Teaching Examples

Newspaper executives open their minds
January 31, 2006, 11:27 pm
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From a story in USA Today (Jan. 30, 2006: Papers take a leap forward, opening up to new ideas):

Newspaper executives “are opening their minds to a host of ideas, including new paper publications, television and radio services, websites, podcasts and transmissions to cellphones.”

Hmm, let me check my calendar. Yes, it’s 2006. What took them so long? The article doesn’t mention that. The public began to embrace the Web in 1995. It took the newspaper industry 10 years to start taking the Web seriously.

According to the NAA, the top 10 U.S. newspaper Web sites in December 2005 (with unique audience given in millions, but for what time span is not clear, and percent change from 2004):

nytimes.com 11.0 (+22%)
usatoday.com 9.9 (+16%)
washingtonpost.com 7.8 (+53%)
sfgate.com 4.1 (+28%)
latimes.com 4.1 (+52%)
nydailynews.com 3.3 (+22%)
chicagotribune.com 3.0 (+99%)
suntimes.com (Chicago) 2.6 (+21%)
newsday.com 2.6 (+14%)

You go ahead and look for innovation on these Web sites. Even where it exists (e.g., at The Washington Post and The New York Times), it’s pretty difficult to find.

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Students’ Use of Wikipedia
January 31, 2006, 1:48 pm
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In Wikis test students’ research skills, Roger Riddell writes that the increasing use of Wikipedia and “similar online reference tools” is adding urgency to the need to educate people about how to judge the accuracy and reliability of Web information.

Wikipedia got a black eye last year when John Seigenthaler, a former aide to Robert Kennedy and longtime journalist for The Tennessean, found untrue and possibly libelous claims in the biography about him on the Wikipedia Web site. The whole saga was made public, and the false information was corrected. A BBC News story (Dec. 12, 2005) supplies the details. A CNet article (Dec. 5, 2005) provides some additional information.

More recently, Wikipedia has blocked editorial changes posted from certain IP addresses registered to the U.S. Congress because, apparently, people using computers with those addresses (who we might assume would be congressional staffers) have been removing true information about certain members of Congress, in an obvious attempt to whitewash their past. (See Rewriting history under the dome, in the Lowell (Mass.) Sun, Jan. 27, 2006.)

Wikipedia has several strategies for dealing with deliberate attempts to falsify information. Here is a good one related to the Congressional editing practices.

One interesting note about the Seigenthaler tale is that USA Today published an editorial written by Seigenthaler (Nov. 29, 2005), and in this way, the true information was disseminated to millions of people, serving to counteract the false information.

Well. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

And to Seigenthaler’s great credit — he is a lifelong champion of First Amendment freedoms, after all — he did not bring a lawsuit against anyone.

There’s a line from an elegant U.S. Supreme Court opinion that’s very relevant here:

“[T]he path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies … the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.”

— Justice Louis Brandeis (concurring), WHITNEY v. PEOPLE OF STATE OF CALIFORNIA, 274 U.S. 357 (1927)

I love Wikipedia. I do agree with Riddell, though, that we MUST teach explicitly how information can be re-written or erased at any time. (Of course, that is nothing new.)

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Interviewing Tips for Podcasting
January 20, 2006, 3:30 pm
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In Killer Interviewing Tips for Podcasters, Part 1, Jack Herrington advises us to start with the topic:

“What are people talking about? What are YOU talking about? Find a person at the center of the swirl and come up with three or four questions that you are dying to ask.

“After that, it’s a matter of persistence to get that interview.”

I have been surprised at how many podcasts from news organizations are really, really boring. One reason may be that the interview subject is often just another reporter at the same organization. So Herrington is right on the money when he recommends that we go out and find a good person to interview — someone who actually KNOWS SOMETHING about the topic.

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Today’s Journalism Is Obsolete
January 15, 2006, 4:57 pm
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From an excellent article (in English / en espaƱol) by Julian Gallo, a professor of new media in Argentina.

“Basically, the story that is published in Internet today is still being produced as it has historically been produced in printed media. The author deals with the important stuff (he writes) and other people enlarge or enrich his text by adding design and content. This working process conceives the author as a one-talent person: he can only write. In this scenario, somebody is specifically in charge of the layout, another person takes the pictures, a third one chooses the photos, somebody else handles the videos and audio that will be eventually edited by another person and, finally, a ‘technician’ posts everything online. In such a structure, a journalist is believed to have less abilities than a 16-year-old boy to make his weblog.”

Part of the reason why the typical reporter “has no control on what, where and how the multimedia contents will appear, [the result being that] these contents will inevitably be excluded from his story” is that most of the working journalists today do not know how to produce digital media.

They do not know how to edit photos properly for the Web using Photoshop. They don’t know how to gather and edit audio. They may not even know how to create a Weblog with Blogger or download a podcast from iTunes.

Some of this is our fault, in the journalism schools. We have too few resources and too many students to ensure that all the journalism students have access to digital skills training. We also find that many students come to us so poorly prepared to write clearly and to gather accurate information, we are compelled to devote a lot of time and energy to ensuring that they can at least function as competent journalists upon graduation.

Some of the fault lies with the owners of companies that produce journalism — their puny training budgets (and pitiful salaries paid to reporters) are legendary.

And some of the fault must lie with the journalists themselves. If they have not learned to use the new tools, it is not fair for them to cast ALL the blame on others — their employers, their former professors and teachers. Why are they not more self-fulfilling in learning to use new technology? Why don’t they care more about adapting their storytelling techniques to reach wider audiences?

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New Blog (from PBS) to Cover Digital Media
January 15, 2006, 3:00 pm
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According to a press release (via Yahoo News/PRNewswire), the blog MediaShift will “explore how new forms of digital media are dramatically changing American society and culture.”

The MediaShift debut is scheduled for Jan. 18. Mark Glaser, formerly of Online Journalism Review, is going to run the show … er, blog.

While this is all well and good, and Mark is a smart guy, the question for me is, do we really need more commentary about what’s happening in the information universe? Why doesn’t PBS fund some exciting digital journalism instead of observations from the sidelines?

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An Article I Didn’t Write
January 13, 2006, 4:16 pm
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Just found this piece about multimedia journalism from June 2005, by Talia Maze, in the Ryerson Review of Journalism. It discusses the Batten Awards of 2003 and 2004. The writer interviewed Ashley Wells of MSNBC.com and also Jane Ellen Stevens, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. Maze talked to my friend Mary McGuire, who teaches online journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. The article gives special mention to CBC’s Batten Award-winning Investigation of Swissair 111 (2003), a masterly Flash journalism package.

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Google Maps
January 13, 2006, 3:21 pm
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NPR ran a nice story yesterday about a blog that tracks interesting applications of Google Maps. One example is a map of local murders from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

I’ve been encouraging one of our master’s students to work on a project linking a map to a database of local education statistics. This student has taken a couple of mapping courses in the university’s geography department, on his own initiative. Smart!

One of the best examples of this kind of package, of course, is Adrian Holovaty‘s award-winning ChicagoCrime.org.

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