Tag Archives: education

Print design in newspapers: Accept reality

photo of cogs
About seven years ago, I had long philosophical discussions with Ted Yee, a visionary design leader at The Charlotte Observer, about how web design would affect print. We thought about shapes, type and page orientations, but not about process.

We were so off base.

Now, it’s clear that the processes of the web have affected print much more than shapes and typography have.

News organizations have learned how to borrow processes from web production to make print less costly. Tribune, Gannett, McClatchy and Media General have all taken steps to somewhat automate print production and to streamline costs. The changes have pushed some design thinking earlier, to setup of templates for routine content, across newspapers.

That thinking has become more like wireframing for websites.

The Society of News Design wrapped up its annual convention in Denver this week, and one session focused on templates and print production hubs for newspapers. Gannett’s Kate Marymont was on the panel, which talked about the new hubs being rolled out by Gannett and the other legacy news chains. Print production for several newspapers will happen in a centralized spot, perhaps hundreds of miles away from the communities served by particular newspapers.

That panel discussion is important beyond newspapers, for people interested in journalism and in journalism education, because it opened windows to redefined roles at legacy news organizations.

Some traditional print jobs have permanently changed. We need to accept it and move forward.

Since 1999, I’ve taken special assignments at various times working on setup of the CCI content management system (pardon my jargon). CCI has evolved into a system for print and web production, and it enables the templating and sharing of news for Tribune, some of McClatchy, some New York Times properties and for Gannett. I know of one startup using it for sponsored local content.

I’ve emerged from that work (and after a year away, learning the freelance world) focused on niche community news without traditional job definitions, still using CCI. I work with a team where everyone knows how to layout pages, write headlines, crop photos and edit copy. Traditional desk jobs don’t exist. We’re not part of The Desk, but rather a separate operation focused on small zones, generally within 30 miles of the office.

But those on The Desk in some other newsrooms face a different reality, of more specialized roles, designed to streamline production in a Henry Ford sort of way. And much of our journalism vocabulary, our job descriptions and our education programs haven’t quite adapted. I salute SND for tackling the issue head on, in an earlier Q&A and an open letter, and I hope the organization can find ways to support those adapting to the new world.

Spinning off that SND panel, here are a few realities about design in newsprint now:

  • The definition of “designer” remains in flux. Pay attention to the skills and responsibilities within job listings rather than titles. The bulk of the jobs at Gannett’s future print “design” hubs and at other editing and design hubs could include responsibilities and be on a pay scale more appropriate to those trained at community colleges than at traditional four-year journalism or design schools. That’s reality. The print production hubs remain here, in the United States, instead of overseas because the pay scales in some U.S. locations can compete with internationally outsourced work.
  • Future good, creative jobs will emerge for developers, collaborators and trainers who specialize in content management systems for print newspapers. Gannett’s MaryMont said during the SND panel that she hopes for a clear career path for those working in the new Gannett hubs. Those with futures and interesting jobs will have collaboration skills, coding skills, process management and documentation abilities, troubleshooting skills and comfort with databases and continuous learning. (Sounds similar to web skills, right?)
  • Front-line editors and reporters will need new (or old?) skills in design principles, basic layout and visual thinking. Budgeting stories and meeting pre-set story lengths in visual building blocks will matter.
  • Specializing in print design is a dangerous path. Freelance designers will tell you the same. Some sweet, creative jobs will survive, for those who are exceptionally good or exceptionally cheap. Are you as good as Martin Gee? Then go for it.
  • If I were a new journalist interested in design now, I’d grab the skills needed for tablets and phones and would not invest my time solely in legacy print software. Likewise, legacy news companies that want to attract design talent for new platforms will need to decide whether to define or preserve jobs that attract that talent. But their bankers might not let them.
  • Balance sheets and debt payments matter more at publicly traded companies than good intentions.

