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.