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Grad Life

  1. Why I DROPPED OUT of Graduate School
  2. Grad life is doing this for hours and hours everyday #issuesnm
  3. #issuesnm #gradschool. Topo Chico, espresso and studying.

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Grad Life

Grad Life

I asked my Issues in New Media students to depict grad life in pictures. This is what they submitted.

  1. Dinner in class #gradschool #issuesnm @ Old Main
  2. Last semester of grad school. Will not be missing long research papers. #homestretch #gradschool…
  3. And this is life during graduate school…almost 1:00am and work tomorrow morning.
  4. Graduate School equals sleeping with the research paper, but I enjoy it:) #issuesnm
  5. Grad life is doing this for hours and hours everyday #issuesnm
  6. #issuesnm #gradschool. Topo Chico, espresso and studying.
  7. #gradschool is multitasking, coffee, pop tarts, & loss of sleep. #issuesnm
  8. Student loan debt keeps piling up, but I keep telling myself it’ll all be worth it #issuesnm
  9. haha the struggle is real #issuesnm #gradschoolproblems

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This blog has moved…

I have acquired a fancy new host that will allow me to try out all sorts of new things, the first of which is a self-hosted WordPress installation. If you like, you can visit the new blog and read about my experiences with the migration process.

From now on, my tech blog will be found at Please visit there, change any links or RSS feeds. And thanks for reading and commenting!


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The Journalist as Programmer

When you’re an academic, you are expected to publish. The phrase most associated is “publish or perish” which basically means, get something in as many publications as possible, and you can keep your job. The first step to publication is often presentation at national or international conferences, one of the most important being the Association for Education in  Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

This year, I submitted my paper “The Journalist as Programmer: A Case Study of The New York Times Interactive News Technology Department” to AEJMC. As always, the division to which I submitted it (Communication Technology) was highly competitive. I was not completely caught off guard when I received a rejection, it wasn’t the first time. And, my method, a case study of an individual news organization, was not like the standard survey or content analyses that seem to be a slam dunk at these events. But, when I looked at the reviews, I was surprised to see that I had gotten fairly decent ratings and one substantial comment, the reason for which I am writing this post.

First, the paper. Here’s the abstract:

Modern news organizations are using a variety of technologies to assist in telling stories in ways that increasingly combine media, data and user engagement. The New York Times is one of the most progressive of these organizations in developing online, data-driven interactive news presentations. An in-depth case study of the practices of the New York Times Interactive News Technology department provides insight into the future of Web journalism and suggests some guidelines for other organizations in developing this competency.

See below for link to full paper.

The paper dealt with a visit I made to NYC to learn more about a group of people being described as programmer/journalists. I find their work in data-driven interactives to be inspiring, indicating a new trend in journalism, storytelling with data that relies on user engagement. I wanted to understand the people and the processes of the department, so I could report on it and bring some of these techniques into the classroom. I was quite pleased to have the opportunity to meet with such a smart and talented group of people.

Now, for the reviews, to which I received two. These are blind, peer-reviewed submissions, which means you don’t know who is doing them (and I should add that the reviewers do not know whose paper they are reviewing – although it would not be difficult, with a simple Google search, to find out that I had been focusing on this topic), but it is most likely another academic. I received an average of 3 out of 5 on 10 dimensions for one reviewer (an average showing, but these things vary widely by reviewer).  This reviewer had one comment: “Has successfully addressed the great challenges ahead in journalism of the research topic.”

OK, not so bad. What about the 2nd reviewer? This person averaged 3.3 in the ratings, so even a little stronger. But the comments were much more detailed.

My issues: “Journalists, as we traditionally define them, run the risk of becoming irrelevant without an updated understanding of modern story-creation and delivery methods.” To respond, I’m a prof of multimedia/new media journalism so I don’t assume I”m the older “traditional” journalist, but programmers are not automatically journalists and journalism is not just “modern story-creation” (whatever that is). The author misses the point that content management systems and data-dependent graphics and interfaces do not make every story. As I read this, the lead story is “Senate Republicans block debate on Wall Street reform bill.” I don’t need an AJAX programmer to provide the needed facts in this story, so let’s not overstate the need for programmers of Django, Subversion, Flash, Postgres, AJAX and Javascript to replace every good reporter who spends more time gathering facts than sitting at a desk and compiling code. As a former exec. of a software development company, it’s cool that the NYT has a team of self-taught programmers. I agree that it takes passion, and data-driven mashups are awesome. But there are many more examples of professionally-trained programmers who could also do equal if not better assemblies of data and graphics. The insight into the nation’s largest newspaper was great. but “modern story-creation” IS assembling text with multiple media (especially video) in a coherent way to tell one story. I have yet to meet any programmer who knows how to do that…and most journalists are just learning it. In short, the manuscript was interesting and the case study on one newsroom was well done. It is, however, just that. One newsroom.

