April 2, 2011

My Talks at the MCMA Conference

The Missouri College Media Association is holding a conference in Springfield today sponsored by journalism students at MSU. I’m giving two talks (from the program):

Blogging For Journalists: Bringing an Audience, Bringing a Brand

The presentation will acquaint participants with two important reasons to begin blogging while in school: today’s news organizations want you to come prepared with an audience and a brand. The session will also discuss best practices.

Everyone is Now Multi and Meta

This presentation introduces multimedia skills and theory for web publication. Special attention will be paid to the Ozarks News Journal site — a multimedia journalism project at MSU.

I’ve prepared a short Prezi for the first presentation. You may see it here. For the second, I’ll be using ONJ as a source of examples of what to do and what not to do — we manage both 🙂

What’s kinda cool — given my first talk today — is that Rhetorica turns nine years old later this month (I mistakenly claimed nine years last year … duh). That makes it one of the oldest, continuously-published weblogs in the world. And if you count (which I do) my early proto-blog Timeline (part of the old Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2000 site — a student project of mine — archived here), then that makes me one of the longest running bloggers in the world. None of that is a claim to expertise. I’ve simply been around long enough to be a curiosity.

February 15, 2011

Lots of Opinion (Journalism)

The unfortunate thing is this: The way the semester works out at the moment, readers of Ozarks News Journal have to wait about six weeks into a given semester before our main features and the television show begin showing up on the web. That will change by this time next year (because we’ve created a new 100-level class to teach basic web/new media/ social media skills so students are up to speed by the time they get to my multimedia journalism class).

But, even better, the site is open for past students to use. And, still better, the site will soon be open for citizen contributors.

The goal: By this time next year ONJ should be a year-round news organization with a steady stream of local content.

Students have been blogging from the first week, and transparency has been job #1. Their first assignment was to post bios that tell readers “where I’m coming from.” The comment feature is wide open. We also have a corrections & amplifications form linked on the top menu for citizen feedback. We have a Facebook group for citizen feedback (where we post the reporting group assignments). And you may subscribe by e-mail, Twitter, SMS text, and RSS.

The main features will fall within the parameters of “news” and “features” — i.e. content reported and presented using the best practices (we can muster) of multimedia presentation and journalistic craft. The blog posts are (supposed to be) opinion journalism, and, at the editor’s discretion,  well-handled blog posts may be placed in the featured position. Neither I nor the editor edit or otherwise supervise these posts (although we may edit if we find glaring errors of fact/usage. ONJ reporters are supposed to approach their blogging by these criteria:

  1. Does the post pass the grandmother test, i.e. don’t shock your grandmother. The point is to keep content appropriate for younger readers. We don’t do pornography or violence.
  2. Does the post demonstrate good opinion journalism? i.e. based on one or more of: reporting, first-hand experience, and/or demonstrated expertise.

So there’s plenty of opinion on ONJ. And plenty of opinion about the topics the students are reporting because they are supposed to blog about the news and features they are working on. How is that going to work? You’ll find out as we do.

Also of note, the editor of ONJ last semester is doing an independent project in online opinion journalism. Her blog is Blogging and Opinion Journalism. Check it out.

January 29, 2011

Beta Testing Google Chrome OS Laptop

What a surprise from UPS yesterday!

I filled out an application to receive and beta test a Google laptop with the New Chrome OS. It arrived on my doorstep without warning. I felt like I had won the lottery 🙂

The appilcation included making a quick argument to persuade Google that you are worthy to become a tester. I said I was interested in the machine for remote, multimedia journalism so I could better teach my students to use the cloud.

I’ll be writing about my experiences with this machine and OS mostly on Facebook and Ozarks News Journal. I’ll mention it here when I think the topic is appropriate.

November 8, 2010

What Am I Teaching?

Two interesting blog posts this morning, flagged by Jay Rosen on Twitter, have me thinking about what it is I’m teaching:

I Am A Blogger No Longer:

My experience has not been unique, but it has spanned the life of this newly evolved species of reporter. I’ve had some time to think about what effect doing this day and night has had on the practice of journalism, on the quality of news-gathering and dissemination, and on the people who do it. I’ve written quite often on the first two subjects and participated in many discussions about them. All I will say here is that the mere fact that online reporters feel they must participate in endless discussions about these subjects is something new, a consequence of the medium, and is one reason why it can be so exhausting to do primarily web journalism. The feedback loop is relentless, punishing and is predicated on the assumption that the reporter’s motivation is wrong. Unfortunately, the standard for defining oneself as a web journalist depends upon establishing a certain credibility with a particular audience of critics. Responding to complaints about content and structure and bias is part of the way one establishes that credibility.

