Articles by

Eric Newton

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    Heard of the Internet of Things? I met a lot of those things last week in Las Vegas.Self-driving cars, smart homes and smart appliances, wearable fitness sensors —thousands of digital products glinted and gleamed at CES, the giant annual international consumerelectronics show. Flashyprototypes grabbed headlines, but, as I’d hoped, the show also featured mediainnovations helpful to journalists and newsrooms trying to keep up in the digital age.
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    Above: Photo illustration by Jessica Hodder. Today, Knight Foundation announced its largest journalism grant ever in creating the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. The institute will seek to understand and explain what First Amendment law is and should be in the digital age, but more than that, it will go to court to preserve and expand free expression.   ERIC NEWTON Why? Because America sorely needs new First Amendment champions. Half the news leaders recently polled in a Knight-funded survey said the news industry is no longer prepared to defend the First Amendment. Attacks on our freedoms are escalating, and changing technology will bring new waves of cases. (Police can’t confiscate a printing press or shut down a broadcast studio. Why can they take your cellphone?) A colleague of mine at Arizona State, Dan Gillmor, on Monday declared the nation to be in the grip of a First Amendment crisis. “We’ll need to do things individually, and as members of communities at all levels, to change the trajectory,” he wrote. “This truly is an emergency. Let’s hope it’s not too late to do something about it.” Dan believes foundations aren’t thinking big enough to take on the powerful forces centralizing and controlling the internet. But billionaires could and should, he argues. I’m more optimistic about how foundations can help.  Even if the billions come, I would argue, knowing what the foundations have done and want to do could be instructive.
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    Not all that long ago, a Florida state law told newspapers what they could publish. A political candidate could have equal space in a newspaper to reply to criticism. It did not matter if the criticism was true and the reply was false. Equal time was the rule on TV. Florida thought it should apply to newspapers. READ THE REPORT Download the report here (PDF) RELATED LINK News organizations’ ability to champion First Amendment rights is slipping, survey of leading editors finds - Press release, 4/21/2016 Jack Knight’s Miami Herald disagreed. So did the U.S. Supreme Court, unanimously.  In 1974, in Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, the court overturned the state law. It was a notable example of the newspaper industry standing up not just for the free press, but for the rights of everyone. Newspapers won several key First Amendment cases in the second half of the 20th century. Will they do so again in the 21st? We don’t know. So Knight Foundation, the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press surveyed top editors nationwide. The poll represented news leaders, not a cross section of all papers. The results are sobering. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the editors who responded rated the news industry as “less able” to pursue legal activity around First Amendment-related issues than it was 10 years ago. A majority (53 percent) agreed with the statement, “News organizations are no longer prepared to go to court to preserve First Amendment freedoms.” Why? Nine in 10 said it’s money. Sure, many editors can still defend themselves when attacked. But other cases – such as gaining access to documents or court proceedings – require journalists to sue. Some 44 percent of the editors said their own news organizations were less likely to do that than in the past. Should our freedoms depend on whether businesses have the money to defend them? Should we have less freedom because the digital age has upended the media’s business model?
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    Our experimental project calling for faster innovation in journalism and journalism education, Searchlights and Sunglasses, is approaching its second birthday. So it’s just about time to destroy it.  I know. That sounds ridiculous. Something does well, so you blow it up. Welcome to change in the digital age. Out with comfort; in with strange. For the moment, our free digital teaching tool is safe on the Knight Foundation servers. Paige Levin, a University of Florida journalism student and recent Knight intern, just completed its latest update. She read it, fixed broken links, added some class exercises, and reported what she believes journalism students today should know. By all accounts, including hers, she learned from Searchlights. So the content still has educational value. That said, most of what we hoped to learn when we launched in 2013 we have learned. Can a loosely organized team remotely create a classroom tool that’s more nimble than a printed book? Yes. (Thanks, Reynolds Institute.) Will more people read a long-form work than the 5,000 or so who read my blog posts. Yes, many times over. Could an old newspaper editor let go of tradition and let a creative team inject surprise and humor—and even jokes about me? Yes, if we talked first. Would writing about slow change speed up change? No. Information by itself doesn’t change the world. People change it.
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    Journalism is ripe for reinvention. The right journalism schools can become engines that drive innovation. Creative minds at forward-facing research universities can rise to the challenge of renewing the role of journalism in society. Take those three statements, sprinkle on what I say below, and you’ll see why I’ve decided that Arizona State University’s Cronkite School is the most promising place to work on the transformation of journalism education. So, as the press release says, I’ve signed on there as “innovation chief.” I’m intrigued by the idea that Arizona State could be home to the world’s first fully developed “teaching hospital” for journalism education. For 30 years, I’ve supported that model – at the Oakland Tribune, the “teaching newspaper,” at the Newseum, where we loved journalism students, and at Knight Foundation, leading funders of journalism education. Learning by doing is what my digital book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses,” is all about, especially Chapter 2.  
