Why Journalists Should Learn Computer Programming

Yes, journalists should learn how to program. No, not every journalist should learn it right now -- just those who want to stay in the industry for another ten years. More seriously, programming skills and knowledge enable us traditional journalists to tell better and more engaging stories.

Programming means going beyond learning some HTML. I mean real computer programming.

As a journalist, I'm fully aware of the reasons why we don't learn programming -- and I'm guilty of using many of them. I initially thought there were good reasons not to take it up:

  • Learning to program is time-consuming. One look at the thick books full of arcane code and you remember why you became a journalist and not a mathematician or an engineer. Even if you are mathematically inclined, it's tough to find the time to learn all that stuff.
  • Your colleagues tell you you don't need it -- including the professional developers on staff. After all, it took them years of study and practice to become really good developers and web designers, just like it takes years for a journalist to become experienced and knowledgeable. (And, if you start trying to code, the pros on staff are the ones who'll have to clean up any mess you make.)
  • Learning the basics takes time, as does keeping your skills up to date. The tools change all the time. Should you still bother to learn ActionScript (Flash), or just go for HTML5? Are you sure you want to study PHP and not Python?
  • Why learn programming when there are so many free, ready-made tools online: Quizzes, polls, blogs, mind maps, forums, chat tools, etc. You can even use things like Yahoo Pipes to build data mashups without needing any code.
  • When Megan Taylor wrote for MediaShift about the programmer-journalist, she asked around for the perfect skillset. One response nearly convinced me to never think about programming ever again: "Brian Boyer, a graduate of Medill's journalism for programmers master's track and now News Applications Editor at the Chicago Tribune, responded with this list: XHTML / CSS / JavaScript / jQuery / Python / Django / xml / regex / Postgres / PostGIS / QGIS."

Those are some of the reasons why I thought I could avoid learning programming. But I was so wrong.

Why Journalists Should Program

You've heard the reasons not to start coding. Now here's a list of reasons why you should:

  • Every year, the digital universe around us becomes deeper and more complex. Companies, governments, organizations and individuals are constantly putting more data online: Text, videos, audio files, animations, statistics, news reports, chatter on social networks...Can professional communicators such as journalists really do their job without learning how the digital world works?
  • Data are going mobile and are increasingly geo-located. As a result, they tell the stories of particular neighborhoods and streets and can be used to tell stories that matter in the lives of your community members.
  • People have less time, and that makes it harder to grab their attention. It's essential to look for new narrative structures. Programming enables you to get interactive and tell non-linear stories.

Jquerylogo copy.jpg

  • You don't have to build everything from scratch. Let's take JavaScript, which is used for creating dynamic websites. Tools such as jQuery, a cross-browser JavaScript library, enable people to create interactivity with less effort. Web application frameworks such as Ruby on Rails and Django support the development of dynamic sites and applications. So it can be easier than you thought.

A Way of Looking At the World

Maybe you're not yet convinced. Even though jQuery makes your life easier, you still need a decent knowledge of JavaScript, CSS and HTML. Django won't help you if you never practiced Python. All of this takes time, and maybe you'll never find enough of it to get good at all this stuff.

Still, we must try. The good news is that it doesn't matter if you become proficient at the latest language. What is important, however, is that you're able to comprehend the underpinnings of programming and interactivity -- to be able to look at the world with a coder's point of view.

I'm still just a beginner, but I feel that this perspective provides you with an acute awareness of data. You start looking for data structures, for ways to manipulate data (in a good sense) to make them work for your community.

When covering a story, you'll think in terms of data and interactivity from the very start and see how they can become part of the narrative. You'll see data everywhere -- from the kind that floats in the air thanks to augmented reality, to the more mundane version contained in endless streams of status updates. Rather than being intimidated by the enormous amount of data, you'll see opportunities -- new ways to bring news and information to the community.

You probably won't have time to actually do a lot of the programming and data structuring yourself. But now you're equipped to have a valuable and impactful conversation with your geek colleagues. A conversation that gets better results than ever before.

So, even though it's probably a bit late for me to attend the new joint Master of Science degree program in Computer Science and Journalism at Columbia University, I can still learn How to Think Like a Computer Scientist using the the free MIT OpenCourseWare, take part in the Journalists/Coders Ning network, and find help at Help.HacksHackers.Com).

And so can you.


Are you a journalist who has taken up programming? A programmer with advice for journalists? Please share your experiences and insights in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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The Mediavore’s Dilemma: Making Sustainable Media Choices

The media business is becoming a complex game. A major study recently conducted by the Knight Commission concluded that the Internet and the proliferation of mobile media have unleashed a tsunami of innovation in the creation and distribution of information, a torrent teeming with hundreds of thousands of media channels and millions of media product choices. We also live in a world being confronted by an unprecedented array of environmental threats caused by human activities like agriculture, coal mining, oil extraction, industrial production, electricity use, transportation and deforestation -- all of which contribute to climate changing greenhouse gas emissions.

A factor making the media game even more complex is the carbon footprint created by media brands and their supply chains as they compete for advertising dollars and vie for consumer attention. However, despite growing investor and corporate concern about the greenhouse gas emissions, or "carbon intensity," of consumer products and their supply chains, limited consideration has been given to the carbon footprint of media products and their supply chains.

* Can advertisers afford to ignore the environmental threats associated with their media supply chain choices?

* Can consumers afford to ignore the carbon footprint of their media choices... even if their individual impacts may appear to be small?

This article doesn't have all of the answers, but hopefully it will open your eyes to some of the issues and begin a broader discussion about what may be at stake. It is my hope that this and subsequent posts will lead to a better understanding of the carbon footprint of media products so that advertisers, media companies and consumers can resolve what I call "The Mediavore's Dilemma" -- how to enjoy the media bounty before us while minimizing the climate change risks and environmental threats associated with our advertising and media choices.

(You can read my earlier report for MediaShift: Is Digital Media Worse for the Environment Than Print?)

As concern about the environment and consumer awareness about issues like climate change rise, publishers are likely to respond with a bumper crop of "green" media products. Brands will probably pump out ads chock-a-block with green messages to run on the pages and pixels of those products. But the jury is still out on whether changing consumer, investor and/or regulatory pressure could change the game and move them to make comparable efforts to identify, measure, improve and communicate the environmental impacts associated with their media products and media supply chains. In the meantime, concern about climate change and carbon footprints continues to grow among global leaders and many high growth companies.

