Hope for journalism

Interesting comments about the future of journalism and some excellent examples of how to engage the community.

Back in the day, as I’m oft to say, community engagement meant reading an occasional letter to the editor that addressed your story and sometimes hearing back from the sources (especially if they took issue with the story.)

That reporters today can engage their readers at any step in the newsgathering process is truly a revolution — and one more reason I wish I could be a reporter again!

I’m not so sure my students yet appreciate the power and scope of engagement. The subject is definitely something I plan to highlight in my multimedia course this semester. Any suggestions or good examples of engagement are greatly appreciated. I’m planning to compile links to articles and examples — and will upload those here when they’re complete.

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Oh, to be a journalism student again!

Around the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, we have a habit of saying “I wish I was a student again.” That’s because we think there are so many amazing learning opportunities for students these days. Whether it’s a class that focuses on doing journalism abroad or one that develops a journalism app. So many cool options.
Here’s another example of a class I’d love to take: Communications Technologies, taught by Henry Jenkins at USC. The reading list alone is priceless. Maybe it will show up on iTunes some day?

Reporting session for Nebraska High School Press Association students

After presenting a session on reporting this morning at the Nebraska High School Press Association, I came away with some positive vibes. First, the sheer numbers were impressive. It was standing-room-only in the Union auditorium — more than 500 students signed up — and my session was packed, as well.

These days, with all the negative press about the press, it’s heartening to witness students who are interested — and enthusiastic about journalism.  The students in my session were eager and engaged; they asked great questions and offered great comments.

We talked about how setting up RSS feeds can help reporters develop good story ideas. In the case of high school publications, I suggested a couple of sites students should include in their feeds (see “Brushing up on the Basics” PowerPoint presentation in the “Workshop and Presentation” tab at the top). While not many of the students had used RSS readers before, most seemed willing to give it a shot.  (Students: be sure to check out a short tutorial on RSS I uploaded that is based on my presentation. It also is in the section on workshops and presentations.)

All in all, it was invigorating to be surrounded by enthusiastic and intelligent  high school students. The future looks brighter.

Great ideas: Helping students with story development

One of the most difficult skills for journalism instructors to teach is the ability to develop creative and engaging story ideas. (I have several theories about why students are lacking in this area, but that’s for another post.)

To help them develop better ideas,  I suggest they explore how technology can make the task easier. One of my first lessons focuses on how they can strategically set up an RSS feeder to “feed” them ideas. I use Google Reader for the in-class demonstration, but I encourage them to experiment with other feeders until they find one they like.

Because the online news class I teach  “covers” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the city of Lincoln, Neb., I suggest they fill their readers with feeds from local news outlets, local blogs and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including its calendars. I also suggest Al Tompkin’s column on Poytner —“Al’s Morning Meeting” — because it’s awesome and is an excellent example of how to study current events and apply them to local coverage. And, despite their disdain, I suggest they include local Twitter feeds —  #LNK and #UNL.

I’ve found many of my students roll their eyes when Twitter is mentioned, but I’m adamant about helping them see the potential of Twitter in news gathering and crowd sourcing. So the RSS exercise also opens their eyes to Twitter’s possibilities.

In our online news classes, we also require students to write story pitches to help them focus their ideas. After a particularly feeble pitch session in a class last year, I decided to monitor the news feed and pull ideas as an example. In less than 45 minutes, I found five viable and interesting story ideas — and all of them came from the Twitter feeds. Here are the five examples (in some cases, I included the actual tweet, which is italicized):

  • A local group has started a food bank for pets because of the recession. For those in need who are in #LNK – A pet food bank – more info on our blog.
  • How local moms are using the iPhone: TechCrunch Study Reveals More Details About The iPhone Mom http://bit.ly/47QLqL by @leenarao
  • UNL’s Love Library is tweeting a lot these days — and some of its tweets are very clever and quite interesting. Do library officials think they reaching people? Why use Twitter? Who is doing the tweeting? Any other city agencies or campus agencies using Twitter? http://twitter.com/UNL_Lib or (City Library also is using.)
  • Lincoln entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas in a competition. This is happening tonight — Oct. 1. Is it on your calendar, Lincoln? Pitch Session this Thursday at Turbine Flats (http://bit.ly/3NalCz), details here: http://bit.ly/Kysqb #LNK

  • Sheldon Museum of Art offers a college night for students. The first is next Monday. Do any attend? Why should they attend? Are students as cultured as they should be?