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    I’m in St. Petersburg, Fla., at the 10th birthday of News University, celebrating the more than 325,000 journalists, students, teachers and communicators who have signed up to use it and get better. We once thought the target for registered users should be 1,200. Really. But more on that later. In 2003, Knight Foundation gave its first grant to The Poynter Institute for what eventually became News University. We thought e-learning could help grow journalism education and training. Companies such as Microsoft were teaching online. But the news industry lagged behind. We worried about journalists stuck out in the middle of nowhere, no good schools around, no newsroom training at all, no money for conferences. At the same time, Knight wanted a long-term Poynter partnership. Journalists liked Poynter. Its website was popular, averaging 34,000 daily visitors. (I crowed about that traffic! Had I looked beyond journalist-to-journalist sites, I would have realized it was not all that great.) Lesson No. 1: Get out of the box.
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    A panel during Sunshine Week 2014 at the National Press Club. Photo by Sunlight Foundation on Flickr. Cross-posted with permission from the American Society of News Editors. Each spring for 10 years now, a vast media conspiracy has rolled across the hills and plains of this nation. Journalists of every stripe – cartoonists to commentators to hard news reporters – have been in on it. And not just journalists, but politicians, educators and librarians, as well as members of nonprofits and civic groups. What’s the conspiracy? It’s called Sunshine Week, and it is built around the birthday of James Madison, the father of the Bill of Rights. This year, the week is March 15-21. The agenda: to brazenly promote your right to know. Open government, we argue, only works when public information flows freely. As Madison himself explained nearly two centuries ago: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
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    Journalism educator and Stephens College President Dianne Lynch spent the last 10 months talking with journalists, students, scholars and professors about the future of journalism education. The result is “Above and Beyond: Looking at the Future of Journalism Education,” a report released today by Knight Foundation that chronicles the debate over preparing journalism students for a media future no one can predict. I like its two main recommendations: for a new kind of digital-first form of immersive, interdisciplinary journalism education, and for a new accreditation system geared to educational outcomes. I also like the way Dianne did the report. Before coming to any conclusions, she offered every member of the two primary organizations of journalism educators a chance to weigh in on their view of the future. “Above and Beyond” contains some two dozen transcripts of her interviews. She’s talked with an interesting array of people: from a recent graduate to the executive editor of The Washington Post, from Google staffer to Ivy League dean. Their opinions differ, but themes emerge.
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      Way back in 1938, Agnes Wahl Nieman’s bequest launched a fellowship program at Harvard to “promote and elevate the standards of journalism.” Even then journalists wanted to know more, not just about the skills of our craft and the issues of our profession, but about the complexities of the topics we cover in trying to make sense of the world. In the decades since, training has gone from an add-on frill to a survival skill. Journalists and newsrooms that can’t reinvent training in the digital age will face at best a bleak future. Today, a Knight Foundation-funded report by the Poynter Institute looks at training in 31 newspaper newsrooms. The report -- “Constant Training: New Normal or Missed Opportunity?” – worries me.
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    This week at the Online News Association convention in Chicago, we’ll do a “lighting round” on our update of Searchlights and Sunglasses, the free digital learning resource Knight Foundation offered up last year to journalism education. "Searchlights and Sunglasses" by Eric Newton Related Link  "Meet Knight Foundation at the ONA journalism conference"  by Marie Gilot on Knight Blog (09/24) Did we just say the first edition launched last year? That seems like a lifetime ago -- maybe because, in iPhone years, it is. If anything, the accelerating pace of change reinforces the Searchlights and Sunglasses message: We in journalism and journalism education still aren’t changing fast enough. That said, we see hopeful signs of change – “green shoots,” we are calling them. They take the form of new classes, projects, tracks and degrees. Indicators of hope include the number of members in Online News Association’s Facebook educator’s group, which has almost doubled to more than 700. Even better, some 125 journalism schools – roughly a quarter of all schools and programs in the U.S. -- applied for the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. In the update we’ve added a many new links and lessons, everything from Weird Al’s Word Crimes video to a better explanation of the “teaching hospital” form of journalism education.  I won’t list them here because, frankly, I’d rather you to join the 20,000 people who have already taken a look at the resource.