Clay Shirky’s advice for newspaper journalists: Learn data skills, social media to gather news, and how to work in groups
Great read from Clay Shirky, a new media thinker, about the implosion on newspaper journalism. Here’s the three main tips, but you should read the whole post:
The first piece of advice is the most widely discussed in journalism circles — get good with numbers. The old ‘story accompanied by a chart’ was merely data next to journalism; increasingly, the data is the journalism. Nate Silver has changed our sense of political prediction. ProPublica has tied databases to storytelling better than anyone in the country. Homicide Watch can report more murders (all of them, in fact), using fewer people, than the Washington Post. Learning to code is the gold standard, but even taking an online class in statistics and getting good at Google spreadsheets will help. Anything you can do to make yourself more familiar with finding, understanding, and presenting data will set you apart from people you’ll be competing with, whether to keep your current job or get a new one.
Second, learn to use social media tools to find stories and sources. Social media was first absorbed as a marketing tool, but a medium that allows direct access to the public is also a journalistic one. Examples small and large, from photos of a plane landing in the Hudson River to the Guardian’s crowd-sourced analysis of hundreds of thousands of Parliamentary expense reports, rely on a more permeable relationship between the newsroom and the outside world. Practice reading conversations on Facebook and looking at photos on Instagram to look for story ideas; understand how a respectful request for assistance on Twitter or WeChat can bring out key sources or armies of volunteers.
Third, journalism is becoming more of a team sport. Integrated text and visuals, databases the readers can query and annotate themselves, group liveblogging of breaking news — all this requires collaboration far more engaged than the old ‘one story, one byline’ model. Volunteer for (or propose) anything that involves deeper teamwork than you’re used to, and anything that involves experimenting with new tools or techniques. (The irony, of course, is that more news organizations prize teamwork, but still hire individuals. For your next job, you may need to convince your future bosses that you are valuable all by your lonesome, but that part of that value is working well on a team.)
Good advice for today’s journalists and the ones learning the trade in college.
Slides above from my presentation tomorrow at AEJMC conference in Montreal.
Pleased to announce that my academic article ”Anonymous Sources: A Historical Review of the Norms Surrounding Their Use” has just been published. It went through three rounds of “revise and resubmit” and finally received the official approval earlier this year. I started the process of publishing this paper in 2011 while in the United Arab Emirates. Here’s the abstract:
This article offers a historical examination of the journalistic norms surrounding the practice of citing anonymous sources. The author examines a variety of textbooks, guidebooks, trade press coverage, and codes of ethics over the past century. The analysis reveals that unnamed attribution, once scorned as a journalistic practice, has gained acceptance over time. After scandals revolving around unnamed sourcing from the 1980s to the 2000s, journalistic norms surrounding their use crystalized in the late 2000s. This analysis also finds that journalism textbooks more often describe common practices of journalists rather than provide normative statements as to how journalists should act. The analysis also reveals that, in guidelines and texts, the journalistic tradition of independently verifying information from unnamed sources diminished over time.
The article represents the last of three works derived from my dissertation. The other two are “Use of unnamed sources drops from peaks in 60s and 70s” in Newspaper Research Journal and “Unnamed Sources: A Utilitarian Exploration of their Justification and Guidelines for Limited Use” in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics.
Have one more article that will be published soon — it’s on limits to press freedoms in the Middle East.
In other news, I’ll be joining the faculty at Berry College as a visiting assistant professor this August. Looking forward to teaching full-time again.
Margaret Sullivan — who works for the New York Times newspaper as its paid critic — certainly knows how to do her job. Browsing through her archive shows prolific, insightful, on-target analyses of the paper’s foibles.
I especially appreciate her response to the NYT’s selection of Michael Kinsley to review Glenn Greenwald’s book. Kinsley was an odd choice because he has already come out against the type of government whistleblowing that Greenwald has uncovered. The most criticized quote from Kinsley’s review:
The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government. No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay. But ultimately you can’t square this circle. Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald.
I really have trouble believing that a journalist like Michael Kinsley — who edited The New Republic and the editorial pages of the LA Times — could write these words. Sullivan responds perfectly and with a bunch of hyperlinks to her sources:
Mr. Kinsley’s central argument ignores important tenets of American governance. There clearly is a special role for the press in America’s democracy; the Founders explicitly intended the press to be a crucial check on the power of the federal government, and the United States courts have consistently backed up that role. It’s wrong to deny that role, and editors should not have allowed such a denial to stand. Mr. Kinsley’s argument is particularly strange to see advanced in the paper that heroically published the Pentagon Papers, and many of the Snowden revelations as well. What if his views were taken to their logical conclusion? Picture Daniel Ellsberg and perhaps the Times reporter Neil Sheehan in jail; and think of all that Americans would still be in the dark about — from the C.I.A.’s black sites to the abuses of the Vietnam War to the conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the widespread spying on ordinary Americans.
Well said. I hope Sullivan hangs out at the Times for a while.
I’m pleased to announce that my book on UAE media laws has been published. Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.
Since I’ll probably only sell about 8 copies, here are the acknowledgements:
I’d like to thank my colleagues at Zayed University’s College of Communication and Media Sciences in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for the opportunity to teach journalism and international media law in the country. Razi Rizvi, a lawyer with Simmons & Simmons, provided valuable insight into many sections of this book and also provided some of the primary sources. The Center for International Media Education (CIME) and the Department of Communication at Georgia State University have also provided support for this project. Ella Doueiry, a student at Georgia State University and assistant at CIME, helped with some of the Arabic translations. Also, my media law research supported by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom on the Gulf Cooperation Council countries also proved helpful. Finally, I’d like to thank Dr. Kyu Ho Youm, the president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and John Marshall First Amendment chair at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, for suggesting that I write this book.
I’m not positive, but I think this book is the first to solely address the media laws of an Arab country.
UPDATE: “Media Law in the United Arab Emirates” is also available at Amazon UK.
My latest class video features my Media Law class from spring 2014 at Kennesaw State University.
Just presented my talk at the last class of media law. Here are the slides.
Here are the slides for tonight’s media law class entitled: “Law, Ethics, and Social Media: A Primer on Copyright Law, Fair Use, and Defamation in a Digital World.” Updated with some recent rulings.