Suzanne Yada recommends you grow a pair

From Suzanne Yada’s resolutions for journalism students in 2009, this bullet point:

“Grow some cojones.
Let me level with you. The world doesn’t need more music reviewers or opinion spouters. The world needs more people willing to ask tough questions. The first step to reversing journalism’s tarnished image is to have the guts to dig for information the public can’t easily find themselves, and be an advocate of unbiased, straightforward truth.”

A damn fine idea.  Knowing the classrooms and newsrooms she’s working in, it makes even more sense.

Bonus link: The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University is hiring a “Database Journalism Professor.”

CoPress launches hosted WordPress sites for student media

First, a bit of history: The first time I fiddled with a newspaper Web site, it was thespartandaily.com, after I walked into an adviser’s office at San Jose State’s School of Journalism & Mass Communications and asked something like “hey, any way to get an RSS feed off that thing?”

There was, and we did, and I spent a good chunk of time over the next two semesters redesigning the site, migrating it from one host to a second one that had purchased the first, and supporting early efforts at multimedia at the Daily.

But it wasn’t easy. And little of the code I had to muck about in to get the site to do what I wanted was code that I could learn from, or re-use, or maintain in any sort of extensible way.

Since then, more options have popped up for hosting student media Web sites, the most popular and obvious one being to launch a WordPress site on your own server.

But of course, it would be nice if there were one place to share tips, tricks, plugins, ideas, and code snippets with other students and advisers working with WordPress for student newspapers, right?

CoPress wants to be that place.

I’ve had a chance to talk, chat, and tweet with some of the students and recent graduates behind CoPress over the last few months, and I think they’re clearly the sharpest minds in online student media right now.

Here’s the short list of resources, places to start looking into CoPress, if you’re serious about getting your news site off that big popular hosted solution and thinking about giving students, staff, and advisers a chance to learn more than how to paste from Word into a WYSIWYG editor:

  • CoPress.org: Subscribe to the blog’s feed, read more about the budding organization, and contact the team.
  • CoPress Hosting: Not planning to deal with development, design, or server hosting on your own?  Talk with the CoPress team about what they can do for you.
  • CoPress on Twitter: Follow the team on Twitter.
  • CoPress on iTunes: Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.  The CoPress team has done an amazing job of staying transparent, posting recordings of their conference calls as a regular podcast.

If it sounds like I’m excited about this, I am.  This blog started out life in 2005 as “Ryan Sholin’s J-School Blog,” and as far as I’m concerned, working in student media is the best way to build your skillset, on deadline, with real stories, photos, video, readers, comments, and every other element live and in play.  If CoPress makes it easier for students to expand that skillset to cover development, design, and site management for online news, that’s fantastic.

Snapshots from the future of online student news

Those of you (er, both of you) who have been following this blog since its outset (onset?) in February 2005 will recall that I first got involved with the actual production of online news at the Spartan Daily, the student newspaper of San Jose State University, where I remain a graduate student, believe it or not.

I walked into Prof. Richard Craig‘s office one day in the summer of 2005 and said “Why isn’t there an RSS feed for the Daily?” and he and the other advisers and Daily-adjacent faculty members basically gave me the keys to the site and told me to go out and do whatever I could to improve it.

It turned out that adding an RSS feed was easy, but my interest — and sudden new role as the contact for the hosting and CMS provider (back then it was a company called Digital Partners) — led me to my first news site redesign, turning the Daily’s site into something slightly more pleasant to look at.

I think I must have taken a few independent study credits and the title of Webmaster the next semester.  I wasn’t the Online Editor, whose job at that point in time was mostly to do a lot of painful copy/paste webmonkey work very late at night, but I helped the staff try to figure out a little bit about what more they could do with the system.

Digital Partners was promptly swallowed up by College Publisher, and I redesigned the site again, with the excuse of porting it over to a new CMS and hosting system.  It was fun, and I was working with the incoming Online Editor, Shaminder Dulai, who started driving multimedia into the story count requirements at the Daily. (And then Daniel Sato and Neal Waters redesigned it.  And then Kyle Hansen redesigned it.  It should be redesigned every semester if there’s a student or two with a passion for online news design, and if you don’t have one or two of those around, something’s wrong. )

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This is all just to say that after working with a few versions of the dominant CMS/hosting tool for college newspapers, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. If all you’re interested in teaching or learning is content production, College Publisher is fine.  Stories, comments, blogs (?), video, photos — it can handle all that.  I’m pretty sure embeddable tools work as well.  But those are the limits.
  2. If you’re interested in teaching or learning anything at all about Web design, development, user interaction, interactivity, Flash-based multimedia or graphics, or community management, you need something more flexible than a turnkey solution.

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Once you get past that, you’re loose in the touchy and complicated world of how/why/when/where to deploy some sort of open source software and server setup that students can manage — and far more importantly, that the next student staff can manage.  And the next one.  And the next.

