemplar sites where colleges are getting engaged in community news coverage, something that's been interesting to me for a while. And having compiled the list, I thought it would be good to post it here as well.

This idea is something that Len Downie and Michael Schudson raised in their Reconstruction of American Journalism report as an idea that could help add some valuable elements to the news ecosystem. These projects take various forms but generally entail online presentation of student coverage of the community, sometimes in collaboration with local media and sometimes in collaboration with local community members in a hyper-local format. Some of the projects in this list have been around for a while while others are new.

The context of the Twitter exchange was that I mentioned to these former students that this had been a topic of some extensive discussion at the AEJMC conference in Denver a few weeks ago. I attended about three different panels on the topic, and it seems to be something the industry and the academy are interested in bringing about in a lot of places. So this is by no means an inclusive list;
I'm sure there are many more out there and would welcome additions to the list in the comments. But to get things started, here are a few high quality student-community collaborations that have come to my attention either at the sessions I attended in Denver or earlier.

Chicago Talks (project of Columbia College, Chicago)
The Local: East Village (New York University)
The Local: Fort Greene (Brooklyn) (City University of New York)
New York City News Service (City University of New York)
New England Center for Investigative Reporting (Boston University)
My Missourian (University of Missouri)
Reese Felts Project (University of North Carolina)
Multi-Media Urban Reporting Lab (Philadelphia) (Temple University)
We-Town (Elizabethtown, Pa.) (
Elizabethtown College)
Latina Voices (Columbia College, Chicago)

Additionally, there is the recently announced Patch-U, offering student collaboration with the string of hyper-local sites operated by AOL.

(In Denver I also heard about projects affiliated with Louisiana State University and University of Colorado Boulder but didn't write down any URLs and couldn't find them with Google searches. The LSU one sounded a lot like the CUNY City News Service one, partnering student journalists with media outlets in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other places in the state.)

I think these projects offer a lot of promise for helping the next generation of journalists develop skills in settings outside of traditional newsrooms, which is where progressively more journalism is going to be done. They are especially valuable as in-the-newsroom internships and summer jobs wither with the declining fortunes of legacy news organizations.

They also offer value for news audiences in the communities they cover. Downie and Schudson liken such news operations to the medical field's teaching hospitals, where medical-professionals-in-training help meet the needs of their surrounding communities.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Students and the News

I just finished reading the first week's worth of entries in the news-blog assignment for my intro reporting class. This ongoing assignment's purpose is to get students -- many of whom might not be naturally inclined to do so -- to read and critically react to news reports.

It's not a heavy, time-consuming assignment. They are required only to post four blog entries a week, each with a link to a story and a brief --like 4 or 5 sentences short -- reflection on it in the context of what we're talking about in class at the time. For this first one, the blog instructions were to "Select stories from your regular reading of news Web sites and describe what qualities make them newsworthy." The assignment also requires posting a comment on a classmate's entry.

By and large, the entries were well-done, with good story selection and good reflection on what was chosen. A few missed the mark, but it was the first assignment after all.

One of the best parts of reading the responses to these assignments is that a few students each week manage to find really interesting stories that I've somehow missed. I think my favorite in that category this week was a Sept. 10 story in USA Today about weddings planned for Sept. 11. Of course, summer Saturdays are prime days for weddings, and this year Sept. 11 was on a Saturday. But the idea of matching a joyous anniversary with one that forever will be the anniversary of such a horrific event is something some embrace, while others shy away from it.

I'm already looking forward to seeing what the students come up with over the course of the coming week.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm on Facebook. Now what?

Over the weekend I finally set up a Facebook account, about 2 to 4 years behind nearly everyone else that I know. And behind about half a billion people worldwide, which by any definition makes me a late adopter.

Now I'm trying to figure out: What do I do with it?

That's a serious question, by the way, not an attempt at humor, sarcasm or facetiousness. I'm genuinely unsure of what utility this program is going to have for me, which I suppose is why it took so long for me to join. I wasn't sure -- and still am not sure -- that the observations I might post about my life are interesting to anyone else, or vice versa.

The main rationale for finally signing up is just so I can experience something that is becoming so integral to the modern communication world, and so I have the ability to "like" and follow some group pages that I feel I ought to be following (such as several associated with Fisher). But where Facebook is going to integrate into MY communication world is something I still haven't figured out.

