Thoughts on Twitter (as it applies to education)

Susie Bartel, a University of Oregon journalism student in Feature Writing 1, is writing an article about instructors using Twitter as a part of their curriculum. She requested I offer my opinion on Twitter as it applies to education. The questions are hers via email; I thought I’d respond on my blog so she could link to it as primary source material (even paragraph by paragraph thanks to WinerLinks).

Susie: When did you start using Twitter? Was it for personal, professional, or educational purposes?

I’m almost positive I joined Twitter in April 2007, although I don’t think I started using it regularly until that summer. Since episode 1, I’ve been a regular listener of Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech. I believe I heard Twitter mentioned first in this episode, and signed up shortly after.

In 2007, all use of Twitter was experimental. There was no distinction between personal, professional, or educational. It was a new tool, and people had to invent how to use it. Since the beginning, up until about three weeks ago, I used Twitter as a mix of all three. I posted images from awesome vacation sights, scored a two-year gig at Publish2 by tweeting “I want to live in startup land”, and tapped the knowledge of people smarter than I by tweeting questions I’ve run into.

Susie: Have you always been open to using Twitter?

Yes, until three weeks ago.

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Covering Science and Technology: So you want to be a tech writer?

David Wolman and Marshall Kirkpatrick (@marshallk) led the conversation for the last panel this afternoon.

Informational interviews are a key part of finding stories, David says. He consumes a lot of coffee, talks with people about what they’re working on, and then also asks about what else they’re working on. That secondary information can lead to interesting pieces down the road.

Marshall has a detailed workflow for tracking down stories in the tech sector. He’s been working for ReadWriteWeb for the last year and a half, and is responsible for two to three posts a day. Most of the time, stories are “interrupt-driven” or dependent on the news of the day. The whole staff logs into a single Fever account to share RSS reading responsibilities.

One source of feeds is pretty ingenious. A research assistant dug up people who first linked popular web services such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. on Delicious. He did so for a number of startups over the last couple of years and put all of that information on a spreadsheet. Based on this aggregate information, he was able to identify 15 or so people who regularly link upcoming web services before anyone else. Subscribing to these Delicious accounts has multiple stories a week about hot new startups.

Most of the ReadWriteWeb writers use Tweetdeck for Twitter. Marshall has the 4,000+ people he’s following organized into different categories, including NY Times, analysts, augmented reality, etc. The team has a Skype chat they keep open 24 hours for coordinating on stories. They use hashtags within the conversation to enable people to find information of a specific type (i.e. which stories need editing with #edit).

For tracking reactions to pieces he’s written, Marshall searches for conversations based on a specific URL with Friendfeed, based on the ReadWriteWeb domain in Digg, and recently favorited tweets.

Libby Tucker notes that the differences between David and Marshall’s reporting styles. David flies to Urbana, Illinois to interview a scientist, whereas Marshall notes that if he has to put his pants on, it’s a big day.

Future of News roundtable, Eugene-style

Future of News panel at SPJ's Building a Better Journalist

The lunch session at SPJ’s Building a Better Journalist conference today was YAPOTFON, or Yet Another Panel On The Future Of News. Conversation was facilitated by President-elect Hagit Limor (@hlimor).

DJ Wilson is the President and General Manager of the KGW Media Group in Portland. “More than ever, people are consuming media.” Part of it is the 24/7, anytime, anywhere demand from consumers. KGW is a content business that works to meet that demand.

Rita Hibbard (@rthibbard) is the executive director and editor of InvestigateWest, a reporting non-profit in Seattle started by ex-Seattle Post-Intelligencer staffers. The bad news is the sheer number of journalists that have been laid off; the number of credentialed reporters in Olympia, Washington has gone from 25 to 6. [Ed note 10/25: This may also be due to waning interest in covering government] “Readers and news consumers are starting to wake up to what’s being lost out there.” We’re not replacing the investigative troops, but figuring out new ways to get the job done. InvestigateWest is brand new; incorporated in May, website launched in July, and first story will be out next month. It’s a piece on the misuse of public lands. They generate original, high-level investigative content. The business model is to syndicate it to as many media partners as possible, not build up their website. The first grant InvestigateWest received was from the Bullitt Foundation, which hasn’t traditionally funded journalism.

