Tag Archives: #jcarn

Meaningful content with lasting value and engagement

For this round of the Carnival of Journalism blog fest, my friend and research buddy Jonathan Groves posed the following questions: How do you define meaningful content that has long-lasting value? What is the best way to evaluate content that fosters deep engagement with the audience? Groves wants to find a way to go beyond just “immediacy” to properly value pieces of content  with “longevity” that people return to repeatedly for connection, reference, or enjoyment.

First of all, I think that in order to increase the longevity of a meaningful piece of journalism, you’ve got to surface it for your readers at the right time, in the right way. A lot of that comes down to creating better systems for tagging and organizing content. For example, in the New York Times Innovation Report, they discussed the value in being able to do things like sort recipes by cooking time, restaurants reviews by geolocation, and similar. It’s difficult and time consuming to do this after the fact, they point out, so having a good CMS and established processes that make it a priority to do so at the time of publication are important. There is great potential here that remains untapped, even at well-resourced news organizations like the NYT.

I think Groves is right that not all of this kind of oft-returned to content has to be quite so utilitarian as recipes or restaurant reviews, although that’s an obvious place to start. What about investigative pieces that are relevant to a particular place? What about pieces that could resonate during certain events or milestones, like graduations, weddings, holidays, festivals etc.? I think there is a way to give many well-reported, well-written stories much longer lives, but it starts with making them easily findable, both through search and serendipity.

Second of all, I’m increasingly convinced that it’s less about choosing any one particular “golden” metric that will help us to quantify quality or impactful or engaging content, and more about being smarter and more sophisticated about the way we think and talk about the constellation of metrics available to us – and especially the story we as journalists tell advertisers.

I’m not an expert in advertising, but from talking to newsroom leaders at API’s Research Advisory Board meeting in February, what I understand is that right now advertisers  are also trying to parse the effectiveness of rapidly changing digital and mobile strategies. I have often heard that most advertisers don’t think click-through-rate is a great metric but continue to use it because they aren’t yet sure about  alternatives. I think journalists need to make a stronger case for higher ad rates on the basis of being associated with quality content and venerable media brands, especially on mobile. There’s nothing new about wanting to be associated with a credible brand, of course – it’s never been “only” about the volume of eyeballs. But it seems as though in the “Wild West” of trying to understand mobile and digital metrics we’ve been distracted from emphasizing these fundamentals.

For example, in her book “Saving Community Journalism,” Penelope Abernathy argues that publishers need to move from selling space to selling solutions to advertisers. She notes that a lot of the growth in digital advertising in recent years has come from search, which is all about helping consumers find products they are already inclined to purchase, but that “historically, advertising has served many other functions, from creating demand for a product to reinforcing the loyalty of customers.” She argues that newspapers should aggressively re-position themselves as a cross-platform medium that can provide ALL of those functions to the advertiser.

Similarly, the recently published API report on mobile argues that advertisers buy audiences rather than publications and that publishers need to think more creatively about cross-platform possibilities to provide useful services to people and capitalize on their unique strengths.

Maybe I’m too far off the topic of specific metrics, but I think it’s not so much about numbers, but about the stories they help us to tell about the kinds of people who read a publication, how they feel about it, how loyal they are, etc. and what that means for your credibility as a news organization and your ability to charge enough for your ads to sustain yourself.

Finally, I’m curious to follow the Financial Times’ recen t decision to move from CPMs to “time spent” going forward. They feel this metric will better value their highly engaged audience. As Sam Petulla writes for Contently:

This strategic shift is part of the broader vision that the The Financial Times sees for the future of advertising. [Commercial Director of Digital Advertising]  Slade said that The Financial Times wants to distinguish every aspect of their brand through quality, and using time as an advertising currency fits that mission perfectly.






Filed under Uncategorized

Design Thinking and Journalism: A Vital Match in Changing Times

This post is part of the Carnival of Journalism monthly blog conversation. Big thanks to University of Reno journalism professor Donica Mensing for posing a great question this round: Have you applied design thinking in your work? Has it been useful? Why or why not? 

I learned about design thinking only recently at the Memphis Innovation Bootcamp last fall, but it has had a major impact on both my research and teaching, dovetailing well with my interest in journalism innovation, organizational change, and media entrepreneurship.

