Lou Reed and journalism: How creation changes perception

I kicked off this semester’s Participatory Journalism class with a new reading — a blog post that has become like a mental ear worm for me. I keep chewing on it and getting more from it.

Scott Rosenberg published an insightful story last month called Doing is knowing: “Sweet Jane” and the Web. It’s a wonderful reflection on how a participatory culture and digital innovation have opened up possibilities of creation, not just consumption, to the masses. Plus, Lou Reed is awesome.

From the post:

“But I’ve learned what musicians have always known: Playing a song changes your understanding of it. Playing music changes how you listen to it. Doing changes knowing.”

I’d love to hear thoughts from others about how this might relate to their own lives and work. In my class, we talked about the differences between “Sweet Jane” YouTube tutorials that had thousands of views versus dozens. We talked about the rise of Let’s Play videos on YouTube, and how my 11-year-old son watches them but also wants to record himself playing Minecraft and share that video with others. We talked about the ways we invite readers of our news product to contribute, and what might motivate them to do that.

I suspect I’ll keep this music theme going throughout the semester.

One more excerpt, then go read the thing yourself:

Millions of people today have the chance to feel what it’s like to make media — to create texts or images or recordings or videos to be consumed by other people they may or may not know. Whether they are skilled at doing this is as beside the point as whether or not I can play “Sweet Jane” well. What matters about all this media-making is that they are doing it, and in the doing, they are able to understand so much more about how it works and what it means and how tough it is to do right — to say exactly what you mean, to be fair to people, to be heard and to be understood. If you find this exciting, and I do, it is not because you are getting some fresh tickets to the fame lottery; that’s the same game it’s always been. It’s because we are all getting a chance to tinker with and fathom the entire system that surrounds fame — and that shapes the news and entertainment we consume every day.

The time I got creeped out by location-sharing technology

I’m not usually shy about sharing my personal data. When it comes to where I am, where I’ve been or where I’m going — on the Internet or in person — I’m typically okay with sharing it, as long as I have a say over who in my network gets to see it.

I’m much pickier about which friend requests I accept for tools that display my physical location, for example, than I am for other social networks. But in general, I’m not creeped out by select people knowing where I am. Location tools have come in handy so many times to meet up with people I otherwise would have missed seeing (as in, “Hey, you’re there? I’m right around the corner!).

But something totally odd happened to me last week. For what might be the first time, a location-sharing tool felt sort of intrusive.

Read the rest of this entry »

Is it “working”? Let’s talk about metrics for mission-driven work

How do we know if the information we’re providing is having an impact? How do we know if our efforts are worth it? If our plan is “working“?

Those questions don’t come up much if your ultimate business success can be easily quantified (dollars, users, sales, reach, etc.). But what if your goals aren’t so easily measured?

In a web analytics training earlier this year, I was the only person in the room who didn’t have a clearcut goal for my website. Everyone else had a page that all other pages were driving users to — a “thank you for purchasing” or “thank you for confirming your subscription” type page. Journalists tend to just want more of all of it — more views, more new users, more return users, more time.

And what about all the offline work we do?

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently on measuring the impact of mission-driven information. A lot of that work has been with journalists, but some of it has been targeted more generally to nonprofits. A few months ago, I brainstormed a whole host of possible metrics, and I figured I’d go ahead and share that list here.

Here are a few things to think about before diving in:

  • Think through the story of your work from beginning to end. What do you hope will happen? You have to be clear on your goals before the metrics will make much sense.
  • Look for correlation, not just causation. Metrics are imperfect, and cause and effect aren’t always neat and tidy.
  • Focus on metrics that will help you solve problems or be more efficient. You could measure many more things that will actually be useful, and your time could be consumed in measurement that won’t actually make you better at your job.

I hope this list helps some folks think through what can be measured. I also hope it doesn’t feel overwhelming. A lot of this likely won’t help you measure the work you’re doing, so don’t consider it to be prescriptive. But if you get a few ideas, and someone else gets a few other ideas, I’ll be happy.

I’d love to hear what you find useful, what you disagree with or what you’d add. Leave a comment, tweet at me or email me. Here we go … Read the rest of this entry »

Upcoming webinar: Motivating and measuring community knowledge and action

I’m delivering a webinar for the Knight Digital Media Center next week, and I wrote this blog post introducing it. It was originally published by KDMC.

If you sell shoes for a living, you have a clear metric for success: How are my sales, and are they enough to keep me in business? When you do or fund mission-driven work, the metrics are much less obvious, but it’s still natural to crave them. If you think your work is making a difference, it’s important on many levels to have evidence that you’re right.

