Some people have asked why I keep talking — on this blog and elsewhere — about Nokia’s US service problems. This video explains my motives. In a nutshell, it’s because I want to keep options open for journalists. Tools like the Nokia N95 represent a way for journalists to make their own opportunities, regardless of the fate of news organizations. But if Nokia continues to mishandle its US market, it could easily lose out to the Apple iPhone — which, while slick, is not the best tool for mobile reporting/blogging.
At the NewsTools 2008 conference last week, I had a chance to sit down with one of the emerging luminaries of entrepreneurial, experimental journalism. David Cohn runs the BeatBlogging project for NewAssignment.net, and he also works with NewsTrust . Plus, he runs a great blog of his own and is a constant presence on Twitter. Busy guy. I’m glad I got a few miinutes of his time.
Here’s what Dave has to say about where he thinks journalism might be heading, and what he wants to do to help it get there:
…Oh, and in this interview, Dave called me a "force of nature." I’ll assume that’s a compliment:
|Remind you of any journalists you know?…|
(NOTE: I originally posted this article on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. But I thought Contentious readers might be interested in it, too.)
Most of what I do is help journalists and news orgs wrap their brains around the Internet. Generally I enjoy that work. Lately, though, I’ve been getting quite aggravated at the close-minded and helpless attitudes I’m *still* encountering from too many journalists about how the media landscape is changing. Those attitudes are revealed by statements, decisions, actions, and inaction which belie assumptions such as:
- The only journalism that counts is that done by mainstream news orgs, especially in print or broadcast form. Alternative, independent, online, collaborative, community, and other approaches to news are assumed to be inferior or even dangerous.
- Priesthood syndrome: Traditional journalists are the sole source of news that can and should be trusted — which gives them a privileged and sacred role that society is ethically obligated to support.
- Journalists and journalism cannot survive without traditional news orgs, which offer the only reliable, ethical, and credible support for a journalistic career.
- Real journalists *only* do journalism. They don’t dirty their hands or distract themselves with business and business models, learning new tools, building community, finding new approaches to defining and covering news, etc. As Louisville Courier-Journal staffer Mark Schaver said just this morning on Twitter, “[Now] is not a good time [for journalists] if you don’t want your journalism values infected with marketing values.”
- Journalistic status and authority demands aloofness. This leads to myriad problems such as believing you’re smarter than most people in your community; refusing to “compromise” yourself professionally by engaging in frank public conversation with your community; and using objectivity as an excuse to be uncaring, cynical, or disdainful.
- Good journalism doesn’t change much. So if it is changing significantly, it must be dying. Which in turn means the world is in big trouble, and probably deserves what it will get.
There’s a common problem with all these assumptions: They directly cut off options from consideration. This severely limits the ability of journalists and journalism to adapt and thrive…
|Sscornelius, via Flickr (CC license)|
|Maybe what journalism education really needs is to start over from a new foundation.|
Well, there’s been a ton of great discussion lately on the theme of what kind of education and preparation today’s journalists really need, given the changing landscape of opportunities they’re facing. (Thanks to Mindy McAdams, James Ball, Paul Canning, Andy Dickinson, eGrommet, the Ethical Martini, Innovate This, Monitorando, and JosÃ© Renato Salatiel for their contributions, to the many commenters on all these posts, and to Elana Centor who started it all. Here are my recent posts on this theme.)
I’ve heard from some journalism educators that the kind of preparation I’ve proposed is far beyond what most existing j-schools could offer. I understand that.
Really, I think what may be needed is to completely re-envision and rebuild j-school with today’s realities and tomorrow’s likelihoods in mind.
Here’s what that might look like…
Further to my earlier point that preparing today’s j-school students (undergrad and grad) mainly to work within mainstream news orgs does them an increasingly grave disservice, Rick Edmonds noted on Poynter.org today:
WASHINGTON — After years of mildly reassuring numbers tracking the size of newspaper newsroom staffs, the latest American Society of Newspapers Editors’ annual census leads with a bombshell. Fulltime professional news staffs fell by 2,400 last year, a drop of 4.4% to a total of 52,600.
It was an even larger decrease than the 2,000 drop-off in the recession year of 2001. Since the census is completed as of the end of 2007, the tabulation does not include hundreds more buyouts and layoffs already imposed in 2008.
Still think it’s fair to focus almost exclusively on preparing tomorrow’s journalists to work in yesterday’s media, while acting like the business of news isn’t really their business?
|Berbercarpet, via Flickr (CC license)|
|Journalism sudents need the right tools — and skills — for the kinds of careers and opportunities they’re really going to be making for themselves.|
Picking up on my post yesterday, Univ. of Florida journalism professor Mindy McAdams challenged me (and her other readers) to translate my quick list of what j-schools should be teaching into a something more testable and measurable that could be translated into a curriculum.
Here’s my first shot at that:
- Content management systems (including blogging tools): First, I’d have the students run a group blog on a topic of their choosing for a year to get comfortable with the content and commenting apects of blogging. (A group blog is likely to get more activity and discussion than individual blogs.) This blog should be based on an expandable, customizable tool like WordPress. Then the students should be taught the basics of information architecture, and from that figure out how to expand or customize their blogs to deliver or integrate new kinds of content or services. This could be as simple as finding and installing WordPress plugins to add features, or integrating content from other places (such as Flickr or del.icio.us). The goal would be to get them to not just understand, but demonstrate that on their own they can envision, research, evaluate, and act upon options to do more with their content online. There’s a lot you can do without getting too geeky. They need to gain the confidence that many options are within their personal grasp — they don’t always need to get permission or beg someone else to do things for them.
