The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

We’re trying, Stefan

M. Stefan Dill, late of the Sante Fe New Mexican, recently waded into a hot discussion on the NAA New Media Federation board about how journalists are killing their own profession.

“Question for those who have some connection to academic journalism programs – how are these problems being addressed to students? The grasp of how internet usage should interface with journalism techniques seems to be pretty varied even among young reporters, who ought to know better. At this point, If Im hiring staff, I wouldnt be looking at J school grads, i want savvy bloggers with a backgrounds in sociology, epistemology and semiotics.”

I gladlClyde Bentleyy busted my chops in the newspaper industry for more than two decades, so I fully understand the common belief that pointy-headed professors are just taking summers off and boring students with trivia. It’s simply just not true. Here is my response:

From the limited (but proud) perspective of just the Missouri School of Journalism, I can tell you that we in academia have the same cultural challenges that you have in the field. However, the conflict is worse. You have a schism just between your audience and staff. We have the same audience and a staff very similar to yours — and then a horde of 20-something students who live on Facebook and have cell phones glued to their ears. But we have the luxury of the research, background and opportunity to explore ahead of you.

A Mizzou, we started our effort to look at new ways of delivering new information as on offshoot of the user generated content phenomenon. In 2004, I was charged with developing a citizen journalism Web site that could help bolster the content of our flagging Total Market Coverage free weekly. That became in October 2004 and the revamped Saturday Weekly Missourian free print edition a year later.

It worked. In fact, it worked so well that in March we bit the bullet and pulled most of the feature content out of our weak Sunday paid edition and put it into the Saturday free edition. We doubled the home-delivered circulation and made it the focus of both writing and design. Reception has been very, very good — from all three sides of our love/hate triangle. I find it especially heartening that the hard-bitten Mizzou editing faculty has embraced the free weekly edition as a good medium for good journalism. The incorporation of traditional and citizen journalism in the product is also developing so well that we may soon spread it into our paid daily.

In the meantime, we have made the Columbia Missourian Web site more interactive, expanded our inserted/free-in-racks gen-x magazine and thoroughly explored the benefits and challenges of PDF delivery with emPrint. And like most U.S. J-schools, we have a convergence program where students can specialize in combining video, audio, text and Web. All of our students in every sequence, BTW, are required to have laptops with video and audio editing ability.

At Missouri, mind you, we don’t produce campus publications. We operate commercial media ranging from a morning daily to a NBC TV station. But we do teach classes. Lots of them. I teach one of the very few citizen journalism classes that staffs a real community citizen journalism project. The students learn content solicitation, non-AP editing and management of large “staffs” of unpaid writers. And they both write blogs and work with bloggers.

Next term, I will convert our editorial writing course into a blog writing course. We realize the chances of going from Mizzou to a post as editorial writer on a metro are slim to none. The chances of being asked to write a staff blog now approach 100%.

Technology changes much faster than the semester calendar, so we are all struggling to keep up. But remember that most of us in journalism academia were in your shoes just a few years ago. We have not abandoned you. In our hearts, at least, we are still in the newsroom every day.

May 12, 2007 - Posted by | Clyde Bentley

1 Comment »

  1. Just to add fuel to what Clyde’s saying, check out Mark Glaser’s April 9 post on his blog MediaShift.

    We’re trying to change the paradigm at Missouri, but we run into the same traditional walls.

    Comment by Hans Meyer | May 13, 2007 | Reply

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