In a recent Ernst & Young survey of global organizations with greater than $25 billion in market capitalization, 73 percent had made commitments to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Interestingly, 43 percent of respondents believe that equity analysts are including climate change factors in their valuations and 30 percent anticipate climate change factors will find their way into these analyses in the next five years.

The report, Action Amid Uncertainty -- The business response to climate change, probed 300 global executives from corporations with annual revenue of $1 billion or more on how they are responding to climate challenges. According to Mark Foster, group chief executive of management consulting and global markets at Accenture, "Effective carbon disclosure helps corporations mitigate investment risk and achieve more sustainable performance."

Nonetheless, comprehensive carbon disclosure has not been a significant priority among major advertisers or media companies. To the extent that carbon disclosures have been made they have primarily focused on headquarters and travel related emissions rather than media supply chains or media products.

Game Change?

The recent BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has spurred a game-changing shift in Americans' environmental attitudes. For the last few years, Americans' environmental concerns declined as the public placed a higher priority on pocketbook concerns like the economy and energy, likely due to the poor U.S. economy. However, a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll indicates that trend has reversed in just two months' time and the pro-environment position has regained the strength it showed for most of the last decade. Given the sensitivity of marketers to public opinion, it is highly likely that this change in public opinion could change the priorities of advertisers and media companies to carbon disclosure.

Oil Spill Alters Views on Environmental Protection

Another factor that could change the priorities of advertisers and media companies is regulation and/or fear of litigation.

"The question arises as to what legal structure will be able to cope with this coming explosion of green advertising and green media marketing claims," said John Lichtenberger, publisher of GreenAdvertisingLaw.com. "Advertisers need to know what is required for such ads before they prepare them and consumers increasingly want to know the environmental backstory of the media products they consume...it's sort of like 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' for media."

How Do You Choose Your Media Menu?

Just as we must increasingly give thought to how we grow, process and distribute the food that feeds our families, we must also step up our efforts to consider and disclose the flows of energy, materials and waste associated with the media products that feed our minds. Uninformed media choices are not an option. For advertisers and media companies they carry brand and regulatory risks. For the public they carry zero sum risks that may constrain or curtail freedom to communicate and result in other unintended consequences. Informed choices can increase the possibilities for a vibrant economy and effective government, as well as a sustainable and civil society.

One of the key obstacles to making effective comparisons and informed choices is the lack of standardized media product descriptions and category rules for the myriad of different media devices and media products that advertisers and consumers have to choose from. Media category definitions and product rules for lifecycle inventory data accounting and disclosure of carbon footprint data are needed. Without these, the best one can do is to use checklists or rely on guidelines like The Living Principles. While using rules of thumb is better than doing nothing at all, they are blunt instruments being used where more accurate and effective lifecycle analysis and carbon footprinting tools for media products are required.

Can We Afford Unsustainable Media Choices?

The Mediavore's Dilemma is selecting media products and choosing patterns of media use that meet our needs for entertainment, education and communication, while minimizing the negative environmental impacts and carbon footprints associated with them. Ideally our media choices should lead to outcomes that are sustainable i.e. environmentally restorative, socially constructive and economically beneficial.

A template for much of what needs to be done exists in the collaborative efforts of the Carbon Disclosure Project and The Sustainability Consortium, as well as in the individual efforts of major brands like Ford, IKEA, Levi Strauss, and others. Those companies call on providers in their supply chains to disclose the environmental lifecycle impacts, climate change risks and "carbon footprints" associated with the goods and services they sell. These requests coupled with the specifications, standards and data that they develop are the keys to making informed supply chain decisions. By focusing and adapting their work to media devices, products and supply chains it is possible that the task of making informed media choices will be less of a challenge than a clean-sheet exercise.

Another factor to be considered is the issue of "materiality" i.e. when carbon disclosure is deemed to be significant to investors. Several large investor groups representing more than $8 trillion in assets under management recently requested the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to issue guidance on the disclosure of climate-related information on the basis that it is material to their investment decisions even to companies whose carbon footprints are relatively small -- and thus whose climate change risks are not likely to be material.

While these calls for carbon disclosure have continued to grow, so far little attention has been paid to the carbon footprint of advertising or to the environmental impacts and climate risks associated with the creation, production, distribution and use of communication and entertainment media. However, last week the Ford Motor Company, one of the world's largest advertisers, announced plans to survey 35 of top global suppliers on their energy use and estimated greenhouse gas emissions. And while it does not currently address the carbon footprint of advertising or media suppliers, it may in the future.

John Viera, Ford Motor Company's VP of Sustainability and Environmental Policy responded to my call for insight about this trend with a statement that suggests a broader set of requests which might include advertising and media suppliers is a possibility:

"Currently advertising suppliers are not explicitly included in our supplier survey associated with Ford's efforts to better understand the carbon footprint of its supply chain. At this time Ford's initial efforts are focused on direct first tier suppliers providing higher carbon intensity commodities for vehicle production. However, beyond resources required for supplier engagement, we are not presently aware of any particular or unique barriers to measuring and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of advertising suppliers".

While some may find this statement encouraging, one must be realistic about the prospects that Ford or any other advertiser will be able to address this issue alone or to build a quorum of like minded brands to join them. A recent Accenture report on supply chain carbon reports that only 10 percent of companies actively model their supply chain carbon footprints or have implemented successful sustainability initiatives.

Why Lifecycle Analysis and Carbon Footprinting Matter

When the June 1996 issue of Life magazine ran a story about child labor in Pakistan that showed a 12-year-old surrounded by the pieces of a Nike soccer ball, activists across the U.S. were soon marching in protest outside of Nike stores holding up the photos. Nike quickly found how brands can be held accountable for the social and environmental transgressions of their extended supply chains. Shortly after the story was published, Nike stepped up its efforts in supply chain scrutiny and joined a coalition of companies, labor organizations and human rights groups to draft an industry-wide code of conduct that would eliminate child labor from their back story.


Today, there is growing pressure for major brands to call upon companies in their supply chains to disclose environmental lifecycle impact data. They are also called upon to work with suppliers to innovate the carbon and climate-change risk out of their product and packaging supply chains.

