Tag: school

Turns Out You Don’t Learn Something New Everyday… Unless You Try

You know that phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”?

When I was in grad school, I couldn’t wait to re-join the workforce and have my nights and weekends to myself. I recalled lazy weekends spent reading, and actually being caught up on all the TV shows that everyone is always talking about. Now that I’ve been out for a little over a year, I miss school. I miss having someone push me to learn new things and solve problems. I miss the structured discussions and the camaraderie of working exclusively with people who were all focused on the same life stage.

I figured out recently that one of the things I like most about online journalism is that there is constantly something new to learn, from stuff as basic as a new HTML tag or CSS property, to whole new social networks and web apps.

For me, this realization led me to another. That the only person pushing me to learn new things… is me.

So, since I’m not in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, I will set a goal instead: I will structure in time to my life to learn new things, at least one session a week, starting with an open course I bookmarked at NiemanLab in August. (I’m starting the “summer reading” this week, so that’s how far behind I am with that).

It won’t be easy. Since coming back from grad school, I’ve fallen into a lazy pattern of dinner and TV after work. Weekends are scarcely better. Somehow, errands that took an hour a week in grad school seem to take all day back in D.C., but I am committed to trying.

I’ll let you know how it goes…

The heat is on…

We’ve got four weeks left in our project this quarter.  Four weeks to finish producing an iPad magazine and to present it to potential investors and to the faculty.

We’re at that crucial point where it feels like there’s no way we’ll ever get done and yet we make leaps and bounds every day.  I’ve been looking forward to this part of the project from the beginning.  Everyday we are closer to having a completed magazine and it’s really exciting.

I can’t wait to share it!

A focus group of one

Seven days ago, Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs died at 56 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.  Apple fans across the world showed love and support for the man, the brand, and his family, often through a medium that Jobs himself was responsible either for creating or for promoting.

I was down on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue on Sunday to one, buy a suit for interviewing, and two, shoot some photos for photojournalism, and came across an Apple Store covered in multi-colored Post-Its with messages for Jobs and his family.  And one-by-one people walked up, left a message on the wall or an apple on the ground, snapped a photo with their iPhone, and went on their way.

Jobs was not a fan of focus groups, audience research or user testing.  I am also not a fan of those things.  He believed that often with groundbreaking technology people had no idea what they wanted until you told them what was possible.  He was, among other things, an excellent salesman of the possible.

I, on the other hand, simply do not like conducting these interviews.  It’s not that I don’t see their value, although I do challenge the audience Kool-aid that says that we should simply ask people what they want and then give it to them.

In journalism school, it is expected that students inherently know how to talk to people about a product that they are working on.  They’re supposed to know exactly how to express a sense of empathy and immediately build a rapport with random strangers who the journalists are supposed to miraculously find on street corners and in coffee shops and convince to dedicate 20 minutes of their lives to answering a journalist’s prying questions about their lives.  Professors and administrators do not seem to see that there is a difference between this type of interviewing and interviewing someone for a story.

Audience research is very, very good at finding out what people like and how they behave.  Unfortunately, even the first man who bought an iPad has only been using it for fewer than 2 years.  And his world of experience is limited to the type of apps and interactivity that a small group of developers has been able to dream up.  And of that very small group, only a very few of those are doing any sort of groundbreaking work, while the others are using their innovations to display content.  So, essentially, the ideas of a couple of men and women are the sum of iPad experiences that exist.  And asking an iPad user what they like can only encompass those ideas.

We can ask people to imagine what they would like, but they will still be limited to their experience of interacting with the device.  Even the truly visionary random man on the street might suggest something that we couldn’t possibly execute.

We’re warned about the dangers of the “focus group of one:” essentially using only your own experience to make decisions.  We’re especially warned about that in our class.  As a group of 13 girls and one boy, we have chosen to create a magazine for men.  As a group of 23 to 28-year-olds, we’ve chosen men age 35-55, which for most of us means neither our friends nor our fathers.

And so, if you need me on Saturday, I’ll be hanging out at a Starbucks in Skokie, stalking men with iPads and asking to see some ID.

Why didn’t I think of that?

From the students at the Columbia School of Journalism comes this insightful and interesting project on the future of journalism. Fast Forward News is the culmination of an idea dreamed up by 18 graduate students in a video journalism class and features interviews with industry leaders of the past and future.

I’m loving this project for three reasons. One, I, too am a graduate journalism student, although one at that other J-school. Two, I’m looking pretty carefully at the future of news since I’m soon-to-be over-educated and unemployed and because I subscribe to the notion that journalism is not slowly dying, but instead is in a period of great transition.

Which leads us to the third reason: This is something we should be doing at Medill. Yes, it’s self-serving and self-promoting. No one likes videos about journalists more than… other journalists. But it’s also an important look at how the industry is changing. And it’s an important message about how the great divisions between newspapers, magazines, broadcast, and online journalism are falling away.

In my classes this quarter, we’re talking a lot about how the audience is changing both how much news they consume and how they consume it. We’re even talking about how previous ideas on audience are themselves changing. But what we’re lacking is a full discussion of what we can be doing to change with our audience, and that is where this Columbia project comes in. An innovative and easily accessible look at the changing world of media is just what I need to round it out. And it wouldn’t hurt to get picked up by Romanesko.