Saturday, July 26, 2008

The First Amendment and Young Bloggers

The Knight Foundation announced this week at the Unity '08 Conference a new book that, among other things, says that "high school students who blog and read online news sources and who chat regularly online are more likely to understand and support their First Amendment rights."

This, of course, is particularly important given the Knight Foundation's heavily reported 2004 study that found that three-fourths of U.S. teens surveyed didn't know or didn't care about the First Amendment.

I find this particularly interesting given the conversation I had with my student editors earlier this week about a new campaign we're planning at Cerritos College. Some of you will remember our campaign from last year that I touted at JACC conferences of "Think Online." It was an effort to get journalism students to think more about how to present stories online first and in ways other than simply repeating what they planned to (or already had) present in print. The campaign included a conscious effort on my part to include discussion of online in almost all newspaper class sessions and in other journalism classes. We even prominently displayed a "Think Online" banner in the news lab. We made small strides in changing the "print first" mindset, but still have a ways to go.

Do You Blog?My latest idea that I discussed with the editors this week --even before reading about the Knight report-- and which they wholeheartedly bought into is called "Do You Blog?" It will be an effort not only to get newspaper staff members to think more about blogging themselves, but to seek out citizen blogs from across campus. We will actively seek out students and staff on campus who already blog about campus events or other topics that might be of interest to the Talon Marks readership. Links to their blogs will be prominently displayed on the Talon Marks site.

But we plan to go a few steps further than just linking to the other blogs:
  • We will monitor those blogs and give more individual prominence to particularly cogent posts, possibly even teasing them in the print edition.
  • We will actively encourage other groups on campus to blog. One of the first contacts will be with our student body president, who has not indicated much love for the paper. We will give him a forum to tell his side of the story. But we'll also encourage active clubs on campus to start their own blogs about their own events.
  • We'll expand on our very successful MyDemocracy partnership with our Political Science Department and incorporate blog writing training into our one-unit multimedia practice classes (Jour 106 - that is part of that partnership. While Poly Sci students will receive video editing training, some of our instructors will carve out slots to focus on how to write compelling news blogs and provide a structure for students to learn. This will be our way of "monotizing" the idea. Blogging is already a component in our three-unit Multimedia Reporting class that we've incorporated as a core requirement along with Mass Media and Beginning Newswriting in our Associate of Arts degree.
  • And I foresee yet another banner that can be displayed at campus events and hung in the newsroom in between events that will will serve as a daily reminder to journalism students.
Blogs are something to learn more about. I agree with the complaints about them that they can often be looked at as "navel gazing" and many blog writers do little initial reporting; instead they comment on other peoples' reporting. Worse, they sometimes seem incestuous in that they only point to other peoples' blogs as existing, adding little if any added value. Even much of what I've included in this post is information from other sources and I've done little leg work. I hope I've at least added value.

Blogs are here to stay and I think they CAN be valuable if handled properly. We intend to do our part in adding to the value of them.

I found the Knight report interesting and encouraging ... at least until I turned to today's NPR report on political blogging that included a point of view that the average age of political bloggers is between 40 and 50. Ugh! Did we miss the boat?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Changing Newsroom

As someone who has lived through downsizing and cutbacks (when my program was "eliminated" at West Valley College almost 15 years ago) I get sick to my stomach when I read Romenesko and so many other news sources about the continual cutbacks at American newspapers. The human cost is devastating. It would be easy to become discouraged about my profession and decide to retire from teaching.

But I also feel an excitement with change. I know as hard as it was for me to live through that change, I am much better off for having had to reinvent myself. I'm a better teacher today than I would have been otherwise.

So when I read through the recently released report "The Changing Newsroom" I chose to focus on the many positive things the PEW study pointed about the industry as it is being reinvented. It is a study well worth the read.

I especially noted the promising future for our students if we continue to train them correctly. And that means sticking with the traditional values, but mixing in the new technologies.

From the report:
New job demands are drawing a generation of young, versatile, tech-savvy, high-energy staff as financial pressures drive out higher-salaried veteran reporters and editors. Newsroom executives say the infusion of new blood has brought with it a new competitive energy.
The melding of the online edition with the print edition is heavily emphasized in the report. And new skills especially singled out were the ability to shoot and edit video, web-only editing and blogging the news.

From the report:
The content lost in the print version of the story doesn’t always disappear completely. Instead, much of it migrates to the web as beat reporters write these minor twists and turns of a running story either into their own blog or as short, stand-alone website stories
Today, editors said they no longer ask reporters if they have time to file for the web before embarking on their story for the print edition. Filing first for the web is a given. Editors also noted that exclusive material is no longer kept off the web as it was just a few years ago to protect the print edition impact. Today, it is posted immediately.... All (are) encouraged to be “web-first” thinkers on breaking news and visuals.
Something I haven't thought too much about that made a lot of sense was the advent of micro-sites.

From the report:
Another change afforded by technology is the ability to target specific audiences with specific content. Much effort is aimed at shaping content for a range of very narrow, specifically tailored interests—giving readers news of their community, their favorite sport or their preferred leisure time activity. ... Often this is reflected in so-called mini or micro sites built as distinct pages within a paper’s main online website. They can be tailored to events in specific communities or neighborhoods or to other narrowly focused interests....One in three papers surveyed report they already have micro-sites and say they are planning to add more, while another 21% say they are developing them.
It was interesting to see that others are facing the same issues we face as we go online. The print edition is still the dog that wags the tail of online: Most editors (63%) say they still focus more of their time on the newspaper than the website.

One last striking note was the number of editors who, while staying somewhat optimistic, admitted that they had no idea what their product would look like in five years. That's a tough one. I know for us at the college level we likely will have print editions and given then fact that education has a history of moving slowly, our print editions will probably look a lot like they do today. But what is interesting is thinking about whether our online editions will look like they will today. I certainly hope not.

I found lots of interesting ideas in this report, some of which I'll share after I give my students first crack at them.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Producing better content: Blogs

Blog writing is tough. Oh, sure, one can produce a simple blog entry easily enough. But is it meaningful to someone else? And can you sustain it? Having tried it, I have greater respect for columnists who produce material every day or multiple times a week.

How can we produce better online content, especially with blogs, in our student publications? I've run across an interesting format in the LA Times that I think could translate well. It is the paper's Dust Up blog. Each week the Times' staff comes up with a topic for a multi-day discussion. Two writers, not necessarily Times staff members, develop a new angle to the topic for each day and write pro/con entries that readers can then comment on.

Some semesters I've had enough talent on my student staffs that they could certainly adopt this style and produce regular content, but probably at the expense of other responsibilities in the overall operation. But what if we could use the Journalism Association of Community Colleges network to staff such a blog that we could all promote on our sites? The load could be spread among a larger number of talented students; all you'd need is one person to coordinate it all.

A big obstacle to overcome, which probably affects a large chunk of the news industry (ironic considering the reliance on wire service material), is the blinders of "my publication." We are all trying to fill our publications only with our content. Student publications, in particular, seem to shun the idea of thinking beyond their own publications. But the easy-flow sharing possible with online publications could make it easier for people to share without giving up valuable real estate in their print publications.

In past years I've floated the balloon of cross publication collaboration without much success. Maybe this one could fly. Success would assume, of course, that staffs care at least as much about their online publications as they do their print publications .... and I'm not sure we're there yet.