Web Publishist

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The news and online journalism industry through the eyes of a young Web publishist.

J-school & Web development: A perfect match

An interesting article was floating around Twitter a few days ago. It appeared in Editor & Publisher and was written by Seth Porges, who is currently an editor at Popular Mechanics magazine.

The subject he addressed was whether j-schools are adequately preparing students for the real world – and in it suggesting they’ve misstepped.

His thesis statement is that j-schools are too quick to adopt new media standards, such as basic Web coding, and are in the process throwing out pre-existing elements of core curriculum that should remain.

In this blog post I take chunks of what Mr Porges said, and give my thoughts and opinions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: design, newspaper websites, social media, student journalism, , , , ,

Thoughts from the “Practices in Online Journalism” roundtable

Earlier today City University London hosted a roundtable discussion on its campus titled “Practices in Online Journalism”. Throughout the roundtable I was Tweeting updates using the hashtag #pioj. Here are some of the Tweets, followed by more in-depth thoughts on the subjects. You’ll notice that most of these are just statements unattributed to a single speaker. I’m more interested in what was said than who said it, in this instance.

Gather as wide range of skills as you can so you can show you’re competant across different platforms“.

This subject came up a few different times throughout the session. It’s the idea that students in journalism school today should not be tied to a singular medium. It’s time to face facts that simply being a good reporter won’t cut it in this era of journalism. Fifteen years ago you’d be OK. Probably even as recently as 10 years ago. But not in 2009.

Discussion turned to business models for online journalism. The industry is trying to figure out not only how to be sustainable, but to be profitable, too. But you’ve got to learn to walk before you run, so I suspect the online journalism industry is a good while away from being profitable. I suspect that doesn’t come as much consolation to the 6,169+ who’ve so far lost their jobs in the U.S.

But what if it isn’t the journalism that needs to make money, but the method in which the journalism is distributed? Here’s a note from Matteo Berlucci, CEO of Livestation.

For entrepreneurism in journalism, the money is in the service, not the content

He followed this up by explaining why he prefers to use iTunes to get music over the peer-to-peer networks. It’s because he can get the songs quickly, and transfer them to his Mp3 player in a matter of seconds after purchasing. Matteo suggested that this may be a model for news outlets.

We’ve heard about the iTunes model for news and we know it’s mostly rubbish. But that’s not what Matteo is referring to. He’s suggesting that news outlets, whether their newspapers, magazines, or strictly on the Web, need to deliver the news to their readers in their preferred format and to be able to constantly evolve as their readers’ habits evolve.

The rise in popularity of news on the Web has meant that consumers have more options than ever to stay informed in whichever way suits them. This was another subject addressed.

“People can now comparison shop for news.”

It’s unlikely that someone will have just one place they like to go for news, just as it’s unlikely that you’re only going to go to one coffee shop every day. People’s moods change, their beliefs change and their interests change. Personally I visit about 10 different news sites regularly. But each day I’m exposed to new ones. The ones I like, I’ll bookmark and revisit. It’s not possible for a news outlet to be everything to everyone. Brand loyalty in the news is a thing of the past.

And one final note from the roundtable, this time about prospects for student journalists:

“There’s a window of opportunity for people leaving jschool who know how to do multimedia.”

There’s a now-widely read post from Nieman Labs discussing why young journalists need to get beyond their institutional mindsets. Toward the end it notes that many newspaper editors who have young journalists in their newsrooms are finding that these young people aren’t fitting the stereotype that they should be full of angst, ready to change the industry.

I’m going to suggest that the people who are set to change it, the young people, that is, are still in school. In the next 2-3 years, as they begin to filter through their respective programs and into newsrooms, they’ll be the ones who more fully understand social media, who know how to shoot and edit video, and who want to change things.

Filed under: newspaper websites, social media, student journalism, , , ,

J-school’s new media deficit

Last night I joined in the weekly Twitter chat #Collegejourn, the college media’s equivalent of the Monday night @Journchat. Most of the topics you’d think would come up in fact did. One point I brought up was the new media deficit in many j-schools.

Most of the lecturers I had in my undergraduate journalism courses were established journalists, with many accolades and well-regarded reputations. Those are the kinds of people you want to be learning journalism from.

The only problem is that most were established, well-regarded print journalists. Most were either clueless to the advancing new media storm, or were outright hostile towards it. As the industry changed at a rapid pace, those journalism lecturers so entrenched in the ways of print continued to teach the same way they had been for years.

This is a problem.

For j-schools this presents a potential crisis of self. They need established, well-regarded faculty to keep your program’s reputation afloat. Often these faculty have PhDs and have published many research papers in a specific area. They are the standard-bearer of what the program stands for.

But what happens when what your faculty is not teaching students everything they need to be successful journalists? What happens when those who have the skills and knowledge to teach them how to succeed in the new media environment may only have an MA, or in some cases less than that?

