Articles by

Eric Newton

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    Report summary: A Right to Speak Out/Our Business is None of Yours. Credit: Column Five. Some experts say smartphones make young people stupid. Others say technology makes them smarter. Still others say the tool is not important; it’s how we learn to use it. A new survey of more than 10,000 high school students lends support to that last view. Amid an explosion in social and mobile media – their media – high school students are supporting freedom of expression in record numbers, and are even more likely to do so if they also have had a class in the First Amendment. During the past 10 years, Knight Foundation has funded five “Future of the First Amendment” surveys, each probing what American high school students know and think about our most fundamental freedoms. This year, for the first time, American high school students show a greater overall appreciation for the First Amendment than do adults.
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    Video credit: Newseum. All young Americans should study the life of crusading newspaper editor John Seigenthaler, who died Friday at age 86. It had more facets than the Hope Diamond; its lessons flash bright. Here are just four of them: His courage: As a young journalist, Seigenthaler climbed out on a bridge to save a suicidal man. When he worked for the Justice Department, he jumped into a racist mob to defend a Freedom Rider and was smashed over the head with a lead pipe. Later, as an editor in the South, he directed Nashville Tennessean exposes of the Ku Klux Klan and union boss Jimmy Hoffa. He fought forces in his own community to campaign for civil rights.  His skills: The man could tell a story. He was eloquent, accurate, authentic. His television program, “A Word on Words,” always closed with the words “Keep reading.”  When he protested, Wikipedia improved its editing rules. He changed the lives of countless young people, including a fledgling reporter who would become vice president, Al Gore.
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    Photo credit: Flickr user Tony Hammond. Every year about now journalism contest winners spring up like a riot of crocuses (the Pulitzer Prizes the best example) and my thoughts float back to the Oakland Tribune. Critics of journalism awards say they are too many – like best baby contests or even dog shows – to mean anything.  But I can remember a time when even the smallest award helped keep us going at the Trib. Picture a city wracked by an earthquake (1989) and an urban firestorm (1991). Chunks of our advertising and readership lost to natural disaster, the Tribune was a flat-broke daily paper before it was fashionable. Our newsroom was talented. Yet it had taken pay cuts. It was ambitious. But it might be out of business in a month or even a week. It was wonderfully diverse, yet incredibly young. We experimented but without money. Say what you will about prizes. They helped. We won more than 150 awards for our journalism from roughly 1986 to 1992 when I was city editor, assistant managing editor and managing editor at the Trib under Bob and Nancy Maynard, the first African-American couple to own a major mainstream paper.
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    Knight Foundation’s journalism and media innovation team gets much well-deserved attention for its media innovation work. Less discussed, but no less important, is the education of thousands of students and professionals each year through $200 million in endowed programs Knight has built over several decades to advance journalism excellence. There are dozens of Knight-endowed chair and mid-career training programs. Since most of that work occurs at universities, I’ve also added some context—an analysis of 25 years of Knight’s journalism and media grantmaking to universities. The Knight Chair program – 25 chairs at 22 universities – welcomed a new chair this month and four other new chairs this past year. They are: Dana Priest in national security journalism at the University of Maryland; Bill Adair in computational journalism at Duke University; John Affleck in sports journalism and society at Pennsylvania State University; Aly Colón in journalism ethics at Washington & Lee University; and Eric Freedman in environmental journalism at Michigan State University. There are currently two chair vacancies, one at Florida A&M University and the other at the University of Miami.
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    Welcome to Knight Foundation from Knight Foundation on Vimeo. Knight Foundation received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University Thursday night. College officials said the award recognizes Knight “for its continued excellence in support of journalism and journalism education.” Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at Knight Foundation, accepted the award. He delivered the following remarks: On behalf of Knight Foundation, thank you to Dean Larry Pintak and all here at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. This honor is singular. We will treasure it. We are humbled by the company of legends you would have us join. Mostly we are awed by Murrow himself, the quintessential journalist, his move from radio to television a perfect example of how we must rise to the task when new forms of media emerge. Knight Foundation exists because of the generosity of two brothers, Jack and Jim Knight, and their mother, Clara. Together the Knights endowed the foundation with their personal fortunes, earned by building what was in Murrow’s day America’s largest newspaper group. We grow their money. We recycle it back into communities where they made it, and into journalism and media innovation, which is how they made it. The foundation supports journalism excellence in the digital age, hoping to find out what in the 21st Century will inform and engage communities the way Knight newspapers did in the 20th.