#jpreneur students doing design thinking exercise at Crews Center

#jpreneur students doing design thinking exercise at Crews Center

Like any other process or tool, design thinking is not an end-all, be-all, but it’s valuable for journalism innovators for the following reasons: 1)For a long time, journalism was dominated by the ethos “the editor knows best, and will tell you what is important for you to know,” which often extended beyond standard news judgment to the way news organizations were run and new products decided on. Personally, I value the judgment of many of the excellent editors I’ve worked with, but in the digital age, the most important thing we can do to build news products that people will actually use is to learn what our audience really needs and wants. And to do this with empathy and care as design thinking suggests, not just through the use of metrics we may not fully understand.  2)Design thinking can be taught and practiced, making innovation more practical than relying on a sudden brilliant insight that may never come.  3)The newsroom of the future is nimble and capable of constant learning, and that’s a big part of the  overall philosophy of design thinking.

Developing empathy to discover user needs

Developing empathy to discover user needs

In the classroom, design thinking engages journalism students. It helps them unleash their creativity, reinforces the need to start building a new product only after talking to users, and to iterate constantly rather than waiting until you’ve invested many hours in your ideas to test it, a strategy also common to agile development. This semester, I took my entrepreneurial students over to  our brand new campus Crews Center for Entrepreneurship to do a design thinking exercise I learned about at the bootcamp. Instead of just telling them what design thinking is in a lecture, an exercise allows students to experience it.

The design thinking exercise, designed by Stanford’s d school, puts students in teams of two to solve a common problem, taking them through all of the crucial steps: Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. At the Crews Center, we were lucky to have access to lots of great prototyping materials – everything from pipe cleaners to modeling clay. It was fun. Then, throughout the semester, we use  design thinking as part of our process of developing media startups. Students talk to real potential customers for their products they are building, engage in lots of brainstorming, and do some basic prototyping using wireframes and other things. I’ve also started to incorporate this kind of thinking into my other classes as well, getting students talking to users before starting a new blog, social media strategy, etc.

Getting feedback on the prototypes

Getting feedback on the prototypes

Design thinking has also informed my research on organizational change in newsrooms. The ability of organizations to LEARN is a key element of the theory of organizational change,  as described by scholars Chris Argyris and Donald Schon. My research buddy Jonathan Groves and I are seeing many parallels between this body of theory and design thinking as well as the lean startup methodologies advocated by Eric Ries and others that we think could be useful for newsrooms, based on our extensive ethnographic fieldwork. We are going to be writing more on this topic  soon.


Filed under Uncategorized

Be kind. Be curious. Be present.

No, I haven’t taken to writing self-help slogans for kicks – this is my entry in this month’s Journalism Carnival, where we are asked to write a letter to our younger selves, sharing “advice, things to look out for, things you wished you did differently, regrets, hopes, what you’ve learned about your life, choices”

Dear wee Brizzyc,

You are in for an interesting ride.

Believe it or not, soon enough people will be utterly flabbergasted at the notion that you possibly could have ever been shy, or that the people in the pizza joint you work at sometimes can’t hear your soft voice when you announce a new order to the kitchen. Hustle up and get over that already. College is going to be SO much more fun if you stop being so g-d self-conscious already, and your early stints as a reporter will be more successful if get some confidence and realize you are mostly an extrovert more quickly.

Speaking of college: You are already pretty nerdy, let’s face it, but I don’t think you fully appreciate the exquisite privilege learning is; someday you will muse that it is wasted on the young.   To be able to listen to smart people share knowledge with you, to read fascinating books and articles, to think about complex issues and ideas and ask questions is pretty amazing; lots of people in the world never get the chance to do so. Right now, school is still something that, while you sort of enjoy it, you primarily conceive of as something to be achieved under constant pressure and fear of failure. When you are older and become a college teacher yourself, you will come to cherish opportunities to be in someone else’s classroom who is willing to share their thoughts and insights with you. Sure, there’s always a lot of extraneous BS involved in any institution of higher learning, but really, when you stop to think about its essence, school is damn cool. Professors are much more willing, even thrilled,  to help you and any student with motivation and interest than you think, so stop being so afraid to ask.

Of course, that said, the best part of education, not to mention the future jobs you will have,  is the friends you will make along the way, and all the people you’ll meet on your journey far away from your hometown to six other cities. You will always look back on time with them and your family as well-spent, no matter how tired you are the next morning or how many things aren’t crossed off your to-do list. Indeed, you will regret almost nothing in terms of your personal relationships. They won’t always be easy, but they will always be worth it. Don’t take them for granted.