I shared those ideas in a “story idea cache” I created on Blackboard — and I think the students were impressed by what I found in a short time.  During the semester, I continued to periodically troll the feed and post new ideas in the class story cache, thereby modeling to them how to find a nugget of information and mold it into a valid and interesting story idea.

Copy editors: An endangered species

The troubling trend of decreased quality control at newspapers and Web sites continues. Copy editors remain in the cross hairs of newspaper management — and the layoffs are most likely to continue. Unfortunately, copy editors have long be seen as expendable and their work behind the scenes unappreciated.

As Craig Silverman notes in CJR, asking reporters to use spell check ain’t gonna cut it. (Be sure to click on his “beef panties” example.)

The issue is another great example of how newspapers need to be creative in solving their problems. And it’s another great example of how journalism schools need to nurture students to be innovative in their thinking.

Going with the flow . . .

Here are a few more  interesting perspectives on how to frame journalism for the future. I’m sure the cascade metaphor resonates with many a front-line editor.

Journalists as curators

I keep reading about the idea of journalists as curators in the news blogosphere — and I have to say I’m intrigued.

I think Jeff Jarvis started the discussion a while back, but I particularly like the interpretation of Mindy McAdams. As the glut of information becomes more overwhelming, the idea of having someone sort, choose and display — similar to what museum curators perform based on their extensive knowledge of the subject area of an exhibit — makes perfect sense.

Curation also could be a helpful metaphor for students as we try to help them envision new places for them to practice their craft.

Initial musings

To me, “new journalism” is what is happening now in this murky, churning evolutionary soup that is the news/information business. It’s a frustrating time for journalists. But it’s also an exhilarating time, full of opportunities and experimentation. I have to admit that at first I was among those who bemoaned the digital changes and waxed nostalgic for the “good old days” of print journalism.  But I’ve come around.

One of the many epiphanies I’ve had these past few years occurred in April 2009 at a workshop that I attended with UNL’s three News21 fellows. The presentations were amazing, so I’m sharing them here:   

What I came away with from this workshop was this: The plethora of digital tools make storytelling much richer and engaging — so why not embrace them? 

The bigger questions still loom. The Internet continues to increase the number of new places where stories can be told while wreaking havoc with the old business models. How this all shakes out is a mystery; the history is being written as we speak.

My Grammar Girl impersonation

In working on an upcoming writing/grammar presentation for a group of university administrators, I started compiling a list of my favorite books and Web sites.

For me, grammar and writing books and Web sites are a lot like cookbooks — you should never have just one. When I’m in a grammar quandry, I like to consult several sources.  Let’s face it : Grammar can be downright confusing, and sometimes you need the benefit of multiple explanations before the concept sinks in. 

So here are my Top Five go-to resources:

Grammar Girl — I subscribe to her daily e-mails.

“Elements of Style” by Strunk and White — it’s a classic and helpful.

“When Works Collide: A Media Writer’s Guide to Grammar and Style” by Lauren Kessler and Duncan McDonald — one of the most clearly written guides.

“A Handbook for Office Professionals” by James and Lyn Clark — Easy to find grammar and usage answers here.

Purdue University’s OWL site — a comprehensive site with self-directed exercises.

Tips for student interns

I recently was asked to speak to a group of Dow Jones copy editing interns, so I put together this fun little PowerPoint to prep students for successful internships:

How to survive in a newsroom