Journalism remains a smart career, despite shrinking newsrooms

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:


Hi, Elana

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…

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J-Schools: Don’t waste precious time on Dreamweaver!

Axel Rouvin, via Flickr (CC license)
Dreamweaver class for journalists? Might as well be…

A colleague is teaching an interactive storytelling course at a big-name and very, very expensive journalism school. I asked him which tool they’ll use to build the class project, a webzine (really a package of online feature stories, it sounds like, not a periodical). His answer: Dreamweaver.

This stuns me. Why, why, why use Dreamweaver for a journalism project?

I’m serious. Look over the feature list on the Dreamweaver site. Dreamweaver is a great Web design and development tool. It’s fine if you want to create a slick corporate site, or a site to support an ad or advocacy campaign, or a free-standing, fairly static micro-site.

But Dreamweaver is NOT a content management system. From what I understand it doesn’t even play nicely with content management systems. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s almost totally irrelevant to the practice of journalism. Here’s why…

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Tutorials (and marketing) should NOT be boring!

If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it now: CommonCraft’s video tutorials ROCK! This is a company whose “product is explanation.” They have a distinctive style that is uniquely charming and effective because they capitalize on making it look low-tech with paper cut-outs. Don’t let that fool you, they really know what they’re doing.

Even their latest Halloween message is a brilliant example of a well-executed, memorable, and effective tutorial: Zombies in Plain English

IMHO, it’s impossible not to love a tutorial that includes the subhead “Step 3: Kill the Undead”

Watch it all the way to the end. And watch out for those zombies!

Skin in the media game: Smart investing in the attention economy

Ian Ransley, via Flickr (CC license)
Do you treat online media like a spectator sport, or do you really have skin in this game?

Recently, my Poynter colleague Roy Peter Clark caused a stir with his article Your Duty To Read the Paper. There, he wrote:

“I pose this challenge to you: It is your duty as a journalist and a citizen to read the newspaper — emphasis on paper, not pixels.

“…And here’s why: There is one overriding question about the future of journalism that no one can yet answer: How will we pay for it? …Until we create some new business models in support of the journalism profession, we’ve got to support what we have.

“…I have no proof, but a strong feeling, that even journalists, especially young ones working at newspapers, don’t read the paper. That feels wrong to me — and self-defeating. So join me, even you young whipper-snappers. Read the paper. Hold it in your hand. Take it to the john. Just read it.”

Oh yeah, that piece drew a lot of criticism. It’s also generated useful discussion, in the 83 (and counting) comments to that post and elsewhere.

This may surprise my regular readers, but I don’t think Clark is entirely wrong. Part of what he’s saying is that if you’re in the media business, eating your own dog food is crucial context. I’d add that you should not just eat one flavor, but the whole damn menu.

Here’s my take: If you work for a media organization that publishes a print product, you should indeed read the print edition regularly. You should also read the online edition regularly — including the comments and forums (if any), and explore the multimedia and interactive offerings.

But don’t stop there…

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One Laptop Per Child: Why Media Folks Should Care
Don’t know what to do with a computer that looks like this? Don’t worry — you’re not the target market.

Lately I’ve been learning more about, and getting quite intrigued by, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program. Yesterday I listened to an IT Conversations podcast talk by Michael Evans, VP of corporate development for Redhat, one of the leading producers of Linux and open-source technology. That really tied together for me why this project is so compelling.

Originally I’d thought this project was interesting but rather frivolous. I mean, when millions of kids are dying around the world every year from malnutrition, dirty water, preventable diseases, and toxic environments — let alone the lack of energy and communication infrastructure in many populous parts of the developing world — a laptop sounds a bit like like Disneyland.

But now I think I get it. Here’s what I find so compelling and significant about OLPC…

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Teaching Online Skills: Journalism Prof Wants Ideas
MSU prof Dave Poulson wants to lead his students into the murky waters of online media.

(NOTE: I’m cross-posting this from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, since I thought Contentious readers might find it interesting as well.)

Today I received an intriguing query from my colleague Dave Poulson, associate director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. With his permission, I’m excerpting and answering it here.

Poulson wrote: “…I’m going to take your concept of coming up with a toolkit of basic online stuff a reporter should know and turn it into some class assignments. I’ll have them pick a beat and set up Google Reader to [subscribe to] relevant feeds. I’m not sure how I’ll evaluate the result.”

That’s a great idea, Dave! Make sure they practice subscribing to search feeds (about topics), as well as feeds from specific sources (like blogs). And here’s a short video tutorial on Google Reader I made for one of my clients. The first half of it is the bare basics, most applicable to what your students would be doing.

To evaluate this assignment, you could have student export their feed list as an OPML file and send it to you. In Google Reader, that’s under “manage subscriptions,” then “import/export” (choose the “export” option there.) You can then import that OPML file into your Google Reader (or many other feed readers) to see what they’ve subscribed to.