You will learn that often, when you are trying your best to do what is right, people won’t like it, or you. This is incredibly difficult. You really, really want to be liked, as I think most people do. But if you aren’t pissing anybody off, you probably aren’t doing anything interesting, because there are a lot of people out there who don’t like new things and they especially don’t like bold women who do them. (Sexism still exists, by the way. Sometimes it’s not even subtle. I could give you a few examples of things you’ll experience you won’t even believe right now. Just, you know, don’t be naive.)

Finally, the last and most  important lesson is perhaps the hardest one. That old cliche: “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention” isn’t just a pithy platitude. You will be outraged, I’m afraid, because you will be paying attention.

You will, as the years pass, engage regularly with people from a wide variety of backgrounds very different than yours, read voraciously, leave your comfort zone, seek out quality  investigative journalism from around the world that exposes injustice and corruption,  and take jobs and roles that require facing a number of messy realities, such as a broken education system and a variety of economic and racial disparities. You may end up in the so-called Ivory Tower, but you will not cloistered within its walls; if anything, it will be among the things you often see as wrong.

As a result of all of this, you will witness, firsthand,  examples of bigotry and inequality, and read about many others in great detail as well.  All of this will make you angry.

It should. But what it should never do is make you bitter.

The way to handle ignorance, adversity, and bad experiences from the tragic to the mundane, I have found, is to try to remember three simple things: “Be kind. Be curious. Be present.”

It is NOT to pretend bad things don’t exist or to chide yourself not to be such a Debbie Downer or to always try to put the best spin on everything. Positive people are great, but the world also needs those who see things for what they are and to have the courage and determination to fight. There are far too few of them.

The difference between confidence and arrogance is empathy, as Cody Brown wrote with eloquence. Kindness is what will keep you grounded, and prevent outrage from stewing into a sense that you are somehow better than others. Kindness is necessary because in one way or another we are all suffering.

Curiosity fuels magnanimity because even in failure or adversity, you are always learning. We can learn even from ignorance: About what fuels it, how to fix it, why it persists. Side bonus: A genuinely curious spirit will take you incredibly far in a knowledge-dominated world. For example, you are a natural-born curator who will bother your friends by sharing links to stories with email long before social media comes around, and while some people will dismiss these new media tools, you will learn to use them productively and get a great deal of satisfaction from them. (And yes, you were right about that whole “blogging” thing – you won that fight in the end.) And even better yet, curious people embrace experience over owning things, which leads to a very rich and never dull life.

Being present I stole from the yogis, but I think the ability, however fleeting, to be in the moment, is among the most profound gifts we can give to ourselves and others. You are terrible at multitasking, so don’t even bother trying – your gift is the ability to focus. Use it. Be there. And good luck.


Your future crazy self

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

College Media in the Digital Age

The Carnival of Journalism is BACK. This month we are asked to describe how we would set up a student news organization in 2013 or how an existing college news organization could modernize itself.

What I would love to see is college media organizations reinventing themselves like startups, using some of the tried-and-true techniques used by experienced entrepreneurs.  This doesn’t mean that they have to or should throw out everything that they are doing now, but it does mean that they need to do some hard, creative thinking about the audiences – and the advertisers – they serve, what their needs and problems are, and what kinds of key digital products and features they could offer that will meet those needs.

In other words, instead of getting mired in the endless debates about what skills they need to master [are blogs journalism? do you need to code? etc. etc.], they can learn the PROCESS of innovation , and THEN develop the skills they need to make the create the kinds of news products they and their audiences decide they want.  Bonus is that it is far more motivating to learn skills in this context than purely in a classroom setting, and as a professor, I’d also be happy to adjust my teaching to what students told me they wanted to learn for this purpose.

I would urge college media editors and staff to attend some kind of 48-hour or similar launch program either at their own university or a at a local accelerator, like this one hosted by Start.co in Memphis. Or take a hands-on course on media entrepreneurship. Or find somebody that teaches design thinking and then use those processes to reinvent yourselves. Entrepreneurs know a lot about innovation and how to come up with a solid and sustainable plan for the future that is based on more than just intuition, and I think the experience can be incredibly valuable for students who face a future in which they will also have to help media companies they work for evolve.  For example, in my entrepreneurial journalism class we use the Start.co founder’s toolkit and the Business Model Canvas to guide us in creating and pitching media startups. These resources would ensure college media organizations leverage digital tools in ways that help ensure their ongoing relevance, impact, and financial sustainability, rather than just flailing around trying to blindly grasp at new ideas.

