Carnival of Journalism: Incremental Changes

A number of the journalism blogs I follow participate in a practice they call Carnival of Journalism. Someone comes up with a common question for each to discuss. This month’s topic is “What are small, incremental steps one can make to fuel change in their media organization?”

In a student newsroom I think the biggest little step that needs to be taken is to stop thinking of the print edition as the tail that wags the dog. When I watch students they make assignments and set deadlines around the schedule of the print edition of the paper. That’s got to change. Most often we refer to it as “post first, print second.” But students don’t do it very often or easily.

Don’t get me wrong. The print edition is still the most significant product we produce. Especially at the community college level our programs exist because the college wants a print edition, not because of some altruistic belief that journalism is important to teach. They accept that it is worthy and goes along with having a student newspaper.

But if we look around at the industry and the revolution/evolution taking place we HAVE to consider new methods of production in what we teach. Up until now the effort has been with online publications, but even as some are still just now embracing that idea it is evolving into more, such as mobile delivery.

Both we and the industry have to understand that readers, especially younger readers, are going to want news and news delivery redefined. For some of us old dinosaurs, that is different to swallow at times. I saw that last weekend at JACC’s annual NorCal conference as some of the advisers reacted strongly against a keynote presentation that focused heavily on deconstruction of traditional news into information bits that are delivered through a variety of technologies and involves the reader as a participant in the news creation process.

We must continue to teach the values of journalism, and even continue to teach some of the old methods. But if we gloss over the emerging technologies, we shortchange the education of our students. Most of us are continuing to focus on the traditional methods in our classrooms and reserving the new methods to “also rans.” Hence JACC’s (and my) continual push of online technologies, sometimes seemingly to the exclusion of traditional methods. Sorry about that if you interpret this to mean that we don’t embrace the traditional values and methods in the overall process. News is new, otherwise it would be called olds.

So what incremental change would I make? As a journalism instructor and faculty adviser of a student newspaper I’d like to see big changes. But an incremental change that I think would help would be to help students understand that they don’t have to wait until they have the whole story to publish part of it.

In a workshop I did at last week’s NorCal conference I talked about a three-paragraph concept that I picked up from someone else’s blog a while back. (Sorry to the originator, but I’ve lost track of where and don’t give you proper credit for the idea.) If covering an event, which tends to be a large part of what my students do, post A story within minutes of the conclusion of the event. It doesn’t have to be THE story; you can do a follow-up when you have had more time to flesh it out. But in the short term, follow this three sentence/paragraph format:

1. Summary
2. Secondary key point
3. Quote

As an example, in my workshop I created a three-paragraph story about my workshop:

College newspapers can do a lot more to enhance their online publications with quick stories, blogs, podcasts, videos and other interactive multimedia elements.

This was the main message from Rich Cameron of Cerritos College when he spoke at the JACC NorCal Conference Saturday.

“You’ve got to get beyond ‘shovelware’ and give your readers a reason to come to your web site,” he said.

Such a summary can be written in just a couple of minutes and posted to a web publication or blog easily. It could even be created on an iPod or cell phone and shipped out/posted immediately using mobile distribution technology, which I am learning more about (see a great article on easy-to-use tools at www.10000words.net/2008/10/6-ways-to-create-mobile-version-of-your.html), though this sample would be a bit long for something like Twitter or SMS messaging.

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