Poulson continues…

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Cornerstone Skills: Feed Readers and Posting Comments

MyYahoo: Subscribing to feeds doesn’t get any easier than this. Or does it?

In my long and varied experience giving presentations, workshops, and coaching to help people wrap their brains around today’s online media, I’ve noticed a pattern that helps me predict who will really “get it” and use it well, and who doesn’t.

The people who “get it” in a useful way, and who are most likely to benefit from online and conversational media, start experimenting right away with using a feed reader and posting comments (whether to blogs or Web-based forums, not e-mail lists).

I always emphasize these skills in my presentations, and give people clear, basic instructions and resources for taking these steps. The ones who try these out quickly tend to become more able to teach themselves nearly anything they want about online and conversational media, and find ways to use it to be more effective and efficient in their jobs and projects of passion.

Sadly, the people who don’t take those steps generally don’t seem to progress much in their understanding and use of online and conversational media. I worry about this, because it could indicate:

  • A deficiency in my educational approach (always a possibility).
  • Remaining significant usability problems with these tools — which I could see was an issue a year or two ago, but services like MyYahoo have certainly made subscribing to feeds dead easy, and commenting on most blogs generally couldn’t be simpler than it is.
  • A generally passive mindset that will cause most people — even those interested enough in online media to attend a session on it — to be left farther and farther behind as media evolves.

I’d estimate, based on checking back with participants in several of my presentations, that only about 5% of people actually start experimenting with these cornerstone skills within a couple of weeks of my session. That seems disturbingly low to me. (In contrast, for my coaching clients the adoption rate for these skills is 100%, because I basically require them to do it.)

What do you think? Should I be concerned about this apparently low skills adoption rate, or is this somehow normal? Is there some obvious deficiency in how I teach these skills and communicate their importance that I could correct? Am I somehow mistaken about the “cornerstone” significance of these two skills?

Please comment below. This is bugging me, and I’d like to address this issue more constructively if I can. I have a busy speaking gig lineup for the coming months, and I worry that I’m letting my audiences down.

UPDATE: Read my next post on this theme…

Wrap your brain around online media: Amy’s 10 tips

New Hope Media
New Hope Media publishes Delicious Living magazine and lots of other yummy stuff…

Tomorrow afternoon I’m giving a short workshop for staffers at New Hope Media here in Boulder. They want me to explain blogging and other crucial aspects of today’s online media to them, show them how to use them, and give them some guidance on how they might make the most of these options.

Before I get into the various tools and options, I’m going to help them wrap their brains around online media. Here are my top 10 tips for this, geared toward people who are most accustomed to print publishing…

  1. Be findable, relevant, engaging, and connected.
  2. Conversation works better than publication (alone). Participate in your communities.
  3. Go where your communities are, and join them on their terms. (It’s not just about your site or brand.)
  4. Participate in other communities. All competitors are potential collaborators.
  5. Experiment, explore, and be flexible (media, formats, communities, distribution, partners, tools, etc.)
  6. Never create something that you haven’t already tried for a while, gotten used to, and genuinely like.
  7. Never build any tool or site you don’t have to.
  8. Great content (including from your communities) is the best search engine optimization strategy.
  9. Be transparent: Whatever you try to hide or introduce by surprise is exactly what will bite you.
  10. Stay human: It’s really about people and communities — not technology, not markets, not audiences, not numbers, not brands.

…Whadya think? What would you add, subtract, or change here? Please comment below.

Notes and links for my full presentation are on this wiki. I’ll be tweaking it during and after the workshop (wifi permitting)

Could blogs help boys catch up in school?

CleverClaire, via Flickr (CC license)
Could class blogs help motivate boys to catch up in school?

I just listened to the podcast of the July 27 edition of Colorado Matters, a show from Colorado Public Radio. The segment Some Districts Move Toward Gender Education. CPR’s Dan Meyers interviewed Kelley King, Director of Education at the Colorado Springs-based Gurian Institute, which offers gender education training to teachers.

The gist of their discussion was that boys tend to underperform in K-12 education, largely (according to King) because US K-12 teaching approaches have historically been more geared to the way girls tend to learn, get motivated and behave.

King said that one pervasive problem she saw as a teacher and principal in the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) was that “We were having problem getting boys to rewrite and revise something that they’d already written. Once they wrote something, they were pretty much done with it. We realized we had to have something more motivating — which would be bigger audiences, pleasing someone other than just the teacher. …We know that boys aren’t as inclined to just want to please the teacher.”

BVSD experimented with approaches such as having students prepare work that they would read at an assembly, or to older children, and found that this did improve boys’ motivation and performance. Apparently, girls’ performance did not suffer.

This got me wondering about blogs…

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