Tag Archives: Northeastern University

Media freedom and human rights

Journalism about human rights is both important and dangerous. That was the message at the K. George and Carolann S. Najarian Lecture on Human Rights at Faneuil Hall, endowed by the Armenian Heritage Foundation and held Thursday night.

The lecture, titled “Truth to Action: Media Freedom,” featured Ray Suarez of Al Jazeera America and PRI; Boston Globe investigative reporter Stephen Kurkjian, who’s also an adjunct professor at Northeastern University; and Thomas Mucha, editor of the Boston-based international news agency GlobalPost.

To see a Storify of live tweets about the event, please click here.

Thinking about the future of local journalism

Recently I had a chance to interview three smart people about the future of local journalism:

  • Josh Stearns, director of journalism and sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, who is studying six digital startups in New Jersey and New York. (You can see my full interview with Stearns by clicking here.)
  • Meg Heckman, a University of New Hampshire journalism professor whose master’s thesis at Northeastern University was on the role of women at digital startups — and why women are more likely to be involved in hyperlocal sites than in larger national projects.
  • Tim Coco, the president and general manager of WHAV Radio in Haverhill, a mostly online community station (it also has a weak AM signal) for which Coco is seeking a low-power FM license.

I don’t get to make videos that often, but I wanted to scrape some of the rust off my skills for the benefit of my graduate students, who are currently making their own videos. My philosophy is that every journalist needs to know how to make a decent video with the tools at hand — in my case, an iPhone 5S, a portable tripod that I bought five years ago for less than $20, and iMovie ’11, also known as iMovie 9. (The newer iMovie 10 strikes me as slow and kludgy, but maybe I just need a faster computer.)

The one luxury I indulged in was a Røde lapel mic (known in the trade as a lav mic), which I bought for well under $100 just before I started this project. It made a huge difference — the audio is of far better quality, with much less interference from outside noise, than in previous videos I’ve made.

What I should have done, but didn’t, was use a better app than Apple’s built-in Camera so that I could lock in brightness and contrast. That way I could have avoided the sudden shifts from dark to light and back that mar my interview with Stearns.

Still, it’s useful to know that you can shoot a decent video without spending many hundreds of dollars on a professional camera and Final Cut Pro. I think there’s a tendency at journalism schools to believe that we’re selling our students short if they don’t get to use the latest and greatest technology. And yes, they should have a chance to use the good stuff. But they also need to know that many news organizations, especially smaller ones, expect their journalists to make do with what’s available.

Jill Abramson reveals few details about startup venture

b_kirtzBy Bill Kirtz

Jill Abramson, fired (her words) last summer as New York Times executive editor, will join with Steven Brill on a startup to “give great journalists money they can live on.”

In a Boston University question-and-answer session Monday evening, she provided few details but said she and Brill — who won the National Magazine Award last year for his Time magazine cover story on medical costs — will write one story a year for the site. She said they’ve been pitching potential investors on the project.

Abramson was joined on stage by New York Times media columnist David Carr, a visiting professor at BU, who served up a steady stream of questions to his former boss.

In other remarks, Abramson praised former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee as “the most consequential editor of my lifetime”  and called The New York Review of Books a “perfect publication.”

Abramson, now teaching a once-a-week class at Harvard on narrative journalism, condemned “false equivalence” — reporting “on the one hand/on the other hand” as if each side is equally credible.”

After weighing and sifting all the facts, she said, journalists have the right to determine which side is right. As an example, she cited “Strange Justice,” the 1994 book she wrote with her then Wall Street Journal colleague Jane Mayer. They concluded that Supreme Court nominee (now Justice) Clarence Thomas had lied about significant incidents in his past.

“What is the press but calling power people and institutions to account?” she asked.

Bill Kirtz is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University.

Ethan Zuckerman on the limits of interconnectedness

Ethan Zuckerberg at Northeastern on Wednesday.

Ethan Zuckerman at Northeastern on Wednesday

The promise of the Internet was that it would break down social, cultural and national barriers, bringing people of diverse backgrounds together in ways that were never before possible. The reality is that online communities have reinforced those barriers.

