Archive for the ‘ Changing News Industry ’ Category

#NYTimes: Continuous News vs. Page One

I arranged with a Stony Brook alum, Dave Joachim, an editor at The New York Times, to visit the paper with the nine students in my Reporting in NYC class on Jan. 11. The last time I brought a class there, the very senior editor who took us around pointed out staffer after staffer with Ivy League or similar private-school credentials – kind of a tin ear, I thought, and I figured Dave wouldn’t be so snooty. He wasn’t, of course; he was charming, and though he made the point that no Stony Brook senior is going to walk straight from graduation into a job at the Times, his experience – toiling in the vineyards of tech trade publications for 10 years (a worthy but unglamorous endeavor) before he took a stab and reached out to a Times business editor he’d met, a stab that after a year and a half of tryouts and waiting led to a job on the business copy desk, from which he gradually moved up to his current and very exciting job as banking editor – his experience shows that the Times isn’t out of reach forever to graduates of a public university. Nor should it be. Isn’t one of the problems of contemporary mainstream journalism the coziness of elite journalists and their sources?

Back to our visit. Dave had arranged a terrific morning for us, beginning, he hoped, with our sitting in on the morning Page One meeting (sitting in the visitors gallery, mind you). But someone had beaten him to the gallery seats, booking them for a group of students from Princeton; no comment.  Quick on his feet, Dave arranged for us to observe the morning meeting at the Continuous News Desk, which couldn’t have been a happier turn of events.

The Continuous News Desk meeting begins, much as Page One meetings do, with editors from Continue reading

A teachable moment in numeracy

A recent Business Day front page in The New York Times featured an enjoyable story headlined “Rabbit Ears Perk Up for Free HDTV,” by Matt Richtel and Jenna Wortham. It reported on young people who have dropped their cable-television susbcriptions and replaced them with “the modern equivalent of the classic rabbit-ear antenna.

“Some viewers,” the story continued, “have decided that they are no longer willing or able to pay for cable or satellite service.” These viewers, “including younger ones, are buying antennas and tuning in to a surprising number of free broadcast channels. These often become part of a video diet that includes the fast-growing menu of options available online.”

“Cord-cutting,” as this phenomenon is known in media circles, has been much discussed in my Journalism 24/7 class, which examines the changing news industry. Good, I thought, here’s a story I can use in class. I turned to read the continuation on page B6, where I learned that from April to September, “cable and satellite companies had a net loss of about 330,000 customers.” Antennas Direct, a St. Louis manufacturer, “expects to  sell 500,000 this year, up from 385,000 in 2009, according to its president.” A young couple in Minnesota and another in Virginia were quoted on their decisions to cut the cord and whether they miss the cable offerings.

So this cord-cutting thing is really happening, I thought as I finished my breakfast and glanced at page B7.

“ESPN Says Study Shows Little Effort To Cut Cable,” said the headline at the top of that page.

Hunh?

My first thoughts were snarky, I’ll confess: Is this evidence of some kind of internecine warfare on the biz desk? Don’t the Times business editors talk to one another? Ah, schadenfreude.

The ESPN story, by Brian Stelter, reported that Continue reading

An ideal journalism curriculum for undergraduates?

The consensus on preparing tomorrow’s journalists is this: They have to be able to do everything: write well, handle digital still and video cameras proficiently, edit photos in Photoshop, edit video with FinalCutPro, produce podcasts, produce slide shows, blog, promote themselves and their employers on social media. Have I left anything out?

And underlying those skills, there’s more – the skills that journalists have always needed, the reporter’s fundamental mindset. Tomorrow’s journalists, like today’s, like yesterday’s, need to spot stories in the world around them, find out what’s been published or aired on those stories, figure out new angles and follow-ups, research people and topics, synthesize information swiftly, write quickly and gracefully, revise their own and others’ copy, analyze and use numbers, conduct all kinds of interviews, be prepared to wrestle with ethical dilemmas, possess a broad knowledge of history and current events, meet deadlines. Accuracy, brevity and clarity, the ABC’s of journalism – they sound simple, but much study and practice are needed to achieve them.

