The Changing Newsroom

9 years ago

I couldn't make it to BlogHer this year because I was immersed in an interactive journalism camp. The camp's participants produced an online multimedia site with story packages that included text, video, photos and interactive graphics that they conceived and coded. Although they were new to journalism, their stories were full of substance. They pressed public officials on what they were doing to reduce our town's carbon footprint. They quizzed a scientist on the ethics of animal testing. Coverage of a robotics competition, dual profiles of a well-known Hollywood actor and a aspiring comic book artist, and a conversation about the future of journalism rounded out the story lineup.

These 16 ace reporters are rising 8th graders who were new to both journalism and programming. You can see what they produced after five days of training and assistance from their college student mentors, five of their teachers, three professors and three volunteers. 

 i mention this camp, dubbed the Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers, because unlike traditional journalism camps, this project was not specifically designed to entice young people into journalism careers. Rather, IJIMS' emphasis on interactive non-fiction storytelling is an effort to expand young people's awareness of the growing range of computing-dependent careers, with the hope they will make choices in high school that will help prepare them to study for those computing careers in college. According to the Computing Research Association, for every there are three jobs for every computer science graduate in the US, even with all of the talk about outsourcing. 

But I also wanted to talk about IJIMs because after reading some of the latest research and commentary on the state of the American news industry, I'm more convinced than ever that journalism's future lies in the hands of those who are immersed in both programming and storytelling. 

This week's report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism on "The Changing Newsroom" is a case in point. Contemplating the future of newpapers, the authors observe:

 In part, this report is a portrait of how those papers are pushing the
boundaries of innovation at a pace unthinkable a decade ago. At the
same time, however, it documents the crippling impact of cutbacks
triggered by the erosion of once-solid financial fundamentals. As we
noted in introducing our findings, these two contradictory forces have
effectively placed newspapers in a race—a race between innovating and
cutting back.

People attending this week's Unity Journalists' convention in Chicago are also contemplating. At a pre-convention workshop on Diversity in the Digital Age, blogger Carmen van Kerchove "live-twittered" this insight from online community news developer Michelle Ferrier:

 Journalists need to be socialized in technology instead of programmers being socialized in journalism.

Amy Gahran live-tweeted a Knight Foundation workshop for winners of  annual news challenge where the call was issued for even more technical innovation.  

By the way, preliminary results from the kids we worked with this week were broadly positive. "I never thought I'd be able to learn this, one student wrote. Another wrote: "I learned how to do multile things with the computers." Others had positive comments about journalism.

It may be that the kids we are working with now will become the innovators Amy and Michelle are looking for. Surely, something like journalism will be around in the future -- the cultural need to know what's going on won't go away. In the meantime, though, the dislocations are painful. Just ask laid-off veteran reporter Shauna Rhone:

Today, I find myself in front of my computer daily cybersitting in the
world's unemployment office trying to get a gig. Filling out online
applications. Trying to write an upbeat, killer cover letter to become
at least worthy of an interview. To date, I've only been tapped four
times out of the 60-plus apps I've filled out since I stopped signing
onto another computer.

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