This is a version of a talk I gave this morning at the Green Shoots in Journalism Education event at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
Appropriately, a lot of what we teach in journalism school is about the craft of gathering information and telling stories.
But too often missing is a discussion of who it’s all for.
- Who wants it?
- Who is it helping?
- Who will seek it out?
- Who will pay for it?
- Who gets to decide what “good journalism” is?
If we want a future full of relevant, well-funded journalism, we have to be teaching students to ask those questions.
We can’t work in a vacuum, publish, then pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next story. We need a plan to:
- aggressively reflect a community’s priorities and voices
- identify the audience for what we do
- invest in bringing audience and content together
- track what works so we can continually experiment and improve
My Participatory Journalism class makes up my staff at the Columbia Missourian newspaper. And our task as the paper’s community outreach team is to ask and answer those questions on behalf of our product and our newsroom. We work to infuse audience-focused philosophies into our newsroom’s processes and products.
What I’d love to see is a journalism curriculum that infuses this focus on audience into all our classes. I’d like there to be no need for a Participatory Journalism class or a community outreach team. We all need to focus on making journalism that the audience wants and finding the audience for the journalism we think is important.
Here’s an example of what that looked like for a package of stories that my newsroom published a couple of weeks ago. Click through the slides, or watch me explain them during an 8-minute presentation.
This post is intended primarily to provide info to students interested in taking J4700/7700, Participatory Journalism.
NOTE: I will be teaching (via Skype) the classroom portion of this class for spring 2016. The Missourian is hiring a new director of community outreach, so we don’t know yet who the team’s newsroom boss will be.
This class is about social news — about how journalism organizations can listen as well as talk, and how to invite interaction rather than just provide information. We think it’s important for people to see themselves in the journalism and easily find ways to get involved with it. It’s key to staying relevant as news providers.
Luckily, the Columbia Missourian agrees. And as part of this class, you’d be joining the staff of the Missourian, on the community outreach team.
Our team is constantly evolving. It’s a giant experiment. “Because we did it that way last time” is hardly ever a reason for doing it that way again. We’re continually assessing the effectiveness of what we’re doing, tossing out ideas that aren’t working and inventing new strategies to try (something journalists need to know how to do).
Warning: As part of the team, you’d be assessed on how well you participate in and extend the experiment, not on how well you follow directions. If that sounds horrifying — if you prefer to stick with clear, comfortable instructions — this is not the class for you.
What should we as journalists share about ourselves? When does our disclosure enhance our credibility? When does our transparency lead to a deeper connection with our audience?
In my Participatory Journalism class last week, we muddled our way through those questions. And the questions came up again in the Columbia Missourian newsroom on election night. (That is, after all, how we teach here: We look at principles in the classroom, and reinforce them on the job.)
We talked in class, of course, about the View from Nowhere. We talked about where we’re all coming from, and what perspectives we bring to the choices we make as journalists. We all have biases that we bring to story selection, to the framing of stories, to the questions we ask, to the decisions we make about word choice.
We talked about this modern, American notion that we should all step outside ourselves to do Proper Journalism — a notion that doesn’t always hold up if you work in a small town where everyone knows all about you, or if you work elsewhere on the globe, where partisan journalism is expected and preferred. I got to rant about the word objectivity, and how being separate from what we cover doesn’t always lead to journalism that’s reflective of its intended audience.
It feels safe to say that nowhere is the “o” word more invoked than in the case of Journalists vs. U.S. Politics. We don’t share our opinions or ideologies publicly. We don’t admit we have them. Heck, sometimes we don’t even vote.
Here’s the thing: This drives me crazy, and I’d love to see it change. But politics doesn’t feel like the right area for us to experiment with transparency, especially at a community newspaper.
Note: This has been updated for folks interested in the class for Summer or Fall 2013.
“Engagement” is a buzz word in journalism these days. But what does it really mean? And how does it get incorporated into daily news?
In J4700/7700, Participatory Journalism, students become part of the community outreach team at the Columbia Missourian. They all get experience with social media, analytics, identifying audience, being ambassadors for the newsroom, crowdsourcing and comment moderation. They learn how to make the news more social and conversational, how to ask questions people want to answer, and how inviting participation with the news is a key step in staying relevant as news providers.
I started to gather some of what we’ve been doing with the #CoMoSnow in February, but I ‘ve been too busy doing the journalism to explain what we’ve done so far. Here’s a column that our boss, Tom Warhover, wrote about some of it.
Sound like stuff you’d like to have on your resume and in your portfolio of work? Here’s what you should know before asking for a consent number.
Here’s a link to this semester’s syllabus, which is in a google doc because it’s always a work in progress.
Here’s a link to a diagram I made of what we cover.
Here’s a dated but still maybe useful blog post about what the team did in its first semester, Fall 2011.
The fact that a blog post from a year ago is dated should tell you something about how our team works. It’s constantly evolving. It’s a giant experiment. “Because we did it that way last time” is pretty much never a reason for doing it that way again. We’re constantly assessing the effectiveness of what we’re doing, tossing out ideas that aren’t working and inventing new strategies to try (something journalists need to know how to do).
What would you add? Comment here, or tweet to @mayerjoy with the hashtag #lifelessons.
This was first published on the RJI blog.
I spent last year at RJI studying audience engagement — reading, talking, interviewing, writing, more reading — and ended that year motivated to put what I’d learned into practice.
Luckily, the job I came back to was in a newsroom built on experimentation, with colleagues willing to go along on the engagement ride.
In August, we kicked off the Missourian’s community outreach team, made up of students in a class I teach called Participatory Journalism. (The class has existed for years and was developed by Clyde Bentley, also an RJI fellow.) This year, the focus of the class broadened to include more ways the relationship between journalists and their communities are changing.
The underlying principle lies in a diagram created by Meg Pickard at The Guardian, which crystallized my goals.
The team’s tasks are diverse. We started out with some specific goals, succeeded at some, failed at a few and adapted others. We made up a lot as we went along, and a spirit of experimentation and assessment guided us.
I want to share some highlights from our first four months, and I’d welcome your ideas, feedback and questions.