What Newspaper Journalists Can Teach You About Interactive Marketing

(This is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote over at ParthenonPub.com, my employer’s blog.)

Amid the financial turmoil plaguing the newspaper industry as a whole, accusations and general finger-pointing has abounded as industry players scramble to figure who’s to blame. You’ve heard the culprits:

* Greedy owners took on huge debt while banking on unrealistic future profits.
* The recession.
* The Internet.
* And then, of course, many have argued that newspaper journalists themselves were too slow to adapt to the digital landscape.

A recent report by Northwestern University’s Media Management Center, “Life Beyond Print: Newspaper Journalists’ digital appetite,” sheds a bit of light on this last one at least.

Read more…

“Should I Get a Master’s in Journalism?”

I’ve gotten this question twice from a couple of friends and colleagues, to which I gave lengthy responses. My answers reflect only my opinion, and I can only comment on my experience at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, having received my Master’s in Journalism with a focus in new media in December of 2007. But here are some thoughts…

“So, I’m wondering, are you happy you got your masters?”

When I was at Northwestern, students chose one of four disciplines: traditional reporting and writing, broadcast, magazine or new media. I chose new media. I’m very much interested in Web 2.0, social media, link journalism, networked journalism, online community journalism – you name it. I looked at Northwestern and it seemed as if that was the direction they were heading so I went for it. I tell you all this because I think it’s really important to specify that I went out looking for a new media journalism degree specifically.

Therefore, when I was at Northwestern, I took the core journalism classes in reporting and writing on public affairs, editing, ethics of journalism, etc., but I also took courses in new media storytelling (HTML, Flash, CSS, JavaScript, etc.), Videography (shooting and editing w/ Adobe Premiere), introduction to computer programming (Java) and two marketing courses (one in new media economics and one on online social networking.)

Finally, I did a quarter-long project researching, conceptualizing and proposing a hyperlocal community news site for Morris Communications, along with 10 or so other students. Eventually, the company took our recommendations and launched MyZeeland.com. Sort of on the side, I did an independent study working with a former NW graduate who launched a social networking site called Tokoni. Again, I tell you all this so you can get a feel for what my experience at J-school was and use that to put my comments into context, because I don’t know that it’s typical (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it was my experience).

So am I happy I went there and got my masters? Eh…yes and no.

Yes, because I had some incredible experiences, met some amazing (and amazingly talented) people, made some great connections and, to be honest, just plain had a lot of fun.

No, because I think it’s overpriced, and that a lot of those experiences can be had, people can be met, connections can be made and (probably) fun can be had without the degree.

“Do you like what you’re doing now?”

Yes.

I work at a medium-sized custom publishing company and I’m its first Online Content Manager.

It’s a great opportunity. I’m learning a lot of new things, meeting a lot of great people and interacting with some creative minds. And I do enough freelance stuff on the side to keep me plenty busy. Oh, and (insert shameless self promotion) I blog on all things digital here.

“Did they help you find a job after graduation, provide access to internships while you were there, etc?”

Absolutely. Any graduate program that offers a degree in a field in which no degree is necessary to practice must continually justify its existence to prospects like yourself. Therefore, it’s in their interest to connect their students with prospective employers through job fairs, internship programs, job boards, job postings, etc. I still get an e-mail a week with job postings in the Chicago area, many of which are not promoted anywhere else.

“Do you feel that they prepared you for your current position?”

Absolutely. Again, this goes back to my new media training and my specific interests. But the custom publishing industry and the news industry are both in need of new media-trained journalists, writers, editors and producers. Because of my training, I feel “at home” talking to the editors, photographers, videographers, web developers and marketing folks – which is an asset. Note: I am by no means an expert in any of those fields, and I don’t pretend to be. But it helps to be able to speak their languages.

“Other comments…?”

The people…

One thing I enjoyed the most about the program that you can’t discount is being constantly around the “fascinated-by-the-potential-of-new-media” news junkie types. I now count amongst good friends and colleagues an independent Web publisher in Chicago doing some really interesting things (WindyCitizen.com), a writer at Time, and numerous others doing a lot cooler stuff than I am. But again, I’d emphasize that it’s not that they are connections, it’s that they are friends – and it was a lot of fun to be immersed in an intense 15-month program with them.

Overpriced…

This gets back to what I said earlier about J-schools needing to continually justify their existence. You don’t need a degree to practice journalism. You don’t even need a high school education. With all the tools available, all you need is a public library card and your own skills. So in that sense, it’s overpriced. Just saying.

New Media drawbacks…

This may have changed, but one drawback I found is that new media is so, well, new, that all of the really interesting people doing cool things in new media are, well, doing cool things in new media – NOT teaching at J-schools. Just my observation. I had some incredible teachers, but I also had a few who didn’t really “get” the Web.