But when your primary goal is not something concrete like dollars made or products created, how do you know if what you’re doing is “working?”

One good plan of action is to define what “working” means to you, find some metrics you can attach to those, then commit to the time it will take to track those metrics.

As a preview, let’s look at each of those three steps individually.

1. Set goals.The important first step is defining what you hope will happen as the result of your work. If this is hard for you, roll around in it for awhile and get comfortable, because you can’t move on unless you get really specific here. Do you hope people will get more involved with your organization? Take action on an issue? Attend an event? Or how about this one: Learn? Often, one core goal is raising awareness. Think about those days you leave work feeling really satisfied. What has likely happened? What drives you and your organization? What is success?
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How to get a job in journalism, Spring 2014 edition

Next week is How To Get A Job week in my Participatory Journalism class.

If you’re a journalism student or other interested Columbia-area party, you’re welcome to join us. We’ll be in 101A Lee Hills Hall from 12-1:15 Monday and Wednesday.

I’ll go over the basics of resumes, cover letters, interviews, etc. But those aren’t the most important lessons. Most important is how to tell the story of yourself. What’s your personal narrative as a journalist and potential employee? What do you want people to really know about you? Think about the intangible things that make someone a great coworker, boss or new hire. It likely matters more that you fearlessly dive into new technology than it does that you learned how to edit video. It might matter more that you challenge the people around you to do their best work than it does that you’ve covered a specific beat.

Let your resume do the listing of skills. Make sure you know how to sell yourself. Students in my class will practice selling themselves on video. See some previous students’ contributions in this post about learning to market yourself.

Other blog posts and links about job hunting:

Be a Tigger, not an Eeyore. (Addition: Here’s what it looks like to be an Eeyore.)

Lessons in life and professionalism

A genius resume made in Storify

Links I’ve bookmarked about how to get a job

If you have questions about your job hunt — or resources to share with job hungers — comment below or let me know on email or Twitter.

“Hell yes, this is advocacy journalism, and we’re doing advocacy journalism all the time”

I just watched this archived talk from September 2013 from Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s center for Civic Media.

Zuckerman is smart about a lot of things. Today, I especially enjoyed the last section of this 15-minute talk, when he talks about:

  • news judgment and accompanying responsibilities
  • encouraging the right kind of civic action
  • reaching a new generation of media consumers with impact-oriented messages

He says:

What we can’t keep doing is building news that is disconnected from peoples’ ability to have an impact. We can’t continue to say, “We’re going to put this information out here, you’re going to be an informed citizen, and then something will happen and it’s all going to work out from there.”

Ethan Zuckerman from Nieman Foundation on Vimeo.

Ask these questions before jumping onto a social platform

In my Participatory Journalism class last week, we did a whirlwind tour through a bunch of social platforms.

Before we looked through Pinterest, Quora, LinkedIn and other sites, we talked about how we as journalists (or really, anyone who uses social platforms to get a job done) should decide which ones we should invest in. We also talked about how the answer might be different when considering an overall brand strategy versus a specific topic or project.

Here’s my list. What would you add? 

  1. Is your audience there? You know, the people who follow you in general, or will be interested in the project you’re considering sharing there. Are they already there? (If you don’t know who you’re trying to reach, here’s my list of questions to start with. And some advice from the brilliant Seth Godin.)
  2. Is your potential audience there? Think about audience growth. Who are the people you don’t currently reach but would love to reach? Are they there?
  3. What do people DO there, and do you fit in? Have you spent time studying the platform? Do you understand what the customs are, what the utility is and how people behave? Do you have content to offer that is genuinely consistent with all that? (Jeff Sonderman wrote about NPR’s advice to respect each platform’s culture.)
  4. Do you know what you want to accomplish, and how will you measure success? What do you hope will happen for you with this new adventure, and are you prepared to build in time for assessment? Each new platform takes time, and it’s better to do some things really well than to spread yourself too thin. What if you discover your audience really isn’t there? Or that what you thought you would do isn’t “working”? (More on why “what works on social media” isn’t a sophisticated enough question is here.) Whether you’re working for clicks, shares, crowdsourcing, community building, story ideas or something else, know how you’ll decide if the return on investment is worth it.

I have yet to work with journalists who I didn’t think could find good use with Facebook. (Here’s one of my favorite examples, from a small town Missouri newspaper.) But I’ve worked with some whose audiences just weren’t on Twitter, and plenty for whom Reddit, Pinterest or  Tumblr probably wouldn’t be very useful.

So when asked “should I be on Pinterest,” my answer is always “it depends.” (Actually, as my students will tell you, that’s my answer to most questions.)

The key is to ask the right questions. What would you add to this list?


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