Serving as Media Innovator in Residence at University of Nebraska

    by Alexander Zolotarev
    June 30, 2010

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    Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.


    Flying over Lincoln, Nebraska, aboard a Delta jet, I peered down at the gently rolling meadows, farmlands and the statue on the peak of the high-rise state capitol, which is situated the heart of this cute town.

    The state capitol tower, a historic landmark, is one of the few places in the United States where all three branches of government are housed in one building.


    I am on my way back to New York City after spending a wonderful and very efficient week at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as its first Media Innovator in Residence.

    The position is part of the new program being enacted by Gary Kebbel, the new dean of the college who officially starts tomorrow. He invited me to spend six days in town to meet with faculty and students and speak about SochiReporter and the project’s developments. The idea was for me to share my experiences and participate in discussions about the future of new media. 

    You can see a bit of my time at the school in this video:

    Lectures and Active Discussions

    As Kebbel put it, one of the central ideas of this program is that active entrepreneurs — people who are right in the middle of working on their projects — visit the college, demonstrate their work and also focus on the questions and issues not yet resolved. One of the main questions that I ponder is how to make our website sustainable. What new media business model — or combination of models — will keep the site running after the Knight grant money runs out in a couple of months?

    While visiting the school, I gave six lectures that eventually turned into vibrant discussions with  students. In a marketing class we discussed the partnerships that SochiReporter forged with local media, the ways to promote SochiReporter online and offline, and the SochiReporter-McDonald’s partnership.


    In the design and advertising class, one of the students said she would be interested in working out a plan for the global marketing strategy for SochiReporter. In the reporting class, the students were especially interested in the kinds of stories being generated by our citizen reporters, how the moderation process works, and how we package stories at the website. They wondered which kinds of stories actually cause change and influence the decisions made by the city officials. The students also viewed SochiReporter as an outlet for possible internships next year.

    I also spoke to students at the College of Business Administration and with Dr. Sang M. Lee, a distinguished professor and chairman of the Department of Management. We discussed the possible business models based on attracting global and local businesses.


    What I found interesting is that in about three weeks Lincoln is hosting a Special Olympics event that will attract thousands of visitors from all over the country. This creates a direct bridge between Lincoln and Sochi, the host of the 2014 Olympics.

    I really clicked with Jordan Pascale, a student and staff writer with the Lincoln Journal Star. The newspaper is organizing a new unit to cover the Special Olympics and produce content for the print and the online versions of the paper. Pascale said the plan is to post more original content online than usual and to experiment with it. We talked about the ways of integrating the citizens of Lincoln into covering this event. Some of the school’s journalism students will volunteer at the Games and will also be blogging about it.

    Trip to Omaha

    At one point Dean Kebbel and I took a trip to Omaha to meet with the publisher, executive editor and advertising executives of the Omaha World-Herald, the largest newspaper in the state. It took us 50 minutes driving one way, and I found Omaha to be a fast-developing city with cheerful residents who are excited about the construction of a new, big stadium.


    Publisher and company president Terry Kroeger and the vice-president for news and content Larry King (whom I jokingly complemented on his CNN show when we first met) were open and excited about collaborating with the school. They agreed with Kebbel’s statement that the future of journalism builds upon traditional values of quality reporting by using new technologies to enable people to get news in any format, any time, on any device. (The above photo shows Joanna Nordhues from UNL along with Gary Kebbel and Mike Reilly, executive editor of the Omaha World-Herald.)

    We spent more than three hours in the newspaper’s office, and it was also entertaining to meet with the paper’s cartoonist Jeff Koterba. Aside from me, he had a very unusual visitor in his office, as you can see below.


    One final interesting fact about the school is that faculty members all just received iPads, and it was great to see them all downloading and trying out applications. 

    Serving as innovator in residence was a delightful and enriching experience. Since it’s a long-term program, I’ll always be the first — but I definitely won’t be the last.

    news21 small.jpg

    Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

    Tagged: citizen journalism media innovation olympics omaha world herald sochireporter university of nebraska-lincoln

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