Until recently, those studying media focused on the social and economic effects of advertising and media content to determine their impacts on our opinions and behaviors. However, the size, scope, dynamics and growth rate of today's media consumption patterns are making it increasingly important that we also consider the environmental lifecycle aspects of media devices as well as the carbon footprint of their supply chains, when we make media choices.

If there is greater awareness of just how big the media industry is, and of how big its carbon footprint is likely to be, significant calls for carbon disclosure are more likely to be extended to advertising and media supply chains. The media game is a big business with a carbon footprint to match.

How Big is the Media's Carbon Footprint?

Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a private equity firm, reported that the media industry rose from the 10th largest sector of the economy in 1975 to the 5th largest in 2009. According to the 2009 Deloitte Media and Entertainment Industry Outlook, media and entertainment is one of the largest sectors in the U.S. economy: About $950 billion was spent on products and services provided by media and entertainment companies in 2006. That spending is expected to grow by 38 percent to $1.3 trillion by 2011.

Another key aspect of the media game that can be measured is advertising spend. A major source of revenue to media companies is the purchase of advertising by brands who spend in excess of $125 billion in the U.S. each year to sponsor media products. Close to $500 billion is spent each year worldwide. According to research firm Kantar Media, while advertising expenditures fell 12.3 percent in 2009 due to the recession, advertising expenditures in the first quarter of 2010 rose 5.1 percent from 2009 to $31.3 billion.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that approximately 360,000 tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions are associated with each billion dollars of economic activity, which would mean the carbon footprint of the media industry could be as much as 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gas. That would be equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 130 coal-fired power plants burning 2.6 million railcars of coal; or the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 95 million four passenger vehicles burning 56 billion gallons of gasoline. The DOE also reported that in 2008 the United States consumed about 138 billion gallons (or 3.3 billion barrels) of gasoline and emitted approximately 6.9 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas.

Is Size All That Matters?

In addition to measuring economic activity, there are other aspects of media's carbon footprint -- such as time spent consuming media -- that can be used to estimate emissions. This is particularly important in the case of digital media in that, unlike printed media, digital media devices consume energy when being used and when they are in standby mode.

Veronis Suhler Stevenson estimated that overall per capita consumption of media in the U.S. has increased by almost 30 percent over the last 35 years, from 2,843 hours per year in 1975 to 3,532 hours in 2009, and about half of those hours are spent on videogames, Internet, and mobile services. Also, a recent Gamer Segmentation Report 2010 by research firm NPD found that U.S. gamers are spending 13 hours per week playing energy intensive games, up from 12.3 hours in 2009, with "extreme gamers" representing 4 percent of the sample surveyed averaging 48.5 hours of game play per week.

Multi-Tasking Mania

American consumers also appear to be adding more media channels to the menu as well as doing more media multitasking. According to the Thee Screen Report from research firm Nielsen Media, as of 2Q 2009 the 290 million people in the U.S. with TVs spend on average 141 hours each month tuning into television. Mobile video viewing continues its upward trend, with over 15 million Americans reporting watching mobile video in Q2 2009. This is an increase of 70 percent versus last year -- the largest annual growth to date.

In addition to adding more digital media channels and products to the menu, Nielsen reports that American households are also adding more digital media devices... devices which can have significant "embodied energy" carbon footprints in addition to the energy they consume during use or in "sleep mode." While the media industry lags other business sectors such as the building products industry in categorizing and documenting the embodied energy and carbon intensity of its products, the precedent nonetheless exists in development of lifecycle data repositories such as the U.S. Life-Cycle Inventory (LCI) Database.

Fifty-four percent of Americans have three or more TV sets in the home, and more than half of Americans (57 percent) who have Internet access at home, use television and the Internet simultaneously at least once a month. NPD reports that portable navigation devices have found their way into nearly 40 percent of U.S. households, up from 30 percent in 2009 and e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader, are increasing in penetration and are now in 5 percent of U.S. households. Also, the recent State of Media Democracy survey by Deloitte indicates that nearly 60 percent of U.S. homes now own a videogame console, a dramatic increase from 44 percent three years ago.

It is unlikely that such growth can be managed for sustainability without the identification, measurement and disclosure of carbon footprint and lifecycle inventory data.

Houston, We Have a Wicked Problem

Make no mistake, the Mediavore's Dilemma is what Horst Willhelm Jakob Rittel called a "Wicked Problem" i.e. one that cannot be solved by a single individual or any one company using conventional thinking. Creating the tools and knowledge required to resolve the Mediavore's Dilemma will require data, collaboration, informed dialogue and systems thinking that could take years.

There are several reasons why solving the Mediavore's Dilemma is a wicked problem that has so far failed to reach a tipping point in support from advertising and media companies:

  • Awareness of what is at stake is low and there has been little explicit investor, regulatory, consumer or activist demand for disclosure of advertising and media supply chain carbon footprints.
  • Advertisers are two to three steps removed from the majority of media supply chain emissions, resulting in inadequate visibility across all tiers and levels of their media supply chains.
  • No brand purchases more than 10 percent of the ~$125 billion spent on advertising in the U.S. annually, and a myriad of media products results in a highly fragmented market that limits the control of even the largest of advertisers.
  • Functional silos and limited subject matter expertise in Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) are obstacles to deployment of media supply chain scorecards or standards-based scoring systems.
  • The lack of meaningful LCA product category definitions for existing media products is an obstacle to standards-based disclosure and comparison of media product carbon risks.
  • Media industry turmoil and changing media industry business models have made it difficult to make a coherent business case for the allocation of costs and benefits that would result from tackling the problem.

The fact that the Mediavore's Dilemma is a wicked problem doesn't mean we shouldn't try to solve it, and it doesn't mean that we must wait for it to be solved in order to take steps in the right direction. To raise awareness and spur action addressing these issues the Institute for Sustainable Communication (where I am a senior fellow) has been making slow but steady progress working with groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Carbon Trust and Ad-ID to draw attention to the issue and reach out to advertisers and their supply chain partners through ISC's Sustainable Advertising Partnership initiative.