That was the message of a talk Wednesday evening by Ethan Zuckerman, director of the MIT Center for Civic Media. Zuckerman, who spoke at Northeastern, is the author of the 2013 book “Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection.” He is also the co-founder of Global Voices Online, a project begun at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society that tracks citizen media around the world.

I’ve seen Ethan talk on several occasions, and I always learn something new from him. Here is some live-tweeting I did on Wednesday.

One of the most interesting graphics Zuckerman showed was a map of San Francisco based on GPS-tracked cab drivers. Unlike a street map, which shows infrastructure, the taxi map showed flow — where people are actually traveling. Among other things, we could see that the African-American neighborhood of Hunters Point didn’t even appear on the flow map, suggesting that cab drivers do not travel in or out of that neighborhood (reinforcing the oft-stated complaint by African-Americans that cab drivers discriminate against them).

Since we can all be tracked via the GPS in our smartphones, flow maps such as the one Zuckerman demonstrated raise serious privacy implications as well.

We may actually be less cosmopolitan than we were 100 years ago.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg likes to show a map suggesting that Facebook fosters interconnectedness around the world. In fact, upon closer examination the map mainly shows interconnectedness within a country. The United Arab Emirates demonstrates the highest level of international interconnectedness, but that’s because the UAE has an extraordinary number of guest workers who use the Internet to stay in touch with people back home. That leads Ethan Zuckerman to argue that maps often tell us what their designers want us to believe.

This final tweet seems out of context, but I’m including it because I like what Zuckerman said. It explains perfectly why I prefer Twitter to Facebook, even though I’m a heavy user of both. And it explains why many of us, including Zuckerman, rely on Twitter to bring us much of our news and information.

Globe executive announces digital moves

This email to Boston Globe and Boston.com employees was sent out a little while ago by Andrew Perlmutter, executive vice president of Boston Globe Media Partners. A source passed it along to Media Nation. The main news here seems to be that David Skok continues his rise on the Globe digital side and that the company is still in ramp-up mode with the new Boston.com. Interesting stuff if you geek out on these things, as I do.

Colleagues —

From launching Boston.com during the early days of the Internet to developing a responsively designed BostonGlobe.com in 2011, digital innovation and success have always been in our DNA here at Boston Globe Media. At the heart of this success lies the ability to evolve our products over time alongside new trends in digital consumption.

With the consumer web transforming faster than ever before, we must evolve again. In this phase in our evolution, we aim to become a world-class digital product operation. We must continue to produce great digital journalism. That is a given. But like the best web product companies today, we must also develop the ability to build and iterate products with great creativity, discipline, and efficiency. This requires a re-imagination of everything from the structure of the organization to our strategy for identifying and developing new content areas.

Luckily, we pursue this next phase with an incredibly strong foundation, anchored by our three core businesses: Boston.com, BostonGlobe.com, and our Digital Marketplaces. Because each business has the potential for independent growth, the initial step in our evolution is to build excellent, standalone digital product operations for all three properties. Great leadership and a top-notch talent base form the core of this strategy. With that as context, it is my pleasure to make some important personnel announcements.

First, I would like to formally announce that David Skok has, as part of his role as the Globe newsroom’s digital leader, taken the helm at BostonGlobe.com. David came to The Globe in early January and has been in the lead on BG.com since early April. An incredibly strong editorial and product leader, David comes to The Globe from Shaw Communications, where he ran the Global News’ website, Canada’s leading news organization. Additionally, Lauren Shea has joined the BG.com team as Product Director. Lauren comes to us from Arnold Worldwide and brings years of digital product expertise.

Second, I would like to announce that Corey Gottlieb and Angus Durocher will take over Boston.com and our Online Marketplace businesses as Executive Directors of Digital Strategy and Operations. Corey has spent five years building cutting edge digital media experiences at MLB Advanced Media. Meanwhile, Angus has over 15 years of consumer web experience, including leading and managing the front-end engineering team at YouTube for 5 years (both pre and post Google acquisition). With their remarkable combination of product, engineering, content, and marketing leadership skills, Boston.com and the Online Marketplace businesses are in great hands. In this updated structure, Corey will be responsible for Marketing, Content, and Business while Angus will oversee Technology and Design. And they will jointly guide our Product efforts.

