Sips from the Firehose

Apr 22

A Path Forward: Teaching Entrepreneurs How To Survive

Posted: under Digital Migration.
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I edited the Starting Point report; we studied 60 professors in 14 countries to learn how students were being taught digital business skills

cover of starting point research project entrepreneurship sembramedia
Published in three languages – click to download the PDF version in English

In 2019, it is more evident than ever that traditional media is still locked in a death spiral. The Cleveland Plain Dealer used to have 350 reporters & editors. Now it has 33.

“…overall newsroom employment dropped nationally by 23 percent and in newspaper newsrooms employment dropped by 45 percent. More than 2,400 media jobs have been eliminated so far this year…”

Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor statistics

We’re seeing the effects of this cycle of destruction everywhere; the entire concept of truth itself is under assault. The digital platforms that were supposed to step to the fore and provide this wonderful place where news & information would flow freely, have instead become the darkest and most malignant part of the problem.

“Not our problem,” they say, as they instead concentrate on maximizing profit. Meanwhile, democratic societies are waking up to realize that when tragedies and violent attacks happen, the first thing that needs to be done is not to rely on social media to pick up and report the truth … no, those heady days that I chronicled here in this space of “citizen journalists” getting the truth out about the Fukushima reactor meltdown …

… those days have been replaced by performative social media-fueled massacres. To defang these terrorists, Sri Lanka shut down Facebook and YouTube.

In this environment, we need actual journalists and news reporters more than ever. But how do we teach them to survive in such a chaotic digital environment?

I’ve written extensively here & elsewhere over the years about what I call the “Great Digital Migration.” To extend this metaphor, if we’re going to be going from the place where we’ve been – traditional media – to an ultimate destination that is still somewhat uncertain, we are going to need some kind of direction.

Or we’re just going to wander around aimlessly until we run out of resources. Which is a pretty fair description of what the last 15 years have been like for the “mainstream media.”

The biggest takeaway from the research is that we are still in dire need of professors who have the skills & experience as digital entrepreneurs, so they can teach students a realistic view of the media ecosystem they’re about to find themselves scratching out a living in.

We need more of these smart, committed, passionate teachers.

I’ve had to deliver a reality check to my own students; it’s why I worked so hard to try to give them skills that were applicable to other careers.

Many of the professors interviewed said that
understanding this tectonic shift is crucial to
comprehending what it really means when we talk
about entrepreneurial journalism.

“One of the most complex issues for me is having my
students understand the importance of entrepreneurial
journalism in the context of our country,” says Abraham
Torres from Mexico.

Elizabeth Saad from Brazil says that her students
come to the course with a “distorted” idea of what
journalism is actually like these days: “They think
they’re going to work in the newsroom and go out onto
the street to report. Things have changed a lot.”

Juan Luis Manfredi is convinced that entrepreneurial
journalism is real, not a fad, adding: “The reality is that
launching your own entrepreneurial journalism project
is going to be the most likely way to find a job.”

The sad fact is that in the near-to-mid term, most young journalists are going to have to either accept “hamster wheel journalism” at digital outfits that are desperately chasing clicks … or just quit the profession in favor of PR or consulting (as so many of my former students have done).

Those who want to stick with journalism as a career are going to have to DIY things. The bad news is that there are still significant barriers to building an audience while simultaneously building solid revenue streams.

The good news is that it can be done.

We just need to teach young journalists what that looks like.

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Nov 10

Ukrainian Professors Play with New iPad 2s

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, Online Video, Ukraine.
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…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism

I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working on producing “establishing shots” using whatever equipment is available to you at the time; in this case, it means holding the iPad up in front of your face and doing slow 360s, talking to the camera, so the audience can see for themselves what the landscape around you looks like.

journalism professors playing with ipads

They absolutely loved their brand-new iPad 2s. It was like seeing little kids getting handed Magic Mirrors. They were polite enough for most of the day, but about mid-afternoon, I just lost them in the wilds of the App Store. Also - I will never understand how the Ukrainian women manage to walk down these uneven, treacherous ancient cobblestone streets in stiletto heels.

I also taught them the basics of shot selection, framing, the Rule of Thirds, and some basic stuff about editing and shot sequencing as a means to create emotion. It was about a semester’s worth of material crammed into a one-day lecture, but at least I opened them up to what is possible, and where they can go to try to learn more on their own.

This is still a beautiful city, even if the sky in unrelenting slate gray, and the wind from Siberia knifes right through you after the sun goes down…

At night, the streets of Kiev are filled only with the rumble and clatter of Dr. Zhivago trolley cars, and the whistling north wind. The architecture here is like the people; kind of battered, but still full of character. Resilient.

I haven’t gotten to see as much of this city as I would like; I’ve always been working too hard, or pretty much exhausted & creaking from the demented flight schedule it takes to get here from Los Angeles. Still, the little I have been able to discover on my own has been delightful.

ukrainian student concentrates on the screen

This time around, my students arrived in my classes with significant New Media skills. Some of them were already creating infographics, and this girl is already ghost-blogging for big financial companies. As you can see, she is quite determined; meanwhile, behind her, another of my more active and vocal students gasps in horror at the convoluted assignments I have inflicted on the class...

One of the greater joys of this class was seeing my students help each other out. When they got stuck with some of my more technically challenging exercises, they reached out to each other, and shouted advice back and forth across the classroom.

There is no better feeling for me. I am only here for such a very short time; I keep wishing that I had an entire semester to really reach deep into these young people, to help them draw out their skills & refine them. But seeing their willingness to follow me down these strange multimedia pathways, and to help each other out along the way … leads me to believe that they will continue to help each other out after I am gone.

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