Overall, I encourage college media to experiment. Those core writing and reporting skills you are practicing aren’t going away, and you can never get enough practice at either of those in college. The Elements of Journalism are as important as ever.  But the relatively safe environment of college is the best time in your life to take lots of risks and try new things.

Side note: Journalism education can be vastly improved. I’ve spent the last 5-8 years of my life trying to change it, with plenty of frustration along the way However, I think far too many people 1)are making assumptions that we can teach every single skill required and churn out idealized graduates who are highly proficient in multiple areas [sorry, that’s impossible] 2)Assuming that people who are ~19 years old know exactly what they want out of education, are extremely motivated to learn, and generally behave with a similar mindset to a middle-aged person working at an elite national news organization [did you think the way you do now when YOU were 19?}  3)that so-called “digital natives” are naturals when it comes to producing digital content. [They are native consumers, not producers.]  We need your fire to help us change antiquated academic thinking, but we also need to to be somewhat realistic about what we are asking and expecting.  Remember that if we graduate critical thinkers who genuinely care about journalism and can write,  learn quickly, and engage well with others, we are doing pretty well on setting them on a path to what will undoubtedly be a lifelong learning process.


Filed under Uncategorized

Dangerous Ideas: Higher Ed Disruption

This month’s Carnival of Journalism asks: What is your most dangerous idea for pushing the boundaries of journalism?” and requests the response via video. LOVE ME some dangerous ideas.

Of course, my laptop mic is broken, which has caused me no end of problems for quite awhile now, so I kind of look like I’m looming in this video because I had to prop up the phone somehow (sorry). I’m en route to a baseball game (hence the t-shirt), but if I get time later I’ll post some words to go along with the video.

I’m not news that higher ed may be next up for the kind of digital disruption we’ve seen in journalism; in many respects it has already begun with the popularity of online courses. In this video, I speculate on whether journalism may be one of the first academic fields to undergo the kind of disruption that could ultimately dismantle the university as we know it, fueled by faculty members who have had to think about and utilize digital tools and new methods of information distribution.

I should perhaps note that I’m not arguing this would be all to the good – it is, indeed, dangerous. Universities do important things for students, knowledge, and communities. But it could be an exciting ride with some positive outcomes for education and for journalism. If you are one of those who think that journalism schools are obsolete and should just disappear, well, you are wrong 😉 as I’ve written about that before here and here.


Filed under Uncategorized

Two Steps To Success: Ride the Google Wave, Then Focus On Longer-Form Quality

This post is a response to the February  Journalism Carnival, which asked us: “What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead? And how do you see it playing out in terms of application by journalists, and impact?”

I already did a little prognosticating just a couple of months ago over at Nieman Lab, but here’s a somewhat half-formed  idea I’ve been playing around with in my head and talking about with my research buddy, Jonathan Groves of Drury University.  I don’t have any hard data on this yet. But here’s one possible “digital trend” we could see developing…

Recently, there have been a number of encouraging pieces like this and this suggesting that long-form, serious journalism on the web, or on the tablet as the case may be, is thriving. Exciting, almost too-good-to-be-true for democracy-depends-on-journalism nerds like me.

What I’m wondering, though, is if news organizations have to go through a series of  stages in order to find success with serious, hard-hitting, longer reads on the web.  Sure, some sites like the Atavist may be able to bypass a step, but maybe most news organziations have to do some hardcore SEO, shorter pieces, aggregation, and other aggressive page-view garnering tactics first, before you can move into the second stage where your longer pieces get traction online.

Bear in mind again I’m just speculating here.

Groves and I did a study at the Christian Science Monitor, which eliminated its daily print edition a couple of years ago, going not only Web-first but Web-only, although they do still have a magazine-like print weekly. The Monitor aggressively used SEO techniques, shortened their stories, increased their updating frequency, and monitored Google Trends in order to assign stories on popular newsy search topics, and  was able to quickly reach a goal of increasing their page views from just three million to 25 million by 2010. Just the other day a non-journalist friend of mine who has never heard of the Monitor sent me a story from it she had found via searching Google for stories about the then-hot Komen vs. Planned Parenthood story; it was one of the top results. I’m pretty sure she never would have come across one of their stories before the transition. Not only are they boosting page views, they are increasing their brand awareness as a place to go to for important news. If the Monitor would have kept doing exactly what they were doing, just repurposing print content for the web, I’m not sure they would still even be a player in the space, regardless of how much great journalism they are doing, even though these tactics caused understandable anxiety for many staffers and journalism lovers alike.

