The skills Studio 20 students have and want to gain

Jay Rosen asked the incoming class of Studio 20 students to participate in an inventory: the skills they came in with and the skills they most wanted to acquire during their 16-month graduate program. Then they had to come up with a way of representing it that tapped into some of those skills, plus they had to introduce themselves and their backgrounds. 

This is what they produced. Navigate by clicking on the tabs at the top.

(Asked what the takeaway was, the students said: next time, don’t build it in flash!)

Kevin Convey brings innovation from the newsroom to the classroom

This fall, Studio 20 added veteran journalist Kevin Convey to its staff ranks. Having recently parted ways with the New York Daily News, where he oversaw the predominantly print newsroom transition to digital, Convey took over teaching our first-semester “Studio 1” innovation workshop.

Three weeks into the semester, we talk to him about innovation—in the newsroom and in class—and the path he took from well seasoned print journalist to strong digital proponent and, now, graduate professor.

You started out as a print journalist but became a strong advocate of the “digital first” school of thinking. Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get from point A to point B?

I actually started in journalism at the age of 9 when I printed up a neighborhood newsletter on a toy press my parents had given me for Christmas. I later worked on my high school and college papers, and I had a few internships at local Maine papers during college. I was an English classics major – I studied English and ancient history – but I sort of fell in love with working on the college paper and decided that’s what I wanted to do. So my senior year I sent our hundreds of applications and I got two interviews and one job at a little five-day daily in Brunswick, Main, circulation 17,000. I basically got taken to school by the city editor there. He provided the journalism school I didn’t have.

Then I went to Boston and started my first stint at The Boston Herald. The jobs I had ranged from assignment editor to investigative reporter. I covered crime, I was a business reporter, a state-house reporter, and then ultimately I became City Editor of the Boston Herald. After a three-year stint at Boston Magazine, I went back to the Herlad and became Sunday Editor, then Managing editor for Sunday and Features, and then finally Managing Editor. With other jobs in between, I eventually became Managing Editor and then Editor in Chief there, wrapping that up in 2010. That’s when I got a job as Editor in Chief of The New York Daily News.

It was as the Herald and then at the Daily News that I really started pushing the digital thing. The Herald was actually doing pretty well while I was there – there were people in charge of the digital side that were doing OK. But at the Daily News, it was a complete mess digitally. The print people, who tended to be older and more tradition-minded, did not speak to the digital people. They did not welcome the efforts of the digital people, and the digital people were sort of quarantined in their own little area. There was no mixing.

I came in and I just knew this was death for the institution. It had to go digital first, and I had to start making steps in that direction. We reorganized the staff, we got a new content-management system, which made certain that pieces went up on the web before they went into the newspaper. I would like to think that by the time I left the Daily News was well on its way to understanding that the news had to be broken on the web and few would be the instances in which to hold something – a really big story that you could splash with on the newspaper in a way that would impact sales, for instance, was the only thing would hold. I also put the “digital people” not just in charge of digital stuff, but newspaper stuff.

Did you know you would have to pull off such an overhaul at the Daily News? Did you know what you were getting yourself into?

One never does, in some ways. You kind of assume that people will accept what’s good for them, but that wasn’t always the case at the Daily News. The Daily News has a wonderful tradition, but tradition cuts two ways. On the one hand you have this great legacy brand, on the other, you could be imprisoned by that brand, and in some ways I think the Daily News was.

You left the Daily News last year. What attracted you to teaching in a graduate journalism program after that experience?

After about a year and a half, the owner of the Daily News and I clashed over the direction of the paper. He wanted more emphasis on the print edition and I wanted to pursue digital. So we came to a parting of the ways. That’s when I started thinking about going into grad school and teaching – something I had wanted to do many years before, when I first graduated from Colby. I always loved the scholarly life.