Several other very talented individuals have also joined our digital operation recently. On the Boston.com editorial side, Adam Vacarro has joined us from Inc. Magazine while Sara Morrison and Eric Levenson have both come over from The Atlantic Wire. Please welcome them to the organization.

It is very exciting to bring these talented individuals to the organization. And this is just the beginning. Our leadership teams are building high-growth strategic roadmaps for their respective businesses, and we will continue to bring in top-tier talent to help us grow. In other words, the future looks very bright for us. We have a lot to accomplish and many challenges to overcome, but I know we are building the team to do it.

Here we go.

Andrew

Update. And now we learn that Laura Amico, the cofounder of Homicide Watch, will be joining BostonGlobe.com as news editor for multimedia and data projects. This is a huge move (disclosure: Laura and her husband and journalistic partner, Chris Amico, have worked with us at Northeastern) as well as a very smart one.

Still more. Here’s the announcement from David Skok:

I’m thrilled to announce that Laura Amico, the founder of Homicide Watch, will be joining the Globe newsroom to take on the new position of News Editor, Multimedia and Data Projects.

Without exaggeration, I can say that Laura is a bit of a rockstar and a trailblazer in the digital journalism community. She was both the first Nieman-Berkman Fellow in Journalism Innovation at Harvard and the first MJ Bear fellow through the Online News Association. She also teaches at Northeastern University and is the editor of WBUR’s Learning Lab.

Reporting to Jason Tuohey, Laura will oversee our talented data team along with our new metro producer, Andy Rosen.

Having someone of Laura’s pedigree to help push our creative efforts on story-centric journalism is a tremendous coup.  While Laura is most well-known for building the Homicide Watch platform, in our conversations, I’ve found that she possesses an intrinsic understanding of how to engage digital audiences in unique, purpose-driven, community journalism.

Laura understands that we’ve already had some great success with immersive multimedia reporting projects, most recently with Maria Sacchetti and Jessica Rinaldi’s ‘Unforgiven,’ the year-long Spotlight ‘Shadow Campus’ investigation, and the Filipov, Wen, Jacob’s triumvirate on the ‘Fall of the House of Tsarnaev.’ I’m confident that Laura’s diversity of thought will take us in new, extraordinary directions.

Laura (@LauraNorton) will join the Globe newsroom in late August.

— David

That’s Cox 25 to you

Here’s a late-afternoon bombshell for you: WFXT-TV (Channel 25) has been acquired by Cox Media Group, part of a station swap that will result in Fox owning two TV stations in San Francisco. Cynthia Littleton of Variety has the details.

I hope the move from Fox to Cox doesn’t harm the local news operation. Fox 25 News is one of the better-funded news organizations in Boston, with a fair number of people who are native to the area — including anchors Maria Stephanos and Mark Ockerbloom. Mike Beaudet, who’s joining our faculty this fall, is an award-winning investigative reporter.

A few quibbles with Clay Shirky’s ‘Nostalgia and Newspapers’

printing1_large

Gutenberg-era printing press

Published previously at WGBH News.

Five years ago Clay Shirky wrote an eloquent blog post titled “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.” His essential argument was that we were only at the very beginning of trying to figure out new models for journalism following the cataclysmic changes wrought by the Internet — like Europeans in the decades immediately following the invention of Gutenberg’s press. Along with a subsequent talk he gave at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, Shirky helped me frame the ideas that form the foundation of “The Wired City,” my book about online community journalism.

Now Shirky has written a rant. In “Nostalgia and Newspapers,” posted on Tuesday, the New York University professor and author wants us to know that we’re not getting it fast enough — that print is dead, and anything that diverts us from the hard work of figuring out what’s next is a dangerous distraction. His targets range from Aaron Kushner and his alleged apologists to journalism-school professors who are supposedly letting their students get away with thinking that print can somehow be saved.

