Posts tagged Q&A

Excellent catch on the CIA FOIA request denial. I happen to follow climate and national security and this cracks open some research. Many thanks! m — Asked by climateadaptation

That’s great that our Internet scouring cropped up something useful for you. Finding bits others can run with is what we’re trying to do.

I am looking into graduate programs (e.g. Masters) in Journalism and or Communications. Do you guys have any recommendation for schools? — Asked by truthandvirtues

Let me start by disclosing some biases: Chikodi, Dave and I all went to the Columbia J-School and I taught there for a few years; and Chao is currently at NYU’s J-School. We each like where we went and both are very fine schools.

There are other fine schools of course. Northwestern has a great program. So too Berkeley and Arizona State. Annenberg is a great program and I know some fantastic professors at City University of New York. But instead of creating an exhaustive list for you, I’m going to turn the question around and ask: Why do you want to go to journalism school?

I ask because the program you’re looking for is found in your answer.

For example, do you want to be a reporter investigating the great issues of the day? If so, do you have a beat you’re already passionate about. Let’s say you do, and let’s say it has something to do with the environment. Have you thought about applying to an environmental science program instead? 

I ask because having deep expertise in a complex subject is very attractive to news organizations. And deep subject matter expertise takes longer to teach than inverted pyramids and the other nuts and bolts of the journalist’s craft.

Or maybe graphics and all things visual are more your speed. If so, you might think of design school. Maybe you have a logical bent and computer science could jet you into journalism as you bring programming chops to the newsroom and create whole new ways of presenting information.

I write these things not to distract from the original question, but instead to suggest how many disciplines and knowledge spheres journalism includes, and how many paths one can take to “get into” journalism. I mean, it’s not like we need a license or anything.

We really are in a golden age of journalistic possibility. The business models around what we do are craptastic but the innovations taking place are unreal. Our disciplines are no longer print, radio, broadcast and however that may be transposed to the Web and mobile devices. 

Instead, it’s all of the above, mixed, mashed, recreated and reimagined into new forms still unexplored.

If you are set on J-School, choose a school that’s actively pursuing cross disciplinary collaboration. I mention above that Chao’s at NYU. The program she’s in is called Studio 20 and it brings together journalists, programmers, filmmakers, entrepreneurs and others in order to understand what news storytelling is in our day and age. 

Columbia is doing something of the same with the recent launch of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

And if and when you do apply, get accepted and head off to wherever you may go, make sure you let us know. We’d love to hear about your adventures. — Michael

Finally, what do you think are the pros and cons of these new developments? What do you see in the future for journalism? — Asked by Anonymous

Well, I started the Future Journalism Project to explore just this and there really are as many answers as there are questions.

What concerns me most is the push toward customized and personalized news as a technological holy grail. My worry is that increased customization will lead to increasingly closed information silos where people are only hearing about what they want to hear about, and from angles and perspectives that they’re comfortable with.

As that increases, I think you’ll see increased civic and political fragmentation as there’s no common ground to discuss the important issues of the day. — Michael

Note: This is an answer to a question from an email interview I gave for an article onBenzinga (registration required). I’m aggregating answers from the interview here.

Are there aspects of journalism/news that you feel are "untouchable", that won't change no matter what new technology develops? — Asked by Anonymous

I think traditional journalism ethics shouldn’t change but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t evolve or be transgressed. For example, seeking truth and reporting it, being independent and accountable: these are just some of the ethics that are hallmarks of quality news coverage. 

That said, since technology enables just about anyone to lay claim to being a “news source,” you’ll see some traditional ethics transgressed. 

But adhering to ethics builds the trust needed to build and maintain an audience. They’re really the only currency a news organization has. So I think that even new news organizations will gravitate toward them even if there are hiccups along the way.

What is changing and evolving — and I think in a good way — is a move towards transparency over previous notions of objectivity. Objectivity is a fine virtue to aspire to but most recognize that it is only aspirational. It also sometimes weakens reporting when journalists feel the need to follow a “he said, she said” roadmap without arbitrating the real truth about the subject. 

Transparency handles this better. It allows reporters and publications to say, here are our biases, interests and objectives, and now that you know them, judge the truthfulness and accuracy of reporting with that knowledge in mind. — Michael

Note: This is an answer to a question from an email interview I gave for an article on Benzinga (registration required). I’m aggregating answers from the interview here.