From an educator’s standpoint, a key question is this: How do we weave the fundamentals and the technology together in a curriculum that not only teaches students to compete in today’s media job market but also how to think and reflect and write? The follow-up questions come thick and fast. Do we start by teaching students how to shoot and edit video? Do we have them produce stories in multiple platforms from the beginning? Or do we start with a focus on the fundamentals, the writing, research, interviewing, revising and numeracy skills? Is it possible to do everything at once?

The answer to that last question is the only easy one: No.

Spread the material too thin, try to cram too much too fast into students’ brains, and you end up with students who can do nothing well. There may be a superficial technical glibness, but the content, the storytelling, suffers. The ability to tell important stories accurately, quickly and clearly comes first. The platforms come second. And writing is still the best way for students to demonstrate their mastery of putting a story together – whether writing for “print” or writing “broadcast” scripts or writing directly for the web. (Those are air quotes. Nearly all “print” and “broadcast” work ends up on the web at some point.)

My dream journalism curriculum looks like this.

Continue reading

Daniel Okrent

Readers of this blog may or may not recall my promise a while back to write about Daniel Okrent‘s visit to Stony Brook. (What? You haven’t been wondering about this? I can tell you it has been on my mind. The blog is a relentless taskmaster!) Okrent, the founder of New England Monthly, a longtime honcho at Time Inc., inventor of Rotisserie League Baseball and the first public editor at The New York Times, hired in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, had a lot to tell our students. Herewith, some high points of his visit, which included lunch with faculty, a talk to a journalism history class and a half-hour discussion with graduating seniors.

  • On anonymous sources: “It’s the single largest complaint that readers have,” Okrent said, harking back to his two years as the Times ombudsman. “They just don’t believe it” when reporters attribute quotes to that journalistic Zelig, Mr. or Ms. Knowledgeable Source. Readers think “the reporter just made it up.” He gently mocked the verbal contortions The Times inserts to defend its use of K.S.: “who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter” and  similar pretzel logic. The correct approach to protecting a source’s identity, Okrent said, should not be to tell the reader why the source wanted to remain anonymous but to explain why the reporter and editor “allowed this person to remain anonymous.” Ah, transparency: “to whom this newspaper granted anonymity to protect the reporter’s access …” Okrent also noted the English model, in which the reporter is assumed to have vetted thoroughly all the information he or she puts in print. “The byline stands in for anonymous attribution,” he said. “The authority of the institution” is put on the line. While this model is more in the nature of how news magazines or newspaper analysis pieces operate in the United States, he said, it would be a radical change for daily newspaper stories. Finally, Okrent said, there is the implied contract a reporter makes with a source when promising anonymity. Continue reading

Journalism students critique the changing news industry

As part of my Journalism 24/7 class at Stony Brook University, I require students to set up a blog on WordPress: [student’s name]247.wordpress.com. The blog is worth 15 percent of the course grade, and the blog grade is based on the frequency of posting, with two posts per week — 24 total — required for an A. (One post per week is a C, 1.5 a B, .5 a D, less than than an F, with pluses and minuses awarded for quality of thought and writing and sophistication of blog elements: embedded photos and videos, links and so on.) Why such weight for frequency? Because, as I’ve learned, the blog is a relentless taskmaster, and a big part of success in anything is just showing up, or in this case, just posting.

Topics are limited to what we discuss in class: the changing news industry. Students are to reflect on class discussions, readings, news. Another class requirement is that students follow industry news through the daily news feeds from mediabistro.com and freepress.net, and they’re welcome to blog about stories they find through those sources. One of the things I like best about this assignment is how often the students find things elsewhere and share them with the class.

