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.

Six questions about ReportingOn

Journalism.co.uk asked six questions about ReportingOn.

I answered them.

“4) Why are you doing this?

I saw a need to connect reporters to each other. So much local news lacks context, lacks a clear idea of where a local event fits into a larger trend, whether we’re talking about drunken driving or school funding or foreclosures.

Twitter has been a big inspiration, as well. I’ve been impressed at how casual, public conversation can be packed with information and benefit to anyone willing to ask questions and give answers freely.”

Plenty more about ReportingOn to come in the next few weeks and months.

For now, follow reportingon on Twitter and send your own Tweets @reportingon to make connections with your peers across town or on the other side of the world.

If you don’t get unbundled media, you’re not selling attention*

Command-and-control, top-down, masthead mass media is dead.

Seriously.

It’s over, and the readers/users/viewers won.

And without getting all “Information wants to be free,” I’ll just say that if you don’t get what Howard** and Zac are talking about here, it’s time for you to start understanding it.

Take Howard’s advice, young journalists:

“Blogs should be a daily routine for every dedicated journalist. They should read every blog related to their beats. They should read blogs about their own interests and hobbies. They should read blogs about their profession. To get blogging is to get how things have changed.”

Read blogs. Read everything you can get your eyes on about what you’re passionate about, whether it’s your beat or not. Are you into a concept, a game, a book, a movie, a tv show, a political candidate, a business? Really get into it.

Stop reading all those press releases in your inbox and find a slate of blogs that tell you things you need to know, everyday, to know everything about that one thing you’re passionate about.

Take Zac’s words to heart, newspaper publishers:

“Brand isn’t a name anymore. Brand is interface. Flickr is a dumb name. So is Twitter. So is Google. But we’re not looking for a name. We’re looking for usefulness. We’re looking for content. We’re looking for what we want.”

We’re looking for what we want.

Exactly. We don’t care what the name at the top of the page says, we’re your neighbors, and we’re looking for information, or entertainment, or a diversion — this isn’t new. This is why readers pick up a newspaper, in any form.

*Huh? Selling attention? What was that supposed to mean?

**Full disclosure: Howard is my new boss.

The fundamentals of structured data

Still wondering how to cram all these cool new Web-based tools and toys into your newspaper’s content management system? What, you mean it didn’t come with a database to manage all those user-submitted photos you’re getting through your MySpace page?

Even if you’re not quite that friendly with the social-networking set yet, chances are you’ve got some data sitting around in your stories, just waiting to be structured.

Adrian Holovaty lays out the basics for you, running down all the information you might want to build into something other than a “big blob of text,” as he calls it.

“For example, say a newspaper has written a story about a local fire. Being able to read that story on a cell phone is fine and dandy. Hooray, technology! But what I really want to be able to do is explore the raw facts of that story, one by one, with layers of attribution, and an infrastructure for comparing the details of the fire — date, time, place, victims, fire station number, distance from fire department, names and years experience of firemen on the scene, time it took for firemen to arrive — with the details of previous fires. And subsequent fires, whenever they happen.”

The problem, of course, is that you need to hire a journalistically-minded database geek or a wonky journalist skilled at coding PHP-type languages in order to pull this off.

What if there were a content management system that builds this into its DNA?

There isn’t one yet, I think, but Adrian recommends Ellington, which, to be fair, he developed. I haven’t tried it myself, and I believe it actually costs quite a bit of money for a commercial license, but like I said, using a CMS that allows you to implement new ideas can give you a respectable head start at becoming the sort of online news outlet you talk about becoming when you give speeches at industry conventions.

New Media class at SJSU

Journalism 163, taught by Steve Sloan and Cynthia McCune (at least one section – are there others?), opens for business at SJSU this week. It’s hard to give this thing a name, and I don’t want to contribute any more than I already have to the handwringing and head-scratching over what it should be, or how it should be taught, but I’ll just call it a New Media class and leave it that.

I recommend you take it, friends, that I do, and wholeheartedly.

Why?

I’ll let Scoble throw a simple answer at you:

“The skills journalists will need in the future are going to be a lot more varied than just churning out good text. The better journalists are going to understand how to do that, create illustrations (or at least rough drawings that an artist will be able to take and fill out), capture audio, photos, and video, and edit all that together to tell a compelling story on the Web.”

Still not convinced?

Had a job interview lately?

At your next one, try telling the recruiter you can shoot photos, video, know html and css, produced a podcast for the student newspaper, and just started learning Flash.

No, I haven’t done all those things either, but this class is a great start.

There’s already a class blog set up for J163, and here’s a short podcast where Steve and Cynthia talk about what they’re up to.

10 things I heard at the AEJMC convention today

Let me tell you about my first time … at the AEJMC convention.

Seriously, I had never been to a conference or convention that was about my own field before today. I mean, I’ve hung out with the physicists and the photographers and maybe even the real estate data information professionals back when I was a wee tyke, but this was (obviously) cooler. I mean, as cool as you can expect a bunch of journalism educators to be. Which ain’t bad.

I felt a little awkward about identifying myself, because I kept switching from student to researcher to reporter in midsentence, leaving people asking me ‘Wait, where are you from?’