This reviewer seems to have a real problem with just the concept of programmer/journalist. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the story on “Senate Republicans block debate on Wall Street reform bill” could be illustrated in a number of ways with data, perhaps identifying lobby interests of Senators that would be relevant to this issue. Regardless, I never implied that every story would be data-driven, but I do think with some creative thinking, many more stories could have an interactive aspect. I would love feedback on whether or not  you think the comments above are a reasonable critique. I hope to gain a broader audience for this topic and seek more advice on the direction of this research.

I was happy to present the paper at the International Symposium in Online Journalism in April to which I have received a warm reception. This is a much smaller, more focused conference, and I have often used it to try out and get feedback on a paper before AEJMC. But officially, you are not supposed to submit something to AEJMC that has already been presented at another conference. I took that to mean conferences of similar scope, because it seems that starting with a smaller conference, getting feedback and adjusting for a larger conference is a smart strategy. So, perhaps this is really why the paper was rejected. Regardless, I am intrigued by comments that completely dismiss an important trend without providing critique of the research itself.

The paper is published on the symposium website, and I would appreciate any feedback on it that can give me a more enlightened view of how we can better understand the role of programming and data in journalism. Plus, you can review the presentation I gave at UT below.

I uploaded another version of the paper (with improved formatting from the one originally on the ISOJ site).

I have plans to visit the NY Times again this summer to continue my research in this area, and to broaden it to other publications before I submit it to a journal. My hope is to shed some light on the academic review process and seek more constructive and helpful criticism. Thanks for listening.

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TX State Students Attend UT Symposium

TX State students in the house

I am so happy to participate in the UT International Online Journalism Symposium each year. It’s great to bring along TX State students so they can interact with UT people, professionals and academics from other schools. Every symposium, Rosental Alves and his Knight Center team raise the bar of a quality conference, assembling the most fascinating program of thinkers and doers. I was encouraged this year by the conversations, both on the panels and off. I think we are beginning to talk about the right things – moving away from the print model and discussing new economics and skills – without worrying about treading on the legacy of old media. It was a stroke of brilliance to have Steven Kydd of Demand Media as the keynote, to address the realm of paid content to a room full of skeptical journalists. And, Earl Wilkinson, executive director and CEO, International Newsmedia Marketing Association (INMA), had what I thought were some of the most provocative comments, by saying we need to dismantle print, rethink it’s value proposition and retrain an entire industry – strong words that needed to come from someone of his experience. He asked the question: How do we evolve from audiences of geography to audiences of passionate niches? I think these niches are so important to embrace. Passionate users will do lots of work for you and be very loyal – I mean it’s what YouTube and Wikipedia are based on. It lends toward my interest in user experience, giving users something to do on websites, letting them control the experience and, increasingly, the content.

TX State’s Scott Thomas asks a question to the panel on mobile news

Other great talks were given by Alfred Hermida/Amanda Ash of University of British Columbia, on a use of the CBC Wiki by a passionate community of music lovers, Nuno Vargas, of the University of Barelona, on the grid layout of news websites and Seth Lewis, of UT, on the ways that the Knight News Challenge defines and rewards innovation. Also, Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices Online and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, discussed a topic that I talk about a lot, the importance of failing, failing quickly and failing cheaply. There is actually an article in today’s NY Times “The Rise of the Fleet-footed Startup” that broaches this notion – that you don’t need a lot of venture capital to start a business.

And Geoffrey Graybel and Jameson Hayes of University of Georgia had some interesting research proposing a micro-payment model for news sites. I have my doubts about the viability and future of such a model, but I definitely appreciate that they considered the social and sharing nature of news in their proposal. For me, the majority of the value of any form of online media is my ability to share it via Twitter, Facebook, email or linking it on a Web site.

Evan Smith discussing the non-profit business model of Texas Tribune

I enjoyed the comments of many of the pros, particularly Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune. He has really put in the work that needs to be done to transition from the print model of Texas Monthly to the new media environment that he now heads. He really gets the importance of data and is banking on a non-profit model. That was encouraging to me, as it dovetailed nicely with my interest in data and programming and my case study of the NY Times Interactive News Technology team that I presented at the conference. And David Cohn of talked about letting the public control freelance budgets on their site. It’s a very Digg-like model, except now it is being applied to assignments of work. He recently wrote a nice piece for PBS MediaShift on applying the same idea to Advertising.

