Journalistic Brainstorming: What Don’t We Know

Written by Ryan Thornburg August 25, 2010 3:07 pm EDT 1 comment

We kicked off the fall semester of Public Affairs Reporting for New Media at UNC yesterday by brainstorming in 10 minutes at least 50 questions that we were going to need to answer in order to create a new “Everyblock”-style community information database for small newspapers.

It’s a great example of how the design thinking school of innovation intersects well with the world of journalism. Good reporters should always be asking themselves “What don’t I know about this?” And great reporters take that question to a diverse group of collaborators and ask “What don’t we know about this?”

Here’s what my students and I don’t know:

Learn More

JOMC 491 Class Calendar

Written by Ryan Thornburg August 20, 2010 10:15 pm EDT No comments

Syllabus is here. Calendar is after the jump

Learn More

Places, Everyone! (Daily Filter)

Written by Ryan Thornburg August 19, 2010 8:00 am EDT No comments

I’m just going to skip right over yesterday’s tweets, live blogs, streaming videos and Flickr channels of Facebook’s location feature. I opened the filter a bit wider to let in a wider variety of sources, but Mashable and PBS/Knight/IdeaLab/MediaShift still go the most headlines through the filter.

And speaking of filters …

Google Releases Universal Search for Gmail, Docs and Sites I won’t be happy until it can find my keys and documentation of my that December 2003 expense report that accounting still hasn’t pushed through.

The future of UI Is VUI the new GUI?

Verizon Plans to Bring Live TV Streaming to the iPad The future of news is all about getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

FINDING THE MEDIATED CITY Durn, there’s a lot of words in this post. But whatever a mediated city is, I think journalists need to be at the center of creating it.

Auto-Tweeting Your Way to Spamsville Yup. Twitter’s about conversation. Not something you automate.

Broadcast Viewer Average Age: 51 Is it the device or the content that young folks don’t like?

The Web is not dead, but many wish it so
Too many words for me to sound them all out, but Steve Yelvington looks like he might have smart thoughts about the inflammatory Wired article.

It’s still about the journalism, not the CMS I will be so glad when people feel like they no longer have to build their own CMS. Can’t everyone just use Drupal, the most awesomest CMS that is way better than anything else and is used by all the cool kids? The partisanship just has to stop.

The Web Design Community Offers Advice To Beginners Quickly saw a line that I might turn into a t-shirt for class. “Google before you ask.”

Statelight: Transparency in a Box, Pt. 2 I’m generally skeptical of anything in a box. They are usually operated with a turnkey and are bought at a one-stop-shop. But Statline’s good people. And the Good Lord knows we need more transparency at the state level.

Gannett Goes Hyperlocal With HighSchoolSports.net Wanna oust your local incumbent news organization? Publish a database of local crime, gossip about the schools and the scores and video from high school sports.

A fresh look at reporting skills Looks like Mindy McAdams has a good conversation going over at her blog. Need to stop in and check it out.

And finally a handful of posts that always draw my attention — ones that start with a number or an interrogative:

5 Useful Facebook Trend and Search Services

5 Questions with John Byrne of BusinessWeek, Fast Company, and Now, C-Change Media

10 Ways to Make Video a More Interactive Experience

NPR Listening By The Numbers—And The Platform

How Training Citizen Journalists Made a Difference

How Metadata Can Eliminate the Need for Pay Walls

Learn More

Triple Filtered? That’s Smirnoff Ice. This Is Only a Double Filter.

Written by Ryan Thornburg August 18, 2010 9:35 am EDT No comments

First of all, I don’t even want to talk to you about this post’s headline. Unless you’re my therapist or in need of SEO consulting.

But I do want to bring you another attempt at headlines I’ve culled from my tech/social filters… and yet still don’t have time to read. Mashable and Romenesko still caught my eye the most this morning, but TechPresident and the PBS/Knight Foundation MediaShift IdeaLab (or whatever that very good site should be called) also added some variety to the mix.

So, without further ado. I filter these to you. Please filter them back to me.

Learn More

I Filter, You Summarize?