The SND panel on print design templates came a day after Block by Block, a gathering in Chicago that supported new local news websites, and it preceded the annual Online News Association meeting at the end of October in Washington, D.C. The best thinking for the future of news and its presentation will bridge ideas from all of those conferences, across platforms. Those who can relearn fast and look forward clearly will survive.

Honest, open words will help.

Photo credit: kevinzim, through Flickr, with a Creative Commons license.


Locking down information in a time of abundance

In Charlotte, in 1968 and 1969, a couple of high school students and their buddies created a newspaper using a donated mimeograph machine from a church, in a garage.

In “The Inquisition,” they wrote about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and poetry, and the powers that existed tried to shut them down using zoning laws.

The students found an ACLU lawyer who agreed to take their case, and they won.

The newspaper’s poet, Paul Jones, went on to become director of ibiblio, a large contributor-run digital library. Today, he teaches students at the University of North Carolina about society, library science and journalism. (Paul would be quick to say he was only the newspaper’s poet, not one of the editors, says researcher Suzanne Sink.)

The harder that institutions try to suppress, the more people find a way to communicate.

So when I read a call to arms for high-school journalism education by Esther Wojcicki, director of Palo Alto [Calif.] High School’s journalism program, this line blew me away:

“Far too many of our future journalists, citizens and leaders unquestioningly accept that school administrators — government officials — should have the authority to dictate what they read, write and talk about. “

She was quoting the Student Press Law Center, talking about the 20-year-old Hazelwood court decision, which allows high schools in some cases to censor student publications.

But the more I thought about my own 20-year-old daughter and others who grew up in those 20 years, I came to a different conclusion. This court ruling and institutional climate of the past 20 years have instead led to an erosion of respect for those institutions that try to stifle free discussion and speech.

Your place of business locks down social media? No problem, use your own phone and perhaps a pseudonym. Your high school locks down computers or confiscates phones? Just hack your way around the firewall or be craftier about the phone use. Even your mom says the phone is OK.

This emerging generation is the one that took cell phones to school because parents wanted to be able to reach them after 9/11. Some of their teachers refused to turn off class TVs that day despite what the main office said. Knowledge and communication bring power, safety and self-preservation.

The idea that communication has been locked down and is becoming more controlled might seem bizarre given the daily overload of information we face. But consider:

  • Mecklenburg County officials in February considered taking down the ability to search online by name for property owners;
  • Records of real-time 911 calls for service have been removed from the redesigned Charlotte Mecklenburg government website;
  • Some large private businesses, especially in a bank town like Charlotte, lock down employee access to social media, and sports stars from Denny Hamlin in NASCAR to Marcus Austin at the University of North Carolina have faced consequences because of their words on social media. In most individual cases, education would serve better than blanket policies.

Still, we’re social creatures and technical problem solvers. Some of our most established institutions have become the technical problems. Institutional obstacles to free communication have taught people to disrespect the institutions and that it’s OK to seek ways around barriers and institutions that impose them. Not all of us know the ways around the barriers, but we reward those who do.

Wojcicki’s words are strong when she calls for high-school journalism education:

“Sometimes it’s good to just remind ourselves that there were people who risked their lives and gave up their homes to come here seeking the freedom to pursue the American dream, which includes freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”


“Most schools do not allow their students access to an uncensored Web; this is a trait we usually ascribe to China and rarely acknowledge about ourselves.”

Clearly, with growing technical tools for social interaction, institutions haven’t stopped us from talking to teach each other, and the ease and speed of that communication in many cases have increased. Some big names have made mistakes in how they talked broadly to the world, and institutions have reacted.

Along the way, some of those institutions have damaged themselves by going too far to try to lock down information and communication. Individuals learn to disrespect the institutions that prevent them from finding valuable information and being the social creatures that they are. That’s a strong call for more education, more information and more open and engaged institutions, from government to media.

