Twitter Fundraising: Lessons I Learned

Written by Ryan Thornburg October 4, 2010 9:30 pm EDT 1 comment

One of the reasons I remain bullish on social media and the read/write web is my continued hope is that it will lead to an increasing diversity of voices as well as a renewed sense of personal ownership of the First Amendment. So when UNC’s celebration of First Amendment Day rolled around last week, it was a good opportunity for me to play around with Twitter’s capacity to raise money for fun and/or profit.

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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are supported by the paper that Ying Du and I presented at the same session and they are supported, too, by an earlier unpublished study I did of online journalists in North Carolina.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?

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Future Journalists’ Take on the Future of News

Written by Ryan Thornburg May 3, 2010 2:54 pm EDT No comments

Students in my Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class this spring worked with four community partners — WUNC radio, N.C. Center for Voter Educaiton, OrangePolitics.org and N.C. Data — to see what the future of news might look like in a world outlined by Leonard Downie and Michael Schudson in their “Reconstruction of American Journalism” post.

Among several good final memos from students, was this one by Ashley Lopez, who astutely notes that solutions that may work for the preservation of public affairs reporting at the national level might not scale down to the state and local levels where relevant and reliable reporting on government and public life is most needed.

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The Credit Economy?

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 26, 2010 4:53 pm EST 4 comments

I just gave the students in my Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class their first quiz. Overall, not bad. But I have to report this piece of breaking news:

Only 1 out of 16 students said that it was UNethical to “download a photo from the Web server of a blogger, upload it to your server, using it on your site along with credit to the original creator.”

I’m dying to talk with them about this on Thursday to hear more about their rationale. Maybe it says something about how they see bloggers. Maybe it says something about the way they see ownership of content.

What do you think?

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Fertile Failure: Live Blogging Class Discussion

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 14, 2010 9:47 am EST No comments

Updated: 2:51 p.m. ET

Fail fast, fail cheap. Isn’t that what they say? Well, today I did it. My first attempt to live blog a class discussion didn’t work out. But neither did my first attempt to … well, do just about anything…

No matter. Here’s what I learned…

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A Lab for ‘The Reconstruction of American Journalism’

Written by Ryan Thornburg January 13, 2010 3:07 pm EST No comments

This week is the first of a new semester in my Public Affairs Reporting for New Media class — a journalism class in which the students must work 30 hours with a community partner over the course of the semester. Our goal this semester — expose the students to all of the journalism models that Len Downie and Michael Schudson outline as potential replacements for a decline in public affairs reporting at newspapers.

This semester, the 18 students in the class will be divided among four partners:

  • the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, a non-profit funded largely by foundation money and private donations;
  • OrangePolitics.org, a liberal blog about local politics run part-time by a single “citizen jouranlist”;
  • N.C. DataNet, a newsletter of from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Program on Public Life, edited by a former News & Observer reporter and opinion editor;
  • a public broadcast outlet here in North Carolina.

If any of these sources will be part of the reconstruction of American journalism, the students in the class will help determine how it’s reconstructed. At the very least, the students will be able to report back to the rest of us more details about what they find in these laboratories of post-newspaper news.

Stay tuned… and add your suggested reading for the class via the Delicious bookmark tag JOMC491-examples-s10.

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Rerun Posts: Who Drives the Vision? Who Takes the Risk?

Written by Ryan Thornburg June 16, 2009 9:18 am EDT No comments

The question that keeps coming up in recent discussions about experimentation and fertile failure is this: Who will drive the vision and who will take the risk that journalism needs to get over this hump?

As a preamble, I’m re-running two blog posts (…hmm, I wonder if “the long tail” is going to make the word re-run go the way of the turntable…anyway…) that highlight the challenge and two potential answers:

After the jump, I’m looking for where we might be most likely to find the fertile failures and experimentors that journalism needs.

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J-Schools: Breeding Ground for Fertile Failure

Written by Ryan Thornburg June 15, 2009 9:38 am EDT 6 comments

For a lot of very good reasons the word “failure” is not welcome in newsrooms. The aversion probably begins in  j-schools when we give automatic Fs to students who write news stories about “Thornberg” or “Thornburgh” instead of “Thornburg,” it continues with 2 a.m. panic attacks about transposing quotes, and probably calcifies completely with the fear of being sued for libel. In short, journalists don’t get paid for making mistakes. Good. They shouldn’t.

But a failure is not always a mistake, especially in the context of an experiment that fails to prove a widely held belief. Experiments that fail often lead to entirely new lines of inquiry and new understanding about the world. To enjoy this kind of fertile failure that yields innovation, you have to pursue success in the right way. Fertile failure is most likely when you tackle a very specific, very big question with small experiments that are conducted as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Universities, where failure leads both to the creation of new ideas as well as the ability to shed old ideas, should be ideal partners for risk-averse news organizations. Here are a few ideas about how journalism schools can be breeding grounds for fertile failure.

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Innovation Isn’t Enough

Written by Ryan Thornburg June 9, 2009 9:47 am EDT No comments

The role of innovation in news has come up in several conversations I’ve had with folks over the last few weeks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the pursuit of innovation may be fun as all get out, but on its own it does not do enough to move the industry forward. What we need instead of innovation is experimentation.

What’s the difference between innovation and experimentation? Innovation only values success. Experimentation also values failure.

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Does the WSJ’s Online Business Strategy Work for Local News?

Written by Ryan Thornburg April 3, 2009 8:47 am EDT No comments

Be niche. Have very high standards. And find some subscribers to buy it

Good advice for future journalists from Alan Murray, the editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Web site, who gave the Park Lecture at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Thursday night. His approach to online journalism certainly sounded right to me, but what I didn’t hear was any hard evidence that would help support my gut instinct.

The biggest question I still have: Is there any business model for high quality local public affairs journalism?

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What I'm reading

  • News Corp. Donation Clouds Fox Coverage of Prop. 24 - NYTimes.com 2010/11/02
  • How to Count Items in a Filtered List in Excel 2010/10/25
  • Relational Databases - Example - Martin Baker 2010/10/16
  • MySQL :: MySQL 5.0 Reference Manual :: 10 Data Types 2010/10/16
  • Download & Install 2.4.1 2010/10/16

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