Friday blog rescue: Pro-Track listserv alert on NYT story

(Periodically I’ll repost interesting things here from other blogs around the School of Journalism & Mass Communication.   This first one is an alert that Professor Sue Robinson sent out to the Pro-Track MA listserv.)

There are a number of reasons you should have read the cover story in the Times magazine last Sunday:

1) You should read it to see how someone can go from obscurity to having market share; how to build audiences and then how to keep them.

2) You should read it to see how you write stories that work.

3) You should read it because it’s good journalism. Look at how much time the author spent with the subject. Look at how he reconciled data that was inconsistent. Look at the specifics he got.

4) You should read it if you are interested in books.

SJMC writers in the media this week

A quick run-down of SJMC students and faculty who have been featured in the media this week:

  • Professor Deborah Blum published an article on “Poison and Progress” in the Wall Street Journal (drawn from the research from her latest book, The Poisoner’s Handbook.
  • Professor Stephen Ward was quoted in a Washington Post article on the difficulties of reporting from inside a humanitarian crisis of such devastating proportions as the Haiti earthquake.
  • And finally, one of our newest pro-track MA students, Saideh Jamshidi, recently had an article published on (the European Journalism Center) on the Jaras news site and the difficulties of covering politics in Iran.

Give them a look if you like and feel free to chat about the way our students and faculty strive to connect their work here in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication to unfolding events in the  world at large.

Discussing journalism & mass communication education at UW (updated)

Many of you are probably already aware of this, but there are several discussions unfolding this week — one at the Isthmus and one on the Badger Herald opinion pages — dealing with journalism & mass communication education here at UW (including contributions by me in both cases). The Isthmus article even got reblogged by both the Capital Times and the Mayor.

(You may also know that I was dismayed and more than a little annoyed by the tone and civility of the original Badger Herald opinion piece, expressing my displeasure and defending our graduate students in a letter to the editor.  But other writers at the Herald seem to genuinely want to open a productive dialogue, and I hope they succeed.)

I want to encourage all SJMC faculty, staff, students, and alumni to participate in such conversations — whether in the media or with us here in SJMC directly.  And although it should go without saying, you are also welcome to use this blog for any and all discussions about both the future of mass communication, and the best strategies for preparing our students (both majors and non-majors) for that future.

Update 2010-01-30: The discussion continues with a Badger Herald opinion piece on the SJMC Madision Initiative for Undergraduates proposal that points to the question of bringing more undergraduate research into the curriculum.

Blogging about blogging

A local reporter contacted the School recently asking about the state of blogging at the university.  I ended up writing a long email in response, which I thought might be interesting to share.  There were three main points I tried to make:

– Blogs can be a great way for university faculty and staff, engaged in both research and teaching, to get ideas “outside the Ivory Tower” — and to get feedback on those ideas from the blog-reading public.  Two main pressures keep us from doing more of this, I think: (1) the time it takes to produce bite-sized but well-reasoned blog pieces on a consistent basis while we’re working on the research, teaching, and service projects that are formally required for retention, promotion, and tenure; (2) an apprehension (“fear” is probably too strong a word) of putting out interesting but not-fully-baked ideas before a public in a way that might invite more hostile criticism than constructive criticism, especially in blogs which allow anonymous commenting.  For better or for worse, in the decade or so since blogging began to spread widely, blogs have taken on a reputation for partisan shouting. Clearly that’s not the sort of image we want to portray when we wade into the blogosphere, so we have to take extra time and care to present an alternate model for that kind of conversation.  That said, I think this is precisely the reason that it’s important that we do so.

– Collaborative blogs, I think, are the best model for the UW to encourage.  I have a blog were I work through some research ideas in cooperation with, at the moment, a whip-smart former graduate student of mine.  Her contributions have helped to energize my own thinking in what would otherwise be one of those mostly-stale blogs out there.  ( Another collaborative blog I know of from my colleague in the Geography department, Kris Olds, has fed directly into some important research on global knowledge production and higher education. (  Finally, my own School of Journalism & Mass Communication has just started its own collaborative blog (at the good suggestion of our alumni Board of Visitors) which I hope can grow over the Spring 2010 semester into a nice forum for discussion and debate. (  (It’s just me talking there right now … it can take some time to roll these things out and build an audience of both readers and writers!)

– The hidden power of blogs at UW, I think, is their use in teaching.  I’ve used public weblogs both in small 12-person graduate seminar courses and in large 400-student undergraduate survey courses. They present students with a public space to voice and wrestle with ideas from our courses, and because they are potentially visible to the whole wide world, I think they help students bring a certain serious and creative voice to their work.  We’ve had authors of course readings respond to students on these blogs — a New York Times reporter once weighed in on our reading of one of his articles, and Joe Trippi, former Howard Dean campaign strategist, commented on our critique of his book “The revolution will not be televised.”  Students were, to say the least, surprised and delighted by these serendipitous public connections to their classroom work.