When your job ends, you start to think about what you want to be doing next – what you want to spend the remaining time that you have doing. And to me this seemed like a good opportunity to scratch my teaching itch. I had made contact with Jay Rosen when I was still Editor in Chief of the Daily News, so he knew I was interested in teaching. I also made contact with the City University of New York (CUNY) journalism school, where I then looked to go back to grad school myself. Those doors both opened to me and I’ll be eternally grateful for that. Here I am now teaching Studio 1, but I’m also going to grad school myself, so I can really feel for what my students are going through.

You’re in journalism grad school too, huh? What are you studying?

One thing I’m not doing is writing craft. I guess after 35 years in the business the school decided I didn’t need to be told that when you get to a fire scene the guy in the white helmet is the guy to talk to. But I did want to take multimedia. I understand digital strategy, but I don’t have any multimedia skills. So I’m just winding up a unit on broadcasting in which I’ve learned to use the wonderful Marantz 660, and I’m working on a photo unit and going into video soon too.

The experience is humbling. I have a tremendous amount of experience in print, but the students that I’m going to grad school with are digital natives, and Mac natives, so they really know their way around these programs – and I don’t. A lot of times I feel like the mentally impaired grandfather who can’t quite figure out how the remote on his television set works! It’s a challenge.

Interesting you put it that way. As someone who is not a “digital native,” what unique perspective can you impart to your own students, who have now spent most of their lives in a digital environment?

Fortunately for them I’m not teaching them how to operate a Marantz! What I’m doing is talking to them about innovation and disruption in the news industry.

The first question that we ask in class is “What is innovation?” The second is “What is the state of innovation in the news business, historically?” That’s an interesting question for two reasons. First off, big media has failed at innovation for the past 20 years – that’s why it’s floundering in the way that it is. But, the news business was an extremely innovative business in earlier days. It was a very disruptive business. When publishers like Joseph Pulitzer and James Gordon Bennett started their newspapers they made a huge difference and disrupted other newspapers right out of business by the innovative things they did. So I want my students to look at those historical examples.

We are also going to take a look at some legacy media that have been innovating successfully; we are going to take a look at new media and how they’re innovating; and we will talk a little bit about the discontent with new media and digital and the web. I want to delve a little bit into this debate of whether all this connectedness is good for your brain.

The class aims to be a well-rounded look at what’s been going on in the media historically, and over the last 10 years. I’ve experienced that environment and had to cope with it and tried to bring about change, so I feel fairly qualified in that respect. I’ve also been thinking about business and management and innovation for most of my career as manager, which is something students in graduate school might not spend a lot of time thinking about.

You’ve now wrapped up the first three weeks of class. How are the Studio 20 students treating you?

I guess I haven’t slipped on any banana peels quite yet. I think that everything is going well, but my students will ultimately be the ones to judge me. I never lose sight of the fact that I’m a novice. I feel that in every class my students are teaching me with the things that they see from their particular perspective as much as I’m teaching them. I have no doubt that in the end they will make me a better teacher just because of their intelligence and their observations.

Studio 20 prof brings us ‘Obama Revealed’

A quick programming note…

Professor Jason Samuels’ latest documentary project is scheduled to air on CNN tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST.

“Obama Revealed: The Man. The President” is a 90-minute documentary portrait of the Obama presidency. The program includes original sit-down interviews with President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Former Director of White House Economic Council Larry Summers, the former Chairs of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee and Christina Romer, Senior Campaign Strategist David Axelrod, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, House Speaker John Boehner, Senator Olympia Snowe, Obama biographer and Washington Post associate editor David Maraniss, Rice University Professor and Historian Douglas Brinkley, New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David Sanger, former personal aide Reggie Love and Obama supporter Velma Hart.

Watch, Tweet, and let us know what you think: @profsamuels_nyu @studio20NYU

This Year’s Studio 20 Summer Gigs

Wondering what the 2011-2012 Studio 20 class has been up to this summer? Of course you are!

From helping to produce documentaries overseas to engaging new audiences right here in New York, we’ve been a busy bunch. See for yourselves:

Ana Maria Benedetti has been spending the summer in Miami working at Univision News, a new joint venture by Univision and ABC to create a hispanic oriented news channel in English. As a multimedia intern she has had the opportunity to collaborate with the UiE team in setting the tone for this new endeavor. Her latest graphic work takes on gun violence in America. She has also worked on various other graphic, video and map projects.


