David Cohn: Pushing journalism frontiers

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:

Thanks, Dave 🙂

NewsTools 2008: I have always depended on the kindness of friends

I’m not exactly Blanche DuBois, but…

I’m at the NewsTools2008 unconference at Yahoo HQ in Sunnyvale, CA — where 150 news/media people, academics, and technologists are gathered to figure out better tools to support journalism that matters. (Follow my live coverage on my amylive Twitter account.)

…And I have apparently come down with a cold. It hit me at the opening reception last night, and it’s continuing today. My friend Maurreen Skowran kindly gave me some Sudafed, so I’m functional — but just feeling slightly spacey. So anyone meeting me here, if I seem a little weirder than normal, that’s why.

Like many Mac users, I had a LOT of trouble getting onto the wifi here at Yahoo HQ — something that galled me. I’ve had this laptop on a lot of wifi networks. Why should I have problems with access at Yahoo HQ , of all places?

Anyway, my Poynter colleague Ellyn Angelotti showed me how to get online here. (Thanks, Ellyn!) Mac (Leopard) users who are guests at Yahoo, here’s how you do it:

  1. Click on the Airport icon to bring up the Airport menu.
  2. Select "join other network"
  3. Select "show networks"
  4. Selecting the network you’ve been told to usehere today, and enter the password you were given.

Don’t ask me why, but that makes it work for me and Ellyn. Spread the word.

Just before Ellyn solved my immediate access problem, Scott Karp of Publish2 solved my long-term problem. He talked me into finally buying a wireless modem card for my laptop as "internet insurance" — I might need it rarely, but when I need it I tend to really need it. I’m finally sold, dude. I realize why it’s worth the money. Thanks.

It all reinforces to me the value of having a posse. Right now, so many people in my personal and professional posse are available to me online, via Twitter, instant messaging, e-mail. It’s nice, at least for a few days, to have my posse so close at hand. It’s nice to see their real faces and hear their real voices. I never want to take my posse for granted. Thanks.

Journalism: A Toxic Culture? (Or: Why Aren’t We Having More Fun?)

Despair, Inc.
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…

Continue reading

Vegas-bound, sans Nokia N95…

Quick video post from the Denver International Airport today. Thanks again to the folks at Nokia for raising on their own Conversations blog the issues related to Nokia USA’s inadequate service I’ve been talking about on Contentious.com. (See Nokia’s posts yesterday and today) . I appreciate their willingness to engage in a frank public conversation geared toward solving problems for their US customers

Across the US, many journalists (pro and amateur) and mobloggers could make great use of pro-quality, multifunctional reporting tools like the Nokia N95 and N82. However, right now, the very slow and limited service that Nokia USA offers — coupled with significant known flaws in Nokia’s clunky, Windows-only firmware update process (which can turn your phone into an unresponsive brick) — foists too much risk upon high-end US consumers.

Please join this conversation by commenting at Nokia’s blog and in their support forum. Let them know how they can make their US service good enough to warrant trust from would-be N95 and N82 users!

Nokia’s Blog Starts Discussing Problems

Nokia.com
Nokia’s Conversations blog is getting interesting now that it’s not all just happy talk.

Recently Nokia launched its Conversations blog, a good first step any company can take toward transparency and engagement with its customers, partners, and critics. Not surprisingly, most of the initial posts were “happy news” of one kind or another. I don’t begrudge them that — almost any company is doing some good things worth discussing.

But the real proof of how serious a company is about embracing public conversation is whether it’s willing to openly discuss thorny problems. Today Nokia’s blog took a first step in this direction with this post: When things go wrong with updating your device software.

There, Nokia staffer Charlie Schick picked up on the discussion that’s been happening here on Contentious.com, and on other blogs (like Beth Kanter’s and Jenifer Hanen’s), and via social media like Twitter concerning the myriad obstacles encountered by current and would-be US users of Nokia’s high-end N-Series phones. He focused on the firmware update problem I and other US users have encountered and mentioned Nokia’s support forums — which can indeed be a useful resource for solving some problems with Nokia devices.

Schick’s blog post is a good start. But I found his comment today on my blog even more to the point.

…All in all, I think this is a promising start to the public conversation. Of course, so far it’s all “just talk” — but real progress comes from action. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of action Nokia and its US market can muster together.

I left a couple of comments on Nokia’s blog — which will probably be approved for publication to the blog after people get to work in Finland. So in the meantime, here’s what I commented…
Continue reading

Overhauling J-School Completely

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 José 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…

Continue reading

Newspaper Biz: Evolution Isn’t the End of the World

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 Pérez Peña 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?…

Continue reading

Participatory Journalism in the USA: My Talk

J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer will be a hard act to follow, but I’ll do my best.

Next Tuesday in Barcelona, Spain, I’ll be teaming up with J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer to give a talk on Participatatory Journalism in the USA: Opportunities and Challenges. This is part of the fourth Online Media Week. I’m really excited about it. I wish Jan could actually be there, but she ended up not being able to attend in person so she’ll be giving her talk via webcast.

Here’s Jan’s presentation (streaming video), and here are her slides (PowerPoint). It’s a great overview, check it out.

After Jan gets to answer some questions live (technology permitting), I’ll expand this discussion by talking about the bigger picture: Why participatory journalism matters, why it isn’t new, and how the news landscape might evolve because of participatory journalism.

What follows is merely my best guess about how my part of the talk will go. Of course, I don’t really do speeches; I prefer to engage groups in conversation so we can explore issues and think things through together. That’s much more fun for everyone. So I will most definitely stray from this script at some point during the talk. (So translators, be forewarned!)

With that, here’s what I’d like to be able to cover…
Continue reading

CA Wildfires: Watershed Moment for Collaborative Online News?

fire.jpg
Alex Miroshnichenko
Freelance photojournalist Alex Miroshnichenko is offering great fire coverage (and smart marketing of his skills) with Creative Commons-licensed photos on Flickr.

For the last few days at Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, I’ve been blogging examples of innovative ways that online media is being used to cover the Southern CA wildfires. It’s been astonishing. There have been cool efforts from mainstream news orgs like SignOn San Diego and the Los Angeles Times and even FOX News.

But also, regular people and even some government officials have been using blogs, forums, mapping tools, social media sites, citizen journalism sites like NowPublic, media-sharing services like Flickr, and even Twitter to share news, information, updates, and assistance.

Personally, I think this is shaping up to be a watershed moment for online news. This time, it all seems to be coming together in a new way.

In particular, the collaborative tone of this content that strikes me as significant: map mashups, databases, forums, photo groups, social media, Twitter updates… You can really get a direct sense of how people fit into this story, what they’re doing, and what they want or need. It’s personal, diverse, detailed, and comprehensive.

This is a whole different concept of “news.” It’s becoming a verb, something you DO — not just a noun (a thing that you passively receive)….

Continue reading