I’ve been excited to see a few projects appear in recent months to address that issue, and get past it.  Here’s the best I’ve seen, so far:

  • The Populous Project: This Knight News Challenge winning project intends to build a fully featured three-phase system for student (and small town?) news, from CMS to a front-end newsroom system for print and online, to a social networking tool to add on to news sites.  This project is based at the UCLA Daily Bruin, where they’re coding up a prototype in Django which they plan to open-source.
  • CoPress: This collective project features a bunch of online news students and recent graduates that I know from around the Web, and they’re applying for a Knight News Challenge grant this year. (Sense a theme here?)  Check out their answers to my questions about their proposal.  The gang at CoPress knows exactly what a student paper needs to get their jobs done and be innovative at the same time, and you can see that in their list of Ideal CMS Features, which includes things like the need for a system that plays well with InDesign and IPTC data.

(For a sense of what’s possible when you break out of the College Publisher mold and go your own way, check out the WordPress-powered Miami Hurricane.)

My most important questions for any student media CMS project have to do with scalability and repeatability:

How easy will this CMS be to host, given the variety of university and external systems in play at student media outlets with a wide range of organizational structures?

How easy will this CMS be to maintain for a steady flow of students through a newsroom, year after year?

Links that redefine news

Wednesday night, I’ll be speaking with Steve Sloan’s New Media class at San Jose State University.

I’m planning to show off some of the best of your work.

Yes, you.

I’m looking for online news sites and projects that stray from the traditional definition of news.

I’m assuming these journalism students get enough Gloom & Doom handwringers from other sources, and I have no intention of discouraging anybody from getting into this business, which needs all the help it can get.

So, here’s a list of links. Add your favorites in the comments.

I’m really just scratching the surface here, and notably absent are any multimedia tools and examples.  Add your favorites in the comments.

Ahead of the game

Some journalism school students have reason to worry. They’re a few months away from graduating in 2008 with a print-and-A1-photo skillset circa 1988.

But five clips and a smile won’t get you much of a competitive edge these days in an increasingly crowded job market for reporters with straight-ahead text skills.

Mindy McAdams drives that point home in this advice for J-School students:

“If you have not taken any online skills courses at all, and spring is your final semester, and the intro online course conflicts with one of your required courses that you waited until now to take — sign up for the online course, and delay your graduation. Do you want to graduate? Or do you want a job?”

Sound advice.

Back to the lede: Some journalism students have reason to worry. Others are Kyle Hansen.

Kyle, an SJSU student, is working on his second internship at the moment; it’s at LoudonExtra.com working for Rob Curley under the washingtonpost.com’s umbrella.

Say it with me, kids: That’s awesome.

But Kyle still has questions about whether he’s made himself marketable enough for a job in online news and what he should learn next.

Five quick answers:

  1. From the sound of your internships, I’m betting you’re learning a particularly rare specialty: Community management. If you can successfully drive readers/viewers to participate in the news, there will be job opportunities for you.
  2. A photography class sounds like a good way to get some practice editing photos, thinking visually, and doing some basic stuff in Photoshop.
  3. What acronym you want to learn next greatly depends on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. At your next job, you might not have anything to do with code and you might not want to. Like arguments over which video camera you should buy (and I’ll get to that), discussing which (if any) programming language you should learn next becomes a moot point if your job is generating, editing, and managing content. That said, if community management is on the horizon, I recommend you learn Drupal.
  4. Unless you’re going to learn how to feed data into Flash, a bit more like what you see the New York Times doing a lot of, don’t spend your time on it. (That’s a recommendation for Kyle. If you’re a multimedia shooter who already has plenty of Soundslides experience under your belt, then go nuts, learn to make beautiful Flash packages.)
  5. There are no fancy cameras or software suites necessary to learn how to shoot and edit video. If you have a point+shoot still camera with a video setting, use it. Practice telling little stories, even if they’re about your cat. Practice using a variety of shots. Edit using the home movie editing software that came with your computer: Windows Movie Maker or iMovie. That’s the way to learn the basics; if you arrive at your next job and find a fancy HD camera and Final Cut, great, you’ll learn how to push the right buttons to accomplish what you learned how to do with a sub-$200 camera and free software.

That’s all. Anyone else have any wisdom to impart on the class of 2008 as the thought of registering for next semester begins to creep out from under general ed midterms and past-deadline multimedia projects?

A few ways to teach the Pro side of Pro-Am Journalism to J-School students

Jay Rosen was just on stage talking about NewAssignment.net (see his lessons learned post at PressThink), and one thing that comes up is training on both the Pro and the Amateur side to smooth the process of writing/editing stories and gathering/parsing data.

So how can J-School students who need to learn these new skills (this would be the Interactivity part of the trinity) pick them up in school?