We should remember, though, that the blog-reading public is not the whole public, nor is it a representative cross-section of the whole public.  (About 25% of the US public is still not “online” even today.)  We still need to work on getting ideas out  to the general public through more traditional means of broadcast (TV and radio), print (books and magazine articles), free and open campus events, and talks where we leave campus and go out into the state.  I think we do a good job reaching folks through TV and radio, largely due to the skilled professionals at Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio who combine their own public service mission with our own.  And many of our faculty publish books and magazine articles written in a serious but accessible voice that earn a wide readership and are available in popular bookstores across the nation (I like to think I’m included in this to a tiny degree, but our faculty member Deborah Blum is a perfect example of this).  So I hope that we don’t ever consider blogs an easy “technological fix” to the more complicated and ongoing responsibility of engaging in a serious two-way conversation with all of our stakeholders in the state, and the world, outside of the campus.  (After all, that’s the venerable Wisconsin Idea.)

Any reactions from our own blog readers and writers?

University-based reporting, or university-assisted reporting?

In an article for the Chronicle for Higher Education this week entitled "University-Based Reporting Could Keep Journalism Alive" [] media scholars Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie Jr. discuss the fact that "in recent years, more journalism schools have plunged into producing news for the public" (including ours):

Florida International University now has an arrangement in which the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post, and South Florida Sun-Sentinel use the work of student journalists. Columbia’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism has in its few years of existence had students produce work that has appeared in The New York Times, the Albany Times Union, Salon, and on PBS and NPR. Students at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism have produced work for the public posted on the school’s news Web sites. It is beginning another news Web site in cooperation with San Francisco’s KQED public radio and television stations. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University runs the Cronkite News Service, which provides student-reported work to 30 Arizona client news outlets, while other ASU journalism students have worked as paid reporters in the Phoenix suburbs for the Web site of the major metro daily in the city, The Arizona Republic. Similar work is taking place at Boston University, Northwestern University, the Universities of Maryland and Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

While department-run student newspapers, special seminars on investigative reporting, and exclusive internship relationships with professional journalism projects are not new in journalism education, Schudson and Downie argue that the Web has enabled such reporting to reach a much wider audience, in a much more timely manner, than ever before: "Publishing for the general public can now be done at minimal cost—no need to contract out to a printing company, no need to distribute to newsstands—just construct a Web site. Distribution has moved from major barrier to trivial expense."

Here at UW-Madison, of course, our situation is different than those of the stand-alone schools of journalism at Columbia and Arizona State where Schudson and Downie Jr. work.  We’re a School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) whose teaching, research, and service span a range of media industries and knowledge-production practices, from the analytical, investigative practices of careful journalism (whether online, on air, or in print), to the targeted, persuasive practices of ethical strategic communication (whether by businesses, non-profits, or governments).  Our classes incorporate not only the skills and concepts necessary to succeed in these industries, but the context and understanding necessary to understand how these industries work together (and sometimes work against each other) in a global media ecology.  

So for our School, the connection between our undergraduate and graduate educational mission and our larger knowledge-production research and service mission is what motivates our participation in community journalism projects where our students "produce news for the public."  And rather than going it alone, we prefer collaborating with local, professional media firms and non-profit organizations.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Madison Commons.  []  This innovative online partnership between both local/neighborhood organizations (the East Isthmus Neighborhood Planning Council, the South Metropolitan Planning Council, and the Northside Planning Council) and local for-profit media (The Capital Times, Wisconsin State Journal, Isthmus, and Channel 3000) was created by SJMC Professor Lewis Friedland and the UW-Madison Center for Communication and Democracy.  It’s a great example of graduate student researchers and community citizen journalists working together with both democratic civic groups and local mainstream media.


  • Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. [] Started by longtime SJMC lecturer Andy Hall, WCIJ is "a first-of-its-kind alliance with public broadcasting journalists in six cities around the state, plus students and faculty of the journalism school at Wisconsin’s flagship university" which "combines innovative technology with time-tested journalistic techniques to increase the transparency of official actions, intensify the search for solutions to governmental and societal problems, strengthen democracy and raise the quality of investigative journalism."  SJMC Professor Jack Mitchell sits on the board, and three current SJMC students plus one recent SJMC graduate work as reporters in the project.


  • All Together Now Madison []  This project, spearheaded by Brennan Nardi (editor, Madison Magazine), Bill Lueders (news editor, Isthmus), Andy Hall (executive director, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism), and our own SJMC Professor Deborah Blum, ATN is "a collaborative journalism endeavor by news media in Madison, Wisconsin, to produce print, broadcast and online reports on a common theme."  The project has connected to several SJMC reporting classes already.  Their first set of reports, on "Our Ailing Health Care System," are available now.

Schudson and Downie ended their article by reminding us that, "Thinking through what universities can do for journalism requires some serious conceptual work about how best to integrate the legitimate educational and research missions of the university with service to society."  I’ve only thrown out a few of the concrete connections to live, investigative, community journalism that our School has helped to create and nurture, but I think that each one of them fills that double role that Schudson and Downie suggest.  Anybody want to chime in with more examples, or propose further ideas?