Ultimately the Mediavore's Dilemma is a problem that may best be solved as a "serious game" that engages our collective curiosity and expands our collective wisdom. In the meantime, it is my hope that your questions, comments, suggestions and support in response to this article will help raise awareness of our efforts and assist us in developing better solutions for all of the stakeholders that business, government and the world at large depend upon.

MediaShift environmental correspondent Don Carli is senior research fellow with the non-profit Institute for Sustainable Communication (ISC) where he is director of The Sustainable Advertising Partnership and other corporate responsibility and sustainability programs addressing the economic, environmental and social impacts of advertising, marketing, publishing and enterprise communication supply chains. Don is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Industry Studies Program affiliate scholar and is also sustainability editor of Aktuell Grafisk Information Magazine based in Sweden. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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4 Minute Roundup: Facebook Privacy Update; Bay Citizen Launch

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition I look at how Facebook tried to simplify its privacy settings in the face of widespread criticism and defections. Now the 50 settings have been streamlined down to 15, but still some critics decry the opt-out nature of sharing vs. opt-in. Plus, the new Bay Citizen non-profit news site in the San Francisco area launched, with high-profile partnerships with the New York Times and UC Berkeley. I talked with editor-in-chief Jonathan Weber, who described their approach to online video and more.

[Full disclosure: Weber was my editor at the Los Angeles Times and at the Industry Standard.]

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Jonathan Weber:

weber final full.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Making Control Simple at the Facebook blog

No One Really Cares About Facebook's Privacy Flap -- Except Congress at AdAge

Privacy groups assail Facebook changes at CNET

A Guide to Facebook's New Privacy Settings at NY Times

Here's a CNET video explaining Facebook's privacy changes:

The Bay Citizen - 'Hardly Strictly News' at SFGate

The Bay Citizen makes a strong debut at the SF Bay Guardian

The Pitfalls of 'Cooperative' News at Chicago Reader

Bay Citizen nonprofit news producer launches, nabs $3.7M at SF Business Times

Is A Link More Valuable Than $25? The Bay Citizen's 'Deal' For Local Bloggers at SFAppeal

The Bay Citizen

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about what you think non-profit news sites:

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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Social Media Training: From Conferences to the Classroom

She sat in a chair signing an autograph, as the camera's flashes made the stones on her Ms. America crown sparkle. A man knelt about five feet in front of American royalty and drew a sketch of her on the iPad.

Caressa Cameron, Miss America 2010, was addressing the audience at the 140 Character conference in New York City last month. Cameron spoke about how she is using social media to support her duties as a social ambassador and Goodwill Ambassador for the Children's Miracle Network, which raises funds for children's hospitals nationwide.

"What I want to do this year is to keep people connected through causes; keep people connected through organizations; keep people connected through community involvement," she said. "It's my job out here to let you know that I am doing a job, and you all can be a part of it."

The 140 Character conference is just one of a long lineup of social media training programs offered by marketing professionals, celebrities, and mainstream headliners. Seminars and presentations educate thousands of people on how to use social media to reach out to their target communities. Attendees mostly learn the business applications of social media and ways to engage people using social networks to promote causes, job hunts and other initiatives.

The abundance of people and organizations offering social media training naturally means there's a wide range of quality. I recently attended different social media conferences and programs and spoke to experts to gather insights about social media training. Here's a collection of what I encountered.

140 Character Conference


Jeff Pulver, organizer of the 140 Character conference in New York City, said the way that people and organizations communicate has dramatically changed. He was master of ceremonies to a long lineup of people who have been able to leverage Twitter and other real-time social applications to develop their businesses and professional profile.

"Here at the 140 Character conference we are looking at the effects of the real-time Internet on business and also on people," Pulver said. "Four words: listen, connect, share and engage. If you understand what that means you have a head up on everyone else who doesn't."

He said that, regardless of the different professional backgrounds at the 140 Character conference, we are all people.

"This conference celebrates life," Pulver said. "It celebrates the humanity of it, and some of the amazing business opportunities that are becoming because of it."

One speaker at the 140 Character conference is a world-renowned entrepreneur by the name of Gary Vaynerchuk. He built his family's wine business from a $4 million brick-and-mortar store to a $60 million dollar business supported by a retail website, and a vlog where Vaynerchuk reviews a wide variety of wines. He's also a bestselling author.

I caught up with Vaynerchuk when he was back at home and conducted a video interview with him about social media training and the lessons he's learned. Two people also tweeted questions for Vaynerchuk before the interview -- Eric Sornoso and Rodney J. Woodruff -- and Vaynerchuk responded to both during our discussion:

Edelman's Program

Along with Vaynerchuk, I ran into Rick Murray at the conference. He's the president of Edelman Digital. He shared some of the logistics of Edelman's social media training course. The first phase is all about defining ethical behavior on social networks.

"The second thing we talk a lot about is community management," Murray continued. "[What] you could do to help our clients out whether it's either promoting their brands or it's protecting their brands, in either shape or form; the third thing...is how you craft the kinds of content that the audience which your clients are trying to seek is compelling."


The Edelman training program also covers how content can be optimized for social search. The classes cater to all the regions in which Edelman operates and are culturally sensitive to help employees appropriately engage people all over the world. Each online module is self-paced. Upon completion of each training sequence, a belt is awarded to a participant, as in karate. Employees must schedule the four minutes to take each module to be awarded a belt and be able to take the next training sequence.

"Once people are underway we've actually had internal competitions to get to various belt levels in office competitions," Murray explained. "We're not against public shaming as well; we have names on walls of people who haven't taken any of the modules at all."

Social Media Skills With Sree

Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs and digital media professor at Columbia Journalism School, started the institution's first public Social Media Skills course. The class is four weeks long and, as it states in the syllabus, aims to teach journalists how to "find new story ideas, trends, and sources; connect with readers and viewers in new ways; bring attention and traffic to their work; and help them create, craft and enhance their personal brand."

I took Sreenivasan's workshop called "Smarter Internet Surfing Tips" while in my broadcast journalism class in New York University. He has been teaching Internet Surfing Tips through his online directory since 1998. He helps journalists learn to use the social media tools that will help them do their job more efficiently. Sreenivasan carefully chooses which platforms his students should be using as journalists and media professionals.

