Since September 2010, Zoe has worked with Studio 20 as we try and solve the big puzzles in journalism. In Studio II, She introduced us to the skills and tactics we need to execute our long-term project with ProPublica. Zoe taught us the value of iterative project management and agile development, and also lead weekly workshops on everything from photoshop to public speaking. This semester in Studio III, Zoe is working with each of us to make sure we’re on track and prepared to deliver our final projects on time and with confidence.
Zoe has been a resource (even a life saver) for the last year and it’s about time that we give her a proper introduction.
When she’s not at Studio 20, Zoe is either at ITP (where she teaches a class on interaction design) or at General Assembly, where she manages Squishables, one of her many companies. (And yes, I am talking about these giant stuffed balls of fuzz).
Zoe is not the typical journalism prof and that suits us just fine; Studio 20 is far from your average journalism program. We asked Zoe to tell us herself about what it’s been like to transition from working with programs and code to stuffed animals and journalists.
S20: How do you see your role in Studio 20?
My job is to make sure everyone involved in Studio 20 has the skills and connections to do any kind of innovation they can dream up, without regard for technical issues or inexperience. Journalists stereotypically run the risk of fearing change - I can’t fix that but I can prove to them that change is a lot easier than they thought (and also a giggle).
S20: What did you do before joining Studio 20?
Most recently I was at ITP, NYU, and these days on top of the teaching I do a lot of consulting work for existing Media Outlets, news startups, and nonprofits involved with freedom of speech. Usually they’re projects involved in Data Visualization or Meme-Tracking (in one instance, both). And of course I also run the ecommerce startup Squishable (Snurfle us on Facebook).
Before then I was doing web architecture at a large financial regulatory institution, and before then I was consulting for a company involved with running free elections in unusual places. Prior to that….the US Department of Labor, and also did a stint for the US Postal Service. Going way back in time, I was a briefly a researcher in Human Computer Interaction at Brunel University, a Runner at the BBC, and before that I worked for a nonprofit on creating eBay’s Giving Works Tool. Before that, like everyone else in the early 00’s, an internet startup that went under. And before that I worked for the Hubble Space Telescope.
And at one point in 2005 I worked for a couple weeks on a kangaroo farm in Australia. So there’s that.
S20: What attracts you to working with journalists/journalism students?
Folks involved in startups often come at life from this POV: I have a cool idea and if I develop it a bit I bet I can get some people who want to use it. But journalists have this amazing situation going on right now: A lot of people want to use my product, if only I could think up a cool idea how to let them. It’s just a more powerful, more rewarding way to think about the world. More fun too.
S20: What has surprised you about Studio 20?
Surprises on working with Studio 20 - hmm. I didn’t necessarily expect the level of dedication I found here. Because of the three-semester layout it seems like the students are incredibly involved and supportive of each other. It’s amazing the advertising agencies aren’t banging in their door demanding to know how they do it.
S20: How do you compare your work at ITP with your work at Studio 20
ITP and Studio 20, they have very different institutional feels, but it’s interesting to notice how convergent evolution has kicked in here. From originally coming from such divergent POV’s, the drive for innovation and experimentation has linked them up in a way I’m not sure anyone expected. It would be as if Birds and Butterfly’s suddenly realized they were both good at the same thing. And decided to help each other modify some wing structure. And hold races. I can keep going with this metaphor if you want.
In its second year, Studio 20 is again embarking on a big collaboration with a major media partner. In 2009-10 it was The Local East Village with the New York Times. In 2010-11 it’s the Building a Better Explainer project with the investigative journalism non-profit, ProPublica. The project will focus on the art of explaining the sort of sprawling complicated stories that ProPublica covers. The new site students built for the project, Explainer.net, launched last night.
Studio 20 Director Jay Rosen’s students, consulting closely with the editors of ProPublica, will:
We will start by researching what’s working now, and by going beyond journalism to fields that might know something journalists should know. In the spring of 2011, we’ll devote a whole graduate course (18 students, two instructors, plus consultants) to producing explainers that we hope ProPublica can publish, as well as a kind of tool kit to make the task easier. At the project site, explainer.net, we’ll post highlights from our research, solicit help, and publish interviews with thinkers and do-ers who are pushing the practice forward.
Recently, Nieman Journalism Lab’s Lois Beckett visited Studio 20 to speak with students about the project. She writes:
Students will divide into three groups tasked with exploring different elements of explanation. One group is interviewing the members of ProPublica’s news team, from reporters to news app builders to the managing editor, in order to understand the organization’s workflow, what it does with the data it collects, and how its reporters explain what they’re learning to themselves as they report a story.