But once your brand has been established as a web player, can you then start to focus on doing the kind of stuff journalists do best,  more in-depth reporting? Do sites like Slate and the Atlantic have success with long-form because they’ve already established themselves as web-savvy?

Sometimes I think we want a one-size-fits-all, linear solution to the tumult in the news business when the the real “answer,” such that it is, is that you have to walk before you can run, and that your transition for success SHOULD, and indeed must, have a lot of pivots in it, as most good entrepreneurial thinkers know.  It reminds me of teaching beginning news reporting. I don’t want my students to only know how to write boring, inverted pyramid, formulaic, inside-baseball news stories. But I’ve learned from experience it is hard to teach them how to break the rules until they’ve learned the rules in the first place. Somehow, learning to write the most basic, simple story launches you into a space in which you can then start doing some more interesting things as a reporter and a writer. Some times you have to learn a certain skill – how to be smart on the web – before you can start creatively melding that skill with some of your higher values of investigative journalism. You have to experiment and learn some of the rules and norms of a new medium and get out of your comfort zone while doing it, and then you can move forward from there.

Every time I write a blog post, I think, well, that was not as profound as it seemed when I first had the thought. But anyway, I wonder if that is one “digital trend” we will see in the future – a kind of two-step process to great web journalism.


Filed under Uncategorized

Can a Good Journalist Be a Good Capitalist? [Yes]

The January Carnival of Journalism wonders why journalists seem adverse to the idea of making money.

I’ve never noticed this phenomenon, but Michael Rosenblum says that Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Dean Nick Lehman “recoiled” at the notion of creating an entrepreneurial journalism program. Wow. Yikes. That surprises me.

My journalism school at the University of Memphis  is not nearly as elite or well-resourced as our New York City counterparts, but we are making strides in this area. One of my colleagues, Dr. Lurene Kelley, is leading an effort to transform one of our graduate courses that used to focus on “administration” into an exciting entrepreneurial class in which students will learn to build a business plan and pitch it. She is partnering with LaunchMemphis, a local group working to grow our city’s entrepreneurial community, and students will get real, hands-on exposure to the world of startups.  I’m thrilled about this development and hope to help continue to expand these efforts in our department.

I also agree that making money can release journalists from the thankless, soul-sucking constrictions of moribund institutions. To speak for myself, if I wasn’t shackled to a largely irrelevant and outdated academic system that rewards me primarily for publishing studies recycling tired ideas in journals nobody reads, I could be doing much more innovative work to help prepare students and journalists for the 21st Century.

To take just one small example, just yesterday I saw the call for proposals for the Knight Community Information Challenge. I already know of some local foundations that are interested in this issue and could be possible partners with our journalism school in creating something new and exciting on the web and on the ground – and our community, wracked by massive cutbacks in local news organizations, desperately needs it. Instead of pursuing this, I will spent 15 hours over the next couple of weeks changing the academic citation style in a paper I wrote, which is rote, useless busywork.  Things like this do make you want to go into business for yourself so you can take advantage of these kinds of opportunities in the exciting time we live in. Maybe one day I will.

However, I will say this. Being SKEPTICAL about money and its power to corrupt good journalism is a different thing. I think that is perfectly healthy. The desire to make money doesn’t mean that I will do anything and everything to make that happen, and, in the long run, that’s good for business, too, given that what we sell is credibility. Journalists *are* particularly sensitive to financial pressures because in the course of their work they see how money corrupts the political process, the environment, and so and and so forth, though it also can do good, as evidenced in this article about Paul Allen I found inspiring. When I worked for the Committee of Concerned Journalists, almost 10 years ago now, long before the idea of entrepreneurship in journalism was “hot,” venerable but forward-thinking journalists like Bill Kovach talked all the time about the foolish false dichotomy of the old proverbial “Wall” between the business and editorial side of news organizations. Both sides need each other. Newsrooms need to communicate with and share information with the business side, but yes, financial pressures on editorial will ultimately compromise the business.


Filed under Uncategorized

Shilling for Social Media and Other New Tools

This post is part of the monthly Carnival of Journalism.  Here is the prompt: How do you decide to dedicate time to a new tool/platform/gadget? What is the process you go through mentally? And then later – how do you convince others to go through that process? And, last: How do you ensure that the tools you do adopt are used once the “newness” factor fades?

