Saturday, September 20, 2008

Help from the academy

Ryan Thornburg of UNC poses some questions for discussion at his blog, "The Future of News," about how universities can help newsrooms. His questions stemmed from a panel discussion at the Online News Association's recent meeting.

Unfortunately, the panel discussion had morphed into a session of preaching to the choir, with most people in the room being from academia, instead of being working journalists who could learn from academia.

Too often, working journalists tend to see academic people as falling into two camps:
1. Isolated, slow, behind-the-curve ivory-tower inhabitants, or
2. Incubators for products that have to be pitched like all the other vendors competing for our dwindling dollars.

As Ryan Thornburg quoted Paul Volpe, the deputy politics editor at
“Pitch me.”

Unfortunately, with that approach, the transaction becomes all about the sizzle and not about the steak. Many of us have had experience with stories that landed on 1A not because they were good, but because they had a good sales pitch in a meeting. And many of us have had experience with software that landed on websites not because it was good, but because it had a good salesperson.

And then let's go back to No. 1 for a moment: Many of us have had experience with journalism classes that taught out-of-date skills or that were staffed with professors unaware of new technical developments.

But a middle ground exists. As we all deal with sad, sad news of losing good colleagues or jobs, academic works can help us remain focused on the long view. And academic research can give us independent views on business models, trends, staffing and management. That's quality information that can fuel important decisions.

So if you need to be reminded of what we're all trying to do, go back and read Phil Meyer.

If you need research information into attitudes, skills and diversity among staffers over time, check out the Newspaper Research Journal.

If you're looking for information on new technical developments, keep an eye on business incubators and information-related academic fields like online learning and information science.

Go give Ryan a comment on his blog. Give the academics a chance to help us.

And chin up, head down, ears open.

Send good thoughts for all.

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