After finishing a course on photography in human rights at the beginning of the summer, Tracy Levy began working as the web producer on the documentary “The Cola Road.” She is currently in Zambia, where she will spend the next three weeks filming and updating the film’s social media accounts in an effort to make the documentary more interactive.


Kat Patke has spent her summer working as a Community Intern at The Huffington Post, primarily contributing to the entertainment, culture, and celebrity verticals. In this position, she looks to create opportunities for user ideas and thoughts to be heard via social media and for comments to inform on-site posts. Her goal is to increase overall user-engagement and build communities. In practice, this means Kat has worked on a wide variety of posts, from a serious debate about the conventions and culture of classical music concerts to a less serious Emmy snub deathmatch bracket, Katy Perry record label name speculation, and many others. She is also responsible for curating the Huffington Post Tumblr


Nadja Popovich has spent her summer working as a web producer for the Guardian U.S.,  while continuing various freelance work, including contributing to the Atlantic’s health channel. You can check out some of her recent work here. One of her pieces for the Guardian was recently “drudged" (a.k.a. picked up by the Drudge Report) — a journalistic first.


Laura Edwins is currently the web intern at the Christian Science Monitor in Boston. There, she has worked on a wide variety of multimedia projects, as well as written pieces. She also fills in part-time as a member of the Production Team, monitoring and updating the homepage of and chasing trends on Google News. Most recently, Laura wrote some political quizzes and several stories on women’s issues. Be on the lookout for her daily blog on what to watch during the Summer Olympics.


Silva Shih has spent her summer working with NYU Stern’s economics professor David Backus on a video project, while also reporting for Taiwanese media. She is starting to do pre-research for her Studio 3 thesis project, which will see her partner with the Atlantic Media Company’s new business venture, Quartz, and Studio 20 adjunct professor Zach Seward. Silva’s project will focus on data visualization on the mobile platform.


Khwezi Magwaza is spending her summer with the BET News division. The popular African American entertainment network’s longform news and documentary unit is currently preparing for their coverage of the 2012 Elections. She has been putting her digital skills to use contributing to their social media platforms and planning for their online presence during the election season, among other responsibilities. Khwezi has also spent time mentoring and teaching minority teens interested in journalism as a graduate assistant on the NYU Urban Journalism Workshop. Check out the outcome of their work at The Spectrum.


This summer, Tando Ntunja is interning at Global Grind, a Russell Simmons-owned online entertainment journalism site that focuses on the confluence between hip-hop and pop culture. She has co-produced some multimedia pieces including an exclusive interview with multi-platinum South African artist, Lira and a forum with young South Africans living in New York, which also features Studio 20 colleague Khwezi Magwaza. Tando is currently working on a top secret mission for Global Grind which looks to increase the 4.2 million uniques the site already has. She will also soon be a featured multimedia blogger for influential South African publication, The Daily Dispatch. The blog is slated to launch towards the end of the summer.


Yoo Eun Lee has spent her summer working for the NBC Universal’s iVillage. She has focused on creating compelling health coverage and promoting news content using the right social media tools. Specifically, she is developing a project that looks at what content works best on Pinterest.


Patrice Peck has been keeping busy this summer. She is currently working as an intern at HuffPo’s Black Voices vertical, where she reports and helps the social media team. She is freelancing for — for which she is currently working on a stop and frisk piece, among other items — and — for which she writes movie reviews, feature pieces, and profiles.

David Holmes explains it all — in song

Over at the Daily Dot, Studio 20 graduate David Holmes breaks down how he became the go-to guy for musical explainers. It all started as part of a class project…

One and a half years ago, in a conference room overlooking lower Manhattan, I stood up in front of the editorial team at one of the most-renowned investigative journalism outlets in the world and started to rap.

