Archive for the ‘ Changing News Industry ’ Category

Newspapers should jettison (most of) their web video efforts

Newspapers should take a hard look at* their largely feeble attempts to draw readers with web video. It’s a misuse of their shrunken resources. It’s not working. Though visits to newspaper websites keep growing, a small minority of visitors watches videos there.

*(Update, Oct. 14, 2011: My original post read: Newspapers should give up their largely feeble attempts to draw readers with web video. As the responses to this post flowed in, I realized I’d overstated my views in the lede. The title of the post [should jettison most of their web video efforts] better reflects my intent, and later posts on this topic [Oct. 8 and Oct. 14] further clarify my thinking as it evolved through the dialogue my original post engendered. Thanks to all who contributed to the discussion.) Continue reading

Are the local watchdogs barking loudly enough?

Henry Powderly, a regional editor for Patch.com on Long Island and an adjunct with Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy, asked me recently to blog for Three Village Patch, the site that includes the university in its service area. I accepted, becoming one of the 8,000 local bloggers  (unpaid, in case you were wondering) whom Patch, which is owned by Aol, plans to host.

For my first post, I wrote about the lack of enterprise reporting and public accountability journalism* in coverage of the Three Village area. Nice, right? They invite me in and the first thing I do is criticize. I criticized not just Patch but also the well-established weekly newspaper in the area, The Times Beacon Record, and Newsday. Call me an ingrate if you like; I call it friendly, constructive criticism. You can read my full Patch post here. Continue reading

Journalism Students: We Like Paper! We Love Free.

What astounds me year after year with each new crop of journalism majors is how much they prefer ink on paper to electronic media. What kinds of jobs do they want? Newspaper reporter or magazine writer, many say. And most, all else being equal, say they would choose to read a book over a Kindle and a newspaper over a website. But all else isn’t equal, of course. They like paper, but they love free.

This spring in Journalism 24/7, the course I teach each semester that explores the changing news industry, The New York Times’ long-ballyhooed, carefully considered tiered paywall was a frequent topic of discussion. Overwhelmingly, the students dismissed the move as immaterial. There are a million ways to get around paywalls online, they said, proceeding to enlighten me with the methods they had used themselves.

As a final assignment, I asked the class to consider one of three questions: Two to three years from now, where will we get our news? Where will the money come from to support quality journalism? And how will the job of the journalist evolve?

Their answers showed clearly whether they had grasped the conundrum at the root of their own cognitive dissonance. Stephen Grotticelli, a quietly attentive student with a concise and expressive writing style, said that digital natives

will realize that an “app” should actually be an application, not just [a] bit of nomenclature. They will take full advantage of modern technology to offer rich, compelling multimedia, interactive and social experiences their print rivals will not be able to recreate offline. The content will be advertisement supported or, at most, available for a very modest fee from an app store.

But another student, whose name I won’t mention, argued that newspapers will survive because “people want to have the actual newspaper to keep when there’s a big news event, like Osama bin Laden getting killed.” Others, equally oblivious, said quality journalism will endure because people need to know what’s going on. Thanks, kids. That and $2.25 will get you on the subway.

Live-Tweeting the Class Lecture: A #selvin247 Exercise

I tried Staci Baird’s live-tweeting exercise in yesterday’s Journalism 24/7 class, using the Twitter hashtag #selvin247. I gave a lecture on net neutrality and students tweeted their notes, using their phones or laptops to enter their 140-character comments on Twitter; the “hashtag” allows Twitter users to search by topic. I projected their tweets on the board, updating every 10 minutes or so. Some of the #selvin247 timeline is still up on Twitter as I write, though it’s fading fast.

Results: Students took stabs at conveying the facts of the lecture; many missed the mark. Too much effort expended on wit. A former student posting prank tweets. Students tweeting to their friends on personal topics during class.

As an exercise in comparing tweets with traditional, handwritten note-taking, I’d call the live-tweets a failure. Baird’s instructions, however, included an admonition to give students “some examples of what good live-tweeting looks like.” I didn’t do that. I’ll save a few examples and try once more next semester.

A few wrinkles emerged, besides those prank tweets from a student who took the class last year (“Can I go to the bathroom?  #selvin247 #educationalvalue #justkiddingidonthavetogo #gogojournostudents”). Tweeters circled the points I made, occasionally landing on the bullseye, but anyone trying to follow the lecture from afar would have been confused. Jokes distracted tweeters and their followers: “If the ISP is the gatekeeper, who is the keymaster?  #selvin247 #ghostbusters  #thereisnodanathereisonlyzuhl.” A follow-up check on students’ timelines found some unpleasant surprises, like this one from earlier in the class: “Ugh this class is killing me! Idk how [a classmate] and i are going to surviveeee.” Or this, far uglier, from last summer: “The only thing more despicable than the muslims building a mosque near ground zero is @sarahpalinusa trying to gain from it politically.” This one was pointed out to me by someone who was deeply offended by it.