Another group is building Explainer.net’s WordPress website, which sometimes means teaching themselves and each other skills on an ad hoc basis.
A third group is researching the different “explainer” genres. They’re starting with examples of good and bad explanatory journalism, from maps and timelines to more specific visualizations like The National Post’s chilling illustration of how a stoning is carried out in Iran. But they’ll also be reaching far outside the media world to research techniques used in many different fields. Rosen suggested that they focus on situations where people “can’t afford to fail,” like people fixing combat aircraft, or NFL teams explaining complicated plays. The students are also looking at the “For Dummies” book franchise and the language-learning software Rosetta Stone.
Studio 20’s first class of students are in their third semester, and working on innovation projects with a variety of media partners. They work independently and present their progress in Jay Rosen’s Studio 3 course. Here’s what they’re up to this term:
Anjali Khosla Mullany is establishing a noise beat for the New York Times Local East Village. Her project involves data visualization, video reporting, and designing a dynamic new beat page system for reporters and the community.
Jami Katz is creating a cultural calendar for UrbanDaddy.com that is being used as an internal tool between editors to streamline editorial work flow. She has been coordinating events and creative story ideas for UrbanDaddy’s New York, Los Angeles and National editions. She has also been developing new ideas for the company’s Twitter site and making recommendations.
James Matthews is integrating SeeClickFix, an organization that allows citizens to report non-emergency local concerns, on The Local East Village website and developing best practices to use the information for in depth hyperlocal reporting.
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.
PBS’ MediaShift profiled NYU’s Studio 20 concentration as an example of journalism education adapting to the changing media industry.
Studio 20 Director Jay Rosen explains his philosophy for student participation:
“What I want students to do is look at the web as an opportunity to learn about journalism today by participating in it.”
The article describes NYU’s collaboration with the New York Times on The Local East Village (LEV for short), a hyperlocal blog that launched on September 13th.
One of the challenges these types of partnerships in journalism face is ensuring that the student-produced media remains consistent with the standards of the participating news organization. That’s where Rich Jones, editor of the LEV, comes in. “We’ll obviously bring professional level standards to the treatment of those issues, being under the Times banner brings certain responsibilities,” said Jones, a former New York Times writer. “We just want to give students the skills they were need to have a really successful career.”
Read the full post for more details on what NYU, along with CUNY and Columbia, are doing to improve their curriculum.
Studio 20 Director Jay Rosen recently gave an Inaugural Lecture to the incoming class at Sciences Po école du journalisme in Paris (read reports of it in English and in French, with videos of the talk) that was meant not only for French students, but for anyone interested in journalism.
Rosen elaborated on his talk in a post he published titled The Journalists Formerly Known as the Media: My Advice to the Next Generation, in which he takes a thoughtful, retrospective look at the evolution of the public, the audience and the media:
In 1764, for example, the King of France ruled it illegal to print or sell or peddle on the street anything about the reform of state finances—past, present or future. It’s not only that there was no freedom of the press. That was true, but more than that: The king’s mystery was not considered the people’s business. The whole idea that the affairs of the nation belonged to the people of that nation had yet to be accepted. Without an idea like that (today we would call it “the public’s right to know…”) the very practice of journalism is impossible—in fact, unthinkable.
It took a while before those outside of the government began gaining access to information and developed ways to communicate what went on behind closed doors, and when they did, they began changing the culture of news around diplomacy:
Let’s jump ahead to Paris in 1919 and the Peace Conference that ended World War I. Something new was seen at Paris. At previous international conferences intended to conclude wars and settle borders, the diplomats would negotiate in secret and emerge weeks later with a result which was then conveyed to the home countries as a more or less finished product. In Paris a new pattern was seen. The American delegation was accompanied by over 150 newspaper correspondents. They shocked the diplomats by demanding entrance to the opening session.
Rosen alludes to his famous post on The People Formerly Known as the Audience and builds upon it, calling out to the journalists formerly known as the media:
Seeing people as masses is the art in which the mass media, and professional media people, specialized during their profitable 150-year run (1850 to 2000). But now we can see that this was actually an interval, a phase, during which the tools for reaching the public were placed in increasingly concentrated hands. Professional journalism, which dates from the 1920s, has lived its entire life during this phase, but let me say it again: this is what your generation has a chance to break free from. The journalists formerly known as the media can make the break by learning to specialize in a different art: seeing people as a public, empowered to make media themselves.
