It took the Journalism Interactive conference fully three minutes this weekend to grab me by the scruff and inspire me to go all-in on more innovation.
UC Berkeley’s Koci Hernandez took the stage and threw up a picture of his old business card. Tattered and torn, it laid out the shifting ground of digital journalism with the scrawlings of new owners and new incarnations that took over as he’s reinvented himself from staff photographer to multimedia journalist to college educator.
It’s time, I thought, for my reinvention.
I haven’t been standing still, mind you. When critics accuse journalism education of languishing in a text-only, inverted pyramid spiral toward irrelevance, I think, “Screw that. My university blew up its curriculum in 1999. I teach a digital boot camp that has incorporated every development from Audacity to Zeega. My magazine class rocks the world once a year in print, online and tablet.”
But I’ve gotten tired. Digital can begin to feel like 10 pounds of innovation in a 5-pound sack. And truth be told, I look at some of the young guns like Steven King at North Carolina and think, “Am I becoming the dinosaur I used to knock for locking J-Schools into bygone eras?”
Yet there stood Koci. With a mix of his imposing figure, deprecating humor and deep appreciation for pop culture, he video-clipped his way to my key takeaway message from the conference. With a riff on Al Pacino in “City Hall,” he exhorted us:
I will not go down that way.
I choose to fight back.
I choose to rise not fall.
Media futurist Amy Webb angered some attendees by challenging the relevance of a journalism degree. But she has a point. Any journalism program stuck in the gallows mentality of a declining news industry is writing its own obituary. Fortunately, I don’t see many programs like that.
In our J-School, application numbers are up and quality is high. The people at J/i — along with the scores who attended the International Symposium on Online Journalism at Texas-Austin this weekend — spanned programs of all kinds across the nation — and the world. And the Challenge Fund to Hack Journalism Curriculum netted 125 proposals, easily three times what I expected them to get.
To me, that all points to people — teachers, students and even administrators — trying to ensure the trajectory of journalism education is headed up, not down. We must rise, not fall. Here are just a few of the rockets I’ll be using to power that rise in my own work.
Koci’s Read and Watch List
Of all the insights and inspiration I gained from his talk, I thought Koci’s reading list was the best. He’s far afield from the traditional textbooks. I’ve been through a few of these, and they’re must-reads. But I’m committing to the list in full now, as soon as my finals are graded.
- Steal Like an Artist
- Show Your Work
- The Passionate Photographer
- It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be
- Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite
- The MediaStorm Field Guide
- Everything Is a Remix
Webb’s Summer School for J-Profs
Webb covered some interesting tech trends educators should know about though I remain skeptical that we can all be what she envisions. For instance, Webb is a proud advocate of thinking technology-first, not merely digital publishing first. It’s an interesting focus, and I may well buy the argument that news organizations need to become tech organizations.
But J-Schools are a step removed from that. And while some people or specialized programs among us may be able to go tech-first, it’s just not going to be the model in a school like mine. I am happy to benefit from recognizing the mindset and adopting the cool tools developed at places like the Knight Lab at Northwestern’s Medill school. Their TimelineJS and StoryMapJS are remarkable advances I use in my classes. (You can check out the rest of the trends Webb covered or consume Jeremy Caplan’s excellent Storify of the talk.)
Where Webb soared, however, was in conceiving a summer curriculum for journalism profs who want to move forward. She’s laid out a roadmap for updating your thinking on emerging technologies, as well as the millennials we teach. It’s a workable trip through some important insights and ideas. I’ve committed to take some time this summer to get through it in full.
The Power of Prof Crowds
Speaking of that summer curriculum, I’m not going it alone. Jeremy Littau from Lehigh has offered to work through it with me. We’ll support each other along the way and write about it for EducationShift.
This was a massive lesson I’d learned before but embraced again at J/i: Teaching journalism is too hard to do alone. The ground shifts so quickly and so massively. The tools emerge in a blink. The range of content to be taught only seems to expand.
This is why we need our gaggle of teachers to be a community of learners. I want EdShift to be a hub through which we all engage and help solve each other’s problems. But you can also find support through the active ONA Educators group on Facebook or the excellent Teachapalooza seminar coming up at Poynter in June (disclosure: I’m on that schedule for a variety of sessions).
EdShift will be working hard in the coming year to bring you the stories of the winners of the Challenge Fund, as they wend their way through a dozen live news experiments. This community should be particularly helpful in sharing lessons learned, as well as materials that can be remixed in your own program.
Sucking the Right Air
Poynter’s Al Tompkins — catalyst of so many of my reinventions and innovations — closes many of his seminars with a meaningful exercise. When you fly home, he says, listen to the flight attendant’s emergency instructions. In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop automatically. Secure your own mask before helping another.
That’s what events like J/i, places like Poynter and efforts like EdShift are all about. They’re the teaching oxygen you need to breathe in before you can set off to help your students. Take time for these moments and the people who inhabit them. If you do, we rise together.
Kathleen Bartzen Culver is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teaching and researching at the intersection of ethics and digital media practices. Culver also serves as associate director of the Center for Journalism Ethics and Education Curator for PBS MediaShift.