Journalists’ Code Of Ethics: Time For An Update:

I don’t like long ethics policies for newsrooms. Too many of them exist mostly to document reasons to fire people. Too many of them are mostly lists of do’s and don’ts (usually more don’ts), rather than helpful guides to making ethical decisions in situations that aren’t as simple as the policies sometimes make them. For organizations, I prefer statements of basic principles:

Hmmmmm… I have no problem with change. Journalism’s history is hardly static. What it was 20 years ago, what it is today, what it will be tomorrow? Different. Challenging. Frustrating. Exhilarating. And in the hands of my students — the new generation. I’m anxious to see what they will do with it.

November 3, 2010

The Whole Blogging Thing

As announced recently, the focus of Rhetorica is now on the rhetoric of opinion journalism. It is the topic that has increasingly piqued  my interest. And as I mentioned last week, the next two subjects will be Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof.

I realized something today that I have been blocking or avoiding: I have come to loathe political journalism as practiced in the U.S. today. I’m slogging my way through the election coverage by The New York Times today and hating every moment of it because our so-called newspaper of record is a shining example of how broken this beat is from top to bottom. Political journalism is actually doing more harm than good. It is a failure of craft and ethics on a massive scale.

But I don’t care anymore.

Now, on to more practical matters. Averting my gaze from political journalism means that I can do something that I have been wanting to do: Offer fewer but (I hope) better posts on a particular topic. The whole trying to blog everyday on Rhetorica thing hasn’t been working for a long time now. I’ve finally faced up to why that is: I dislike the original topic, and I’ve had very little (zero?) impact on press-politics

If you’re one of the thousands out there that just absolutely must read something from me almost everyday, then you’ll need to read Carbon Trace, my blog about walking and bicycling for basic transportation 🙂 I’ve come to realize that it is important for my blogging to have an actual impact. This local blog has an actual impact on my world.

I would also encourage you to follow Ozarks News Journal — the local news site for my JRN378 Multimedia Journalism class.

Rhetorica soldiers on. But I’ll be following something like the Jay Rosen model of blogging. Watch for my immediate commentary on Twitter.

October 17, 2010

Of Reporters, Trolls, and Stasis

Springfield News-Leader Executive Editor David Stoeffler announced today that reporters will participate (within certain limits) in online discussions of news articles on the News-Leader web site. I think this is a good move.

I also thought opening the comment system to anonymous users was a good move. I have come to believe that news organizations ought to begin encouraging more civil and thoughtful discussion by offering levels of service that encourage people to participate openly. Don’t eliminate anonymity; marginalize it.

Stoeffler’s announcement prompts me to think about online comments as an interesting rhetorical situation for reporters who are used to dealing with the public in a very particular way. What exigencies will prompt them to respond? What will be their persuasive intentions? What will be there rhetorical strategies?

How will they deal with trolls?

That first list of questions requires some data and analysis to answer (so I’ll be watching closely). But I’ll take a stab at the troll question now because it involves the concept of stasis — the very thing the skilled troll attempts to destroy. And I have plenty of “data” from many years of experience.

(History buffs may wish to check out the story of alt.syntax.tactical — a Usenet group set up to start flame wars. This group is famous for attacking the group alt.rec.cats back in the stone age, aka. the 90s.)

A common tactic of the troll today is to deny stasis, i.e. not allow the point of contention to be agreed upon so that it may be discussed. There are ways to do this both skillful and ham-handed, and we see the entire range on the News-Leader site.

Most commonly it works this way:

  1. Point A is made (either in print or online).
  2. Troll asks a reasonable question regarding point A.
  3. Troll follows up by changing discussion to point B.
  4. Troll follows up by changing discussion to point C.

And so on…

Depending upon the skill of the troll, the conversation can slowly devolve into ranting and nonsense because the troll finds and pushes the emotional buttons of the participants.

So what’s a reporter to do?

Do your job: Your value to the community is your reporting, not your online commenting.

Answer a commenter’s question only once: As the example above demonstrates, a troll wants to sucker you into a longer exchange for their own entertainment. Refuse to play.

Post links to additional information: A good policy in any online discussion.