Next semester, I’m also going to require that they have Twitter accounts. Twitter is no longer an optional tool for journalists — it’s become as necessary as a telephone. It’s getting to be time for journalism professors to incorporate the discipline of Twitter in their instruction.

The class has about 50 students. Those of you who teach are surely thinking, “How does she reead 100 posts a week, let alone follow all those Twitter feeds?” The answer is, I don’t, and that’s a problem. Even with the blogsurfer function on WordPress, which allows me to see recent posts from every WordPress blog I follow, I can’t keep up, which frustrates me as well as the students. I do read every post in a daylong session at the end of the semester, but that’s not ideal. Nevertheless, many students find the blogging worthwhile even without my steady feedback. During my end-of-term blog-reading marathon, I was pleased to see  a few posts from students who marveled at how much they had enjoyed blogging. They found it helped them to comprehend the material we covered in class.

For the fall, I’ve requested a graduate teaching assistant whose job will be to read and respond to the blogs each week, keep track of the posting frequency and bring notable posts to my attention. Haven’t figured out how the Twitter assessment will work — for the fall, it may have to be enough in and of itself, with some sort of end-of-term Twitter marathon replacing my blog marathon. Suggestions welcome.

I’d like to share some of the most thoughtful and creative blogs. Here are a few of the best:

http://mboyle247.wordpress.com/ — I’m delighted to see that Morgan Boyle has continued to post well past the end of the semester. I’ll keep reading as long as you keep writing, Morgan.

http://gerani247.wordpress.com/ — Amanda Gerani is a business major, concentrating in marketing, with a minor in journalism. (All Stony Brook business majors are required to have a minor.) I liked how Amanda used her blog to examine the news industry’s evolution from a marketing lens.

http://lew247.wordpress.com/ – Bryan Lew interprets the “industry” broadly and explores widely.

http://lcioffi247.wordpress.com/ — Lauren Cioffi uses her blog to help establish her “brand” — an idea espoused — proselytized, even — by most of the guest speakers who addressed the class this term: Joe Grimm, Paul Gillin and Chris Vaccaro especially.

http://fposillico247.wordpress.com/ — Frank Posillico is editor-in-chief of The Statesman, a campus newspaper for which he plans big changes in the fall, including a rebuilt website. He and other Statesman editors who have taken Journalism 24/7 plan to incorporate many ideas they developed in class, and I, for one, look forward to seeing what they do.

http://sdemezier247.wordpress.com/ — Sarah Demezier nicely incorporated her reflections on class speakers and discussions.

http://glowatz247.wordpress.com/ — Elana Glowatz is always whip-smart and often very funny.

http://dwhite247.wordpress.com/ — Domenic White, another business major/journalism minor, is a promising sports journalist. White, who is graduating in August, has been writing for professional sports websites since his sophomore year.

Walt Bogdanich and Stephanie Saul, investigative reporters extraordinaire

The multiple exigencies of a waning semester pushed blogging — the lack thereof, more precisely — to the top of the stress pile in recent days, but a brief, probably illusory respite at 5 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, after a day spent swatting at the most pressing elements of the to-do list, offers a chance to relieve that particular pressure.

That pile of ungraded student projects in the corner? What pile?

Highlights of the past three weeks, the thoughts left unblogged, revolve around visits to the School of Journalism by four exceptional journalists: Walt Bogdanich and Stephanie Saul of The New York Times; Daniel Okrent, the Times’ first “public editor,” and Andrew Heyward, former president of CBS News.

Walt Bogdanich and Stephanie Saul, a married couple, both of The New York Times investigative reporting team and possessors of four Pulitzer Prizes between them, spoke to 300 news-literacy and journalism students as part of the school’s “My Life As…” series: renowned journalists discussing their careers and their motivation for the work they do. They got an exceptionally warm, enthusiastic reception, and I’ve been thinking about the reasons why.