As a journalism educator, a big part of my job is convincing students to try new tools and cultivate the habit of using them regularly, so I’ll focus first on that part of the prompt. I teach reporting and social media, two courses in our curriculum that emphasize multimedia and experimenting with new technologies. Contrary to popular belief, many of these so-called “digital natives” are often neither savvy about new tech nor exceptionally eager to go beyond their Facebook and Internet Explorer (?!) comfort zones.

As David Cohn of Spot.us puts it, my main goal is less to teach mastery of any particular tool or software, but to “teach a mind-set of problem solving.” But cultivating the motivation in students to grapple with new things that may be initially frustrating is often difficult.

A few techniques I use:

  • Show as many examples of high-profile journalists using these technologies as possible. Yes, I will stoop to pimping Katie Couric’s Twitter account or showing them People magazine’s Facebook page, as well as many accounts from the New York Times, CNN, local journalists, and the like.  It’s hard to argue you don’t need to do it when you see the pros, especially the ones you have heard of and respect, are doing it.
  • Similarly, I show as many examples of students at other schools using new technologies as possible. Those of you at elite schools where your students on average are more motivated or have access to all the latest gadgets and shiny new labs help show my students the way and foster a little sense of healthy competition.
  • Find ways to generate a quick community of fellow beginners by fostering cross-campus conversation. For example, last semester my students participated in a Twitter chat with Bob Britten’s class at WVU and Jeremy Littau’s students at Lehigh, among other collective activities.  When you are new to a social network, it often takes time to cultivate enough contacts to make the experience meaningful; this technique lets students learn more about engaging with a community in the shorter semester time frame.
  • Make it fun. Scavenger hunts or live tweeting the Grammys may not be the most noble of educational or journalistic pursuits, but enthusiasm pays it forward. Classes that have fun doing assignments together also tend to get along better with their peers, and in intangible ways I don’t entirely understand, this raises overall effort level in the class.
  • Similarly, harness students’ passions. I used to be more adamant about “hard news” assignments. I’ve learned, however, that if you want students to learn, say, WordPress, let them blog about whatever they want. All the same standards of original reporting, verification, grammar, etc. still apply, of course. But when a technology is new to you, it helps to have a genuine sense of excitement about what you are trying to use it for. As students get more advanced and take higher-level courses, they do more meaty and investigative work, but when you are introducing lots of new tools, giving them some agency in deciding their final objective helps.
  • Do it yourself. The whole “do I say” thing is not a cliche. You’ll lack credibility if it’s obvious you aren’t really using these tools yourself.

By the way, I know some of you are probably aghast that not all young journalists are inherently curious and eager to learn “cool” new things, but remember many college students are not long out of high school, where their access to technology might have been limited to sporadic trips to the computer lab. I teach in the Mid-South, and although I’m seeing a much higher rate of smartphone adoption recently, my students don’t all have access to the expensive devices, either – and the culture here is not one in which education is necessarily highly valued or prioritized, regardless of what you study. Students who work long hours waiting tables or similar may not have many regular technology-related habits or experience developing them.

As far as my own tech adoption goes, well, I think others have described it better than I could.  I think  University of British Columbia professor Alfred Hermida’s post offers some great insight into thinking through your social media strategy, and Cohn’s thought process is pretty similar to mine – I keep an open mind but probably won’t use it often if it’s not simple to use.

I will say that at least at the moment, my intentions sometimes override my capacities. I love trying new tools and I think it’s important to do so as often as possible, but at the moment I’m pretty much utterly overwhelmed at work and I’m lucky if I can keep even half of the balls in the air. For something to really become part of my routine, it’s got to meet a pretty high bar of usefulness and enjoyment. Once I develop routines I also tend to latch on to them, which makes it difficult to fit in new things; that may be something I need to work on to make more time for experimentation.


Filed under Journalism Education

Jury Still Out On What Google+ Means For Journalists

This month’s Carnival of Journalism asked us to reflect on what the new social network Google+ means for journalists. 

I think that as journalists and journalism professors we all have the responsibility to experiment with Google+ and try to learn as much as we can about its potential as a source, distribution channel, and engagement network for news.  If Web 2.0 has taught us nothing else, it is that we have to go where our audience is, and we can’t wait until after these sites become behemoths – better to get in early and start building credibility now.  But I think the jury is still out on how important Google+ will be and how active journalists need to be there.  A social network is only as good as its users make it, and I’m not convinced that it offers enough that is better than or different from Facebook and/or Twitter to make it an essential space, although I’ll concede it is possible it could become one.

