Jay Rosen, one of the leading thinkers in journalism and journalism education, is teaching a “digital thinking” class that I’d love to take and that I might sometime want to teach, stealing liberally from Jay.
But for now, he asked for my feedback. So I’m going to give the feedback here, because I want to spread the word about Jay’s thoughtful approach to digital thinking, as well as milk a blog post from my feedback to Jay. (Ask me a question that would result in a long email response, and I’m going to make it do double duty on the blog, unless it’s a private matter.)
In a Twitter direct message, Jay likened his class to my work on Project Unbolt during my last few months with Digital First Media. My initial reaction was that Project Unbolt was about action and Jay’s class is about thinking, but of course, the two go together. Digital thinking changes how you work and changing how you work changes how you think. One of my first blog posts for my DFM colleagues was about digital thinking.
Below are the main “currents and trends” Jay expects to cover in the class. He wants students in each case to learn “what it means, why it’s important, and where things are going with it.” I encourage reading Jay’s post, which has links to earlier posts he has done, as well as material from others.
What I do here is post Jay’s key points (in bold), followed by some of his explanation and my comments and any links to posts I’ve written that might be helpful. I recommend reading Jay’s blog to get all his comments and the links he shared, which elaborate well on his points. I’m ripping him off extensively here, but not totally.
1. Social media and sharing-as-distribution. As social platforms take greater command of the relationship with users, especially Facebook. Buttry note: I’ve already given Jay my feedback on this: I think social media are at least as important as a set of tools for doing journalism as they are in terms of distribution (which I agree is huge). Jay said I was not the first to make that suggestion and he was already working on expanding the social media description. Of course, I’ve written extensively on this topic, especially on Twitter. My most helpful links are probably in my #twutorial series.
2. The shift to mobile devices and on mobile to apps. Now happening with stunning speed. Buttry note: My 2009 series advocating mobile-first strategy for news organizations is five years out of date now, but might have some helpful information (or show how slowly news organizations have responded to this opportunity). A more recent piece that might be helpful is Cory Bergman’s 5 reasons mobile will disrupt journalism like the Internet did a decade ago.
3. New business models for news beyond the traditional method of generating audience to sell subscriptions and ads. Buttry note: One of my most-read (but least-heeded) blog posts called on news organizations to develop more new revenue streams. I’m planning more posts on this topic, hopefully soon. The examples Jay cited (capturing data, selling specialized research, events, native advertising, the agency model, nonprofits, crowdfunding and membership) are some of the most promising avenues, but certainly not the only ones.
4. Analytics in news production. Learning from audience behavior without becoming enslaved to the numbers. Buttry note: News organizations need to get better at this, and Jay stated the challenge well. I won’t pretend that analytics are an area of expertise for me, but I have blogged about matching metrics with goals and understanding metrics.
5. The “product” focus in news companies. Bringing tech, editorial, business and user experience together. Buttry note: The walls between editorial and other aspects of the business were erected for a valid reason, protecting our integrity. But the decline of our business has hurt our journalism severely. News organizations still need to protect our integrity, but we can do that and still collaborate with colleagues in other departments in developing and adapting our products to meet the demands and opportunities of the marketplace.
6. Interaction design and improving user experience (UX). Buttry note: Too many news organizations, including some I have worked for, harm their products by providing bad user experiences. Sometimes we don’t plan our products well enough. Sometimes we sell out users for short-term advertising revenue (failing to realize that a bad UX is going to chase away advertisers in the long-term, too). I’m not a designer, but I know that people smarter than me have to design better experiences than most news organizations provide on their sites and apps.
7. Data journalism. In all senses: collecting data sets, connecting to data through API’s, data visualization, finding stories in the data, making cleaned-up and searchable databases available to users, sensors in news work. Buttry note: This is a huge opportunity to provide value and do better journalism. Data is probably an even bigger opportunity on the revenue side, too.
8. Continuous improvement in content management systems and thus in work flow. Buttry note: Content management systems have been a huge problem for the news organizations I have worked with. Many, if not most, news organizations desperately need better systems. Disclosure: I have a consulting client, CityPortals, that offers what I think is a good CMS for community news organizations and one that offers strong potential for helping companies improve their digital revenue performance. This is not the place to pitch that service but I didn’t want to comment on this issue without acknowledging that relationship. If you’re looking for a better CMS, let me know and we can discuss.
9. Structured data. To capture more value from the routine production of news. Buttry note: I asked Jay whether “structured journalism” might be a better term here, to distinguish from point #7. He responded correctly that structured data “is a term of art, so I am reluctant to change it. When you enter text into a CMS, that’s data. When you enter it into fields that can be compiled and combined, that’s structured data. There is definitely a non-redundant meaning to unstructured data.” I heard David Cohn (a former student of Jay’s and one of the brightest thinkers in journalism) discussed what he called “structured journalism” last weekend at ONACamp Phoenix. He wrote about it for Poynter earlier this year, and Dan Conover and Reg Chua have done some thoughtful writing on the need for structure in how we store and present our content. I’m not sure what the best term is (maybe we haven’t come up with it yet). But this is an important topic and I’m glad Jay’s class will be discussing it. Maybe his class will come up with the right term for applying structured data to journalism content production.
10. Personalization in news products. Why send everyone the same report? Buttry note: Important topic. I may blog on it sometime, but can’t recall that I have done anything significant on it yet.
12. User generated content (including verification of) networked journalism and crowd sourcing. The people formerly known as the audience as producers, in fruitful collaboration with journalists. Buttry note: Again, I have blogged about verifying social media content as well as about crowdsourcing. My post defining community engagement might also be helpful.
13. Automation and “robot journalism.” If machines can do it cheaper and better, human journalists can move up the value chain. Buttry note: Another important topic I haven’t blogged about. Maybe I should, but I’ll need to learn more first.
14. Creating an agile culture in newsrooms. So that adaptation, collaboration and experiment are not such an ordeal. Buttry note: I addressed culture in Project Unbolt, as Jay noted. I also have written about it several times on the INMA Culture Change blog.
15. The personal franchise model in news. Based around an individual journalist’s online following. Buttry note: My branding advice might be helpful here.
16. News verticals and niche journalism. Doing one thing well and finding a market for it. Buttry note: The bundled model of trying to do everything in one newspaper package has been forever disrupted. Verticals and niches clearly are the future of journalism.
17. The future of context and explainer journalism. Providing the background needed to understand the updates. Buttry note: We have a lot of experimentation going on in this field. Cohn addresses it in his discussions of structuring journalism.
18. “News as a service.” Rather than a product appearing on the news company’s schedule, a service that helps a user do something. Buttry note: News was always a service. Our products used to be a pretty good way to provide that service (or, as Clayton Christensen would say, that job-to-be-done). We have better ways to do that service now. My Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection was focused on providing services to the community. It’s five-plus years out of date now, but probably has some suggestions that remain valid. News businesses that survive will be those doing valuable jobs for the community in helpful ways that someone will pay for in some way.
The only point I can think of that I might suggest adding is a discussion of the ethics of digital journalism. But maybe that’s better handled by sprinkling discussion of ethical matters throughout the course.
I am delighted that Jay is teaching this course. I plan to send a link to this post to my dean, Jerry Ceppos, suggesting that the Manship School needs to offer this course. And If I end up teaching it, you can be sure I will borrow heavily from Jay.
Update: Jay has updated his post, adding three more good areas for the class to cover:
- From scarcity to abundance.
- Fact-checking and rumor control.
- “We’re not in charge.”
I’m busy now and won’t include Jay’s elaboration or my comments on those topics. But I’ll reiterate my initial observation that this is going to be a great class.