How do you think Twitter and other microblogging platforms such as Tumblr have affected journalism and content presentation and consumption? — Asked by Anonymous

There are two ways to look at this: The first is how journalists use these platforms to follow others. The second is how journalists interact with those that follow them.

Let’s start with the first. Simply, and without question, if we curate our media diet via who we follow, what RSS feeds we subscribe to and what tools we use to manage it all, we have incredibly privileged and intimate access to information and sources we really never had before. Simply, these tools have brought communities of interest closer together by orders of magnitude.

And that, more or less is a good thing, save for comments I’ll make about echo chambers to one of your questions below.

Equally important in this space is how journalists (and by extension anyone using these tools) interact with others. And the lesson here is communication and engagement, and to actually listen to and talk to those who might ask you questions. Put most simply is a presentation that Faris Yakob once gave to a totally different audience than that which you’re writing about here. It was called, “Be Nice, Or Leave.

I recommend watching it

In terms of content presentation all sorts of interesting things are happening. You have people like Andy Carvin retweeting protests and revolutions in Northern Africa and the Middle East, you have new applications like Storify that leverage these microblogging platforms to create curated stories, you have CoverItLive that helps create live coverage of events, you have LiveStream and Ustream that enables publishers of all stripes to compete in the live video space.

It’s a glorious if slightly freaky application free for all. And it’s cross platform media creators that are benefitting. — Michael

Note: This is an answer to a question from an email interview I gave for an article on Benzinga (registration required). I’m aggregating answers from the interview here.

People are talking a lot about how blogging has impacted traditional journalism in terms of decaying readership in print media, greater immediacy and democracy in news and information available, etc.-- could you comment briefly on these changes, and also mention other effects blogging has had on traditional journalism that aren't as evident, and/or that we may not fully realize yet? — Asked by Anonymous

I think it comes back to the dissolution of the barrier to entry into any particular field or subject matter verticals. Once upon a time you had to pitch editors, send in clips and hop through hoops to get your story out there. Now, anyone can go to a Blogger or WordPress or Tumblr and take the 35 seconds or so it take to set up an account to start publishing.

Does that negate the need for traditional publishers? Not at all. But it adds legions of very smart people with very interesting things to say about all sorts of matters that otherwise would never have been heard.

It also adds legions of very unintelligent people with very uninteresting things to say about all sorts of matters but that’s a different point.

The best bloggers are those that are passionate and deeply knowledgeable about a given, discrete subject. These are people who write about things, investigate things and share there expertise about things.

If you take current events, you’ll find experts in Middle East and North African politics that can help us understand what’s happening in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere right now, experts in nuclear energy and nuclear reactors who can help us understand Japan right now, and the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, “bloggers” are still stereotyped as the unwashed masses of online media. I think instead they should be thought of as the early warning systems of what’s happening around the world, and this is a system that traditional journalists need to learn to tap into and listen to. I’ve written about that here in reaction to  a lecture Rachel Sterne gave on citizen journalism to a class I teach at Columbia:

Bloggers and others who are conversing on social networks about subjects we care about are, after all, nothing more than our communities writ large. It is the role of the journalist to listen to, understand, and learn from the community, and take his or her reporting from there. — Michael

Note: This is an answer to a question from an email interview I gave for an article on Benzinga (registration required). I’ll be posting other answers from the interview in the upcoming days.

I totally love the header of your most recent post "Journalists Must Lead Their Online Communities." Do you believe that is happening though? — Asked by open-ers

Hi there,

Thanks so much for your feedback. It’s very much appreciated.

In the conversation I created using quotes from Robert Niles’ and Kevin Anderson’s articles they were more or less referring to building great conversations around the content journalists are producing. In particular, they were focussing on comment sections.

For example, if your style is take no prisoners, firebomb opinion writing, your comments are going to devolve into flamewares. Similarly, if you don’t occasionally prod commenters with an encouragement stick, conversations will go astray. Simply, conversations need some coordination and leadership.

Unfortunately, while many publications now employ “community managers,” the role is often passive moderation of inappropriate content. Less often do the journalists themselves participate extensively in the conversations. The reasons are many, chief among them is that they have other work to do like reporting their next story.