"I'm not on MySpace but in certain industries MySpace is absolutely critical, like the music industry, entertainment, but it doesn't make sense for me at the moment," Sreenivasan stated. "I say that for technology to be useful it has to fit into our workflow and our life flow; when it does both, then its ready for use around the country, around the world."

sree.jpgSreenivasan said that training is necessary for everyone. "I know somebody who has 25,000 followers on Twitter but still wants help," he said.

Sreenivasan instructs his students to be active on digital communities before big events happen. He stresses that students should be in "listening mode" and participating in the digital communities they are engaging. "I tell people that when the plane lands in the Hudson, it's too late," he said.

Moreover, Sreenivasan teaches that social media is simply there to support your professional endeavors. Your skills and background should still be proficient.

Although Sreenivasan's class is designed primarily for journalists, people of all professional backgrounds have attended his class, such as marketers, publicists, and librarians. Sreenivasan said he has instructed people under the age of 15 and over the age of 80.

Tamar Weinberg

I first met Tamar Weinberg as a power user of the social news channel, Digg.com. Weinberg has been working online as a social media consultant for five years and been using social digital tools for 17 years. She is also the author of "The New Community Rules," which teaches readers how to raise awareness for their brands using blogging, micro-blogging, and other social platforms.

tamarweinbergweirdness.jpgShe has spoken at numerous conferences and has delivered lectures for groups ranging from 30 to 2,000 people. She has given guest lectures at New York University and Baruch College in New York City. Weinberg teaches people to participate by contributing to social platforms before trying to have them bear value. She discusses best practices and tactics, which attendees could use to expand their business presence online. Weinberg also discloses some tactics that she employs to continually learn how to engage target communities on digital networks.

"I would recommend finding influencers who are of interest to you; find out who influences them," Weinberg said. "It's very easy to do because if they have a Facebook fan page, if they have a Twitter page, they're often sharing links and tweeting about these individuals. Find out what they're sharing and use that as a guideline as to what to follow."

Weinberg said that she works with people in organizations large and small, who fill a variety of roles. Working with multiple-levels of hierarchy can sometimes pose a challenge in training. She notes that lower-level personnel usually adopt digital platforms, which can often lead to internal challenges in terms of pushing ahead new initiatives.

"Things don't happen quickly because of the need to go through legal red tape," Tamar said. "If you get the CEO on onboard things will happen a lot quicker."


Most social media training programs focus on managing and building communities on major social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc. Glen Allsop runs ViperChill, where he teaches his readers how to build social communities on blogging platforms. In six months Allsop has built ViperChill to reach 1,500 unique visitors daily and 70,000 pageviews monthly; the site has over 6,000 subscribers.

"As I make money online on other sites, I don't need to monetize it," Allsop said. "I do have a blog that makes over $10,000 per month which received 800,000 pageviews in March, with most of its traffic coming from Google."

Allsop built his first website at the age of 15 after he saw a friend build a site using Lycos Tripod Sitebuilder. Allsop built websites about his passions such as DJing and optimized them to receive more exposure from search engines by guest posting on other blogs and using other social media engagement tactics he teaches on ViperChill.

"Find blogs relevant to your industry by searching Google for phrases like "top [insert topic here] blog" or "best [insert topic here] blogs" to find relevant sites to engage with," Allsop said. "Once you've found popular blogs in your target market, start interacting with the author on multiple platforms like Facebook and Twitter to build up a relationship."

Allsop is among the few people teaching how to use social news aggregation channels, like Digg, but with a niche focus.

"For example, there is a social voting website for the IM [Internet marketing] industry, called Sphinn," Allsop said. "There are also ones for technology, sports like basketball, and even country specific sites like IndianPad."

Allsop's biggest challenge in teaching the use of social media channels to connect with their target communities lies in keeping people from always wanting to manipulate the digital networks. He also notes that convincing heads of management in large companies is harder because it is difficult to track results than when using search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising campaigns.

Correction May 28, 2010: This article originally stated that Tamar Weinberg has been working as a social media consultant for 17 years. In fact, she has been a social media consultant for five years, and has been using social digital tools for 17 years.

Neal Rodriguez features some of the brightest minds in cyberspace including thought-leaders in social media marketing and search engine optimization on nealrodriguez.com, where he offers his own social media and blog training program.

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Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Landline Phones

From time to time, I provide an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. I previously covered Twitter, local watchdog news sites, and Net neutrality, among other topics. This week I look at cutting the cord to landline telephone lines.


The number of landline telephones in the developed world has steadily risen over the past century, but something changed in the last decade: A decline began. The International Telecommunication Union found that there were 57 fixed telephone lines per 100 inhabitants in the developed world in 2001, but that number dropped to 50 lines by 2007 (see chart below). What happened? The mobile phone revolution started displacing landlines as more people relied on cell phones and voice-over-IP (VoIP) services such as Vonage.

itu phone usage.jpg

That trend is becoming even more pronounced in the U.S., where the National Center for Health Statistics recently found that in the second half of 2009 nearly one out of every four households relied completely on cell phones, while one eighth had landlines but rarely used them. As smartphones proliferate and offer text messaging, web access and addictive apps, people are spending more time with their mobiles rather than their landline phones. And the less time they spend on landlines, the more they wonder why they need to pay that extra cost. In recessionary times, people looking to save money make the calculations and cut the cord to landlines.

Pam Collins, a speech language pathologist in Atlanta, told me she's saving $50 per month by cutting the landline in her household.

"We gave up our landline to cut costs when my husband was starting his business -- we use our cell phones," she explained in an email. "I have taught my children to unlock my phone and try to keep it in a central location for emergencies. It got to the point where we weren't answering the home phone and forgetting to check the messages since anyone we wanted to talk to had our cell numbers. My mom just gave up her landline as well."

Just as I explained in the Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV, some people find it daunting to give up a traditional service in exchange for a newer one. The newer services can be glitchy and not provide the service you expect with landlines. But many services such as Vonage and Skype have been around for years and score well in customer satisfaction.

Cell Only

The easiest way to eliminate your landline phone is to rely entirely on your mobile while at home. That means that you'll need to have excellent cell coverage at home, or use a femtocell or microcell tower (see next section). It also means you should make sure you have an adequate plan to cover all the extra minutes you'll be talking on your cell. The advantages of using your cell phone at home are obvious: No landline phone bill; only one phone number to share with friends and contacts; easy mobility to start a call at home and keep talking on the go.