The solution is simple and, for some universities, hard to swallow: Hire younger people, PhD or not. If someone is coming out of graduate school with a master’s in new media, don’t dismiss them out of hand. Sit them down and listen to what they feel they could bring to your program to help it remain competitive.

Another option is to begin scouting the Web staff from local newspapers for potential adjunct positions. They’re working professionals in the field of online journalism. They’re exactly what you need.

It’s time to abandon the dogmas that so many j-schools have latched onto and begin to face facts — even if it means fewer PhDs walking the halls.

Filed under: student journalism, , , ,

Need video? Short on cash? Go to the journalism department

Recently I was having a chat with a formet co-worker about the publication we worked togther at. They still work there, whereas I’ve moved on. They asked me what suggestions I had for helping increase the site’s visibility. I thought for a moment about it, then realized I’d approached the editors about this very issue a few months prior, when I was still working there.

This paper was lacking a lot, but the one point that stuck out was its extremely limited use of multimedia.

In 2008 many newspapers worldwide began experimenting with video on their Web sites. Some saw great success, while others made great efforts but returned mediocre products, and lost money in the process.

Then there’s the third category, of papers too scared to do anything with video because they’re afraid of the prospect of it not being instantly profitable. They were unwilling to take a chance on something that was “unproven.”

Fair enough.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Newspapers worldwide utilize freelancers. Recently their use has become increased due to reductions in full-time staffing. Often those freelancers are writers and photographers. What I’m suggesting is the freelance realm be expanded to videographers. Specifically, college videographers and those who’ve just graduated.

I noted in a previous post that interns and freelancers want to prove themselves to editors. They want their meddle tested. Photojournalism students are being taught the ways of videography in their degree programs, so why not use their skills? Pay them like a standard freelancer, and pay only for a product that you will run.

There’s the argument that the video won’t be good enough quality, them being still in college. If I were a college photojournalist, I’d be thoroughly insulted by that. Just because they’re in college, learning a craft, does not mean they’re not able to perform. As the editor you’re able to pick who you think would work best for you, and then offer those people the opportunity to prove you right or wrong.

Newspapers should be in constant contact with their local journalism departments, learning about who’s talented in their programs, and who they should be reaching out to for freelance videography jobs. You’ll have to pay them, sure, but it won’t be a lot. And in return the paper has a lot of multimedia content to choose from.

Whether it’s audio, video or soundslides you’re looking for, the best place to go for it is your local journalism department. You’ve got the best and the brightest there, and they all want the chance to show you what they know.

Filed under: newspaper websites, student journalism, , , ,

Writing for your college paper is not enough

Before I started writing for my alma mater’s student newspaper, Central Michigan Life, I started a newsletter in my dorm called The Kessler Chronicle, which borrowed its name from the hall’s name, Kesseler Hall. It wasn’t all that successful, but I did have a writing staff and we did put out a consistent product.

I also did the occasional piece for a publication that one of my professors ran, a monthly news-magazine based in Canada that dealt primarily with the goings-on of the African communities in North America.

Eventually I made my way into the newspaper’s office. I’m glad I did because I had some fantastic experiences there. I’m really proud of a lot of the work I did, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t help me get some of the jobs I’ve had.

But after two years I reached a point where either I needed to make a greater commitment to the paper or forge ahead on my own and see what opportunities I could find on a freelance level. I decided to go it alone.

It was a difficult decision because I had a lot of friends at the paper. Not being around meant I was no longer part of “the club.” But I quickly found that my decision was the right one.

Not long after I quit the paper, I started my first magazine. And while I was developing the magazine, I took a job as a beat reporter covering Mount Pleasant Public Schools for the city paper,  The Morning Sun. Also I was filing occasional stories for Reuters’ Detroit bureau, which I had started working for during the previous summer.

As the semesters passed, I found myself writing for more and more professional publications. By the time I graduated my by-line had appeared in nine different newspapers and magazines across Michigan, in addition to work I’d done for news wires and radio. I’d also completed four internships.

Many of my classmates had a very lackadaisical approach to their journalism degree. They treated it as though they were getting a degree in a heavily-academic field: go to class, do well, get job.

And that’s so incredibly wrongheaded.

The time when you’re a student is when you should do as much freelancing as you can. Get your name in as many publications as possible. Don’t worry about not getting paid for it — if journalism is your passion, you need clips more than you need money. I’ve gotten paid writing jobs by cold-e-mailing publications offering to write for them for free. And don’t be afraid of being told no — it happens. Come back to them in a month or two and see if anything has changed.

It’s important to appear that you’re passionate about journalism and that you want to prove yourself. In those four (ok, or five) years of college, you’ve got a chance to network and build up a great portfolio — outside of the classroom.

Filed under: student journalism, , , ,

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