It would have been a surreal experience for anybody, let alone a guy who just months earlier had been working in a call center. But there I was, in the media capital of the United States, singing about hazardous chemicals and drilling techniques, half-wondering how soon I could catch a plane back to Columbus, Ohio to laugh with my friends about the time I tried to be a journalist.

In fact, Holmes’ “Fracking Song” went viral, and he’s been at it ever since, putting out many more musical explainers for ProPublica and other media organizations.

Here’s the latest from Explainer Music (Holmes’ company), a music video for PandoDaily about the 1990’s tech bubble:

David’s advice to future Studio 20 students is to think entrepreneurially. “I don’t mean, ‘starting your own business,’” he says. “I mean charting your own path, with or without the help of an established journalistic institution, and, most importantly, not waiting for someone else’s permission to do something innovative.”

And while Holmes has found success with some big-name media outlets, that may not be the only way to get your ideas out there. As he writes:

If consumers and journalists perceive a gap in how the news is reported (in this case, not enough explanation) they don’t have to wait for major organizations or institutions to fulfill the need. Any schlub like me can create a YouTube account and spit out content I think might be beneficial to viewers.

While the success of our videos has largely been driven through more institutional channels, guys like Kevin T. Porter who created the Sorkinisms supercut will tell you that if a video is well-timed and entertaining (and in our case, we’ll add “informative” to the list), all it takes is a community on Twitter or Reddit to discover it in order to attract a huge audience.

Read Holmes’ “personal case study” over at the Daily Dot for some innovation inspiration, and catch our own interview with Holmes, “The Man Behind the News Songs.”

Maybe your site should be home to a Studio 20 project

by Jay Rosen, Director of Studio 20

Studio 20 at NYU is a graduate program in journalism that thinks project-based learning is the best way to teach students about the hard work of innovation. This post explains to potential collaborators why they might want to work with us. That is, why they might want to hand a problem in innovation over to one of our people. 

More than 20 editorial sites have done just that since 2010; maybe yours should too. We’re looking for possible partners now for projects that would officially start in September, 2012, but could also begin with a (paid) summer internship, if you were so inclined.

We dispense with cliches like “Why didn’t the news industry invent Facebook?” and plunge our diversely-talented students into real world projects where they can test their ideas against all the practical constraints that make it hard to do new things in journalism. Of course they also learn why it is necessary to do new things in journalism.  You can find a fuller description of this approach here.

A key part of the program unfolds in the students’ third and final semester. Working with a media partner (that’s where you might come in) they each have to design and execute on their own project in innovation. Sort of like a consulting gig, but no money changes hands. Our currency… is good problems.

Meaning: some new and improved thing your site should be doing, or could be doing, but isn’t doing now, probably because it’s difficult to pull people off the production schedule to figure out the best approach.

Here’s a simple example of a project from 2010. We considered this a “good problem.”

Amir Shoucri developed a video component for the New York Observer’s website.  This included creating a signature “Observer” visual style, devising a workflow for posting video, and producing a variety of original video content. Here’s an example of a feature posted on the home page.

Studio 20 graduate students are trained to understand the partner’s editorial strategy and business model first. They then conduct an extensive best practices search, asking “who’s doing something like this now?” In that search they do not limit themselves to other news or information sites; they look across the entire digital landscape. They also look at your competitors.

You don’t have to teach them to use existing tools and services whenever possible; they already know that. They understand the connection between keeping costs low and being able to try stuff, iterate and improve. They’re not programmers—they’re new media journalists—but they will have absorbed the principles of agile development. They’re always thinking about user engagement as well as quality journalism.

They know they have to deliver. They know they have to meet your quality bar. They know the work must be useful to your organization. When they graduate they want to make change happen in newsrooms and help solve problems in adapting journalism to the digital age. Can you use someone like that?

Their projects last for one semester (always in the fall) so they have to study the problem, do their research, design an approach, test it, troubleshoot, execute, finish and present the work by December 15— all while coordinating closely with the partner. These projects are one third of their academic program, or about 15 hours a week. Minus class time that’s about 160 person-hours devoted to the project: the equivalent of 4 weeks of a full-time staffer.