The future of journalism…

OK, if you thought this e-mail post was long, it’s going to get longer. Here’s my rant on new media…

In some ways journalism schools mirror newspapers and local TV stations in that they are gatekeepers. The former were gatekeepers to the industry and the latter were gatekeepers of information in general. That’s just not true any more.

Sometimes (usually around the first of the month when I’m paying my monthly loan repayments) I look back and think I should have just started blogging rather than gone to j-school. The act of blogging is still (somewhat) stigmatized and largely misunderstood by those who don’t do it. But to have a successful blog, you have to be an incredible writer, editor, publisher and advertiser. In essence, you have to learn the business. You’re much more a producer than just a blogger. Creating a successful blog that brought in even 10,000 visits a month and made $10,000-$20,000 a year would be an incredibly worthwhile accomplishment and would have taught me a ton about new media journalism.

So, anything to add? I know that, even amongst those who went to Medill, whether or not the education was worth the price tag was hotly contested. What do you think?

Alex Kuczynski at Medill – Style and Substance: Reporting on Popular Culture

Alex KuczynskiAlex Kuczynski is scheduled to speak at the Medill School of Journalism at 12 pm on Monday, November 12 2007 in Fisk hall.

I picked up on it from a weekly newsletter I get, Flavorpill, which describes Kuczynski, saying:

“For some, the Critical Shopper columnist is bafflingly superficial, an over-privileged aesthete who sullies the paper’s reputation with conspicuous consumption and the jet-set lifestyles of the ultra-rich. Others simply see her as a shrewd and pragmatic businesswoman. After all, she delivers what people want — high-end shopping tips, luxury-product critiques, and the best place to buy a $5,000 chinchilla coat.”

I’ll be attending, so if you have any questions regarding Kuczynski, her work, or reporting on popular culture, let me know.

Ravelry, the future of online communities, and what it means for journalism

Medill logoAs part of an independent study I’m doing on online communities with another Medill student, I moderated three focus groups yesterday looking at why and how students used social media. Once we got beyond Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, one student brought up an interesting site I’d heard of, but must admit I’ve never checked out: Ravelry – a knit and crochet community.Ravelry logo

The student explained that before she discovered Ravelry, she would spend a lot of time trying to find free patterns online. Now, she can log in to Ravelry and trade patterns within the community easily.

The future of online communities…?

Her insights helped highlight some of different motivations people have for joining and contributing to online communities. People overwhelmingly have the same responses for joining Facebook and MySpace: my friends are there, I want to find old friends or it helps me keep in touch. Topically oriented communities offer something entirely different.

TripConnect logoI’m sure other examples of topically oriented, niche sites abound. The only one I’m personally familiar with is TripConnect, to which I contributed reviews.

Magazines and newspapers

At first glance, it seems that Facebook accomplishes what local newspapers once accomplished, although in a more extensive and personalized way, whereas topically oriented online communities are more analogous to magazines.

What’s your take? Are there any vibrant online communities that particularly impress you? Or any old media companies doing anything particularly interesting in this arena?

This is a thread I’ll hopefully develop more fully in the future.

The future of journalistic objectivity

Chicago Tribune logoTimothy McNulty at the Chicago Tribune wrote a great article yesterday on journalistic objectivity.

Objectivity is an oft-debated topic amongst journalists. To what extent is it possible? Where are the lines drawn? Has it diminished in the age of cable TV’s talking heads and the numerous opining bloggers? Or, as McNulty says, does objectivity get reduced to neutrality? “On the one hand this” and “on the other hand this,” without any attempt to truly seek the truth?

One thing that interests me is the potential of objectivity on a macro level – especially given the democratizing potential and decentralized nature of the Web.

Continue reading “The future of journalistic objectivity”

Dean Lavine addresses Medill graduate students over lunch

Medill logoMedill Dean John Lavine told a group of Medill graduates today, “we are aggressively looking at a set of new clients” for their graduate run Medill News Service.

As we at Medill here have started turning more towards multimedia journalism, the clients who subscribe to our graduate-run wire service haven’t been able to support some of the Flash-based video pieces we’ve produced for our Web site Medill Reports.

The Medill News Service, a wire service run by graduate students at the Medill School of Journalism has provided local coverage on Chicago politics, business, legal affairs, etc. for area publications since 1995. Basically, Medill graduate students report in Chicago, and Chicago-area publications who can’t afford the reporting pay for the stories. (Clients include the Daily Herald, the Daily Southtown, the Northwest Indiana Times, the Chicago Defender, among others.) The Medill News Service also runs a Washington Bureau. Washington clients include the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier and the Greeley Tribune in Colorado.
Continue reading “Dean Lavine addresses Medill graduate students over lunch”