But there are downsides that come with cutting your landline and relying on your cell phone at home:

> If there's a power outage, you can't communicate with anyone once your cell phone battery runs out. Many people keep a spare landline phone around that doesn't require electricity to make calls. That becomes more difficult without the landline.

> Similarly, in an emergency, when you call 911 from a landline phone, the operator can get a location without you having to tell them where you are. That's not always the case with a cell phone. However, the FCC is trying to implement new rules so that 911 dispatchers can more readily locate cell phone callers.

> It's often easier to locate a landline phone in your house than a cell phone. Although with the proliferation of wireless landline phones, those can be misplaced as well. Another problem is that you don't have one central shared phone for everyone in the household.

> Reliance on cell phones leads to more asynchronous communication. As Dana Blankenhorn wrote recently on SmartPlanet:

When you give up on calling and just send send a text, you become part of what I call the Asynchronous Nation. There is nothing inherently wrong with asynchronicity. It's just very different. It's the biggest change in human, electronic communication since the phone replaced the telegram, since synchronicity began in other words, over a century ago.

Personally I don't mind. I'm more productive when communication occurs on my schedule. And I find I can do more of it ... What I have learned since cutting the phone cord is that the Asynchronous Nation is a different place from the one I lived in last century. How different we don't yet know.

Femtocells or MicroCell Towers

One of the biggest issues with going cell-only at home is a weak signal from your mobile provider. The providers have a solution for that: The femtocell or microcell tower, which give you a mini-cell tower in your living room. Well, not really. Femtocells plug into your home high-speed Internet service and route your cell calls through them, offering perfect coverage and no dropped calls. Jim Rossman of the Dallas Morning News raved about his AT&T 3G MicroCell in a review, saying "it's one of the best products I've ever reviewed" in part because it brought the solid landline feeling to his cell phone.

But others find the idea of consumers paying to offload network traffic from cell carriers abhorrent. Nick Mokey at Digital Trends compares AT&T's tactics to Tom Sawyer tricking people into doing his whitewashing work for him. AT&T in this case is getting the benefit of less network traffic, and also making you pay for it.

"In exchange for taking your weight off its creaking, overburdened network, AT&T will happily charge you $150 for the 3G MicroCell, and continue to deduct minutes from your plan when you use it, even though you're paying another company to handle your traffic, and paid out of pocket for the device to do it," Mokey wrote.

If that doesn't bother you, and you'd like to try out a femtocell to turbo-charge your home cell coverage, here are the main options:

AT&T 3G MicroCell

Description: "Connects to AT&T's network via your existing broadband Internet service (such as DSL or cable) and is designed to support up to four simultaneous users in a home or small business setting."

Price: $150, but you can get a $100 rebate if you sign up for the $20/month unlimited calling plan. Otherwise it uses your cell plan's minutes. If you have AT&T DSL or U-verse, you can get an additional $50 rebate.

Learn more here.

verizon extender.jpg

Verizon Network Extender

Description: "Network Extender is easy to set up and ready to use right out of the box and can provide coverage in an area of up to 5,000 square feet."

Price: $250. No monthly usage fees.

Learn more here.

Sprint Airave

Description: "Works with any Sprint phone -- up to three users at the same time. Installs in minutes with your existing broadband Internet access, such as DSL, cable or T1."

Price: $100, plus $15 to $25 per month for unlimited calling.

Learn more here.

VoIP Services

If you'd prefer not to go the cell-only route at home, there are various VoIP calling services, many of which allow you to use your existing phone. With VoIP, your calls are routed via the Internet, which means quality can vary depending on your high-speed connection and data loads. While the charges for long distance calls are usually tiny or free, there are a few other downsides with VoIP services, as reported by John Ewoldt in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: VoIP won't work in a power outage; you need a broadband connection; fax machines won't work with most VoIP setups; and you may need the computer to be on to receive or make calls.

Alan Pearlstein, CEO of Cross Pixel Media, told me that he tried the magicJack VoIP service (see info below) but dropped it after call problems.

"MagicJack was easy to install and was working well for me until I had a few negative experiences that led me to stop using it," he said via email. "My calls were full of static and were being dropped every so often. It became unreliable for any important call. If I needed a second line at home I would probably use it for that, but not a main line."

Dan Frommer, deputy editor of Business Insider, told me he loves magicJack and thinks the company will be bought out or go public in the next six months.

"I love it," he said via email. "Pros: Cheap, reliable, cheap, reliable. Cons: Software not very elegant, need to leave it plugged in to computer (and need to leave computer on), blue LED keeps [my] bedroom slightly lit up."

If you're still undaunted, here's a rundown of some of the more popular VoIP services:

vonage vportal.jpg


Description: "Your computer doesn't have to be on to use Vonage. The people you call don't need to have Vonage or the Internet to get your call -- just a phone. And when someone calls you, your phone rings as usual."

Hardware: The Vonage V-Portal device costs $80 but is free when you sign up for a one-year service contract.

Price: Vonage World is $15/month for first six months, then $26/month afterwards for unlimited long distance calls in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and unlimited calls to landline phones in 60 countries; Vonage Pro for $35/month; and Vonage Basic 500 for $18/month.

UPDATE: Vonage now offers a cheap basic home phone plan for $10/month for 200 minutes, plus 5 cents per minute over that.

Learn more here.


Description: "Do amazing things for free: voice and video calls to anyone else on Skype; conference calls with three or more people; instant messaging, file transfer and screen sharing."

Hardware: Will work through your computer or laptop microphone and speaker, or you can get dedicated phones or headsets. Accessories here.

Price: Free for calls or videoconferences to other Skype users; cheap rates for calls to mobiles and landlines around the world; unlimited U.S. and Canada calls for $8/month or unlimited calls to 40 countries for $14/month.

Learn more here.


Description: "Ooma lets you make free U.S. calls over the Internet with outstanding voice quality. No PC or headset required, just use your existing phone. The award-winning Ooma system offers 911 service, free U.S. calls, voicemail, caller-ID, call-waiting and low cost international rates."

Hardware: The Ooma Telo connects to your high-speed Internet connection and you plug your existing phone line into it.

Price: $250. You need to pay taxes and fees each month, usually a few dollars, for unlimited U.S. calls; international calls are cheap per minute or you can pay $5/month for 500 minutes to 70 countries.