A few more examples from 2011:

Ruth Spencer explored how data literacy is emerging as a necessary journalistic skill. She created The Datamaster for Jim Brady, Editor in Chief of Journal Register Company. The Datamaster is a comprehensive plan for how Journal Register can integrate data resources across its network; it includes a corporate strategy and staff training guide.

Niel Bekker helped manage and produce social gaming content for the Huffington Post. For Studio III, he is produced an original newsgame that addresses the inefficiencies of game development in an online news environment. 

Chelsea Stark partnered with Forbes to explore how to make online video a better return on investment. She focused on optimizing its video content for search and social spaces and built up its online contributor network. She also created guides and repeatable work flows to allow Forbes to repeat these processes in the future.

Todd Olmstead collaborated with Mashable to grow engagement through their comments. Mashable already has a highly active commenting community, and Todd’s goal was to optimize the quality contributions that these readers make on the site

What makes a good Studio 20 project?

* The partner is a news organization, a journalism non-profit, an editorial company or a news start-up. (Advertising, marketing and PR firms are not eligible. Consulting firms might be.)

* The project involves innovation in some way. Dead simple definition: something you’re not doing now but should be doing.

* The project is both “big” and “small.” Small and contained enough to be completed within the time frame (Sep. to Dec.) and with about 160 hours of hard work. But “big” in the sense of strategically important to the site, or containing within it challenging problems, the solution to which would be great to have. 

* If successful the finished work will be become part of how the site operates. Meaning: no routine content production, please! Better: a new routine.

* Also: this is not an internship. It’s a project. However, the work is done for course credit. The students are enrolled in a graduate workshop taught by Jay Rosen that serves as a brain trust and feedback loop. They have to present their work 3 to 4 times to this peer group with instructor. This keeps them on track. We also hire technical consultants to that class to make up for skills the students may lack.

* Sometimes the projects start with a summer internship, which allows the student to get to know your operation and work out with you what a good Fall project would be. This is our recommended approach.

* There is no dollar cost, but there are attention costs: supervision time, planning meetings and an approval process. Partners should be prepared for that. This is not a “set it and forget it” thing. However, we do respect your time and when there is a meeting our people are hyper-prepared. 

* We’re most interested in partners in the New York City area because there is no substitute for in-person coordination. However, we are open to partners elsewhere. In 2011 one of the projects was based at a news site in Egypt.

We currently have ten students looking for projects for Fall, 2012. Some of their interests are described below. But we are also open to partners who have “good problems” to work on, or a nifty project in mind, regardless of whether it coincides with the ideas you find here.

If you think you might want to work with us, just email me: jr3[at] Here’s our current group…

Silva Shah: Multimedia journalist with international business reporting background, interested in how to make business coverage more useful and how to use data visualization, social games or any other interactive way to refresh coverage’s templates. Specialized in Processing (Java-based programming), data analysis and Adobe Creative Suite.

Tracy Levy: Especially interested in news coming out of the Middle East as well as issues of human rights and social justice. After working for 2 years for an Israeli newspaper, she is looking for a partner that wants to engage with users on a new level surrounding the debate over what is happening in that region. She is especially interested in photo and video journalism. 

Patrice Peck: Would like to develop or improve upon the online multimedia strategy for an online publication or media company, ideally one targeted towards a black female audience.

Laura Edwins is interested in working with a beat reporter to build a network of contacts and community contributors. She would like the focus of her project to be extremely narrow, to hone in on one reporter, one beat, one hyper-local look at networked journalism.

Khwezi Magwaza is especially interested in pop culture and finding new ways to engage young people in current affairs.

Katherine Patke wants to use social media to create crowd-sourced, women’s magazine-style content that is open to all readers of all sizes and ages. She would love to partner with an online publication or magazine web staff that is either a woman-specific publication or similar vertical within the site.