As always, Shirky offers a lot to think about, as he did at a recent panel discussion at WGBH. I don’t take issue with the overarching arguments he makes in “Nostalgia and Newspapers.” But I do want to offer a countervailing view on some of the particulars.

1. Good journalism schools are not print-centric: Shirky writes that he “exploded” when he was recently asked by an NYU student, in front of the class, “So how do we save print?” I assume Shirky is exaggerating his reaction for effect. It wasn’t a terrible question, and in any case there was no reason for him to embarrass a student in front of her classmates. I’m sure he didn’t.

More important, Shirky takes the view that students haven’t given up on print because no one had given it to them straight until he came along to tell them otherwise. He writes that he told the students that “print was in terminal decline and that everyone in the class needed to understand this if they were thinking of journalism as a major or a profession.” And he attributed their nostalgic views to “Adults lying to them.”

Now, I find it hard to believe that Shirky’s take on the decline of print was novel to journalism students at a progressive institution like NYU. And from what I’ve seen from my own small perch within academia, all of us are looking well beyond print. In the new issue of Nieman Reports, Jon Marcus surveys changes in journalism education (including the media innovation program for graduate students headed by my Northeastern colleague Jeff Howe that will begin this fall). Citing a recent survey by Poynter, Marcus writes that, in many cases, j-schools are actually ahead of professional newsrooms in pushing for digital change:

A recent Poynter survey — which some argue demonstrates that educators are outpacing editors in their approaches to digital innovation — underlines the divide between j-schools and newsrooms. Educators are more likely than professional journalists to believe it’s important for journalism graduates to have multimedia skills, for instance, according to the survey Poynter released in April. They are more likely to think it’s crucial for j-school grads to understand HTML and other computer languages, and how to shoot and edit video and photos, record audio, tell stories with visuals, and write for different platforms.

Could we be doing better? No doubt. But we’re already doing a lot.

2. Aaron Kushner might have been on to something. OK, I’m pushing it here. There’s no doubt that Kushner’s moves after he bought the Orange County Register in 2012 have blown up in his face — the hiring spree, the launching of new daily newspapers in Long Beach and Los Angeles, the emphasis on print. Earlier this month, it all seemed to be coming to a very bad end, though Kushner himself says he simply needs time to retrench.

But Kushner’s ideas may not have been entirely beyond the realm of reality. Over the past several decades, great newspapers have been laid low by debt-addled chains trying to squeeze every last drop of profit out of them. This long-term disinvestment has had at least as harmful an effect on the news business as the Internet-driven loss of advertising revenues. Yes, Kushner’s love of print seems — well, odd, although it’s also true that newspapers continue to derive most of their shrinking advertising revenues from print. But investing in growth, even without a clear plan (or, rather, even with an ever-changing plan), strikes me as exactly what we ought to hope news(paper) companies will do. After all, that’s what Jeff Bezos is doing at The Washington Post and John Henry at The Boston Globe. And that’s not to say there won’t be layoffs and downsizing along the way.

Shirky also mocks Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review and Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst and blogger who writes for the Nieman Journalism Lab, writing that they “wrote puff pieces for Kushner, because they couldn’t bear to treat him like the snake-oil salesman he is.” (Shirky does concede that Chittum offered some qualifications.)

Chittum recently disagreed with me merely for writing that he had “hailed their [Kushner's and his business partner Eric Spitz's] print-centric approach.” It will be interesting to see whether and how he and Doctor respond to Shirky. I’ll be watching. Chittum has already posted this.

In any case, I hardly think it was “terrible” (Shirky’s description) for Chittum and Doctor to play down their doubts given that Kushner, a smart, seemingly well-funded outsider, claimed to have a better way.

Post-publication updates. After this commentary was published at WGBH News on Wednesday, the reactions, as expected, started rolling in. First up: Chittum, who apologized for his F-bomb, though not the sentiment behind it.

Shirky responded to Chittum’s first tweet, though his blog seems to be down at the moment. (It’s now back, and here is the direct link.)

Finally, Ken Doctor wrote a long, thoughtful retort to Shirky at the Nieman Journalism Lab. (And now Shirky has posted a comment.)

Even more finally: Chittum has responded at some length in the CJR. The end?