As of right now, most of the activity of my feed is dominated by the super-techies like Scoble, and I’ve seen little meaningful use by regular folks. That may change. But sometimes I worry that sometimes the tech-journalism crowd becomes a might bit self-referential and myopic by preaching too often to the same choir of like-minded folks- at least when Google+first launched, it seemed like most of this tribe were downright giddy and calling it a full-on game-changer.  I wholeheartedly wish that everybody out there would love new technology and care passionately about journalism, but assuming that others think like we do is one of the things that hindered innovation in the print domain. We need to be a little careful about projecting our enthusiasm onto others.

In fact, even I, early adopter and huge social media nerd that I am, have found myself personally to be oddly curmudgeonly about Google+. Maybe it’s because Google+ was launched right in the middle of my vacation, when I had the exceedingly rare luxury of concerning myself more with lakeside cocktails than what was happening on my omnipresent screens. But my first reaction was a sense of powerful fatigue at having yet another space to monitor and contribute to. When people whine to me about how social media is too time intensive, I usually tell them too bad and suck it up – it’s too important not to make time for. But for once I too was overwhelmed, and I think journalists who feel utterly exhausted by it have a legitimate beef, especially in this time where they are being asked to do so much with so much less. To make a new network worth the time, it’s really got to offer something exciting. And for me, I didn’t quite get that from Google+.

Hangouts are great, and they will be an incredibly useful classroom tool I’ll employ in the fall. And the rest of the Google+ features are all perfectly fine.  In many ways, Google+ adroitly combines elements of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. But maybe the second reason I’m less enamored with it than many in my peer group is my status as a privacy outlier, as I’ve written about before.

I have little to no interest in segmenting my personal life from my professional one. I am more offended at people who presume their right to judge me  than I am at their ability to access information about me. Having to add people to different circles is, for me, a pain that I derive little benefit from. Yes, even I occasionally do have things I want to share with small groups of people and not the public at large, but that is a need I already meet with existing tools like email, the phone, and face-to-face conversations. It’s not what I do on social networks. I’m not stupid enough to think that everybody wants to listen to my nerdy rantings, but the majority of my social media posts are about topics I’m deeply passionate about, and therefore I’m generally seeking the largest audience possible for them. I know it’s largely a lost cause, but I want even non-journalists to care about the state of our media today and its implications for democracy, and I often also share links to news stories about public issues I find important or enraging. Google+ allows for public sharing of course, so this isn’t a direct knock on it, it’s just that circles aren’t especially exciting to me.

I think our knowledge of this may develop, but I also don’t have a sense of what content it makes the most sense to share on Google+, other than longer posts that won’t fit in the length limits allowed elsewhere. I already post similar stuff on both Facebook and Twitter – should I add one more repetition? Hard to say. Feels like overkill.

However, when all is said and done, if people move en masse to Google+, I’ll find a way to spend more time there, and even with this pessimism, I still am using and experimenting with the site.




Filed under Uncategorized

JournoNerd Lifehacking

For this month’s Carnival of Journalism, we were asked to share “life hacks, workflows, tips, tools, apps, websites, skills and techniques that allow us to work smarter and more effectively.”

Like many of those Piled Higher and Deeper in Journalism, I have always taken nerdly glee in organizing things, office supplies, lists, and websites/apps that promise to track our every movement and squeeze more productivity out of our already impossibly over-committed selves. Nearly all of my academic friends can point to some geeky child project they once did, like my lending library that was complete with a due date stamp and check-out cards and my friend’s highly organized Entertainment Weekly collection.

However, I’ve tried to consciously let go of some of this impulse because I fear that these things can easily get out of control and end up taking up the time they are meant to save, at least for me. I think back with some remorse over those color-coded notebooks, impeccably written assignments and carefully designed study sheets I made in high school when I probably should have been drinking Natty Light down by the river or otherwise spending time really living in the manner of normal American teenagers. These days, I embrace a messy desk and some self-organizational disarray, to the point where the husband semi-regularly calls me a slob, and I know that right now that there are items languishing on my over-long to-do list that I probably promised somebody long ago. Sometimes you just have to put out the fires and hope for the best,  best usually meaning actually quitting work prior to 10 p.m.