Written by Ryan Thornburg August 17, 2010 9:41 am EDT No comments

Clay Shirky said we don’t suffer from information overload, but filter failure. That sounds right to me. Despite by efforts to use social and technical filters to focus my daily doses of e-mail newsletters, RSS feeds and tweets, I still find myself swamped with more words than I can read in the hour I’ve given myself to “read-in” each day. I am much more efficient at pulling things that might be interesting than carefully reading text for anything that’s actually new and noteworthy.

So here’s a new deal I’m going to start trying. I find the headlines and I ask you to filter back to me the new facts, missing info and impact of the stories. If you read one of the stories that pass my filter, will kindly post one comment if you find anything interesting in the articles themselves?

Here’s what passed through my filter today:

Learn More

Welcome to JOMC 491: Public Affairs Reporting for New Media

Written by Ryan Thornburg August 6, 2010 12:53 pm EDT No comments

With only a few weeks left before the start of the fall semester, I wanted to quickly give registered and prospective students a little bit of an idea about what we’ll be doing in Public Affairs Reporting for New Media this semester. Seats are still available, so act now!

The goal of the class will be to develop a new online editorial product for the newspapers in Whiteville and Washington, N.C., that will help them provide be a comprehensive and highly engaging source of news and information for their communities. (Perhaps something like Everyblock.com)

So, the first thing to know about the class is that you will be expected to go to those cities — both about 2.5 hours from Chapel Hill — at least once and probably more during the semester. I’ll pick up the tab for your trips, but you will need to arrange your own transportation and schedule.

The reason we’ll be working with these two towns is that they are part of a larger effort being led by Knight journalism professor Penny Abernathy and funded by The McCormick Foundation (founding family of The Chicago Tribune) aimed at helping small newspapers make a financially sound transition to a digital economy.

So do you need to know anything about computer programming, or media economics or news reporting and editing? Not really, but you’ll probably be much better off if you’ve had exposure to at least one of those topics. If you haven’t then you’ll need to rely on your own curiosity, self-motivation and time commitment to ensure your success and happiness in the course.

The class is going to be structure probably unlike any other class you’ve taken at Carolina. First, it has the experiential service-learning component. That means less reading and note-taking from lectures. It means more class discussion and hands-on group projects. My goal is for this class to teach you — as much as anything else — how to clearly articulate and creatively solve messy, complex real-world problems. To do that, we’ll be using the context of improving public affairs reporting for the people of North Carolina by using new digital news tools and concepts.

What will you do in the class?
The first half of the class will be an introduction to the problem with the second half focused on trying out different solutions. In class, we’ll be discussing articles, brainstorming and prototyping (making models that can give us a better idea of how people might use our website). Outside of class, you’ll be keeping a 2x/week blog of reflections, reading articles, and working in groups to figure out what barriers stand in our way of building a great site and then figuring out for yourself how you will overcome those barriers. I promise to be your guide.

How will you be graded?
30% – You’ll launch your own blog and update it twice a week. Some weeks I will give you specific assignments (write a descriptive report about Whiteville, discuss the readings, etc.) but most of the time you’ll simply write about your experiences.

30% – Prototyping. In many classes, you may have been asked to write or create one big final project that demonstrates your knowledge of what you learned. But in this class, you’ll practice the art of “fertile failure” — trying a lot of ideas, making a lot of mistakes and learning from them. You will be rewarded for failing fast and failing smart. We will use everything from toothpicks to MySQL to build our prototypes. You’ll start by using the materials with which you’re comfortable and end the semester by using tools that terrified you just three months earlier. These will be different tools for each student.

30% – Participation. Come to every class with a lot of questions, fulfill your service obligation, participate in online discussions outside of class.

10% – Data management and public records assignments. A big part of our prototyping and brainstorming will be around how to obtain public records and make them useable in an online database. You’ll have a few projects to get you familiar with the basics of the technology and issues surrounding this topic.

I hope that gives you a rough idea of the class. I’ll be posting a full syllabus and calendar soon. But in the meanwhile, enjoy the rest of your summer and let me know if you have any questions.

Best,
Ryan

Learn More

Convergence in the Classroom, Metamorphosis in the Newsroom

Written by Ryan Thornburg August 5, 2010 11:14 am EDT 1 comment

“Convergence” has always been my least favorite word to use to talk about newsrooms. Yesterday’s AEJMC conference presentation by John Russial and Arthur Santana reminded me why.

