Are you worthy?

Time Magazine has declared YOU as Person of the Year. That you includes both you and me. But do you feel worthy of the grand title? I’m not sure I do.

Time broke from the tradition of naming a single outstanding individual who shaped the world this past year and decided we all shaped the world. Among other things, the magazine reported:

Look at 2006 through a different lens and you’ll see another story, one that isn’t about conflict or great men. It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

Have you done any of that? This all has a major impact on what we do and teach in journalism. You, and I, need to learn it.

I’ve checked out Wikipedia and, Lord help me, seen my students over-rely on it as a reliable source of facts. But I’ve never contributed to Wikipedia or created a wiki. Don’t even know how.

  • Okay, I’ve got a MySpace account. My students hang our there all the time. Even my young teen daughter has an account (against my ruling on the subject!). But I haven’t spent much time there and haven’t spotted the fascination. Haven’t actually logged in for the longest time. JACC students, 71 of them, have a group there, but not much happens.
  • I’ve seen the Mentos display on YouTube and caught the Colbert roast of Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner. But I’ve never posted anything there. Not sure how to do it because I haven’t felt the need to try.

Time goes on to mention creating avatars in Second Life (never visited it and don’t quite understand it) and ordering books and other media from (Whew! Have done that, at least!).

And I’m a relatively web-savvy kind of guy.

I’m still working just to help JACC schools establish online publications (most are either there or in the works). But most of the schools are still just shoveling content from the print to online. Shoot, most schools that print every other week only shovel every other week. What’s with that? It’s so 2004. Every-other-week is a financial excuse more than anything else. We’ve all got to get past the shovel stage quickly. Our industry is in rapid transition and we’ve got to prepare students properly. Content has to go online NOW. It needs to include links to outside source material. (How many of us are teaching ANY HTML, much less how to create links? How many reading this post even know how to code a link?) But even that is so 2005.

We’ve got to think about podcasts –know how to create one? I do — and blogs. Our students know how to do MySpace blogs, but we’ve got teach them that blog journalism is about researching and telling stories, not just creating a diary. And focusing on a general topic and writing on it on a regular basis is hard. I’ve been on hiatus from this blog for about a month and a half because I’ve been ill; now that I’m feeling better and have time, it has been hard just to sit down and start again. I have some students who “wrote blogs” this semester and made all of two posts all semester. I’ve got another who posts twice a day (in addition to writing four and five stories for the Talon Marks weekly; she gets it.

But even that is too little. It’s almost 2007. 2006 was the YouTube/MySpace/SecondLife/Wiki year. Now that we are declared as Persons of the Year we’ve got get our heads out of the sand and start teaching new paradigms for story-telling as part of what we do. Blogger Matt Waite writes about developing a wetlands story for the St. Petersburg Times and describes both the old way of developing a story and a suggested new way.

The old way:

  1. Find, develop, report story.
  2. Somewhere during the writing of it, start talking about photo and graphics.
  3. Oh yeah, crap, we should invite web to some of these meetings we keep having.
  4. Take print graphic ideas, try and mold them into graphics that work online.
  5. Publish.

A better way:

  1. Find and develop story. No matter how many doodads and geegaws you add, it’s still all about the story.
  2. Decide — divorced from any thought of where it is going and what the limitations are — what is needed to tell the story in the most complete way. Do this very early in the reporting. Adapt as you go.
  3. While reporting, be thinking about the end product. Going somewhere? Take a video camera. Interviewing someone? Record it. Maybe you’ll use it, maybe you won’t. Better to have it and ditch it than not have it and wish you did. I have somewhere in the order of 30GB of audio and video that is on the scrap heap.
  4. Develop and plan web graphics first, then adapt them to print. It’s much easier to go from interactive to static than it is to make static interactive.
  5. Publish.

Note the significant changes in the middle steps. It reminds me of those times when students discover late on production night that they really could use a photo with a particular story. If only they had thought of that earlier when it was possible to get one. (Bryan Murley over at Innovation in College Media talks a bit more about Waite’s list and suggests that the current Christmas break would be a good time to think about re-engineering what we do.

And blogger Ryan Sholin asks the question, should we become the MySpace of our campus? Ummm, how would we do that? Well, the Bakersfield Californian and others are doing that. If the industry is adopting that idea, shouldn’t we? Scares the hell out of me thinking about how one even does that or makes sense of it all. And don’t even get me started with the idea of mashups on our campus sites. To an old dinosaur like me, mash up is what one does to potatoes.

Let’s see, how long until I retire? Nope, too many years. I’m going to have to learn all this stuff. And so are you.

Back to Time’s article on Person of the Year: Not mentioned, but implied was citizen journalism. If everyone becomes a journalist and no one needs any training, then what –beyond the meaning of copyright– do I teach in my classes until I DO retire? Forget the newspaper class for a minute. Do we even train people to use the inverted pyramid or other story forms any more? Blogger Paul Gillan is just the latest to spout the impending doom of the old way of doing newspapering. MediaShift predicts that three major U.S. dailies will fold during 2007.

I think so. There is a lot of crap the YOUs out there are posting. While we need to learn and teach all this new stuff, for now anyway, there is still room for learning just to tell a story.


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