Wojcicki wrote:

“That drive for independence and freedom is alive and well in our teenagers today; if we enable it in our schools, students will respond.”

As, I suspect, will we all.

Acknowledgements: Researcher Suzanne Sink is the expert on “The Inquisition” and its role in Charlotte. Thanks to her for providing background and clarifications. Revised post on Sept. 6 because of her thoughts.

Edupunks or the new schools?

Dandelion weeds

Dandelion weeds

Here are links to go with a presentation that looks at open education outside traditional institutions. The work was gathered for a class through Peer 2 Peer University, on digital journalism, taught remotely by Joi Ito, in the summer of 2010.

I dug into the subject after making a proposal to the Knight News Challenge for an open journalism class and pitching the idea at the Knight Digital Media Center’s news entrepreneur bootcamp in May 2010.

You can read more about that idea and free online journalism classes at a post by me at PBS MediaShift.

You can also see on Scribd one of the presentations created by a group of students in the class, covering the class.

On to links, many pointing to sites in the slides:
Peer 2 Peer U
Hacks and Hackers
Mozilla Drumbeat and P2PU
Amazon site for “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education
Open Study
List of similar endeavors to P2PU, compiled by P2PU’s Michel Bauwens.
Michel Bauwens’ Delicious links on learning.
My Delicious online learning links

Connecting the world and strengthening international reporting, through an online journalism class

Classmates Richard Smart (@Tokyorich) and Rick Martin (@1rick) collaborated on multimedia coverage of a protest in Shinjuku, Japan, against U.S. military bases on the Fourth of July. The work was part of an assignment in online journalism for a class at Peer 2 Peer University.

As the United States celebrated its birthday with parades, fireworks and the honoring of fallen soldiers, seeing a protest against U.S. military presence in other sovereign countries added rich perspective.

I would have had no idea about the protest without the classmates’ coverage. In that respect, the power of a global journalism class is remarkable.

Forget two-a-day practice; three-a-days will either kill you or get you in game shape

Two-a-day football practice

Two-a-day football practice looks easy compared to three-a-day blog posting

The latest class assignment from an online journalism class through P2PU involves posting three times a day on a blog.

The assignment reminds me of the approaching intense summer high school football practice in the United States. And it’s not just football; soccer players at summer camps, track team members and other young athletes commit to twice a day practices in the off season.

It’s hot; it’s hard, and it separates the serious athletes from everyone else.

I suspect this class assignment will do the same. Posting three times a day online is often billed as a way to drive traffic; I have long suspected it changes the content as well, encouraging lightweight, easy posts without much depth. At the same time, perhaps it encourages quick thinking and sharing of those thoughts without too much self editing.

In that respect, perhaps the assignment encourages the kind of sharing that Twitter has captured. Some have questioned whether Twitter or Facebook are killing blogging. The assignment gives me a chance to convert some Twitter time to creating something of perhaps longer lasting value. Or perhaps not.

Either way, it’s worth a start. The assignment comes from TokyoMango, or Lisa Katayama, who also edits BoingBoing.

Photo credit: kaiju, from Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons.

Free online journalism classes gain ground

Edupunk image


The head of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, is teaching a free online journalism class through Peer 2 Peer University. The online class syncs with a graduate-level class Ito teaches at Keio University in Japan, with a UStream presentation and IRC chat once a week.

IRC chat? Yes, the class glues together tools like UStream and IRC, and the platform continues to evolve, using a base of Drupal. P2PU’s organizers make it clear they know the tools aren’t perfect, and they’re refining as they go with feedback from participants.

I joined the class at the last minute. The New York Times had written about P2PU, an online community of open study groups, in April, as well as other open learning communities outside of traditional institutions. I stumbled across the article while searching the word “edupunks.”

The concept of coaching outside traditional educational institutions has fascinated me for almost a year, with a focus on how professional journalists can share their knowledge with new creators of online content, be they “citizen journalists,” neighborhood activists or seasoned newspaper people working on building online skills.