A few ideas:

  • Create Facebook and MySpace identities for your student media outlet and then manage/promote them.  Start discussions about campus news and find the online communities that are already in your neighborhoods, then tie into them.
  • Create a Ning social network for a niche at your school:  Club sports not getting enough coverage in your paper?  Ning ’em.
  • Find a tool to gather data from your campus community.  It can be simple as a Google Map or as complicated as a database project, but take a common problem or question on your campus (parking, for example) and start asking your readers to contribute answers to those questions.

Does anyone have examples of student media taking these steps? (I know you do…)

And maybe more important, is this something you teach in a class, or are your students pretty much left to figure this out on their own?

Spartan Love

News from San Jose State’s J-School:

  1. Kyle Hansen is skipping town, headed for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive to work with Rob Curley. The Spartan Daily’s loss is internology’s gain.
  2. SJSU is hosting an NPPA Flying Short Course in October. Daniel Sato is furiously wrangling multimedia shooters behind the scenes to set up an awesome program.
  3. I take full responsibility blame for the completely inappropriate title on Daniel’s blog post that closes with the following incredibly intriguing announcement:

    “The San Jose State photojournalism department will be holding multimedia workshops during the two summer sessions each year. Each session will be three weeks and will take place in a foreign country. The kicker, as if working on stories abroad was not enough, is that our school has two partners in this project. The Mercury News and National Geographic will each be sending either a photographer or an editor for one week to assist students as they learn multimedia storytelling techniques.”

Whoa.
The moral of the story: This is a really good time to be a J-School student at San Jose State University.*

*Disclaimer: I have every reason to be kissing up to certain faculty members right now, but really, I mean it!

Intern season means intern blog season

As much as I might wish for a blog intern, I’m talking about interns at your newspapers with blogs of their own (not someone I hired to read my feeds and post wittier-than-thou Tweets for $10/hour).

Let’s start out at a major metro in the west, where an SJSU student on the sports copy desk is working hard to steer clear of the layoff downers and rants against ESPN. Her latest post weighs the pros and cons of a proposed switch off the slow-in-the-summer desk to the multimedia department:

“I don’t want to completely give up on the copy-editing because 1) that’s what got me here, 2) I feel like if I am going to put “Dow Jones intern” on my resume, I should have completed my internship as such, and 3) I am still attempting to get credit for this internship through the English department, and, while I know they would be willing to accept copy-editing experience, video-editing might not be so welcome.”

Hey C-Gull, go for it. The Dow Jones bit looks good on the resume, but trust me, “video editing” is a skill that far fewer job applicants have on their list. Do it. Tell Joe M. I sent you.

A little closer to home, The J Junkie, a Missouri J-School student interning at a small daily in the Bay Area, has also done a good job of dodging the downers and finding her voice. Check out her almost-a-manifesto rundown of her own news consumption habits:

“I typically get woken up by my cell phone beeping. That’s my weather forecast from the Columbia Missourian. As soon as I’ve regained sufficient consciousness, I listen to a couple podcasts as I get ready: always the New York Times’ front page by the fascinating voice of James Barron, and a few others depending on my mood. I check my e-mails and get daily newsletters from the New York Times and Le Monde….”

There’s more, of course.

And there are more intern blogs out there — share your favorites in the comments, and let’s get some of our friends in high places and glass offices paying attention to what their youngest (temporary) employees think of their newsrooms.

The journalism program we’ve all been waiting for

The Knight Foundation handed out some money today, notably to Henry Jenkins and company at MIT and Mr. Holovaty, who is getting plenty of press for his jump from WaPo to startup.

But just a little lower on the list, you’ll find the future in the form of a grant to the Medill J-School at Northwestern to, well, for lack of a better explanation, Make More Holovatys.

This is exactly what a number of folks, myself included, have been advocating for a while: Teach programmers journalism and/or teach journalists programming. With at least one of those steps built into this Master’s degree, things are looking up in Evanston.

If I were still spending any time at all on campus at San Jose State, I’d be bugging the J-School to talk to Google or Yahoo about throwing around the small amount of money necessary to fund a few graduate fellowships for programmers. The campus is already teeming with excited young coders — it shouldn’t be that hard to reel in three or four.

Kicking it East Coast style

No, not me. I’m still firmly planted a short walk from Monterey Bay, but a group of SJSU students spent Spring Break in the land known casually as Back East in these parts.

DC and New York, to be more precise.

Photojournalism student Daniel Sato has started to tell the tale. The students visited the New York Times, washingtonpost.com, CNN, Rolling Stone, and National Geographic among other OMFG-would-I-love-to-take -that-tour spots.

Sato credits Prof. Michael Cheers as one of the brains behind the trip, and as it turns out, Prof. Cheers gets to spend the summer as a faculty fellow at National Geographic.

Of course, if I went on a trip like this, hypothetically speaking, I’d probably be spending my evenings at bars with friends, dinners with family, and Wrong shows.

Note to New York friends: Next time I make that trip, I’ll have an interesting little accessory around.