We’ve shifted gears in “21st Century Journalism: How the News Works,” a course I’m teaching this semester at the University of New Hampshire.
Enough study of major principles and frameworks - a free and independent press, journalism of verification, media ownership.
Now the focus is on reading, watching, listening to and talking about good journalism. This week its war coverage, from reporting on World War II battlefields to an iPhone documentary out of Syria, from Anthony Shadid in Iraq, to Jon Lee Anderson, this time in Syria.
I assigned a copy of Anderson’s 2010 speech on courage and journalism to the Committee to Protect Journalism. This quote from Anderson, it seems to me, should be a rallying call for this news literacy course, or any other:
“We must not be crucified on the poverty of our own expectations.”
It is worth sitting with that for a moment. Then: Engage.
There is lots of talk this week at #ONA12 about how best to use digital platforms to report news and share stories by reaching and building an audience. Much of that talk has to do with how best to work 140 characters at a time, on Twitter.
How and why Twitter, Facebook, Google and others are shaping strategies for journalistic content, and what that will mean for control of news flow over time, are quickly evolving questions. But for individual journalists now, there is no doubt that using these platforms can connect a reporter to sources, build a presence on a beat, and get reporting to a wider audience. So a few highlights from the advice Twitter is giving journalists - this from Mark Luckie, formerly of the Washington Post, now of Twitter:
1. Tweat your beat.
2. Use hashtags.
3. Cite your sources.
4. Share what you’re reading.
The key, in each of these steps, is to think and act as a journalist. Be accurate. Be thorough. Be transparent. And keep logging off to get out the door and find stories worth Tweeting about.
Three months after graduation Tom is running the social media show for the newsroom - in charge of the News-Leader official Twitter and Facebook accounts - as well as hitting the streets reporting to write stories, shoot video, and more.
Tom took some time this morning to show up via Skype to share tales of Tweeting and tips for social media success with the 16 students in #unh631, the new digital reporting course I’m teaching this semester. He talked about the importance of walking the line between having an engaging social media presence that people want to follow (he’s had practice with that in a previous life), while remaining a neutral journalist on the issues of the day.
And he talked about how digital skills helped land him this job in the first place. Students got a first hand look at social media is just another forum in which journalists do good old-fashioned reporting. Some days Tom is out interviewing on the streets, others he’s looking for compelling stories to chase in the Twitterverse.
At the end of the Skype session, one student in the class, Shannon Reville, asked a question that might be on the mind of any student considering a career in today’s newsrooms: Is Gounley having fun?
His answer: “Yes.”
This fall, I’m teaching a new course at the University of New Hampshire called “21st Century Journalism: How the News Works.” The course is meant to offer a foundation for journalism majors hoping to practice the craft themselves or an overview for any student interested in how we get news about the world around us.
The first class kicked off with one quick example of technical change, as we considered two single photos. One, of a Buddhist monk who’d set himself ablaze in Saigon, was taken in 1963 by AP correspondent Malcolm Browne. The other, of a shooting victim outside the Empire State Building late last month, was taken by a passerby and published on Instagram within seconds.
In an interview with Time Magazine in 2011, Browne (who died last month) recalled the process of getting his photo, taken on film, out to the wider world. He asked a passenger on a flight from Saigon to carry the undeveloped film to Manila. From Manila, the image was radioed to New York City. There, editors distributed it to news publications around the world. Meanwhile, Browne was in the dark about whether it had even traveled safely. “No, we didn’t know. It was like shooting into a black hole,” Browne told Time. “We learned that it had arrived only after messages began to come through congratulating us for sending such a picture.”
Compare that to the image taken by the man walking past the scene of the Empire State Building shooting in 2012. The man, known as “mr_mookie” on Instagram, took a picture of a woman leaning over the victim, who was lying on the curb, feet extending into the street. Nine minutes later, the first media request was posted on mr_mookie’s Instagram: “Steve McKinley from Reuters here seeking permission to use this pic for wire service…can? 888-883-4884.” Then came the photo editor at the Globe and Mail, the Guardian US edition, and the UK-based news agency Blottr. Other Instagram users began to comment on mr_mookie’s stream. Which prompted this reply: “I didn’t do this with the intention of showing the world. The world asked to see. Well here it is.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times had acquired another photo of a different victim, taken on an iPhone by someone leaning out of a window on a lower floor of the building. That graphic photo soon ended up on the Times homepage, nytimes.com. Which prompted this discussion over at Poynter.
Lots to talk about this semester, as the digital transformation of journalism continues.