Learn more here.



Description: "magicJack is an easy-to-use portable device that allows you to use a traditional telephone handset to make and receive calls. magicJack utilizes a dedicated telephone network and provides cystal-clear call quality. magicjack provides a free telephone number and free voicemail."

Hardware: Small device plugged into computer's USB port, and you plug your phone into it.

Price: $40, but a limited free trial is currently being offered; $20/year after the first year, plus more for international calling packages.

Learn more here.

Google Voice

Description: "Google Voice is a service that enhances the existing capabilities of your phone numbers. With it, you can access your voicemail online, read automatic transcriptions of your voicemail, create personalized greetings based on who is calling, make cheap international calls, and more."

Hardware: You provide your own cell phone, but can get a new number free.

Price: Free; currently invite-only.

Learn more here.

Many of these services, including Skype and Google Voice, have mobile apps that will run on smartphones such as the iPhone. Plus, Vonage recently announced support for T-Mobile and Android mobile users.


Ultimately, your decision on cutting the cord to landline phone service depends on where you make the most calls and whether you're using it for business calls. If you are dead set on saving money but aren't as worried about call quality, then solutions like Skype and magicJack would work. Or if you want higher quality calls, you might pay more for Vonage or Ooma. If you are hooked on a cell-only setup, buying a femtocell extender might do the trick. Just as with cutting the cord to cable TV, it might take some experimentation -- and multiple solutions -- to figure out what works best for your situation.

More Reading

To learn more about ditching your landline phone, check out these relevant articles:

AT&T Tries to Trick Customers into Paying More to Use Less at Digital Trends

AT&T wants to cut the cord as telecom industry transforms at the Peoria Journal Star

Bringing You a Signal You're Already Paying For at NY Times

Cord-cutting Rates Exceed 40 Percent in Some U.S. States at Yankee Group blog

Cell Phones Gaining On Landline Phones at InformationWeek

Is Google Voice For You? at Boosh News

Lower Your AT&T Cell Phone Bill with VoIP iPhone Apps at Digital Trends

magicJack -- Cheap, Way Overhyped, But Really Works by Walt Mossberg

MagicJack Will Top $100 Million In Sales This Year at Silicon Alley Insider

Ripoff -- AT&T's 'Home Cell Tower' Helps AT&T's Congested Network While Eating Your Calling Minutes at Stop the Cap! blog

Verizon Wireless Network Extender review at CNET

What do you think? Have you cut the landline cord, and what services do you use instead? If you haven't cut the cord, tell us why. Share your thoughts in the comments, and add in any missing services that you think are crucial. We'll add them to the story with a credit to you.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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How 6 Big Summer Films Are Using Facebook For Marketing

Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man, believes in "better living through technology." Most marketers would argue that better marketing is enabled by technology as well. One of the primary game-changers today is Facebook and studios are learning how to engage audiences online to spur a better box office.

Movie marketers understand the impact that reaching their desired audiences on Facebook can have on driving awareness and interest in a film. For them, the power of Facebook is its ability to quickly build a community and customer relationships, generate real-time conversation and feedback, create promotions that reach relevant users, and accelerate content-sharing across the web and mobile devices. (Also, see my previous post, Movie Apps Get Social as Studios Integrate Facebook Connect.)

According to Facebook, more than 25 billion pieces of content -- such as links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos -- are shared each month. Millions of these comments and posts are movie-related. Facebook is rocket fuel for word-of-mouth and studios are experimenting with how to best engage users in order to convert those who "Like" a movie to someone who purchases a ticket. With the arrival of the summer movie season, I decided to take a closer look at the Facebook pages for six studio movies and see which one, if any, was Buzz Lightyears ahead with Facebook engagement.

Iron Man photos1.jpg

Iron Man 2 | 1,360,503 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall (landing tab) | Info | Photos | Boxes | Video

Studio: Marvel, Paramount Pictures | 28,201 Likes

Release date: May 7

Iron Man 2 has made more than $290 million at the U.S. box office, according to Box Office Mojo. More than a million people are fans of the franchise on Facebook. While the Facebook page is nothing to marvel at when it comes to creativity outside of the core Facebook tabs, there are seven international pages (Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the U.K.) for "Iron Man 2" which is a testament to the global interest in the superhero. The U.S. page provides the essential photos and videos, but lacks the charisma of Tony Stark or the appeal of Pepper Potts. Alternatively, the Facebook page for Stark Expo, which includes a letter from Stark about his commitment to technological wonders, is a clever mechanism to get fans engaged with an event that occurs within the film.

When more than two thousand people respond to a simple question, such as "Did you see Iron Man 2 yesterday?," a Facebook page can be a weapon of mass conversation.


Sex and The City 2 | 1,967,023 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall (landing tab) | Info | PREMIERE | Photos | Video | MORE FUN

Studio: Warner Bros | 62,308 Likes

Release date: May 27

Fittingly, the glossiest Facebook movie profile belongs to "Sex and The City 2." The "MORE FUN" tab on the page opens up a world of content, including a character quiz, an interactive trailer, a Girls Night Out planner, an iGoogle theme, a local hotspot guide and perhaps most importantly, one-click access to Carrie Bradshaw's closet.

While it's not clear how many SATC2 fans glammed up their Google page, the more than 30 official international pages reveal that the movie is a global phenomenon.

A Team movie.jpg

The A Team | 36,197 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | A-Team (landing tab) | Video | Photos | Discussions

Studio: 20th Century FOX

Release date: June 11

With a team member named "Face," the "The A-Team" is a natural fit on the A-list of social networking sites. While the page provides good mix of behind-the-scenes videos, character profiles and promotional news, it also should reflect the rogue nature of "The A-Team" and give fans a sense of adventure.

The page does link to a "Drive The A-Team Van" YouTube channel, where fans can drive the van in Google Earth to unlock videos. This is an innovative use of Google Earth that isn't easy to discover on the movie's Facebook page. The van is arguably the movie's most recognizable character and the opportunity to get behind the wheel of it -- even in a virtual scenario -- is a fun engagement vehicle that should be showcased on the page.

