I was delighted at the news today that I was elected to the Online News Association Board. Thank you to all who voted for me – and those who supported me even if you aren’t yet ONA members. Now on to the hard part: Actually pulling off some of my big ideas. Luckily, the board is full of good journalists who I trust will work with me along the way.
The quest to lay out my platform for the Online News Association Board continues today.
Platform Three: Shaping the Next Generation of Online Journalists
In my role as Interactives Editor at Digital First Media, I’ve been lucky enough to do some hiring. I’ve interviewed some brilliant people in the world of data journalism and news apps – the problem is, there isn’t nearly enough of them. There are a relative few programmers working in journalism, so little that when a new job comes open, there’s essentially a game of musical chairs out there to fill it.
Many reporters and editors I know either went back to school or taught themselves programming skills to get into this somewhat new field, but even with this continuing education, we don’t have enough programmers coming into the industry.
At the same time, we have an influx of new graduates coming into the industry – most of whom have never been exposed to programming or even true CAR reporting. As an occasional adjunct professor (and often Concerned J-School Alum), I’ve nosed my way into some curriculum discussions. I’ve found many journalism schools are struggling to keep up in teaching the latest in online journalism, let alone reconfiguring their curricula to include classes in computer science.
I won’t pretend to say that I know exactly how this would work, but if ONA could team up with NICAR and some of our membership leaders in the academic world, we could start to sketch out a white paper, of sorts, for how journalism schools could transition themselves for the future.
By studying some of the experimental and/or existing journalism hybrid programs out there, we can pass along strategies as to how more schools could create/strengthen hybrid degree programs with computer science,incorporate programming courses into their curriculum and/or reach out to non-journalist computer science students to get interested them in news apps.
About that latter point: How can we reach out to computer science students? Maybe our local chapters (along with our friends at Hacks/Hackers) could conduct some outreach in the form of news app hack a thons at universities in their areas? I know in DC and New York I’ve seen events like these inside news orgs opened up to professionals in the areas, but why not try the same approach with students?
Admittedly, I don’t have these skills and I don’t move in this world as much as I’d like, but I think that with the help of the hackers amongst our industry, we could affect some change at the university level to keep the talent faucet running.
Platform Two: Cast a Spotlight and a Life Saver
Just because most of the journalists you meet at ONA events tend to be from the major cities on the coasts doesn’t mean there aren’t talented online journalists operating in the Midwest and the South. As a Midwesterner myself, I used to feel completely invisible to the journalism innovators, discussion leaders and hiring editors on the coasts. At worst, I felt like a joke.
Back in 2004, in a second interview for an internship at what was then my favorite magazine, I was told by the hiring editor that she’d never interviewed a Midwesterner before. Days later, she called to tell me I hadn’t gotten the position mostly because she felt I couldn’t afford or handle a summer in New York City. In later years, I applied for every social media and web producer job that opened in New York, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco and big cities in between. I rarely even got a call or email in response, even though I had all of the experience they were seeking. The jobs always seemed to go to those already in the area.
I got a shot at achieving my dreams when TBD decided to take a chance on a non-DC native – and anyone who wants to try something new should get support and encouragement, no matter where they live. Whether they want to lead changes in their local newsrooms or take on new challenges in larger markets, ONA should be helping these journalists along.
The first way to do this woud be to cast a spotlight on the industry’s less-lauded players and projects. Using a combination of crowdsourced nominations, freelance submissions and pitches, ONA should publish and promote a monthly newsletter highlighting work and people in news (and news-related) operations big and small – with at least one segment each month focusing on a new name. We do this to some extent with the “Featured Member of the Month”, but I imagine this being less in-depth and more widespread with the aid of a crowd’s help.
We do something like this on occasion inside Digital First called ‘The Three’, where particular projects of local journalists are lauded to the entire company. Imagine that on a much bigger scale, giving local journalists an even bigger stage. It might seem like a small, inconsequential thing, but a spotlight in a nationally-read blog or newsletter within the industry could be just what some journalists need to reach their next level – or just get a little ego boost.
On a similar note, I propose an organized virtual mentorship program. Think of it as a sort of Big Brothers, Big Sisters for online journalists – ON THE INTERNETS.
Those learning data or development skills can be paired with willing mentors already doing that work in the industry. The same goes for reporters, social media newbies, burgeoning photographers or those thinking of starting their own sites or products. It wouldn’t have to be intensive work on the part of the mentors, they would just make themselves available to offer feedback and guidance when needed. I would and have offered mentoring to journalists looking to get better at (or get employed in) social media and it has been tremendously rewarding. I’d think others would also jump at the opportunity.
Would either of these ideas appeal to you? Let me know.
Beginning this Friday, members of the Online Journalism Association will have the opportunity to shape our industry’s future by voting for the next ONA board. While there are a lot of great candidates, I hope my fellow journalists will give me a shot.
When we were asked to submit a platform, I described my wishes for the organization.
So I realize that platform isn’t too specific. So over the next couple of days, I will lay out here some of the ideas I have for ONA to carry out this vision. If I get elected to the board, great. I’ll do my best to figure out what’s possible and try to get some of these accomplished, If not, I hope those who serve on the next board will consider these ideas.
Platform One: Bring In New Blood, Support New Leaders
I’ve met a lot of innovative, hungry journalists in my travels with Digital First and as a freelance journalism trainer. These are the folks who stand out in their local newsrooms – teaching themselves a new tool or programming language, staying late to work on personal projects and always making themselves available to help their less digitally savvy colleagues.
These journalists are often the primary source of digital support in their newsrooms, but they need support, too. Many are somewhat isolated from support within the industry, perhaps because they are in sparse media markets or have a less than encouraging newsroom culture. That’s why I propose a two-fold outreach effort to reach these journalists:
1. Aggressive expansion of local ONA chapters in the Midwest, South and West.
Tapping into the resources we have in ONA at the corporate level of many large journalism companies (DFM, Gannett, Tribune, Cox, Scripps and several TV networks), we should kick off local meetups at the city, state or regional level (depending on the market). these key players can help identify local leaders who can lead the charge for local meetups. We can help by luring in attendees with appearances by national industry leaders and personalities (many of whom are members).
While we could use it, the push wouldn’t be to get these local groups paying membership dues right away. Our initial goal would be just getting them into holding regular (or semi-regular) meetups to discuss tools, tactics and journalism issues. To fully tap into the resources ONA can offer, they’d then need to move toward a more formal membership agreement.
2. Train the Trainers.
What ONA does with ONACamp and collecting online tutorials is great – and I propose we add a new element in the form of “Train the Trainer”-type events. As I said above, many of the people pushing change in their local newsrooms are lonely players and they may not have much in the way of preparation or confidence to be trainers.
While we may not be able to offer this training in person, ONA should launch an online series of tutorials from the great trainers in our midst to help local leaders become better trainers. I’m thinking of tutorials in preparing engaging presentations, developing skills assessments and setting up incentive-based training programs. I’d imagine we could also offer sample checklists, handouts, training programs, evaluations and the like.