While this is the particulars of what they wrote about, I think it extends to other places conversations take place, eg., Twitter and Facebook.

While I don’t think organizations — as a generality — are doing that great of a job engaging across those networks, I do think a lot of individual journalists are doing a wonderful job, the most prominent among them probably being Nicholas Kristof and the communities he’s developed on Facebook, Twitter and his blog.

I spoke with GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram recently. He also does a great job engaging his audience and does so primarily — though not exclusively — through Twitter. When I asked why there, his answer was rather simple: that’s where the conversation is actually taking place.

Hope these thoughts somewhat answer your question. We look forward to hearing from you and others again. — Michael

Hello Future Journalism Project,
I'm not sure if you'll ask a question from a pesky college student looking for answers on choosing the right decision for the future. I am an aspiring journalist, worked on my high school newspaper as editor-in-chief for two years, and had fierce competition from my junior editor-in-chief my senior year. I went to a B-rated college. It's not as great as many may consider. My junior EIC got into Uc Berekely. Sh's a year younger than me - but I feel my passion is still emerging. Does it matter what college I go to? Will she have better, bigger oppurtunities than me??

p.s. Sorry for the illiterate typing. I can't see what I'm writing bneccause your ask box is too small for my question! — Asked by Anonymous

Have you ever read Cary Tennis? He’s the advice columnist for Salon and the reason I ask is because reading your question reminds me of him. It reminds me of him because he has the astute ability to read between the lines of life’s quandaries.

I don’t pretend to be as astute as Cary but I am going to read between your lines.

And here’s what I find: you feel burned.

You’re not only an aspiring journalist but took it seriously enough to not only work for your high school newspaper but become its Editor in Chief. You worked hard, you stayed up late, you stressed out but you did it. And then along comes another who’s a year younger but hungry just like you and the two of you butt heads over story ideas and angles and assignments and comma placement and heds and deks and everything else that goes into creating a newspaper.

And this pissed you off.

And it still pisses you off because you ended up at what you call a second rate school while she’s sitting high and mighty at one of the best colleges in the land.

Here’s what you need to do: let it go.

Will it matter that you went to a “B-rated college”? Not really. You’ll find that once you’re a few years out of college no one really cares which one you went to, or if you even went at all. What they care about is what you can actually do.

So don’t be bitter and don’t be pissed. These battles are well done gone and it’s time to move on.

And here’s what you should do: Join your college paper or — perhaps even better — find like minded collaborators and create something of your own. Then report the hell out of your subject.

Be tenacious. Write short form. Write long form. Take some multimedia classes and create in that form too.

And learn a bit of code. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to know a bit of code.

Build a body of work for yourself so that when you leave college you’re defined by the awesome that you created in college.

And then hustle. And then network. And start making yourself known to people and organizations that you think you’d like to work with some day.

Do all that and opportunities will come, regardless where you went or what’s printed on your diploma. — Michael

I'm a student journalist and I really enjoy reading the unique posts on Future Journalism Project's Tumblr page. Recently, I've been faced with a dilemma and I thought I'd ask the masterminds behind this outlet for help. Should journalists allow their competitors to follow them on Twitter, Facebook, etc.? — Asked by Anonymous

Thanks for your kind words. It’s always nice to hear that what we’re doing has value to others.

To answer your question: yes, absolutely and emphatically.

Unless, of course, you use a particular platform (eg., Facebook) for posting lolcats and drunken party pics in which case I’d politely block the follow with an invite to your “professional” space, be it a Facebook Page, your Twitter account, LinkedIn or elsewhere.

Just remember that each of these networks has visibility controls that allow others to view your activity. Learn them. And after you’ve learned them, learn them again.

In general though, journalism is no longer solely conducted in secret labs called newsrooms. It takes place throughout our analog and digital lives. Social networks are building blocks toward constructing our beats and it behooves us to both follow and be followed by those in our field.

I’ll start with being followed. Trust, transparency, and increased inter-organizational collaboration are all accelerated by our use of social media. And besides, who’s going to give that great story you just produced more amplification than other journalists and news organizations with interest in it?

