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?”


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.


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”

One definition of a journalist: you have to get paid

Medill MagazineA Medill graduate, Ed Finkel, is working on a story for the recently redesigned Medill magazine on citizen journalism, the impact of blogs on journalism, and how we define a journalist in this new media landscape.

Money makes the title

I don’t pretend to have an answer to Ed’s question. But I did think of one interesting place to look: the government.

Recent legislation pushed through the House proposes a reporter’s privilege, or the right to protect one’s sources against court subpoena. (For more on the background of the Reporter’s Privilege, here’s a great article in U.S. News & World Report, or check out the The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.)

The Free Flow of Information Act, as the legislation is titled, defines a “covered person” as:

a person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person.

I think it’s interesting because it expands the definition of a journalist, for the purposes of a reporter’s privilege, to bloggers, podcasters, or anyone else who performs acts of journalism – but only as long as they make money.

Now this isn’t the only definition, and it is a narrowly construed one at that, but it could ultimately become an important one that shapes the debate from here on out.

Christian Century opens up site to independent bloggers

A big move for an old magazine
An editor over at U.S. Catholic, where I worked this past summer, informed me that the Christian Century, a Christian magazine with more than one hundred years of history opened up its site to independent bloggers. (Founded in 1884, it was renamed the Christian Century in anticipation of the 20th century!)

Christian Century logoFirst off, I wanted to point it out and give kudos to the staff over at Christian Century for making the move.

Secondly, apparently the way it all started was one writer, Real Live Preacher, taking it upon himself to come up with the idea and recruit all bloggers to make it happen. This fact illustrates an important facet of opening up your site, or your platform as a more traditional or mainstream news and information site. The mantra, “if you build it, they will come” just doesn’t work.

There needs to be someone, whether it is a writer on staff or a community outreach coordinator or advocate, reaching out to bloggers to convince them to contribute. They can write anywhere. You have to convince them it is better to do so on your site.

Or you may have to do more…
This past spring I worked with a dozen other graduate students in the spring on the Medill Media Management project. In the course of our research into hyperlocal community news sites, we spoke with some editors at the Rocky Mountain News. When they launched YourHub, a community news site reliant heavily on user generated content, they stressed the importance of soliciting content from the community. Actively. One editor told us that if you have to go door to door and explain to people what a blog is and how it works, then that’s what it takes.

Now not all of us have the resources of the Rocky Mountain News, but to be in conversation with the community (or audience, or readership, or viewership, or whatever), you need to truly be in conversation with the community.

Medill School of Journalism trains journo-bloggers

I’ve read a couple of articles recently describing blogs as the next prime internet real estate that main stream media companies are gobbling up.

Media companies, in other words, are buying up audiences. This is one way they can compete in the new Web 2.0 arena.

Black Medill LogoHere at Medill, Rich Gordon, who directs New Media studies, has revamped the New Media Storytelling class. Whas was once a crash course in HTML, CSS, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and even a bit of Flash, now involves identifying an audience, setting up a WordPress blog, installing Google analytics and posting daily. They are embracing, it seems, the importance for young journalists to build their own audiences and establish their own brands.

Does anyone else know of other J-schools embarking down the same road?

Here’s a link to the class blog and below are a few of my favorites from the course, which (in full disclosure) I am not enrolled. It appears the class site, as well as the individual student’s blogs, are just getting underway. But definitely interesting.

The Sidewalk – a blog on urban development by Ki Mae Huessner.

Sprockets & Cogs – a “tech-ish” blog by Amy Lee.

My Fare Chicago – a food blog by Kelsey Blackwell (which I’ve always thought was a great idea. You’ve got three posts idea easy, and that’s before snacking!)