As I reflect on the last two days, I realize that there were so many great ideas generated at this conference, more than I can effectively convey here. Please visit the symposium website to enjoy their extensive coverage and watch the archived videos once the become available. This event is getting to be very SXSW in it’s approach to innovation, which I am happy to see. It’s a great event to bring students to after SXSW so they can make comparisons across audiences and see some of the new ideas they were exposed to during SX as they are being applied specifically to the field of journalism.

TX State grads Maira Garcia and Jon Zmikly working the TweetDeck at the symposium

TXST grad and now adjunct Jon Zmikly did some fast work at the end of the conference, finding the site and pulling together some impressive stats for the conference hashtag #isoj. More than 4500 tweets, and people are still commenting on the event. He also generated a fun Wordle visualization that used the text from the tweets to identify key topics.

Wordle: UT International Online Journalism Symposium

Click on the image to see a larger version. It’s fun to use these free and widely available tools!

TX State students enjoy some lunch with Jan Schaffer of J-Lab

As always, it is great to connect with friends, meet Twitter followers and followees and share ideas. Congrats to Rosental, Amy Schmitz-Weiss and the Knight Center team for a wonderful event! I look forward to next year’s symposium when I have no doubt that Rosental will once again exceed all expectations and put on another fantastic program!

#isoj attendees spending a little quality time outside the symposium at Dog and Duck Pub

Here are a couple of pictures from my panel that were taken by Andrew Waldrup. Thanks Andrew!

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The Programmer as Journalist

I’ll be doing this presentation at the UT International Symposium in Online Journalism on April 23.

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SXSW – The Big Picture

Some of the student who worked on the project this semester

Every year, when I go to SXSW, I return with a head full of knowledge and some big takeaways that involve immediate action or some form of continued research and learning. I honestly could not be anywhere near as effective at my position (Assistant Professor of online media at Texas State) if it were not for SXSW and the wonderful people and ideas that I am exposed to every festival.

This year, there are a couple of big ideas that I will be considering. The first overriding theme was obvious both in the Douglas Rushkoff presentation on the first day and in danah boyd’s keynote. Both were discussing privacy and control, and the false sense we get when we use social networks. Rushkoff’s presentation was titled “Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age” and that is a fascinating observation. We must be aware of how we are being controlled and limited in these spaces, while at the same time, taking advantage of their great potential for connectivity.

Another fantastic panel was delivered by Glenn Platt and Peg Faimon from Miami University entitled Universities in the Free Era and it dealt with applying open source ideas to the mission of the university. I loved their description of the new professor, who is an experience designer, a life coach who conveys the “you-can-do-it” attitude and someone who provides students with access to a network. It was a great tie-in with the Core Conversation I hosted (with Tyson Evans of The New York Times and Matt Waite of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact) entitled Influence and Innovate: Transforming Media Education. You can see that panel in its entirety at

There was a lot of talk and usage around the location-based services, like Foursquare and Gowalla. At an event the size and scale of SXSW, you can clearly see the benefit of these services and how they augment and enhance the use of Twitter, focusing more directly on people you know and want to know their whereabouts. I think there is also a good deal of potential for locations, brands and events to develop promotions that engage customers and fans by using one of these services as a platform. These ideas are really in a pre-infancy period.  Congrats to Josh Williams of Gowalla for winning the Texas Social Media Awards, btw.

Finally, there were lots of good things about music that I enjoyed. The panel on How the Internet is Disrupting the Concert Industry, hosted by Ian Hogarth gave some good data about live music sales and potential. And, one on Crowdfunding Music: Raising Money from your Fans was equally fascinating in regard to the really creative things that artists are doing to introduce and engage people with their music. Check out Allison Weiss, because she is doing some very  cool things for her fans. I am more convinced than ever that the future of music is in engaging your fan base and creating and maintaining a community around your music.

So, I have a lot to process and lots to learn. I had a blast meeting so many people, and as always, I loved seeing many of my students interacting in the community and engaging the things they are learning. It’s great for them to see that there is a huge community of people that care about these topics, and that the future of media lies in creativity and innovation.

Thanks to the great staff at SXSWi for putting on another amazing festival. I am ready to be blown away again by the programming in 2011!

After the Interactive, I moved on to Music. You can read my posts from the shows I attended at

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