Tando Ntunja - a bi-lingual mobile tech enthusiast - is interested in collaborating with an online news media partner to build South Africa’s first indigenous language tech news service. Having worked as a bilingual national radio journalist for three years before starting at Studio 20, Tando speaks, writes and translates fully in English and isiXhosa: South Africa’s most widely distributed language.

Ana Maria Benedetti: Multimedia journalist with a background in immigration. Especially interested in combining video and data visualization in order to create a more complete understanding of immigration issues in the US. Specialty in Processing (Java-based programming), data analysis, Adobe Creative Suite and Final Cut Studio. 

Yoo Eun Lee is focused on international news (especially Asia), video production, and news games.

Nadja Popovich wants to use digital tools to foster public discourse and engage users across platforms. She’s especially interested in data projects and explanatory journalism. 

First Year Studio 20-er Anjali Mullany Makes Moves

Anjali Mullany, part of the first Studio 20 class back in 2009-10 has made her mark on the media world already. She’s been a major driver behind the New York Daily News’ push into social media for the past two years. Now, she’s making the jump to Fast Company. We caught up with Anjali while she has a bit of down time for a quick chat about social media innovation in journalism.

So, you got a job with the Daily News right out of Studio 20. How’d you manage that?

Actually, I got the job while I was still a Studio 20 student! At the end of my first semester, our Studio 20 professor Jason Samuels brought Scott Cohen, the executive editor of New York Daily News Digital, to our class. He had really interesting things to say about online news, and I decided to study what the Daily News was doing with social media. And they weren’t doing much yet, so I wrote a social media strategy specifically for them—workflow, projections, etc.—and went to Scott’s office to pitch it to him. Scott liked my pitch, and said I could start trying things out for them. I couldn’t believe my luck! 

Before the end of my second semester, they hired me. It’s kind of a magic New York story—I was new to town, but got to pitch my idea to the big editor at the big city newspaper, and he gave me my big break. 

What were your main responsibilities at the Daily News? What was the day-to-day?

I’ve been responsible for real-time reporting, engagement, and crowdsourcing efforts at the Daily News since late 2009, though as time went on it became a newsroom-wide effort. One of the things I’m most proud of is helping to imagine and institute a live, social, breaking news workflow at the Daily News that continues to grow stronger—from breaking and following up on stories via social platforms to organizing huge multi-day live reporting projects on our website with reporters, photographers, and editors during big events like Hurricane Irene and Occupy Wall Street. These things required an incredible amount of coordination, thought, and effort throughout the newsroom. But I got to be involved with many different aspects of newsroom life.

It was the best possible real-world education. I think that we made our newsroom more transparent and accessible to readers, that we made social engagement and a spirit of live reporting part of the fabric of the organization. At the Daily News, that will only continue to grow.

Now you’re making the move to Fast-Company. What caused you to make the jump?

One thing I’m particularly excited about is that I’ll get to do more social thinking around longform journalism. Fast Company is, obviously, all about innovation, and the editors there are imaginative and savvy—they have exciting ideas about what we might pursue.

I start my new job as social media editor at Fast Company the end of April. I’ll be heading up their engagement efforts, working with their innovative team as they continue to make their publication even more interactive and creative, coming up with ways to strengthen their already-robust audience. I believe the “live” sensibility the Daily News instilled in me is going to be an asset for me there. Fast Company is a great environment for someone who wants room to experiment and expand their repertoire—a very cool place.

You were a part of the first Studio 20 class, what was that like? Miss it sometimes?

The program was incredibly rewarding. While I was a Studio 20 student, one of our class projects was coming up with social media recommendations for The Economist, and I was Jay’s project manager for The New York Times’ Local East Village before it launched. Much of what I learned about social journalism, I learned from Jay—and I don’t mean how to tweet or what a hashtag is. I mean, how to think about my responsibilities as a journalist in a collaborative, open, and accountable way. He spent a lot of extra time on his students, is invested in their work and in their intellectual development. 