In conclusion, Rosen offers 10 pieces of advice to the next generation of journalists. Read the full post for an explanation of each point.
1. Replace readers, viewers, listeners and consumers with the term “users.”
2. Remember: the users know more than you do.
3: There’s been a power shift; the mutualization of journalism is here.
4: Describe the world in a way that helps people participate in it.
5: Anyone can doesn’t mean everyone will.
6: The journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen, not a special class.
7: Your authority starts with, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.”
8: Somehow, you need to listen to demand and give people what they have no way to demand.
9: In your bid to be trusted, don’t take the View From Nowhere; instead, tell people where you’re coming from.10: Breathe deeply of what DeTocqueville said: “Newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers.”
The Local East Village will launch on Monday, September 13. The site is a collaboration between The New York Times and New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, and will cover New York City’s East Village. Studio 20 students have been planning and working towards its launch throughout spring semester and into the summer.
The site will feature a specially developed Virtual Assignment Desk that will let contributors from the East Village easily communicate with the staff to pitch story ideas and contribute articles and multimedia. From the press release:
The site will feature a Virtual Assignment Desk, an interactive digital platform that has been created as a Wordpress plug-in. It provides an editorial work flow system for both assigning stories, and receiving and managing ideas, tips, and finished work from community and student contributors. Any registered user of nytimes.com will be able to go to a special page to see what assignments are available.
Students from all universities will have the opportunity to experience the East Village while gaining real world journalism experience by applying to the Hyperlocal Newsroom Summer Academy:
Starting in May 2011, the Hyperlocal Newsroom Summer Academy will welcome journalism students from across the country to cover East Village beats and help coordinate wider community involvement. These include pre-college and college tracks as well as a select number of three-month graduate-level LEV internships, credit and non-credit, available on a competitive basis. For more on the The Hyperlocal Academy, click here.
A Poynter Institute article interviews Studio 20 Director Jay Rosen and New York Times editors collaborating with NYU on The Local: East Village. From the story:
In the case of the NYU/New York Times partnership, it’s Richard Jones, a former New York Times metro reporter who is now on NYU’s faculty. Jones will edit “The Local: East Village,” the hyperlocal news site at the crux of the partnership. Set to launch this fall, the site will be produced at NYU and featured on nytimes.com.
“You have to have an elegant hinge so that the problems of coordinating two institutions don’t overwhelm you,” Rosen said in a phone interview. “The Times can be confident that this site will be done to Times’ standards, and we can be confident that we have an editor on hand right here.”
Jones will collaborate with Mary Ann Giordano, a deputy Metropolitan editor at the Times who is in charge of The Local — the Times’ hyperlocal news destination. Because he worked with her at The New York Times, Jones understands the type of content the Times wants and can help shape the “The Local: East Village” accordingly.
Read the full story.
In preparation, the trio launched a Future of Context web site to invite questions and discussion. Rosen blogged his ideas before the panel, Steve Myers liveblogged it on Poynter, and Jeremy Littau discusses it in a later post.
So, are you suggesting that journalism schools could do well to focus on small, incremental steps toward local media partnerships? I mean, if I’m a journalism school director and I like what I see from this partnership, what’s the first step? What should I do?
This project began when I noticed what the Times was doing with The Local, and thought I glimpsed a need to experiment and learn. I mean, that was the logic of what they were doing. So, the first step is to get inside the head of the potential collaborator and start with a need or interest they have. The next step was to look at what we are doing at NYU and where we wanted to go with our program, and figure out where the two circles overlapped.
So, my Studio 20 concentration wants to work on innovation puzzles that matter in journalism in the broadest sense, but to do that through projects that can be completed in a semester. The Carter Institute at NYU teaches local reporting and needs a better way to do that. Put those things together and you get a version of The Local that Studio 20 can incubate, that the Reporting New York concentration at NYU can “own,” and that the Times can benefit from as a learning lab — and the community can gain from because it serves the East Village well. So it’s really four or five overlapping circles, because this is a community that NYU, the university at large, has a big stake in; it’s a big land owner and expects to own more land here.
Once I had the idea — East Village! The Local! — I just looked for ways to multiply the overlapping circles.
Oh, and one more thing: I tried to listen well to what the Times needed from such a project and understand it from their perspective as well as I did from ours.
Check out the full post.