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Owen Youngman

Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy
Northwestern University
Chicago, IL
Personal Website


Owen Youngman, a new-media visionary and longtime Chicago Tribune journalist, became the Knight Chair in 2009.

Grant Background

The Chair will create new knowledge and advances in multimedia journalism and the presentation of news using different media: writing, sound, moving and still images, and interactivity. The chair holder will help Medill explore new and emerging ways of delivering news and information on digital platforms. The Chair will provide hands-on, full-time instruction to undergraduate and master’s students and be capable of teaching entry-level as well as advanced courses.

Recent Activities

 Created Northwestern University’s first massively open online course, to be taught during the fall quarter of the 2013-2014 school year. Called “Understanding Media by Understanding Google,” it is a media literacy course modeled on an undergraduate course I created during 2011-2012 and taught for the second time on campus in 2012-2013. The impact of this MOOC, created in response to a challenge from Eric Newton in July 2012, will be measured throughout the 2013-2014 academic year.

Advised multiple graduate students and one undergraduate student in courses of independent study. The undergraduate student relaunched a hobbyist blog as a professional one focusing on food and fitness, leading her to a successful internship at a Chicago-area food company. Sample graduate student projects resulted in a prototype news recommendation service that one student is using in job interviews; synthesis of research on millennial news consumers that another student has turned into a job offer from Gannett Digital; and, as is often the case, several projects in which international students created materials to use in their job hunts back in their home countries, in particular one that focused on recommendations for the digital TV transition in Chile.

Continued to work with faculty from the journalism and computer science schools to advance the mission of the Knight Lab (formerly Knight News Innovation Lab) in its third full year of operation, in particular by helping to expand the involvement of non-founding journalism faculty in the Lab and expanding the number of student “fellows.”

Question-and-Answer with Knight Chair

 Name one experiment or idea (a tool, an approach, a book) in journalism, journalism education or media innovation that is “out there” -- pushing the frontier. Why do you think that project is interesting? Add detail if you plan to incorporate it in your teaching.

I am incorporating Eric Newton’s e-book “Searchlights and Sunglasses” as the basis for the final examination in my 2013-2014 graduate class, “How 21st Century Media Work” – and not just because I have become acquainted with him through Knight Foundation. Its combination of ideas, statistics, inferences, and challenges seem perfectly designed to help graduate students in particular to think deeply about the choices they have made, are making, and will make in the future. The overarching goal of this course is to turn its students into media leaders – and fast. This book contains a roadmap full of profitable roads down which to travel, without pretending that any of them are shortcuts.

 Many student journalism projects are read by few people in the target community and have little impact. How should that change? Should students engage with the community to understand its information needs before doing their journalism?

Here at Medill, we make a point of getting student journalism projects – like those of Medill Watchdog, the Medill Justice Project, our National Security Initiative, and our documentary films – broad distribution through both “traditional” and new media. We agree that the broadest possible audience is necessary for them to have the desired impact, and faculty work closely with all manner of media companies to make sure that happens. Of course students should engage with relevant communities before doing journalism, and so ours do, every day of the academic year -- in Medill’s undergraduate storefront newsrooms across the Chicago area and in Qatar; in our downtown and Washington, D.C., graduate newsrooms; and across the Chicago area in pursuit of our Watchdog and Justice agendas.