Sesh ideas for BCNI Philly

Tomorrow morning will find me headed to Philadelphia for Saturday’s BarCamp NewsInnovation Philly. Needless to say, I’m super stoked for this opportunity. Not only will I be able to finally meet my boss, my new colleagues, and the rest of the CoPress team I haven’t met, but I’ll get to spend an entire day, and probably much of the weekend, discussing the future of journalism with some of the smartest news folk in the country. If my flight doesn’t get laid over in Atlanta, I’d like to spend my time taking about at least a couple of different things:

Designing a News Startup From Scratch in 60 Minutes

The goal would be to rapidly prototype what a news organization of the future might look like by walking the hypothetical startup from concept to a year after launch and covering things such as:

  • Identifying the community
  • Speculating on the ideal number and composition of staff
  • Brainstorming the technology behind the website, and what sort of functionality the news organization would offer
  • Proposing revenue models
  • Designing the newsroom (the balance between working virtually and in physical space)
  • Listing out all of the information your community might need, and the resources required to cover it (this could even be a session on its own)

This would be a very proactive activity for those in newsrooms currently, and might even bootstrap a few projects from people in the room.

J School in 2020

In regards to journalism education, much of the discussion has been focused on whether or not J schools are adequately preparing their students for the reality of the newspaper industry and, from this, how they might change their curriculum incrementally to address the needs of today. This isn’t good enough. Instead of playing catchup, as the New York Time states the obvious, I think it would be far more powerful to apply the concept of scenario planning to the future of journalism education, and the university system as well. The education industry should be learning from the newspaper industry.

From my view, there are three roles of the university in the 21st century. One, provide the basic foundation in any subject matter for a person to be able to then grow from. In journalism, this might be ethics, media, etc. I wouldn’t teach any tools in these core classes, but the classes would be evening supplements to internships and work experience. Two, teach how to learn. In a world changing at an exponential pace, the ability to quickly understand and act upon information is paramount. The kicker to approaching this in the university setting? The subject material would be completely random and change from term to term. Three, be a sandbox. Be the place where people of any age can go to learn more about the world and their role within it. Let them experiment and play with reality, but let the university be the place where learners can experiment and fail gracefully. The university system almost does the first of these three at the moment. That’s not good enough.

Discussion in this session would lead to actionable takeaways. If I were the Dean of a J school right now, these are several of the things I would consider doing:

  • Start blogging more regularly about how the J school is changing and what your vision for it. As the leader of any organization, facilitating vision is critical. Blogging makes it open, two-way, and more approachable. Create different scenarios for journalism in 2020, and discuss how the J school will support that.
  • Launch a series of skills-based evening or weekend classes (i.e. Flash, editing audio, etc.) that are open to anyone. Make them free. Create demand for your product.
  • Make regular blogging (and maybe tweeting) a requirement of anyone in the journalism school. I’m personally trying to blog more often because I know writing regularly will improve my abilities. Same concept applies. Have an online space that aggregates these blog posts by topic. Propose blog topics over the list serv, have students write on them, and then have a forum to continue the discussion in person.
  • Establish a startup seed fund. A lot of good journalists aren’t going to be getting newspaper jobs after they graduate this year. They’ll think a lot higher of the university if it funds innovation and competition.

I’m also planning on bringing audio and video recording equipment. Hopefully not a moment of this weekend will go uncaptured. Also, if anyone is down for a run around Philly on Sunday morning, ping me up.

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