Limit the scope of your participation: Develop a short disclaimer to append to all your online comments that explains what you will and will not respond to and why.

Identify and share: Did you detect a troll? Share your information with the online community and the newsroom. Post the username. Refuse to acknowledge that username in the future.

Remember: Trolls are NOT civic actors of good will. Their goal is to make your life hell and destroy the quality of discourse in online comments. Don’t let them win.

Also remember: I think most online participants are sincere. Don’t confuse a lack of rhetorical skill with trolling.

UPDATE: In response to an e-mail asking if I’m being a bit traditionalist re: a reporter’s relationship with the community: I am confining my remarks here to dealing with trolls. I think reporters can and should use the comment feature in numerous ways to enhance their reporting. More on this later…

September 20, 2010

Tech v. Craft: The False Dichotomy

Didi Tang, of the Springfield News-Leader, has a story on today’s front page about MSU’s high-tech classrooms. I teach multimedia journalism in the collaborative classroom in Siceluff hall — our highest of high-tech rooms.

What am I teaching in there?

The class is surely about technology just as surely as it is about using technology to do good journalism. The class is about a medium — the internet — and how that medium conveys other media and how to use the particular way it conveys other media to do good journalism.

When you teach print journalism, you (must) teach print technology.

When you teach broadcast journalism, you (must) teach TV/radio technology.

When you teach multimedia internet journalism, people get bent out of shape.

The class is producing the Ozarks News Journal. You’ll start to see real news coverage there very soon. Students are blogging on the site now. We still have a few odds and ends to take care of getting the site fully functional. This is the first class to work for ONJ (there is also an associated TV show), so they are playing a big role in creating it from scratch.

Take a look at the syllabus linked above. Notice what I have listed for Weeks 4 through 15: “Produce the ONJ website.” That means: cover the news and publish it. That does not mean, as Dr. Melvin Mencher is quoted (linked above), that we have:

… now reached a point of no return where the technology is taking over the curriculum, with disastrous effects… Students are no longer going to be educated in the basic function of journalism.

His famous textbook of basic news reporting and writing is in its 12th edition. I used one of the very early editions when I was taking journalism classes at the University of Delaware back in the late 1970s.

Let me tell you about our journalism classroom there. It was in the basement of Memorial Hall. There were tables and chairs in the center of the room and typewriter stations around the periphery. This room was totally up-to-date technologically. And all we could do in that room was pretend to be journalists.

My classroom is a working newsroom — made possible by the computer/collaborative technology and students’ cell phones.

Part of the “basic function of journalism” today is figuring out what journalism is going to be. My students are working on that opportunity right now. I’m looking forward to what we discover together.

For more on what I’ve written about journalism education, check out:

September 3, 2010

Student Blogging at ONJ

The Ozarks News Journal is taking shape.  Students have begun blogging on the site with brief introductions and biographies.

Their first post was simply an easy exercise to make sure everyone is up to speed on the basics of WordPress. So far so good.

Up next: I’m going have them work on a bit of experiential reporting this weekend so they can post next week incorporating a photo, a video, and a simple podcast.

Here are some resources for following the class:

Class textbooks:

ONJ Twitter feed: ozarksnews

The students also have individual Twitter accounts dedicated to the class. You can find their tweets using the #sgf hashtag. And we have a class Twitter list.

News coverage will begin soon.

August 16, 2010

Multimedia Journalism Project Begins Soon

I’ve spent a lot of time this summer designing a new class called JRN378 Multimedia Journalism. The idea is to give our students a solid grounding in web and social media tools for journalism by having them publish an online news magazine called Ozarks News Journal.

There’s not much to see now — just the basic design. Soon, however, you’ll begin to follow along as these students learn to built a web news organization. My hope is that in addition to producing some fine examples of multimedia journalism, students will also be exploring what it means to be a web-based news organization.

What features of the craft and ethics of traditional print/broadcast journalism ought to be preserved? What new ways of understanding journalism does the web make possible? What will be the craft and ethics traditions of the future? What roles will journalists play in civic discourse, and what will be their relationship to an audience?

It’s their revolution. I hope they discover/create some interesting answers.

Here’s a bonus: The ONJ website will also operate as a converged news product with our ONJ TV program available on Ozarks Public Television and Mediacom 24. You’ll be able to watch the shows on the web, too.

Take a look at the site. And be sure to drop in after school starts (a week from today) to read and comment and … you tell me … what is your role, dear reader?

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