My rambling thoughts for this month’s Carnival of Journalism
When I look back at my experience in student media from 2005 through 2009, I know I had it better than most: we were entirely student-run, had a generous budget for most of my time there, published five days a week, and took advantage of the amazing network of alumni we had in the area for training opportunities.
Still, things could have been better. I spent three of my four years at college (freshman, junior and senior years) focusing on reporting—and I learned from that experience than I did in all four years of J-school combined. But like most professional newsrooms, those were the years we were struggling to adapt to a modern, digital-first strategy.
I’ve long criticized my J-school at the University of Minnesota for being behind the curve. The “web publishing” class I took senior year taught us how to use Blogger. There were no opportunities to learn how to build an online portfolio or data visualizations. One class was offered for computer-assisted reporting at the graduate level and I had to beg, borrow and steal to get myself a spot in the class as an undergrad. From what I can tell, shortly after I graduated, they appeared to get their act together.
Recently, Matt Waite, professor at Univ. Nebraska-Lincoln, put forth his concept of the “minimal viable participant,” or the base skills anyone looking to enter journalism must have. To his list of four: Tell stories, understand the internet, learn, execute on ideas, I wrote that I would add collaboration:
“Journalism has always been a team effort: behind every bylined story there were editors, copy editors, page designers, graphics editors, etc. whose hands touched the story before hitting the final product.
But collaboration now and in the future means looking beyond the confines of the newsroom and asking how you can work your leadership, business team, marketing team, and audience to make a better news product.
The attitude of “I’m only a reporter” or “I just make the pictures” is rapidly falling out of vogue and will be of little use in the newsrooms of the future.”
Student publications should be a playground, the place where you stretch your wings and the place where you fall and scrape the shit out of your knees. In addition to professional internships, where assignments come from editors and students are asked to work within an established newsroom system, students need to use their time at campus publications to innovate and create new systems. Being completely student-run felt like fun at the time, but looking back, I wish we had had a voice of reason and a guiding hand to help us reign in the crazy but also push us toward the awesome.
I’ve often said that graduating in 2009 meant that most of us came out of school not only wanting to be great journalists, but also to help save it a little. Student publications need to give our rising stars those opportunities.
When I meet students who are working at their student publications, my question for them is always this: what are you doing that’s extraordinary?
For me, it was fighting with the university to get them to release the salaries of every employee in the system. And it was spending six weeks finding young survivors of breast cancer to tell their stories and being invited by one to witness her breast augmentation surgery. It was skipping school for three weeks straight to cover a criminal trial from start to finish.
Students today have a daunting task ahead of them: mastering base journalism skills, like reporting and storytelling, while also tackling digital skills, like coding and data visualization. They’re being asked to do more and more with those four years, which is excellent preparation for when they land in their first newsroom.
Today’s (and future) student newsrooms need to focus on innovation and collaboration. Students need to break out of the “backpack journalist” mindset and learn to leverage their strengths against those of their teammates.
I would love to see student publications require all staff to spend their first year rotating through different positions in the newsroom: copy editing, web desk, visuals, multimedia, etc. And I believe student publications benefit from having the involvement of a professional journalist on some kind of advisory level. We joked about our newsroom being “Kid Nation,” but there were definitely times when it wasn’t a joke, and things really did feel all Lord of the Flies.
But the end game is this: students need to graduate with a deep and diverse portfolio, which many are failing to do. Stories about the Math department offering free pizza on the lawn and canned classroom exercises aren’t enough to instruct the next generation of journalism. Publication and creation must be mandatory for students graduating with a journalism degree.
Sullivan’s prompt for us:
For this installment of the Carnival of Journalism we’re going to go ultra practical:
What are your life hacks, workflows, tips, tools, apps, websites, skills and techniques that allow you to work smarter and more effectively?
I love this topic because it relates to a lot of the work that I do: trying to help my colleagues in the newsroom work more efficiently on the web. This has ranged from little things like tabbed browsing and Firefox extensions, to big things like how to leverage RSS and Google Alerts.
My favorite things (in no particular order):
Evernote. Try planning a wedding without one. I dare you. But seriously, the ability to get my info anywhere I have cell service has been awesome — for work, AAJA and wedding planning. I’m also in a weird bind at work where we can’t add our work email accounts to personal phones, so the Evernote clipper integrated with Outlook inbox has been awesome as well - I can take anything I really need out of my work mail and clip it to Evernote.
Pixlr Grabber extension for Firefox. It’s “Print Screen” on steroids. Ability to clip any portion of a web page is fairly common among many extensions, but I like Pixlr’s options of download to desktop OR copy to clipboard. As someone who makes a ton of social media handouts for a living, this has been a huge help.
Diigo / Delicious + keyboard shortcut. Delicious worked great for me, and when I upgraded to Firefox 4, initially I couldn’t get the Delicious add-ons to upgrade too. Someone told me that’s since been addressed, but I had already transferred my bookmarks to Diigo and their extension works essentially the same. This is a huge help for showing my colleagues an example of using a new social media tool, so I can call them up by tag (and try searching under multiple tags).
