J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

What This is All About

Posted by chanders on October 10, 2007

The original impetus for this weblog sprang from two quotes and three coincidences.

Quote 1: In July 2007, Jay Rosen, of the NYU School of Journalism and NewAssignment.Net, discussed the lessons he learned from NewAssignment.Net’s first experiment in crowdsourced reporting. At one point, Jay dropped the following tidbit of information:

I asked [Jimmy Wales], why did Wikipedia work when the odds are that most things don’t work, and he said something very important, although its significance escaped me at the time. People come to Wikipedia not knowing how it works, but they do know how a regular, ‘ol encyclopedia works and so the “leap” to what a free online encyclopedia would be like is not that great. This prior knowledge is critical to a system’s viability because is constrains users and points them in the logical directions. How much did it cost Wikipedia to put that common understanding into each contributor’s head? Zero! They already knew it. Explaining the way it works takes all of six words: “The online encyclopedia anyone can edit.” With 6,000 words we did not get clarity on what a crowdsourced investigation asked of participants because there was no common image to start with, nothing comparable to “encyclopedia, right!…”

Quote 2: In his blog last week, CUNY Journalism School Prof. Jeff Jarvis recounted this experience in teaching the school’s interactive journalism course. Jarvis wrote:

“Our first challenge, I think, is to figure out how to teach interactivity – before our students have publics with whom to interact. Blogging would seem to be the perfect tool to explore this relationship. But in my first year teaching at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, I must confess, I did my worst job teaching weblogs. Oh, the irony. I made the assumption that these young people shared a common understanding of blogging when, in fact, they each brought widely different definitions and presumptions, some treacherous (that is, that blogging licenses and demands snarking). Many weren’t ready to serve a public, did not know how to, even feared doing so.”

3 Coincidences: In the course of the past week, I’ve facilitated a panel at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism on journalism education (in memory of Prof. James Carey), attended a large summit on networked journalism, and will be helping to teach a reporting workshop at NYC Indymedia.

The Upshot: What do independent, or citizen, or networked, or pro-am journalists need to know, and what are we teaching them? This relates to a larger question: what do journalists, of any stripe, need to know … and what are we teaching them? This matters for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that a claim to knowledge is fundamentally a claim to power. When someone (or in the case, a group of someones– an occupation, or a profession) claims that they know something, they simultaneously claim that they have authority over some slice of the social world. And understanding claims of occupational knowledge can help us understand claims to authority in general.

I hope that eventually this blog becomes a collaborative effort. As of right now, it will be a place to: 1) Gather information about actually-existing independent journalism training programs, 2) Gather information about journalism education in general, 3) See examples of citizens journalism in action, and 4) Think, talk, dialog, and share.

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