Toy Story 3 FB Tickets.jpg

Toy Story 3 | 791,581 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Video Game | Fan Board | Tickets (landing tab)

Studio: Disney Pixar | 1,347,406 Likes

Release date: June 18

Disney Pixar movies have an advantage when it comes to Facebook movie marketing, due to the large Facebook communities for both Disney (more than 3.5 million Likes) and Disney Pixar (more than 1 million Likes). Four "Toy Story 3" characters even have their own Facebook pages (Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Buttercup and Lotso) that have larger communities than many summer movies. Disney Pixar also recently launched its Disney Tickets Together Facebook app, so now Facebook users can buy movie tickets without leaving Facebook. The combination of multiple Facebook pages sharing content and promotions with millions of passionate fans allows the box office for Disney Pixar films to, as Woody would say, "reach for the sky."

Twilight saga facebook1.jpg

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse | 6,154,389 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Eclipse (landing tab) | New Moon | Discussions | Video

Studio: Summit Entertainment

Release date: June 30

Summit Entertainment is not one of the major six movie studios, but it is coming off a Best Picture Oscar for "The Hurt Locker" and big box office receipts for the "Twilight" franchise have the studio howling at the moon. "Twilight" also enjoys one of the largest audiences for any movie on Facebook thanks to the many community-created fan pages and groups dedicated to the movies and characters (e.g. Team Jacob or Team Edward).

But how effective is the Facebook page for "Eclipse" in engaging fans? Let's look at a typical day in "Eclipse" engagement. On May 12, the page shared eight pieces of content, which generated 60,000 Likes and comments. Much like the immortal characters in the movie, "Twilight" fans have an insatiable thirst for content. And for Facebook users who visit the page, the landing "Eclipse" tab does what all movie pages should do (but often don't) -- link directly to sites where tickets may be purchased online. And only a beloved franchise with ravenous fans could boldly ask viewers to organize a viewing party in their area. Twilight eclipses the rest when it comes to fan engagement and mirrors the massive built-in audience for Disney's "Toy Story" franchise.

Despicable Me FB.jpg

Despicable Me | 22,822 Likes
Top Tabs: Wall | Info | Win a Minion (landing tab) | Games | Minion Mail | Ringtones

Studio: Universal Pictures | 18,736 Likes

Release date: July 9

The Minions featured in the new animated film "Despicable Me" hope to rival the popularity of Woody or Buzz Lightyear. They have their own Facebook page with more than 68,000 Likes, or three times the number of the movie's page. "We're concentrating on building two Facebook communities for the film -- one focused on the film and one on the Minion characters from the film," said Doug Neil, senior vice president of digital marketing at Universal Pictures. "We want to engage our target audience with video clips, trailers, images, games, news stories, activities, etc., that help to drive awareness and interest in the film."

Regarding content that these communities find most compelling, Neil said that, "Video content -- trailers, clips, custom animations, etc. -- drive the most engagement and response. There has a been a lot of interest in the Minion Mail cards that have been themed to holidays and milestone events."

There are varying degrees of experimentation and community-building strategies being deployed on Facebook, but if movie marketers can agree on one thing, it might be the belief that there's nothing despicable about an engaged audience of minions with a positive message to share in their personal networks.


Share your favorite movie page on Facebook in the comments below.

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital and social media engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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PBS NewsHour Collaborations Require Buy-In from the Top

Collaboration is one of the public broadcasting buzzwords of the moment. The new PBS NewsHour is a national news organization that is trying to figure out how collaboration works.

Collaboration was one of the bullet points when we announced the changes to the program. As with the staff reorganization, which I wrote about in my previous post on MediaShift, our collaboration efforts are moving along but still have a ways to go.

There are barriers between organizations within the public broadcasting system that we need to continue to break down before real editorial collaboration becomes a part of our natural process.

For us, it will take time and it's harder to do when HD video feeds are involved, since that requires a high level of quality. But it's not impossible. It requires creating open communication channels between partners and connecting them with the right people internally who can listen and follow through.

Driving Collaboration From the Top

The plans and intentions for each broadcast are more visible now that I sit in the middle of the newsroom. I'm happy to report that after years of thinking I was one of the only people around who cared about local stations, the new PBS NewsHour is shifting how our producers think about working with our friends in the public broadcasting system.


It's much easier to move mountains when you have buy-in from the top. And that is what I think we have now, starting with Jim Lehrer who is a big fan of the stations. This is reinforced with support from Linda Winslow, our executive director, and Simon Marks, our associate executive producer.

"The NewsHour recognizes that collaborations with like-minded journalists are a good way to both enrich our content and extend our reach across many different platforms," Winslow told me. "Most successful collaborations require constant attention and hard work, but the rewards are potentially immense. As news organizations strive to find new ways to engage an audience, partnering with people and organizations who are dedicated to reporting stories fairly, accurately and in some detail is, we believe, one way to ensure the survival of serious news coverage of both domestic and international developments."

Sample Initiatives

Here are some examples of how the PBS NewsHour is looking to other public broadcasters for collaboration:

I'm sure you'd get mixed responses if you asked the different parties how well these collaborations worked. That's part of the learning process. Expectations need to be set from the start, relationships need to be built slowly, and the conversation should continue after the report is posted.

Changing Roles

My job has changed, too. Since our redesign, one of my main jobs is keeping stations informed of our editorial plans, and making sure the best reporting by other producers or stations makes it onto our home page.

People who tried to partner with us in the past may find a different organization this time around, whether it's working together on a widget or co-producing a series of reports. In terms of collaborations, we're still not all the way there, much like the way PBS NewsHour's complete reorganization still has some kinks to work out.

Fellow public broadcasting collaboration veteran Amanda Hirsch, the project manager for the recently ended EconomyStory project, summed up some of the collaboration projects from the past in her own MediaShift post.

She's right on many points. I also think it takes a significant amount of internal pressure within an organization to make working with other organizations a priority. And unlike in her post, our online department is no longer in the ghetto. (My first post talked about the creek we had to cross to talk face to face with a broadcast colleague.) I now have a sunny newsroom office, and we're working hard to bring collaboration to our now-merged PBS NewsHour.

Anna Shoup is the local/national editor for PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She coordinates with local stations to develop collaborative editorial projects, such as Patchwork Nation, a partnership to cover the economy in different types of places. She also helps out with daily news updates, multimedia stories, and social media projects.

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