Twitter being a public medium, I could rightfully identify those posters, but as both are students, I will refrain from embarrassing them – or, in the case of the tweet about “the muslims,” maybe costing the student an interview or a job. The point is that everything on a public Twitter feed – everything on the  Internet — is available to everyone, now and forever. Students: Keep your online identity professional! Think before you tweet: Do I want some future potential employer, or some future source, or a professor, reading these words?

The idea for the class-tweeting exercise came at the end of a Knight Digital Media Center blog post on teaching mobile journalism, which some enthusiasts call the most important journalistic tool to emerge in recent years. More sober observers point out the limitations of live-blogging (of which live tweeting is a subset), the most critical being the lack of context or analysis. In my view, live blogging is one more tool in the journalist’s expanding toolbox, useful during breaking news events but far less so during speeches or talks. Few lectures are of such white-hot importance that every thought needs to fly through the twittersphere the moment after it is uttered. Some people seem to thrive on that hothouse sense of immediacy, but I find its breathlessness forced. I’d rather wait an hour or two, or a day, and read a considered report on a lecture, context included.

Today’s journalism students must understand media policy and business

I began my previous post with a story about my first, feeble attempt to discuss net neutrality in Journalism 24/7, my course on the changing news industry,  planning to segue into a response to Nick Lemann’s recent “Dean’s Letter” in a Columbia J-school alumni publication. Lemann’s letter addressed the importance of teaching journalism students about media policy, but I never got to it. Instead, I wrote about how that teaching blooper (what students might call an epic fail) taught me an important lesson about pedagogy, one I’ve used to great advantage in the years since.

And now to Lemann’s letter. Lemann, Columbia’s dean since 2003, writes that his attitude toward teaching students about media policy has evolved. His letter begins: “For most of my life as a journalist, I was blissfully, even willfully, ignorant about media policy.” But, he continues, Continue reading

Great moments in teaching: leveraging student participation

With just a month’s notice, I’d been assigned to a brand-new course, JRN 301: Journalism 24/7, in the second semester of the very existence of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. The course topic: the changing news industry. My idea for that day’s class: Discuss net neutrality.

Sometimes – less now than in years past, thankfully – but sometimes, like all teachers, I think, I fail to allot sufficient time to class preparation and suddenly it’s class time and I’m forced to wing it. This was one of those days. The term “net neutrality” had been showing up frequently in my online reading (read: cramming) as I struggled to get a handle on the turbulence of the news industry in the late 2000s.

I got to class and began talking, using the skimpy notes I’d thrown together. It wasn’t more than two minutes into my “lecture” that I realized I was hopelessly lost. Could not talk about net neutrality. Had no backup. An hour left of class! What to do? Continue reading

The New York Daily News: A newsroom that feels like home

One of my favorite hidden delights in Manhattan is the lobby of the old Daily News building on the corner of 42nd Street and Second Avenue. Though the newspaper abandoned this Art Deco masterpiece nearly 20 years ago for a home on the dreary Far West Side – a bland space that the paper will leave this spring for even cheaper digs downtown – the lobby of its eponymous building is still dominated by a massive revolving globe, described neatly by RoadsideAmerica.com:

A 1941 postcard image of the globe in the lobby of the old Daily News headquarters.

The globe is 12 feet in diameter and weighs 4,000 pounds. It is housed in a mirrored circular pit beneath a black glass dome, and is lit from below. A sunburst, inlaid into the terrazzo floor, radiates out from this spherical beauty, with text marking the direction and distance to major cities around the world. The lobby walls are decorated with contraptions of precise measurement such as thermometers, wind speed indicators and an ornate world clock.

I loved that clock! I used to visit the lobby regularly when I worked catty-corner at 800 Second Ave. in my first writing job after J-school. The inlaid bronze rays of the sunburst, indicating the mileage to Valparaiso, Paris, Tangiers and other locales more or less exotic, never failed to stir me. Back then, anyone could walk through the main lobby to dally along two aisles of galleries displaying Daily News photos, past and present. It was a wonderful way to spend a lunch hour.

I took the students in my Reporting in NYC class to visit the New York Daily News last month, courtesy of News Editor John Oswald, who handles many of the paper’s internships and whom I’d gotten to know by phone and e-mail. Globe or no globe, bronze sunburst or no, after our visit a week earlier to the austere Temple of Journalism on Eighth Avenue, aka The New York Times, I wanted the students to see a traditional newspaper newsroom. Continue reading

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