The Studio 20 website basically promised us that if we came to New York and joined Studio 20, we would get to work with major media partners, learn new skills, and get jobs. Studio 20 kept its promise to me—all of that came true. Joining that program was one of the best decisions I ever made; it definitely changed the course of my career.

The Man Behind the News Songs

Studio 20 grad David Holmes just might be king of the “newsical” genre. Or at least a prince. 

Last year, at Studio 20, Holmes came out with the “Fracking Song” for the class’s joint explainer project with ProPublica. It went viral in no time. Since then, he’s been busy writing, composing, and playing more explanatory songs for various newsrooms. 

His latest song—another hit for ProPublica—covers the shady dealings of Super PACs, a new supercharged breed of political action committee. Watch below: 

We interviewed Holmes about his newfound success and what it feels like to be working in a relatively new news genre. 

What inspired you to start doing news songs in the first place? 

It started my first semester at Studio 20. I was in Mitch Stephens’ innovation class and I was in a group with fellow Studio 20-er Niel Bekker. He had this idea to write a rock-opera about bed bugs, and he didn’t even know I was a musician or anything. So we threw it together real quick. And though the visuals were really dumb, it was a ton of fun.  When the “Building a Better Explainer” project came along with ProPublica, I figured, “well people really like the bed bugs song, so I’ll make a song about fracking and see what happens.” We found some great animators, and everything that could go right did. 

Do you think that the song format is a good way to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise be engaged with the news? 

In the best case scenario, like with “The Fracking Song” which did really well, you have people listening to the song more than once. You probably don’t get that as often with an essay or written article. Listening to it over and over again allows people to retain the knowledge so much more.  If you can take a boring issue and add a fun beat to it, a catchy chorus, people will be more likely to share it and you can raise more awareness of important issues.

The new song is about Super PACs, again for ProPublica. What inspired you to cover this topic? 

Part of it was actually a tumblr post by Jay Rosen about how, at one of the Republican debates, David Gregory asked a question about Super PACs that sort of made it sound like he didn’t quite understand the issue himself. Now, I’m sure Gregory understands Super PACs, but the way he asked this question was very confusing to the average viewer. Basically, it just made me think this topic was really ripe for explanation. 

Did you pitch this idea to ProPublica yourself or was this something they were already working on and they wanted a new song? 

They have their PAC Track, an interactive that tracks all the Super PAC data. So, I figured they’d be down to do a song about Super PACs, since they’ve done a lot of reporting on the topic. 

You have a company now, right? 

Andrew Bean, a friend from high school who lives in New York, and I started a company called Explainer Music. He co-writes the music and lyrics with me. He and I worked on all the songs so far. For this last video, Krishanan Vasudevan, and Sharon Shattuck, both graduates of NYU’s News & Doc program, did the animation. Some other friends had done the graphics on the previous videos, but didn’t have time to turn this one around as quickly as we needed for ProPublica. So we went with these new animators and they’ve been great. 

This song has a 70s funk theme. Is there a reason you chose that musical style in specific? 

Someone mentioned the song “SuperFly” By Curtis Mayfield when we were talking about this idea at ProPublica. So that was sort of how the 70s theme started. I also just really like that genre of music, it comes easily in terms of song writing. 

What are the other topics you’ve worked on for your explainer songs so far? 

We did a “Euro Crisis Song” for the Guardian last summer, which was a lot of fun. There was the “Redistricting Song” for ProPublica, which went up in early November. I liked that one because it had more of a narrative to it than some of the others. It started off with a really naïve explanation of how redistricting works—like what you’d learn from high school—and then it goes into how the system has been corrupted. Then there was the big “Fracking Song,” of course.

Professor Samuels at SXSW: Black in America/Silicon Valley, the Aftermath

You may remember the debate that broke out around CNN’s Black in America 4 Silicon Valley doc last year—a “war of words" between the show’s producers and interview subject, tech blogger and investor, Matthew Arrington. The show itself made quite a splash too. The conversation it sparked over diversity—or lack thereof—in Silicon is still being hashed out.