That said, yes, I do have some of my own lifehacks, though I kind of doubt any of them are especially original to the types of people who participate in journalism blog carnivals. I’ll begin by focusing on the one I get asked about all the time: How do you possibly have time for all that social media? I’m sort of my department/university’s “That Social Media Person,” not because I’m some kind of genius at it, but, well, because I’m the Enthusiastic Early Adopter, and let’s face it, it doesn’t take all that much to attain dreaded “guru” (ugh) status in academia where technology is concerned. I’m the one you call if you can’t set up a Facebook page for your campus organization, the one you forward any and all emails to announcing something tangentially related to social media to, etc. But this recognition-of-sorts also comes with it some gentle derision, e.g. other people have Very Important Work To Do and can’t imagine how they could possibly find time for social media like I do, often implying that I must be perishing in the publish or… world of academia. I’ve even had an old high school friend tell me that if they used Facebook like I do it would amount to nothing short than child abandonment.

So HOW DO I DO IT you may ask? Well, contrary to popular belief, I monitor the time I spend on social media networks pretty carefully, limiting myself to no more than 10 minutes on Twitter and Facebook a few times a day, e.g. morning, afternoon, and evening, barring a situation in which I’m waiting in line or similar and it’s the perfect way to pass the time, or a big deadline that keeps even the likes of me semi-offline. I may pop on quickly to share a link that I’ve read or a thought  at other times, but that’s it, and I’m pretty rigorous about this.  But, yeah, I do make social media a priority. It’s important to me. To be honest, I question those who say they don’t have time to keep up with what is going on in their profession and the world.  This is what leads to stale, outdated, ineffectual teaching and research and poor citizenship. I’m often shocked at basic things about journalism and the web that some academics and reporters and editors don’t know. I think it’s our responsibility to know those things, even when it’s hard. It’s impossible to keep up, but you have to at least make an effort to try. The most challenging thing for me is not social media itself, but of course the zillions of great links to smart and interesting stuff shared there. I save non-pressing or longer articles on Instapaper for reading later, even though I sometimes get giggled at for sharing links that are a few months old when I get behind, though let me just point out that articles don’t “go bad” like spoiled food in a few weeks, even those dealing with “newer” media. I do much the same thing with email, and I definitely don’t turn on notifications or I’d go crazy. I tell students and others that if you need something from me immediately, send a text.

So, what else? One thing I’ve done over the past couple of years or so that has been very effective is to designate one hour, just one, every day for an important but non-deadline long-term project, which in my case means research. It doesn’t mean this is the only hour I spend, but it ensures that in an otherwise chaotic day of trying to do pressing stuff I spend at least some time working on it. When you are teaching and serving on a billion committees and managing various organizations, yeah, often it is the only hour, but it’s better than nothing, and  it adds up. At least you can move the ball forward on various projects a little bit. I also try to shift focus between my handful of major projects so that I work on a different one each week – time enough to dig in, but changing it up often enough that all of them show at least some progress instead of most utterly languishing.

I’m an extremely heavy user of Google Calendar and Google Tasks, synced with my phone, which is how I organize my life, appointments, and to-do lists. As previously noted, I’d need a search function to even find some items on my massive Google Task’s lists, which I have separated into work/personal. Every day I prioritize the very top of the list and star items that absolutely must get done today. I try to bite big projects into small chunks as all the gurus tell you to.

I’m a major fan of Delicious for tagging and saving links for later use in my teaching, research, and writing. I would be utterly lost with out it. Who needs to assign your students an expensive, outdated, poorly-written textbooks when you have a bazillion great links on stuff like reporting and writing written by respected journalists and Poynter leaders saved and searchable? And I don’t know how else you can keep track of things like the short videos we show in class to engage students and give them multiple ways of learning information – I am especially fond of my stable of Daily Show videos where Jon Stewart gives us hilarious but apt insights into core journalistic concepts like the importance of verification.

I love Dropbox and thank it daily for not forcing me to carry around a friggin flash drive all the time, and it makes collaborating with far-flung colleagues on research projects about one million times easier than constant emailing, although I do wish they had a way to know if somebody else was editing a document at the same time as you, because conflicted versions is the only drawback.

As noted, nothing too crazy here, but this is what I do. Been loving reading the savvy tips of others and have been inspired to try again to get into an Evernote rhythm – I’ve tried and failed before, but maybe this will be the time I can integrate it into my workflow.


Filed under Uncategorized