“Collaboration is a big part of this new media ecosystem.” InvestigateWest is working with a number of media partners in ways that would not have happened five or ten years ago. “The era of one dominant media source in a community is over.” News will now be an ecosystem of many parts.

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Why we link: #J361 presentation on curation

The link, or the ability to create a web of relationships between content, facts, and ideas, has fundamentally changed journalism. What follows is a recommended set of reading, I stand on the shoulders of giants, for those in Suzi Steffen’s Reporting 1 class I had the fortune to talk with this afternoon. I’ll try to add perspective when I can, but I’ve got to rush off shortly.

Jay Rosen, who you should follow on Twitter if you don’t already, lays an excellent foundation:

Ryan Sholin breaks down the argument for linking into five parts. Basically, journalists should be responsible citizens of the web. They have responsibility to their readers to provide as much information as they can bring together, responsibility to build bridges between the different parts of their online community, and responsibility to point readers in the direction of the right information when the journalists don’t immediately have the answer.

One point I touched on and want to reiterate is linking is a process of showing your work. This is fundamentally a Good Thing. Both Sean Sullivan and Paul Balcerak agree. In the age of newspapers, buggies, and clapboard houses, the reader was forced to make the assumption that the publication fact-checked and caught all of their errors. Hyperlinking text inherently means that the reader can then go and check out what you’re linking to. If you’re writing a piece with facts you want to substantiate, you can link to the source of every one of those facts. In fact, I agree that it’s “suspect for journos not to link whenever possible.” Making the reporting process transparent builds trust between the publication and the reader, and trust builds brand.

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BarCamp Redefining J School

A few co-conspirators and I want to hold a BarCamp on Sunday, October 25th, the day after the SPJ regional conference at the University of Oregon. For those who have never attended one, a BarCamp is an “ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment.” In short, if you think you have something to teach you can throw it in to the mix. If you’re there to learn, then you have a whole number of knowledgeable people as teachers for a variety of topics.

The topic for this BarCamp? Redefining J school. The news industry is going through epic change that most J schools are ill-equipped for. It’s time for a new style of learning. We brainstormed several possible sessions:

  • What courses should you take to supplement your journalism career? What are good minors to a journalism degree?
  • What do students want from professors? How can students take initiative and enhance classes?
  • Crowdsourcing, and leveraging the knowledge of the community to put together a story
  • Where’s the line between PR and journalism?
  • Digital basics (blogging, Twitter, Google Alerts, etc.) and how those tools can be used
  • How to get paid internships (i.e. kickstarting your career while still in college)
  • Where’s the line between work and life when building your personal brand online?

Granted, I’ve done a lot of punditry in the last year talking about how J school is obsolete and needs to be completely reinvented. It’s time to translate grand ideas into action.

We’re planning to meet at 6:00 pm PT in the EMU Fishbowl, next Tuesday the 6th. Join our Google Group to stay in touch, or leave a note in the comments.

Backdoors in the interwebs

Flaw in DuckWeb was caused by lax security practices

On Tuesday, July 21 around 11 pm Pacific, I stumbled across a serious information security flaw in DuckWeb, the University of Oregon’s student information portal. For some of the work I’ve been doing with Publish2, I’ve been paying close attention to the composition and beauty of URLs. When printing out my degree audit for a trip down to Eugene the next day, I realised that the print version of the degree audit had a unique string of digits at the end of the URL. Curious, I changed the last two, refreshed, and ended up with someone else’s degree audit.