There’s a lot more on my list, of course…
|Yan Arief, via Flickr (CC license)|
|Journalism skills work well outside the newsroom, too — maybe even better.|
One of my BlogHer friends, Elana Centor, just wrote me to pose an interesting question. She asked: Is journalism a smart career path in 2008?
I’m just one of many people she asked, so I can’t wait to see her final piece. (I’ll post a link to it when it’s up.) But here’s a cleaned-up and expanded version of what I told her:
Great question. Personally, I think that developing journalism skills and experience is valuable for many career paths — but I think that betting that you’ll spend your career working for mainstream news orgs is a losing proposition in most cases. I think most j-schools are setting bright students up to fail, and that bugs me. A lot.
It’s such a shame that most j-schools still are not teaching new journalists crucial skills they’ll need to act entrepreneurially in media: content management systems (including blogging tools), mobile tools and mobile media strategies, social media, business skills, management skills, economics and business models, marketing, SEO, community management, etc.
One exception to this is Arizona State Univ., which just launched the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship that Dan Gillmor is heading up. Also, at various schools, there are exceptional teachers who really get online/mobile media and entrepreneurial journalism, such as Barbara Iverson at Columbia College, Mindy McAdams at the Univ. of Florida, Rich Gordon at Medill j-school (Northwestern Univ.), and Kim Pearson at The College of New Jersey. That’s important — sometimes all you need is one really good teacher in a program to open a student’s mind. (Disclosure: Barb, Rich, and Kim all contribute to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits blog, which I edit.)
That said, what surprises me even more is that most j-school students don’t seem to care much about online media or being entrepreneurial…
|There are lots of different ways to brand yourself.|
Yesterday my colleague Jim Kukral wrote about why he’s decided to focus on centralizing his personal brand. He wrote:
“My biggest mistake from the past 7-years or so was not building my personal brand on my own blog hard enough, earlier enough. Some may wonder why someone like me whoâ€™s been around for a long time blogging (since 2001), only has about 600 rss subscribers. Iâ€™ll tell you whyâ€¦ because I never focused blogging and building my brand here on JimKukral.com until recently.”
That got me thinking about Contentious.com and my own “personal brand.” Although I have an innate dislike to the term “personal brand,” I’ll admit it’s a useful and important concept for people in media-related work and many other fields these days.
The simple reason for that, I think, is that these days it’s unwise to rely on any company, organization, or institution to stick by you. The only leverage most professionals have these days depends on their ability to find or make their own opportunities — which means they need to be known as individuals. not just as faceless functionaries.
Jim seems to gauge the success on his personal brand by traffic to his site and feed. For a lot of people and purposes, that’s perfectly valid and appropriate.
But personally, I see a lot of value in the hybrid home base/distributed presence approach to personal branding…
|Rob Lee, via Flickr (CC license)|
|Some ways of approaching what looks like the end of the world are more constructive than others.|
(NOTE: I originally wrote this for Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits. I’m cross-posting it here because I think it might also interest Contentious readers.)
This morning I read in the New York Times a cold litany of everything that’s going demonstrably wrong with the newspaper business. (Found it thanks to Jim Romenesko.) It’s a long, depressing, and familiar list: layoffs, buyouts, papers folding, declining revenues, etc.
A couple of things Richard PÃ©rez PeÃ±a wrote in that story caught my attention.
First, “Newspaper executives and analysts say that it could take five to 10 years for the industry’s finances to stabilize and that many of the papers that survive will be smaller and will practice less ambitious journalism.”
Yeah, no kidding. Personally, I’d be surprised if many dailies are left standing after the next 7-10 years, if they don’t make fast, fundamental changes to their revenue strategies. (I touched on this theme yesterday.) I realize this is dire news to people who can’t envision doing anything but working for a traditional newspaper. But on the bright side, for those with flexibility and a bit of business savvy, I think that right now there is more space than ever in the news market for entrepreneurial journalistic ventures.
Why my optimism?…
|afkatws, via Flickr (CC license)|
|Don’t just start blogging. Spend some time scoping things out first.|
Almost daily, people e-mail me to ask me for advice about their online-media careers. I just got such an inquiry this morning. It started out pretty typically:
“I found your Contentious.com recently. I’m very interested in online writing as a career. Can you tell me something about it? How do you start, etc.”
OK, after I explained that I needed his question to be more specific so I could offer a meaningful answer, he offered a bit more detail: He’s about to graduate with a sociology degree, likes writing, and wants to combine those skills to earn a living. Still an overly generic inquiry — but since it’s a basic question many people have, here’s my honest answer:
Don’t assume in advance that being a writer (in any medium) is your ultimate career goal. Often, media is merely a means to an end — I guess that’s why they call it “media,” since it’s usually “in between” real stuff happening.
In my experience, it’s more useful to pay attention to what’s really going on, what people really want or need, and what you really have to offer, than to assume you already know what you “should” be doing. You can’t really be in business by yourself, since business is about the exchange of value. Who are you going to trade with, and what do they need?
Increasingly, participating in online, conversational, and social media (from blogs and forums to Twitter and Second Life) can help nearly anyone find their niche and their path. Because ultimately, these forms of media are about PEOPLE (especially binding communities) — not technology.
On the practical side, here’s the advice I offered this reader…