Consider yourself honored that others — be they coopitition, frenemies or the merely curious — consider what you do valuable enough that they want to keep tabs on you and hear what you’re thinking about.

And besides, that news organization or editor you just blocked could have been your next employer.

The only worry I can see having is that someone else might scoop your scoop. That’s a matter of giving consideration to what you post, not who you let follow.

The flip side of being followed is following. I’d argue this is more important. It sounds simultaneously banal and hyperbolic but never before have we had such rich access to information on the quirk or kink that gets our blood flowing.

Follow fellow journalists but — more importantly — follow subject matter experts and potential sources. Interact with them. Read the links they’re posting. This is your beat: living, breathing, morphing and mutating with each digital blip added to our social spheres.

Make sure to follow outliers so you don’t trap yourself in the herd. And be sure to follow those whose opinion differs from your own so you expand past the echo chamber.

And then adopt tools that help you separate signal from noise and not drown in an information deluge. I personally use a combination of Tweetdeck, Paper.li, Feedly, Instapaper and Evernote to keep track of — and organize — what I need to know or, at least, think I need to know.

I hope what I write is somewhat helpful. Thanks for reaching out and don’t hesitate to do so again. — Michael

In your latest graph of public funding per capital of media for different nations, you pointed out Sweden is the highest - when the graph shows Norway is. Other than that I think this project is one of the best things going. But we need more fact-checkers!!! — Asked by Anonymous

We blush, and then respond: You’re absolutely correct. It is/was Norway and not Sweden.

And it’s not just fact-checkers that are needed, but copy editors too.

When we went back to the original post we saw that the graph was titled, “Per Capital Spending on Public Media” rather than “Per Capita.”

A reminder that less haste and more deliberate review of what’s being posted is in order.

Thanks again. — Michael

Seeking your insights into why you chose Tumblr over Wordpress. I'm considering the same move but would like to know more on your decision. — Asked by Anonymous

Tough question: you’re asking how we chose between two flavors of awesome.

Here’s a bit of what our needs were/are and our thinking.

In November we decided to launch a blog to get word out about the Future Journalism Project; curate ideas and themes we came across in our research and interviews; and interact with others who are both concerned with and excited by changes taking place in American news media.

To engage publicly we needed a platform to do so. Twitter was a starting point and we post away at @futureJproject.

As said above though, we wanted to curate ideas so needed something that allowed for something more substantial than 140 characters. We could have installed WordPress, Drupal or Expression Engine but that’s overkill for where we are in the project. More importantly, it wouldn’t immediately connect us with a community.

So we looked at hosted solutions and online communities. Facebook was a thought. It’s obviously an easy place to set up a page and post links and such to it like we do here. But it doesn’t paginate, which we like. And it’s Facebook, which with its shifting user agreements and privacy issues we don’t particularly like. With that caveat aside, we will do something there in the upcoming months. It’s simply too big a gorilla to ignore.

WordPress.com was thought about but involves a level of complexity around posting that we didn’t need. Not that it’s difficult to post, just that it takes a few minutes longer than on Tumblr or Posterous. Also, while you can subscribe to blogs, much like you can follow blogs on Tumblr, and like posts, much like you can heart them on Tumblr, and even reblog posts just like you do here at Tumblr, the vibe isn’t as intimate as Tumblr’s.

Put another way, it’s a User Experience thing.

Tumblr positions community as the primary medium with tools given to members to share content with one another. The User Interface of the Dashboard (ie., post a photo, post a link, post a video, etc.) more or less keeps published items short and sweet.

WordPress.com positions publishing as the primary medium with tools given to create some community. The User Interface of its Dashboard suggests creating longer articles and posts.

Since long articles and other content management complexity wasn’t a concern, we went with community. When we do need a more “sophisticated” platform, we’ll still Tumble.

Here are a few reasons why:

We can’t be all happiness and rainbows though. What do we dislike about and/or think could be improved?

For one, some mechanism for back channel conversation. For others, check this lengthy list over on Quora.

Like we said up top though, you’re asking why we chose between two flavors of awesome.

It’s not an either/or proposition. For us it will be both/and… or we should say, we’ll be using a self-hosted WordPress multisite install when the time comes. Right now though, Tumblr accomplishes — and accomplishes very well — everything we need.