J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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

Archive for July, 2008

Wordleing Philly Journalism

Posted by chanders on July 18, 2008

Since I’ve been in Philadelphia studying journalism, one of the most fascinating things to watch has been the three different newsroom cultures. Philadelphia’s pretty unusual insofar as it has three media properties– The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com— all owned by the same company, but all really really different.

As soon as Jeff Jarvis turned me on to Wordle, I knew I had to give it a try. I’m going to spend copious amounts of ink and time over the next year turning this all into a book — but I don’t know if I could say anything better than I can with these three little word clouds. Here are the three homepages at about 10am this morning.

The Philadelphia Inquirer. The broadsheet. The paper of record. Very Serious.  News.

The Philadelphia Daily News. The tabloid. The “people’s paper.” News … but sports, too. And the Eagles (and it’s July!!)

Philly.com. The redesigned website. Of the web (it’s trying to be). Think fast — what’s missing? (A: News). What’s there instead? (A: Philadelphia). Tagline — “anything and everything Philly.”

On the horizon — newsroom integration. It’s limited, for now, to photos and the copy desk … It makes sense in a lot of ways, and times are tough for newspapers.

But, it would would be a shame to do this one day and have all these little word clouds look the same. Read the rest of this entry »

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Where to Study Journalistic Work?

Posted by chanders on July 14, 2008

I noted in my post below that I was “in Philadelphia to study journalistic work in one mid-sized metropolitan area.” But the whole reason I’m interested in studying journalism —  the fact that the question of “who counts” as a journalist is now very much unsettled– makes my research harder. If I’m interested in journalistic work, then where do I go to see it being carried out? In the old days, the answer to this question was easy: to see journalists at work you went into the newsroom, into the factory where journalstic “products” were “assembled.”  These days, though, it’s not so simple: if bloggers are journalists (sometimes), and the newsroom is under incredible economic pressure to change, than we have to go outside the newsroom in order to understand what journalistic work is. Journalism is what bloggers and freelancers and web editors do, not just what paid reporters do, which means journalism occurs in all sorts of places.

That said, there are two caveats. First caveat: newsrooms are still important. Indeed, I’m spending the bulk of my time in the “traditional” Philly newsrooms — the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com. But, I’m also going outside them, to talk to bloggers like Citizen Mom and Young Philly Politics and the Phildadelphia IMC, and conservative bloggers (hello! conservatives! where are you??) and hopefully many others (Philebrity … if they would only answer my emails…).

Second caveat: even if you’re going to temporarily suspend judgment and assume that anyone is a journalist until they say or show you they aren’t (which is what I think getting outside the newsroom means) you still have to pick your limits. I can’t just show up at the local laundromat and look for journalism there … (well, I could, and I would probably find some, but still…). So, how do I keep my boundaries open and still act like a researcher, which means picking and choosing what to study?

I already made one choice: to study journalism in Philadelphia. A second way to pick and choose where to go is to get assistance from a sociological tool called Social Network Analysis. To understand my use of Social Network Analysis, think “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” and then imagine it applied to the internet (in particular, applied to the Philly blogosphere). Then, imagine it mapped out on the computer. Assisting me in coming up with a “network map” of the Philly blogosphere were John Kelly of Morningside Analytics and a fellow Columbia PhD student, and the fine folks over at IssueCrawler. When they performed all their statistical alchemy, I got maps that looked like this:

courtesy of Morningside Analytics, a map of the Philadelphia Blogosphere

courtesy of Morningside Analytics, a map of the Philadelphia Blogosphere

And like this:

And courtesy of Issue Crawler, here's a second take on the same online space.

So that’s one way to figure out where to start and where to go: basically, if something is in the center of the map, it is “more important.” If it connects to something else, then the two items are linked in some way. The more connections, the “more important” an object (in this case a url or a website) is.

I wasn’t happy, though, just using these maps. Without going into a ton of detail here, I’m ultimately a qualitative researcher (because I can’t do math, it makes me suspicious), and so I wanted to complement the maps with something else. And so the second way to figure out  where to go involved much less number crunching and a lot more talking. I began with something called the “Norg’s conference,” which was a major 2006 gathering of old and new Philly media makers, a conference specifically designed to break down the walls between bloggers and journalists. Beginning with the NORG gathering, I’ve been following the networks of actors who were there (there’s that N-word again) all over the place. Wherever they go, I try to follow them, and try to see if there’s someone doing journalism in the different places they end up.