In the fall, I submitted a Knight News Challenge proposal for an online class, 260 Open, with face-to-face components. Students would have been required to produce coverage of civic events, and experienced journalists would edit their work closely. The concept was designed to not only spread civic knowledge, media literacy and strong journalism skills but also to increase the amount of news coverage in particular communities.

I proposed that the class use Moodle open-source software, a learning management system that is has been adopted for institutional use in many places, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College.

Then in May, I pitched the concept at the news entrepreneur boot camp through the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. One strength of that pitch was that many others at the boot camp are building news organizations with education components to broaden capacity of communities to help cover their own news.

What I needed, however, was a proven business model, with customers who can pay.

Certainly many large media companies are seeking community help covering the news these days, and the need exists to improve skills in broad communities that have lost local news coverage. But finding actual paying customers willing to support classes for the public good is a tough nut to crack. As large companies rush to create content to wrap around new local ads for small businesses, though, perhaps that business model will become clearer.

By contrast, P2PU isn’t focusing on the business model at the moment. Instead, organizers are building a community, refining their tools and experimenting. That’s inspiring.

In fact, Mozilla has teamed up with Hacks/Hackers in a collaboration launched at Knight’s Future of News and Civic Media conference to use P2PU to allow programmers to teach journalists and journalists to teach programmers. Mozilla and P2PU are also launching the School of Webcraft, with a call for course proposals by July 18.

P2PU’s current journalism class has shown me that perhaps we just start, with imperfect tools, even before funding or business models are clear.

In Charlotte, media folks have shown a commitment to peer coaching and support with some journo/bloggers meetups. We just started, with little regard to organizational structure. Dave Cohn of Spot.Us showed up via Skype for one meeting.

P2PU shows that the possibilities exist, spread across the globe. It demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning, as students in Japan go to class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and I listen and watch at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, at the same time. It’s quite a time shifter, right out of Harry Potter.

What I’d like to see next: Taking the concept of online tools to teach journalism to local communities, with tools that individuals can use for independent courses, simply. Those classes could be augmented with local meetups to strengthen ties and build strong networks. Local journalists familiar with the civic and social nuances of particular communities would add great value.

Perhaps there’s a business model in there somewhere. But more importantly, the concept provides more tools for journalists to share knowledge and perhaps help sustain themselves as teachers and coaches, while broadening the capacity for communities to write their own stories.

Maybe we can make it so. Thoughts?

Image credit: Image via Flickr from bionicteaching.
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Freelance reference, writing and visuals

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
On Writing, by Stephen King
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Annie Lamott
Writer’s Market (annual edition), by Writer’s Digest
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success, by Linda Formichelli
ProBlogger: Secrets to Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse
Designing with Web Standards, by Jeffrey Zeldman
graphic design cookbook, by Leonard Koren and R. Wippo Meckler
designing for interaction, by Dan Saffer
Information Trapping: Real-Time Research on the Web, by Tara Calishain

Writer’s Digest
The Writer
The Columbia Journalism Review
American Journalism Review

Web sites
Quick reference for just about everything, from Alex Johnson
Charlotte Writer’s Club
Bloggers and Journalists on Social Media Charlotte
Writer’s Market (Paid site; Includes “How Much Do I Charge?” guidelines)
Media Bistro
Freelancer’s Union
Media Bloggers
The Incomplete Manifesto (for philosophy)
Twitter, filtered with hash tags for #Editorchat, #Journchat, #Prchat, #Designchat

Business stuff
Writing a Killer Contract, with a link to a sample.
Spreadsheet to project five year financial plan, from Suzanne Yada.

Online News Association
RJI Collaboratory (Entrepreneurial journalists in action)
AIGA Charlotte
KnowledgeWebb ($89 a year)
Society of News Design
Media Bistro

(List from Rhi Bowman of The Word Trade and Andria Krewson.)