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.

An informal poll on what I should learn next

To be perfectly honest, I have a lot to learn, even if my punditry gets me mentioned in Top 10 lists or gets my name breathed in the same sentence as the incredible people I’m learning from just by reading their blogs and following their careers.

And unless I’m going to move to an executive position tomorrow, where my jack-of-all-trades, master-of-few schtick goes the distance, it’s time for me to pick up another skill. (Hint: I’m not going anywhere for awhile.)

Here’s my background: Writing this blog for over two years. Four years of film school. Raised by a photographer and a data analyst (pardon the simplification, Dad) in the wild. Okay, the suburbs. Whatever. The point is, I’ve been around visual communicators, maps, and databases since I could see. I’ve been using computers since the words “Press play on tape” meant something.

Here’s what I know: How to write good clean semantic HTML, CSS, Photoshop, copy editing, WordPress (and other database-based content management systems that involve knowing how to use a search engine to find the code you need), how to use a search engine to find any code I need, how to record and edit stills/audio/video, and how to tell newspapers what they should be doing to innovate instead of stagnating while they watch a 200-year-old business model crumble around them.

Trust me, that last one has little practical value.

Here’s what I don’t know, no matter what it says on my resume: How to work in SQL and PHP from scratch, javascript, Django, Ruby, Flash, Illustrator, how to use maps APIs to code my own mashups, how to present databases online.

SO, dear readers (all three of you), I’m looking for answers here: What should I learn next?

And if your answer is database-driven, so to speak, where should I start? MySQL/PHP, or straight to PostgreSQL, Python and Django? There’s obviously demand for folks with chops like this, and I certainly like the sort of journalism it turns out, but I Am Not A Programmer.

Chime in below…

Redesign interrupted, actual content to follow

As much as it pains me to do so, I’ll interrupt my ongoing monologue about this blog’s ongoing redesign (Almost done! IE6 sucks!) to bring you actual links to actual information that has nothing to do (as far as I know) with cute cats verbing ur nounz.

Bryan Murley interviews Rob Curley by IM over at ICM, and it’s worth a read if you happen to be in the news business, or a journalism student, or, really, in any business where innovation is a daily challenge.

Here’s a snippet:

“I think that if a student in a newspaper journalism program is only taught about print, then that student will likely think the only “real” newspaper journalism is print, or is never taught about other ways of telling stories and reaching readers, then that student will have that mindset.”

Go read the whole thing.

I’ve sounded off loudly and frequently about what I think J-School students should learn, so I won’t bore you with yet another long list, but if you’re a journalism student in a newspaper program, and no one is teaching you how to tell stories in a medium other than text, you need to start learning on your own.

Get a blog, look at its guts, get a Flickr account, get a Delicious account, use an RSS reader, start networking, start reading everything you can get your eyes on about what it is you want to do with your life.

Don’t wait for it to come up in class.

RateMyProfessors.com – the ultimate student media vertical?

Two weeks ago, a little business brief zipped across my workflow radar at the office – mtvU buys RateMyProfessors.com*.

For those of you keeping up with the college newspaper business, last summer, mtvU bought College Publisher, by far the largest hosting and CMS provider for online student media.

Now, the Viacom subsidiary adds RateMyProfessors to its stable.

Awesome move.

What’s the best vertical service your college newspaper can provide to you readers? I say it’s a professor-rating site, closely followed by a textbook exchange bulletin board of some sort. (Note to self: develop ultimate Web 2.0 textbook exchange site and sell to mtvU for millions.)

Soon enough, we’ll start to see professor rating widgets showing up on college newspaper sites. Very cool, very sticky, and very useful to readers.

So what’s the one vertical your small-to-medium sized newspaper not on a college campus needs to provide to its readers?

Let’s put it this way: What’s the one thing unique and special and specific about your town that you simply should not get outdone on by any other media outlet or service?

*(School spirit disclosure: RateMyProfessors was founded by an SJSU alum, inspired by SJSU profs.)