Now, I'm not exactly a social media Luddite. I've been on Linked-In for years, on Twitter for a little over a year, and maintain/occasionally contribute to a couple of other blogs besides this one. I see value in all of these things, especially Twitter, which I use as a surveillance device to keep track of some people whose ideas I find illuminating. I like knowing what they are thinking about and writing about (in their own tweets and blogs, primarily).

But Facebook doesn't seem geared to that sort of instrumental communication. One of the first things to appear on my wall was a posting from my daughter musing about what sort of take-out food to order. Unlike information I might get from other sources, this makes no sort of difference to my life, even if it has consequence for her. Whether I know this about her, or not, has no impact on our relationship. The types of news that would be important for me to know about her life, for good or for ill, I hope would come to me through some venue other than Facebook. In the meantime, whether or what she orders for dinner is of no consequence to me.

In a similar vein, my own first posting was an observation about the incredibly banal topic of the weather, which I made mostly out of a feeling that I had to post something. That posting did draw a comment from a cousin who now lives in New Orleans and whom I've seen maybe once in the past 30 years. The fact that Facebook helped us reconnect after all that time is a source of some value, I must admit. And on his page I saw posts from a couple of his sisters (also my cousins, of course) to whom I could reach out and "friend" so that we also could reconnect.

But even if I manage to connect with people such as my southern cousins, or co-workers from long ago (a couple of whom have sent me friend requests), I'm still not sure what being a part of Facebook is going to add to my communication mix, or what difference it's going to make to my life. Maybe it's just too early to tell. I was sort of a late adopter of Twitter, also. I finally joined last summer after the annual AEJMC convention, mostly to "follow" several good friends from other colleges who were talking it up when I saw them at the conference. And I have found Twitter to be very worthwhile since then, following them and many other smart people whose tweeted insights are interesting and valuable to me. Maybe eventually Facebook will find a similar niche.

I also guess that like so many other things in life you also get out of a social network what you put into it. As soon as I figure out what that ought to be.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Great example of news as conversation

Here is a great example of how old-line journalism organizations can use the power of social media to tell stories in new ways.

The Washington Post is collecting and presenting -- well, more like curating and passing through -- tweeted responses to the question "Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001?" Essentially, this involves nothing more than putting a window on the site where the responses carrying the hashtag #wherewereyou stream by.

I'm not sure when they started or how long they plan to continue. It first came to my attention yesterday afternoon when I saw a friend's tweet with that hashtag. I added my own recollection, clicked on the hashtag to view others, and found several tweets with reference to what the Post was doing. So I switched to the Post site just in time to see my own tweet float by. My wife saw my tweet, added one of her own, and I saw hers.

So it's been going on for at least about 24 hours. I'll bet tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of tweets have been made on this topic. Just stopping to read them for a few minutes is bound to bring some really poignant ones. I can't imagine a better example of the principle that "news is a conversation."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Random curation

Some random jottings about some really interesting reads I've found recently, and links to all (trying to follow the model of summary and curation of good stuff that's out there) ...

The Memphis (Tenn) Commercial Appeal had a good two part series about the evolving state of newspaper journalism both in form and content and in its business model. Not a lot of depth, but a really good summary of the changing state of the industry.

The blog Journalism Lives had a great summary of all of the different types of tasks that fall under the heading of journalism these days. They include the mobile maven (creating content delivered via mobile devices), the multimedia backpack reporter (who creates content for various platforms), the Jack or Jill of all trades (responsible for overseeing nearly everything having to do with a given site), and the more specialized online content guru and online engagement specialist. These jobs exist in traditional and untraditional media organizations, large and small. I've basically just listed the labels here; the post is worth a deeper read.

Finally, there is the advice for up-and-coming journalists from Bob Niles of the Online Journalism Review and from NYU professor Jay Rosen. (Rosen's piece is really long. The history lesson on the relationship of the media and the public is worth reading. But if you want to cut to the chase, a bullet list of specific ideas is near the end of the posting. ) At the heart of what both Niles and Rosen are saying is this idea: effective journalism today means becoming engaged with a topic through engagement with the audience.