This year at SXSW, Studio 20’s own Professor Jason Samuels, producer of the documentary, took part in the panel discussion: "CNN’s Black in America / Silicon Valley: Aftermath."

"Attending SXSW was a great opportunity to connect face-to-face with many people I admire in the digital journalism space," says Samuels. "To my surprise our Black In America documentary panel was standing room only. The documentary continues to resonate far beyond my expectations in terms of impact and awareness. In essence it has forced an industry to look in the mirror.”

Samuels was joined on the panel by his colleague CNN anchor/reporter Soledad O’Brien, and several of the documentary subjects and participants of the New Me accelerator project, Hajj Flemings, Hank Williams, and New Me co-founder Wayne Sutton. You can listen to the full audio of the discussion on the SXSW event page.

The Citizens’ Agenda Round 1: #unasked Questions in GOP Debates

You may remember our announcement last December that Studio 20 is collaborating with the Guardian US on how to improve election coverage. “The Citizens’ Agenda” as the project was christened, was meant to amplify the user’s voice in a media sphere overrun with insiderism.
Our own Jay Rosen and the Guardian’s Amanda Michel summed up the idea in a co-authored column:

It starts with a question: what do voters want the candidates to be discussing as they compete with each other in 2012?

But to get at what voters wanted the candidates to be discussing, we first had to know what had and hadn’t been discussed at all. And what better place to look for what’s been talked about than the 20 GOP debates that took place from May 5 2011 to January 26, 20212?
We set to it, digging through the 800+ questions asked at the debates. Here’s what we found:   

But what was more important than what was asked, was what wasn’t, as Rosen put it:

Small business got one question. Women’s rights (beyond the abortion battle) got one question. How to prevent another crash like the one in 2008: one question. Super Pacs, a huge factor in the 2012 campaign, were asked about twice.

We also found only two questions about climate change, four mentioning the Arab Spring, and one on women’s rights beyond abortion. And we wondered: were people eager to hear more about these scantly covered issues?
In our inaugural post, we asked readers to Tweet their “unasked” questions to John King before last week’s big—possibly final—debate using #unasked, and we got some pretty good responses.

We also partnered with Scientific American, Grist, Mashable, Wired, and TechPresident, among others, to solicit #unasked questions from different communities who’ve been underrepresented in debate questions so far.

 Turns out they had a lot to say. 

Noting that the Internet and mobile technology play an increasingly large role in our daily lives, TechPresident’s Andrew Rasiej asked why tech was rarely covered across the debates, and came up with three questions of his own he’d ask were he handed the mic:

1) Do voters have a right to know what data candidates and political parties are collecting on them and what happens to this data after the election?

2) Should American companies be free to sell surveillance and internet technologies globally even to totalitarian or non-democratic regimes?

3) How should America increase low cost access to high-speed broadband in order to all Americans to effectively compete in the 21st Century Internet economy?

Meanwhile, Grist turned to its readers for comment and got some great questions back in return, ranging in topics from environmentalism to the economy to food safety concerns:

“Do you still consider fracking to be a ‘renewable’ and ‘clean’ source of energy?” — Lindsay McNamara via Twitter

“How do you plan to sustain an economy that demands infinite growth upon a finite resource base when we are already well beyond our means?” — Edward Markie, via Facebook

“Do you personally like knowing what is in your food and/or where it came from? What is your opinion on food labeling?” — Sewassbe, via comments

Thanks to a stellar interactive feature from the Guardian team, readers could also vote up what topics they wanted to hear more about on site. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Campaign Finance & SuperPacs” shot to the top of the pack pretty quickly.
We have to admit, we’re slightly disappointed that Wednesday’s debate proceeded according to business as usual: no new questions were asked about climate change, technology, SuperPacs, or most other underrepresented fields.
Still, we know the study was read inside CNN. San Feist, Washington bureau chief and the producer of the Feb. 22 debate, was  asked about our study by a reporter from the Huffington Post. He said he found it “interesting and valuable.”
That’s a start.