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Fundamentally rebooting J school

Journalism education needs much more of a fundamental reboot than just adding courses to teach “social media,” and the world has room for one more podcast full of pundits to guide the transformation. We give you:

This Week in Rebooting the Ecosystem for Reinventing J school

Writer’s note (because there ain’t no editor): In all seriousness, the three of us love, like serious humanly love, This Week in Tech, Rebooting the News, and all people, podcasts, and/or cities we tease at in this episode. It’s only out of love that we jest. We have better technical difficulties too.

To frame the solutions to the problem, we begin by establishing some of the ways in which J school is a broken model for the 21st century. In most other fields, Joey Baker points out, academia is the research space. If that’s not the case, then it’s the military. The news industry is the only one where the industry leads and academia is behind.

Greg Linch points out another issue in that J schools, as institutions, are really slow to change. They have a critical inability to adapt quickly. This is a bigger issue in the 21st century because some of the tools journalists need to know how to use are changing at an exponential rate. As both Joey Baker and I point out, many of the tools taught in a four year undergraduate program are obsolete or nearing such a stage by graduation. J schools aren’t going to get back ahead by teaching “social media.” The problem isn’t with what they’re teaching, but rather how they’re teaching it. Another fundamental that needs to change.

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Parallels between schools and newspapers

There’s an excellent post on the Union Square Ventures blog about the small Hacking Education conference they had a couple months back. One remark I’d like to highlight:

Fred [Wilson] is suggesting that the education industry may soon face the same challenges that currently confront the music industry and the newspaper industry. Like those industries, education can be peer produced, delivered as bits, and curated by a community. Like the music and newspaper industries, the cost structures embedded in the education industry’s current business models may be very difficult to support in the face of competition from hyper-efficient, web native businesses.

As I’m reading this, a parallel between newspapers and the university system came to mind. Newspapers, as institutions with a business model rooted in a specific project, started uploading their content onto websites in the 1990’s without much concern as to how the Internet would fundamentally change their businesses. They treated their websites as side projects at the very most and minor annoyances most commonly. I think this is very much the case with universities. Progressive schools like MIT have started uploading their courseware, one critical component of their “business model”, to the web for anyone to download free of charge. At the moment, they still have natural monopolies on accreditation and physical space although part of me suspects that those too could change. Considering the newspaper industry isn’t failing gracefully right now, I’d like to think that there are lessons universities can learn from how newspapers dealt with the fundamentally transformative technology known as the Internet.

On a related note, David Wiley argues that OpenCourseWare initiatives are going to have to find a sustainable business model by 2012 or many will fail. To me this says that traditional educational structures that are attempting change will have to show signs of being able to successfully do so in the next few years, or else they will be destined to a downward spiral similar to many newspapers today. This timeframe seems a bit short to me, but I support the assumption.

Conversation from the entire day is up in four parts of video that I’m planning on listening to the entire way through. As someone said in the first hour, the value of the degree is becoming less and less while the cost is becoming more and more. There is a lot of space for this issue to be fixed.

Ryan Knutson on J school and optimism

Ryan Knutson on J School and Optimism from Daniel Bachhuber on Vimeo.

I had the opportunity to get lunch today with Ryan Knutson (@UOknutson), a former colleague at the Daily Emerald that I respect and consider a friend. He’s several weeks away from graduating with a double major at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. Given the current state of the newspaper industry, and thus the education industry that feeds it, I thought it might be interesting to ask him about his perspective on the situation, where his felt his J school was successful and where it needs to improve, and why he’s optimistic about the future of news.

When he discusses the journalism school, I think there’s an important note to be made: most of the value in the education he obtained was from the skills he learned, not necessarily the academic side of journalism. As the tools and methods needed to do journalism change at a greater and greater pace, the four year approach of the university becomes an inappropriate and ineffective mechanism for delivering knowledge. I think this is a large root cause reason for why J schools are having such difficulty in trying to figure out what to teach. They have an idea of what will be applicable today, but not four years down the road. On the plus side, though, there will be more and more demand for weekend or short-term workshops to learn special skills such as Flash, database design, Final Cut Pro, and the basics of editing audio.