One more note: I’ve been surprised about how little I’ve used the SNA maps since I got to Philly. That’s not to say they weren’t essential in helping me get my bearings, but I was worried early on that the very visual nature of them would dominate my thinking — would become a statistical screen that got in the way of the people. So far, hasn’t happened.

So. That, it seems to me, is a good plan for figuring out where to go to watch journalistic work.

Coming next time: what is journalistic work, anyway?

Posted in Fieldwork | 4 Comments »

What I’m Doing (1): The Big Picture

Posted by chanders on July 9, 2008

Since I’ve been enrolled in the Columbia University Communications PhD program, I’ve had four general areas of interest:

First: What do journalists know? What is journalistic knowledge, both in a formal sense, and in a practical professional sense (i.e., what are journalists taught?) In pursuit of this question, I spent most of 2007-2008 conducting ethnographic fieldwork in journalism school classrooms and reviewing curricular documents.

Second: What do journalists do? What is journalistic work? In approaching this question, I’ve tried not to define “journalists” ahead of time, but keep an open definition and let journalists define themselves. This is my current focus: I’m in Philadelphia to study journalistic work in one mid-sized metropolitan area.

Third: (and this is where interests one and two unite) … how is journalistic authority maintained by enacting journalistic knowledge through journalistic work? Basically, I take the line that occupations maintain their cultrual authority by displaying their “special,” “unique” knowledge in the work they do.

This third topic ties into to my fourth and broadest area of interest: how are power and authority maintained in our (pre/post/a)modern world, how do power and authority relate to each other, how can power and authority be legitimized democratically, and how is the structure of power / authority changing? This interest goes beyond “journalism,” per se, though journalism is an interesting case study inside these broader questions.

[As a side note: questions of knowledge and authority are currently being overwhelmed by the massive amount of data I’m getting this summer regarding journalistic work. Basically, I could write three dissertations about my fieldwork in Philadelphia alone. I want to maintain questions of journalistic authority– at least in the background– but I’m becoming pretty certain that my time in j-school classrooms might be more useful for another, later project. We’ll see]

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Blogging My Fieldwork

Posted by chanders on July 9, 2008

Take recent burblings in the blogosphere. Add in a couple of really smart posts about the relationship between ethnographic fieldwork, keeping a journal, and keeping a blog. Multiply by a desire on my part to start getting feedback on my own fieldwork in Philadelphia, and factor in the understanding that the academic publishing cycle is in no way compatible with the changes currently buffeting the world of journalism. What do you get? Possibly, a return to active blogging, a practice foresaken since I started teaching in earnest back in 2007. We’ll see.

My own interest in local news seems prescient, as all sorts of metro daily business models are crumbling, both in Philadelphia and elsewhere. So there’s been a surge of interest in the metro newspaper in the journalistic blogosphere, with two of the best posts coming from Jay Rosen (“Big Daddy Newspaper Has Gone and Left Journalism,”) and Jeff Jarvis (“Newsroom economics: Where would you put your money in a newsroom?”) I’m hoping that some of my own on the ground work this summer can contribute to the conversation.

The problem, of course, is that none of this will be done for close to a year — and that’s not even counting the extra 2-5 years it will take to turn my dissertation into a publishable book. I know that on some level, the work I’m doing in Philadelphia amounts to a history of a particular moment in journalism at a particular time– that hopefully, it will be read by people who want to learn “what things were like ‘back then'”– but that doesn’t make it any easier to feel relevant sometimes.

As always, C. Wright Mills to the rescue. “On Intellectual Craftsmanship,” the most brilliant methodological appendix ever written, is full of insights into how to organize your files, keep a journal, and generally keep your mind fresh while you’re engaging in the lonely process of scholarship. Rex over at Savage Minds had the brilliant idea of taking the places where Mills writes journal and file and replacing them with website and blog. So you get something like this:

By keeping an adequate blog and thus developing self-reflective habits, you learn how to keep your inner world awake. Whenever you feel strongly about events or ideas you must try not to let them pass from your mind, but instead to formulate them on your blog and in so doing draw out their implications, show yourself either how foolish these feelings or ideas are, or how they might be articulated into productive shape.