Wish I could have made it there all week, but San Francisco is far, and there are stories to be filed and thesis proposals to conjure out of thin air.

So without further narrative lede, here’s Ten Things I Heard Today

  1. J-Schools can act as hubs for all sorts of interesting experiments. They can aggregate ethnic news outlets, bootstrap citizen media projects, or develop new news products from the ground up.
  2. The need for media literacy increases right alongside the number of communication channels. This theme was repeated by a few people today, Dan Gillmor among them, who pointed out that skepticism is a requirement to sort out the signal/noise ratio online.
  3. The best pitch I heard on how to teach computer programming to journalism students (which everyone wants to do, but no one knows how to do) came from SFSU’s Andrew DeVigal, who thinks it can be taught online, where the few kids at each school who want to learn it can meet up with someone like Adrian Holovaty all at once. Sign me up.
  4. Keeping journalism students in their silos (print, broadcast, online) and just adding classes might not be the answer, but convergence isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, either. Lots of schools in lots of different spots on the continuum on that issue. Thorny one.
  5. Phil Meyer of UNC has faith that something new is going to develop out of the decline of the print newspaper, and today’s journalism students are going to be the ones inventing it. The job of the J-School is to prepare them to do so. Jerry Ceppos said something along these lines, too: Journalism students should be learning “how to expect change.”
  6. It sure would be nice if journalism students could learn something about business strategies, entrepreneurship, and new product development. Why? Because investment banking firms and media moguls might not have the same principles as journalists. Plus, getting information gathering and business sense on the same team makes for innovative news.
  7. Journalism schools should be leading the profession, and not the profession leading the journalism schools. J-School should be more like law school or medical school, driving changes in the industry rather than always playing catch-up.
  8. Newspapers are still having a hard time finding journalists to build infographics, interactive graphics, and multimedia presentations. Unfortunately, J-Schools are having just as hard a time finding faculty to teach those things. See Andrew’s idea above at #3. Calling Mindy McAdams
  9. J-Schools aren’t going to be able to teach all this stuff on their own. There must be some dance partners out there, whether we’re talking about a magnet high school full of little programmers and web designers or a venture capital company willing to finance an experiment.
  10. Make your journalism school a laboratory and experiment with the future of journalism. Emulating a vanishing medium teaches students how to vanish.

Thanks to all the folks I buttonholed after panels, on elevators, and in the halls today, whether I was acting like a student, researcher, or reporter.

Computer assisted reporting 2.0

Now that the SJSU J-School is cooking up a New Media class for next semester, which I’ve suggested should be mostly a practical lab for future online editors, it’s time to start thinking about the next step in revising the curriculum.

Which, of course, it’s not my job to do, but I haven’t let that stop me from making suggestions before, now have I?

Computer-assisted reporting might sound like something already on the schedule, but “Information Gathering on the Internet” is a far cry from CAR. This looks, to me, like a case of the course description outrunning the syllabus.

But I’m not sure, and all this comes with the caveat that I took J132 with one instructor, and haven’t talked to others who teach it, nor have I sat in on other versions of the class. All I know is that “Information Gathering on the Internet” in the class I was in consisted of assignments like asking a question in a Google (nee Usenet) Group, and using the answers as sources in an article.

That’s just not enough. One faculty member I talked to who had taught the class before complained to me that we weren’t even learning how to make FOIA requests. Well, that’s not enough either.

Others, myself included, have suggested that students should learn how to use an RSS feed reader and find sources on any given topic by subscribing to blog, news, and web searches. But that shouldn’t take more than an hour to accomplish.

A computer-assisted reporting class shouldn’t need to teach 20-year-old undergrads how to use a search engine; journalism students needs to learn how to bring useful information out of a database and to their readers, creating the database themselves if none exists. Finding that information, using software to organize it, and developing a usable presentation of it is the core of CAR.

Adrian Holovaty, best known as the creator of ChicagoCrime.org, a mashup of a Google Map of Chicago with police reports and crime data for the city, talked to Robert Niles of the Online Journalism Review recently.

Holovaty’s advice?

“J-schools need to get way more technical. A graduate of a journalism school should be a master of collecting data — whether the old-fashioned way (by talking to humans) or through automated means. The closest thing journalism schools currently have (to my knowledge) is computer-assisted reporting classes. Those classes should be required, in my opinion, and even better would be for j-schools to partner with computer-science departments so that journalism students would get some experience coding.”

To some extent, I agree.

But, as I’ve said about the New Media class, this isn’t for everyone. I don’t think requiring undergraduates to learn PHP, Perl, or Python gets us anywhere. One or two sections of J132 focused to computer-assisted reporting might be enough, and those sections could start with existing software (like Django) and databases (city council voting records?) to get a feel for manipulating a set of data.

Learning to code these things themselves would be nice and all, but I don’t see any room for that in the curriculum, much less an undergraduate’s schedule. That’s the sort of thing they’re going to have to do on their own in the Comp Sci department, prerequisites and all.

Go read the whole interview with Holovaty. You’ll get an idea of what exists and where things are going in the CAR field.

Bonus link: Tim Porter points out the importance of Holovaty’s advice to newsrooms – “Hire people who know what’s possible.”