Tag Archives: Knight Foundation

Northeastern J-School partners with Esquire magazine

photoBy Jeff Howe

Earlier this year Northeastern University’s School of Journalism received a Knight Foundation grant to launch a Media Innovation graduate program. Students — mostly mid-career journalists and the occasional newly minted J-school grad — would pursue one story over the 18-month course of study. We’d let the story discover its own media, so to speak, rather than, say, imposing an interactive treatment on a piece that wants to be a photo essay. Then we would crack open the considerable resources of Northeastern University to our students. Javascript, data-scraping, digital videography — each student writes her or his own ticket, like a Knight Fellowship with a degree at the end.

In the final semester we would work assiduously to place the story with a well-respected media outlet. Poker isn’t poker without money, and journalism isn’t journalism without readers. Since we mostly acquire the craft in a newsroom, we figured we’d bring the newsroom into the university. So far, and to our great pleasure, reality has followed the blueprint.

In the spirit of marrying education to editorial, this week we launched a partnership with Esquire magazine. The goal is to create both a physical and virtual research and development lab for digital storytelling. Online platforms have recently delivered a cornucopia of long-form journalism, but we’re still in the messy — a.k.a. totally awesome — phase of experimentation. Most of the current experimentation will fade away without a trace. But some of it will stick.

Esquire and Media Innovation decided to approach the subject from three directions:

  • StoryLab, a full-semester course taught at Northeastern’s School of Journalism beginning in spring 2015, in which students will work with Esquire writers and editors to reimagine both classic and new Esquire stories for the digital age.
  • Storybench.org, a news site that offers an “under the hood” look at the latest and most inventive examples of digital creativity — from data-visualization projects to interactive documentaries — as well as the tools and innovation behind them.
  • StoryChallenge, an annual new-media storytelling competition, launching in October 2015, which will challenge journalists to reinvent the way magazine stories are told.

These projects serve a few highly pragmatic purposes. As one of the nation’s most prestigious venues for literary journalism, Esquire has a great interest in the future of that form. As educators, we’re doing our best to prepare journalism students to enter a workforce that expects creativity and a collaborative imagination as much as shoe leather reporting.

Recently we had Jay Lauf — the founding president and publisher of the business news site Quartz — speak to our students. Like Vice and BuzzFeed, Quartz is growing fast and hiring accordingly. I’m so accustomed to journalism’s famine mentality I assumed they were getting inundated with talented candidates.

That’s not the case. “We are getting swamped with résumés,” Jay says, “but not always with qualified candidates.” Jay defines these as journalists who may have a base-level fluency in programming but, more important, they can demonstrate an easy facility with numbers and data and social media. In fact, the various digital journalism ventures in New York, Jay says, are battling it out for the few journalists that fit the new mold.

There’s another mission threading throughout these efforts: How do you train journalists for jobs that don’t exist yet? One way, we figured, was to try to invent those jobs here. We’re not going to do that by stroking our chins in Aristotelian reflection. We’re going to do it by doing it. There have to be readers at the end of the process, and real sources and real stories. Poker ain’t poker if you’re not using real money. Journalism ain’t journalism unless the stakes are real. And that’s what these Esquire partnerships bring to the table.

Jeff Howe is an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University. This post was previously published at the Knight Blog.

Josh Stearns on local journalism and sustainability

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Josh Stearns to talk about his new job as director of the Journalism and Sustainability Project at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Dodge has received a two-year, $2 million grant from the Knight Foundation to study new ways of paying for local journalism, with an emphasis on civic engagement.

After a long stint as policy director of Free Press, whose headquarters was just a bike ride away, Stearns is now commuting from Western Massachusetts to New Jersey, where the hyperlocal sites he is working with are located. We talked on July 15 at his home in Easthampton.

Northeastern unveils media innovation program

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 5.40.57 PMThis article was published earlier at the Knight Blog.

By Jeff Howe

Like a stock market crash, disruption creates its own brand of delusion. I remember spending an afternoon sipping iced tea in the Beverly Hills backyard of a seasoned music executive. It was 2003. Revenues from CDs had cratered, and the labels couldn’t figure out a way to compete with free. Panic was in the air, but not here. “The music business is booming,” he said. “It’s the recording industry that’s [in trouble].” Propelled by new distribution channels and cheap-but-powerful audio editing software, more musicians were reaching more audiences than any previous time in history. The delusion, of course, was conflating business with creation.