Google Calendar/Outlook Calendar. This is kind of a no brainer to keep work-home-wedding-AAJA-etc calendars synced on PC, Mac and iPhone, but it works. I also keep a paper desk calendar for the occasions when I’m away from my desk or my phone is dead.
Google Docs. This was my number one tool when I was job searching. I uploaded all of my best clips, my resume and my cover letter to Docs, so I had them at my finger tips to print or email to recruiters any time I saw an opening I was interested in. This was a big leap for me after losing one too many thumbdrives that essentially held my lifelines.
CTR-SHF-T aka the best Firefox (I think it also works in Chrome? anyone confirm/deny?) keyboard shortcut I have learned all year. It opens the last tab(s) you closed in the order that you closed them.
2 computer screens. When I shifted into my new job, I immediately asked for two PC screens. When I’m editing the homepage AND trying to keep an eye on our social media accounts this has been absolutely awesome. Or the ability to rearrange stories in our CMS in one screen AND view the site in the other. If you can find a way to get two screens, go for the two screen set up.
Never get lost in a parking garage again. My fiance makes fun of me for this but since I got a smartphone, I take a photo of a landmark or a number near where I park whenever I park in parking garages. It’s usually faster than digging out a pen, trying to keep track of whatever scrap of paper I scribbled it on, and I no longer have to attend conferences with “P-16” or “Orange level 3” on the back of my hand. Maybe you’re pretty good at remembering where you parked your car and think this is kind of lame. To that, all I can say is Lucky You. :)
My big takeaway from Thursday’s mid-winter mixer for ThreeSixty Journalism? Get inspired. If you’re not excited about the future of journalism because of the work that YOU are doing, anyone could at least get excited about the work these amazing students are doing.
Pictured: good friend, former Minnesota Daily colleague, and ThreeSixty alum Ibrahim Hirsi, telling the story (via video) of how a high school journalism program planted a seed, that led him to found his own high school newspaper, work for his college paper, and win high profile internships.
I continue to attend ThreeSixty events and volunteer with the program every chance I get — not only because it gave me my start and created opportunities I never dreamed of — because this program is changing the future of journalism. Everyday.
Here’s my shameless pitch: Please consider supporting a program like ThreeSixty in your own community. My #jcarn entry for this month was based around arming teens and students with great journalism skills, and that’s because I see it working with ThreeSixty.
Do all the alumni become journalists? No. But many of them take the communication skills, the inquisitive thinking, and the great belief in communities and do great things.
Four of my 2002 classmates were at the mixer last week (one via video). Nine years later, two of us are in traditional journalism, one writes at the Minnesota Legislature, one works for a Minnesota Senator’s office, and one works with a charter school.
So please. Consider volunteering with students in journalism. What’s the worst that could happen?
This month, David Cohn asked us to consider the following:
Considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?
Cohn asks this question in the context of the Knight Foundation’s 15 recommendations on the news and information needs of communities.
So, here’s my stab at it:
First, my unique circumstances:
* I’m a digital producer at a major daily newspaper in a large urban news market.
* I’m the co-president of my local Asian American Journalists Association Chapter.
* I’m a 2009 graduate of the largest journalism program in the state, of which I am fairly critical.
* I am 2002 alumna of ThreeSixty Journalism, a high school program geared at arming students with skills for multiplatform community journalism. I continue to be an active volunteer and occasional donor.
* My thoughts on Universities and Journalism from last month’s #jcarn are here.
I see a lot of myself and my current efforts in the Knight Foundation’s recommendations #11 and #12:
Recommendation 12: Engage young people in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities.
I think the last two years have deterred some great folks who might have become journalists if given more opportunities. Jobs and internships are hard to come by, and money for training programs is hard to come by. It is both expensive and difficult to become a journalist.
I believe when you bring Journalism to the youth of a community, you can change a community. I say “Journalism” - with a capital J - meaning many things encompassed by storytelling, clear communication, respect for truth and accuracy, the pursuit of accountability, a high ethical standard.
Local media initiatives — whether they are “traditional” news organizations with “professional” trained journalists, or they are collectives of local citizens banding together to tell their story— need to start younger. The Patch.com and local weekly news orgs need to partner with not just the local college newspaper staff, but also the local high school newspaper.
Major media organizations must also tap into these youthful streams of potential journalists. Job shadows, teen writer pages, day-long or week-long bootcamps should be a part of the plan for every news organization, particularly those with a focus on local news.
This means journalists (at all levels) should be asking teens and students how they consume news and how they share information.
Recruiter Joe Grimm recently told me about a project he’s working on where they put a digital camera in the hands of 20 middle school students and asked them to tell stories. We need those efforts in every school in every community.
Teens and young adults already have the “see it, snap it, share it” mentality — as seen all over Facebook and Myspace. What happens if we fill that mentality with good solid news judgment?
Are resources an issue? of course. News organizations are always short on time, money and people. Nonprofit journalism orgs? the same song.
Changing the world and changing our communities has to be a collaboration. So let’s all reach out, find a new partner, find a kid (or kids) to mentor and go change the world a little bit.