Oh, their presentation was very good. Russial’s research about newsroom technology and roles is always enlightening. But a blog post from Alfred Hermida (who, by the way, is the conference’s best tweeter @Hermida) picked up on the presentation’s use of the word “convergence” and made me realize how broad of a definition that word can have. Hermida’s headline was “AEJMC: Newsrooms slow to move toward convergence” and he goes on to report that “Russial concluded that job specialisation remained the dominant organizing principle, with editors prizing depth rather than breadth.”

On Twitter, the unfortunate headline has been in circulation. I say it’s unfortunate because I think it misrepresents Russial’s presentation in a way that the rest of the blog post does not. My impression was that Russial’s research found that convergence IS happening in newsrooms, but that it is happening at the organizational level rather than at the individual level. He didn’t address whether convergence was happening at the story level.

And if you had to read that last paragraph a few times, you know why I don’t like to use the word convergence.

That said, I think Russial is right about the level at which convergence is happening. His findings are supported by the paper that Ying Du and I presented at the same session and they are supported, too, by an earlier unpublished study I did of online journalists in North Carolina.

The North Carolina study found that, on average, online journalists say they have had nine different duties at least once in the last three months. More often than anything else, a respondent said he or she had five different duties. But it also found that not everyone is doing everything. There is specialization of “new media” skills.

And in the paper we presented yesterday, online journalists said that the concept most important to their job was “multitasking”. (Journalism instructors however, ranked multitasking as seventh out of 10 concept. Leading to the challenging question: How do you teach multitasking?)

I didn’t research this, but I suspect that photographers are also shooting video. Reporters are blogging. Designers are animating. Copyeditors are producing story packages in a CMS. It’s not convergence as much as it is metamorphosis. And we aren’t seeing caterpillars becoming ducks. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing caterpillars becoming butterflies.

There are some roles in the newsroom that AREN’T converging. In the North Carolina survey, journalists who write original stories for the Web, edit text for content, and work with databases tend to perform very few other tasks.

I don’t have enough data to support this, but I also suspect that role convergence is much more likely to take place at small news organizations while specialization (and diversity) of roles is more common at the largest news organizations. And because students tend to start at small organizations and later join large organizations, this distinction is important (if indeed true). Understanding it can help journalism educators better frame the choices they have when dealing with curriculum change.

So, what does that mean for journalism education and curriculum change? I think a few things:

  • Every journalism student should have a basic introduction to a broad variety of skills – writing/editing, reporting, photography/design, computer programming/algorithmic thinking and law/ethics.
  • Journalism students should become proficient in a particular set of concepts and skills that we some define as being similar.
  • “New media” skills should be incorporated into core classes. That means squeezing audio-video information gathering into reporting and design classes. It means that every class should talk about using social media for gathering and distributing news. If there is a specific class in “social media” or “animated graphics” or even “magazine design” or “sports writing” they should be advanced courses that students take after getting a basic introduction to them in earlier classes.
  • The purpose of incorporating new skills and concepts into core classes comes at a cost of spending less time on the traditional skills that are still so valuable. That’s why further specialization is so important.
  • Journalism students should also have a broad education that introduces them to economics, art, history, science, politics and all the rest. And students should also specialize in a subject area. (Again, I suspect that as newspaper staffs shrink that the place where we’ll find the most convergence in beat assignments. At the same time, the brand disloyalty of the online news audience is promoting beat specialization and the development of new niche topical expertise.)
  • The purpose of the broad-based core curriculum – and the reason for including “new media” skills and concepts into those course is to give journalism students the vocabulary and news judgment they need to collaborate with specialists.
  • Finally, as Russial pointed out in his presentation, the adoption of newsroom technology has tended to follow a pattern. First, technology leads to automation. Journalists whose careers are built around their expertise in quickly and accurately performing a rote task and not around thinking creatively and critically will lose their jobs. But then, technology leads to specialization. As new tools become available not everyone can be equally skilled at each one.

Dealing with the unresolved debate over convergence or specialization was one of the biggest challenges of writing my textbook. I dealt with it in a way that supports the solution I’ve begun to outline here: we need both. How’s that for convergence?

Learn More

What I'm reading

  • No bookmarks avaliable.

Blog Archive