So it is with storytelling. Making money off journalism has become more difficult, but finding passionate audiences for true stories well told has never been easier, or more exciting. Journalists have access to more information, more tools, more mediums and more venues than our predecessors could have ever imagined.

At Northeastern University, we’re changing journalism education to reflect this new reality. The plain truth is that the skills journalists need lie outside the traditional curriculum of journalism. An interdisciplinary grad program isn’t just an option; it’s a necessity. In September, thanks to the support of Knight Foundation, we will launch the Media Innovation Program. We have one goal: to retrain storytellers for the 21st century, whether that means teaching them Web design, social media, data visualization or game theory. We can do this because Northeastern hosts some of the finest instructors in all these fields.

Here’s how the media innovation track program will work for the master’s in journalism: Students attend for three semesters. Before classes begin they will work closely with advisers within the journalism school to propose the project that they will develop throughout their tenure in the Media Innovation Program. Students will identify one domain — the concentration — of study outside journalism, be that business or programming or videography. The majority of his or her classes will take place inside this department. Once a week they will come together in the seminar, an intensive course led by one of our top-notch digital practitioners that helps individual students apply their new skills to their project. In the last semester we will work closely with each student and our publishing partners to place their projects with outlets such as The New York Times, NPR, ProPublica or The Boston Globe.

The early response to the program has been tremendous. When I presented a rough sketch of our ideas at the Future of News conference in December 2012, representatives from several major media outlets said they would be interested in hiring the program’s graduates. However, the Media Innovation Program isn’t just an opportunity for journalists to develop skills that will enhance their work and increase their value to traditional news organizations and new media venues; it’s also a way for the School of Journalism to expand its networks and create deep, meaningful connections with other academic departments and news outlets in Boston and worldwide. We’ve already started offering courses in collaboration with the Art + Design program at Northeastern, as well as Laura and Chris Amico of Homicide Watch. We’re also looking forward to partnerships with organizations such as the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University School of Law.

Our goal with the Media Innovation Program is to empower journalists to think creatively about the future of the news, and provide the tools they need to realize their goals. At the same time, we hope to create a laboratory space that existing organizations can use to explore new ideas and new approaches to journalism. We’re at the beginning of our journey, but we’re excited about the road ahead.

More: The Boston Globe’s BetaBoston site covers the Media Innovation Program here.

Jeff Howe is an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University and director of the Media Innovation Program.

Talking about data, journalism and the future

Brent Benson has written a thoughtful piece about Tuesday’s panel discussion on “Big Data and the Future of Journalism.”

I had the privilege of moderating a great panel comprising Laura Amico of Homicide Watch and WBUR Radio’s Learning Lab (she also teaches a journalism course at Northeastern); John Bracken of the Knight Foundation; Charles Kravetz, general manager of WBUR; and Paul McMorrow of CommonWealth Magazine and The Boston Globe.

The quote I’ll remember:

If you’d like to get a feel for how the discussion played out on Twitter, just click here.

Update: Catherine D’Ignazio of the MIT Center for Civic Media has posted a comprehensive live blog of the panel discussion.

The Knight Foundation’s curious funding decisions

Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz

Among the odder aspects of Howard Kurtz’s very bad week (as reported by Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post) is the revelation that Daily Download, the thoroughly mediocre (at best) website with which Kurtz is more or less associated, received a $230,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, which funds innovative journalism projects. Here’s a Knight press release from March 2012.

Now, it’s certainly true that not all of Knight’s investments are going to work out, and that some of them will prove embarrassing. But it’s notable that Tom Stites, founder of the Banyan Project, a well-publicized effort to create a replicable new business model for community journalism based on co-op ownership, reports that Banyan’s Knight News Challenge applications have been turned down twice. (Banyan’s pilot site, Haverhill Matters, is due to be unveiled later this year.)

In February, Knight apologized for paying a $20,000 speaking fee to Jonah Lehrer, a so-called journalist who was hoping to revive his once-celebrated career after he’d been exposed as a plagiarist and a fabricator.

Knight does a lot of great work, so I hope Knight officials will step forward and explain their decision to fund Daily Download.

As for Kurtz, he enjoyed a long and impressive career before running into some serious bouts of carelessness during the past few years. I hope he’s able to bounce back. Earlier this evening he tweeted: “I just want to thank those who have posted or sent kind words and supportive comments in recent days. It means a lot when times are tough.”

Photo (cc) by David Shankbone and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.