All in all, I’ve been developing a fairly self-reflexive approach to my ethnographic work in Philadelphia anyway. My plan was to share by written memos or parts of chapters with my key research informants, both for ethical and reflexive reasons, so they can play a part in shaping my final results (this is an approach emphasized by both Pablo Boczkowski in Digitizing the News and Bruno Latour in Reassembling the Social but it’s been a mainstay of most Anthropology and qualitiative sociology for a long time. So possibly the next step is to start putting some of the more comprehensive parts of my field notes online, telling everyone about them, and letting them comment on them at will.

My only real concern at this point is ethical– many of my informants have basically given me permission to quote  them by name, and it’s clear that I will be allowed to use the names of the organizations I’m examining. BUT … putting something up on a blog is a lot different than publishing it years from now in an unread doctoral thesis. I’ve gotten amazing access, and I don’t want to rock the boat.

What do people think? Right now, my going plan is to not quote or mention anyone by name, but beyond that, just go ahead and put relevant things up here. Is that enough? I’m curious to hear people’s feedback.

Wait a second … I just realized that many of you may not have any idea what my “fieldwork” is, who I am, or what the hell I’m doing in Philadelphia! That, at least, I can tell you about, along with some other bits and pieces of things. So, stay tuned for some upcoming posts.

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When is a Mass Not a Public, and What Does it Mean if it Goes Away?

Posted by chanders on July 6, 2008

Inspired by my own research down in Philadelphia (more on that in a day or two) and a general dissatisfaction with the state of the current commentary on changes in local journalism, I was inspired to post this very long comment at Stowe Boyd’s blog here. Some of the other inspirational posts included this one and this one (which has gotten a lot of people’s attention).

But, the post was very long, so I figured I’d give it a home here. Consider it my curmudgeonly rant of the quarter.

*Sigh*. I started my non-journalism career at Indymedia way back in 2001. What’s happened to me– what’s happened to the world– in the intervening 7 years to make me feel so old fashioned??

I am getting a little sick and tired of the endless blogsopherical linking of an economic / social reality (the possible end of “massness”) with a normative claim (the end of “massness” is good thing, or at least, it’s “inevitable,” so we don’t need to waste time talking about whther it’s good or not). Marxists (remember them?) used to make this mistake. It’s inevitable, so we don’t have to judge it.

So let’s take a second to evaluate. And let’s start with a couple definitional questions — what’s the difference between a mass, a public, a community, a niche market, and a social movement? […] let’s just take the difference between mass and public. To what degree does the end of the mass mean the end of the public?

Here’s how John Dewey defined the public: when private actions have indirect consequences that affect large groups, that interest group becomes a public, with a stake in regulating the actions in question. Now it’s possible to argue– and I’ve done so– that social movement groups, communities, and even nice markets are more authentically “publics” that the public represented by that idiotic word “public opinion.” And in many ways the end of the mass, with the possibility of creating more authentic, democratic, and local communities, would mean a more public world, and could be a world where hyperlocal journalism, done the right way, could flourish.

The problem though is that, in some key ways, the mass hasn’t gone anywhere. In short, the metro newspapers may be dying, but guess what, people still live in cities! Their lives are still affected by other people who may not be in their hyperlocal coverage area. And most importantly, cities are still ruled by things like mayors and city councils and corporations and chambers of commerce. One the things monopolistic, dead-tree journalism used to do, or should have done when it was doing anything worthwhile at all, was make the public real.

So bottom line: when we all live in a truly anarchistic, communitarian world (a world I wouldn’t mind seeing) then hyperlocal journalism (again, done RIGHT, and I haven’t seen much of it done right) will be all we need. The problem, though, is that we’re not seeing that world emerge. What we’re seeing is the growth and centralization of power — the EU, the executive president, corporate consolidation, etc.

The metro daily may be dead, but the metropolis lives. Who’s going to notice when the city council gives itself all new cars?

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