First, their passion for reporting came through as essential to them, as essential as breath or water. Walt mentioned a recent three-month stretch when he worked, joyfully, every single weekend; one advantage of being married to another investigative reporter is that Stephanie understood both the work and the joy.

Second, like many Stony Brook students, neither came from a bastion of coastal or big-city privilege.  Stephanie grew up in a tiny Mississippi town where nothing, it seemed, ever happened — until the day a teacher assigned her to write reports about the high school for the local newspaper and she went to the newspaper offices, a hive of activity and purpose unlike anything she’d ever experienced. She didn’t know it right away, she said, but she was hooked then and there.

Walt grew up, he said, in a working-class family in Gary, Ind., and attended the University of Wisconsin in the late 1960s. Students’ demands at then-frequent marches and rallies went unanswered, frustrating him until he joined the campus paper–and suddenly, his calls were returned and he tasted power, the power of the press to hold authority accountable. From university administrators to railroad regulators to Big Tobacco and beyond, he’s been using that power ever since, as has Stephanie.

That both of them, raised without clout, could rise to demand accountability from the Man in all his guises because of their passionate focus and their belief in the power of the pen, spoke to the audience of its members’ own potential for achieving greatness through hard work and a cause greater than themselves.

A recollection of the study guide I must write for a class tomorrow has pierced the illusion of respite I mentioned at the start of this post. I’ll call this Part 1 of three, and I’ll write about Okrent and Heyward in my next two posts.

    Musings on curation

    Who are your trusted news curators?

    I have a few favorites, most of which I follow through e-mails. To follow the changing news industry, I subscribe to daily news feeds from mediabistro.com and freepress.net. (I’ve always found each a cleaner, more streamlined read than Romanesko, whose blurbs tease more than they deliver too often for my taste.) Mediabistro curates industry news and trends with a bit of gossip thrown in for spice, mostly from newspapers and magazines and their websites along with the occasional broadcast story or blog post. Free Press has a lot of great journalism stories, some of which overlap Mediabistro’s, but it also curates stories about the FCC, media regulation generally, net neutrality, cable companies, Internet Service Providers and wireless communication. It’s got a tighter focus on technology and curates more from niche blogs. Merely reading its headlines and blurbs keeps me abreast of issues in areas tangential to my main concerns. There’s a fair amount of reformist rhetoric from Free Press, which is, after all, an advocacy group, but the news feed generally includes news stories that discuss opposing viewpoints, and sometimes it even curates directly to more conservative coverage. I respect that.

    That’s all I have time for regularly, and I read those two feeds daily in part because I require the students in Journalism 24/7 to do so. I get daily feeds from 3 Quarks Daily, but lately I’ve been archiving those unopened to avoid temptation. I also like The Chronicle Review, which isn’t really curated; it’s straightforward magazine editing, the weekly arts-and-ideas component of The Chronicle of Higher Education. But it covers such a wide range of topics that the experience of dipping into its articles feels broader than reading a magazine usually does. (Many of its stories are behind a pay wall to nonsubscribers.)

    Paul Gillin had a good post a while back about using Twitter to curate breaking news. During the Chilean earthquake, he followed Twitter for links to the best photos, videos and updates on the tsunami threat facing the Hawai’i archipelago. I had a brief fling with using the people I follow on Twitter to lead me to great stories about the news industry, but I got tired of trying to drink from that fire hose and tend to stay away from it now.

    Finally, there’s Facebook. I click on many a link that a friend (real or Facebookian) posts, and I have become a fan of some online magazines to keep up with their contents while avoiding RSS feeds, which I dislike even more than Twitter.

    Two questions, dear readers:

    First, the one with which I started this post. Who are your trusted news curators?

    Second (if three questions could be counted as one): Where does curating fit into the j-school curriculum? Does it need to be taught or merely identified as something journalists need to do as part of creating their brands? Are there ethical questions about the “link economy” that should be teased out and explored?

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