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    Captricity overview via YouTube When Charlie Beckett asked me to join the Polis journalism conference this week at the London School of Economics and Political Science, he showed the depth of his university by asking a surprisingly practical journalism question for a school ranked No. 2 in the world in the research-laden “communication and media studies” field.  Beckett wanted to know about the newest digital tools journalists are using to do accountability journalism (which some of us still call watchdog journalism). My first reaction was to mention some of the “golden oldies” Knight Foundation has funded and followed: the encryption software Tor; the investigative paper-tamer Document Cloud and its advanced story-finding cousin Overview; the visual storytelling tool Timeline JS; and the classic crowdmapping application Ushahidi. These are, all in all, used by thousands of journalists and newsrooms and are the subject of the regular digital tools tutorials supported by the American Press Institute, the Poynter Institute and Knight. But then I saw Jonathan Stray was coming to talk about Overview. You can’t top that. I say golden oldies because in digital years a lifetime for a product seems like about 21 months. “Moore’s Law”  predicted chip-processing power would double about every 18 months. It more or less has for decades, and each wave of chips remakes the digital world. In digital time, that means a tool born in 2012 was born a lifetime ago. There’s nothing wrong with the classic tools; they just aren’t the latest ones. So I turned to Ben Wirz, who a couple of digital lifetimes ago joined Knight as director of business consulting. Ben helps lead the Knight Enterprise Fund, which invests in startup companies.
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    Photo credit: Flickr user Steve Bowbrick. In its latest “State of the News Media” report, the Pew Research Center chronicles the growth of digital news organizations by estimating they have created 5,000 new full-time editorial jobs. Some may whine that they did not capture all the organizations, or the right ones. But I say bravo. You have to start somewhere, and this is a great beginning. As traditional media shrinks, new forms grow – and it’s refreshing to see someone trying to tell the whole story of digital disruption. More than a decade ago, professor David Weaver’s research showed a shrinking of the overall U.S. journalism workforce from 122,000 in 1992 to 116,000 in 2002.  Since then, daily newspapers have shed another 17,000 journalists. That is the half of the story we hear often. Traditional newsrooms are sinking. The advertising declines are so pervasive that the Newspaper Association of America has stopped issuing quarterly reports on the numbers.  We need to know more about where the jobs are going – and they are out there, or we would not be seeing steady hiring rates of growing numbers of graduating journalism and communications students. So Pew is setting off on a worthy journey.
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    Photo credit: Flickr user Ethan Lofton. The best journalism school in America is … Pennsylvania State. Scratch that: It’s Columbia University. No, wait. It’s the University of North Carolina. Sorry, I meant to say Arizona State … errr … Missouri … ahhh … Northwestern. Correction, it’s the University of Georgia. No, it isn’t. The best journalism school in America is … a mystery. There’s no sensible system for comparing programs or knowing if they are really healthy. The measurements schools now file with their accrediting agency, Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications  (ACEJMC) turn out to be about as useful as a jumble of mismatched socks. Look at the data  and tell me if you can tell which school has the highest four-year graduation rate or the best record for grads getting media jobs. This matters because college presidents base decisions on evidence. Other schools have national rankings. Journalism and communication schools don’t even have the metrics to begin to create a ranking. They can’t compete without numbers.
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    Great photojournalism is a strange sort of art. Many of its creators do not see themselves as artists, but as truth-tellers who bristle at the notion that they could be creating salable art objects. RELATED LINK "Photojournalism, a slice of time, constrainted from being art" by Hunter Braithwaite on KnightBlog.org Yet what they do falls rather easily within the definition of art. The Oxford Dictionaries say art is the “expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” Artworks come “typically in a visual form … to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” That’s great photojournalism. See it for yourself at the exhibit that opens in Miami Feb. 12 at the Frost Museum of Art: “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs.” Nearly 3 million people have viewed this exhibit in 34 venues in the United States and Asia during the past dozen years. Most of those millions saw the show in art museums. The critics would object. “Art may be hard to define,” wrote Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times, “but whatever art is, it’s a step removed from reality. A theatrical depiction of suffering may be art; real suffering is not. … The image of a naked, fleeing, napalm-burned Vietnamese girl is truth, not art. Images of the blazing twin towers, however horrifically compelling, are not art.”
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    This year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Robert C. Maynard, visionary journalist, champion of media diversity and my mentor at the Oakland Tribune. The piece below reflects what it felt like to work for Bob. I don’t remember much about reading it at his memorial service, only the tears. So I read it again every year. Bob’s “fault lines” ideas predicted the digital divide we see today between old and young, poor and rich, rural and urban. I think the best way to honor him this year is to support the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, which is run by Bob’s daughter Dori Maynard and is dedicated to Bob’s goal of giving all Americans “front door access to the truth.” Photo credit: Angela Pancrazio/Oakland Tribune. There are enough Bob Maynard stories to last forever – and we will tell them all. In 1989, there was an earthquake. We were in the old, brick Tribune Tower downtown. The tower shook, but it didn’t fall. Plaster dust and silence filled the newsroom. Journalists, usually talkative, crawled out from under their desks and moved through the yellow air like an army of Zombies, making their way to the stairs. I raced through the newsroom, making sure everyone was out. I took one last look at the empty room. The phone rang. I reached out for it. A hand appeared on my shoulder, stopping me, and I heard that deep, warm, beautiful voice. He said, “It’s time for YOU to get outside.” That was Bob.
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    Welcome to Detroit Public Television, via YouTube “There’s not much difference between most places in Detroit and post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s not as shocking because it happened over a long period of time, but it’s just as devastating.” —   Stephen Henderson, Detroit native and Free Press editorial page editor on “PBS NewsHour,” Aug. 9, 2013 Something about a disaster brings out the best in us, even if the worst in us may have caused the disaster in the first place. In Detroit, the winds were man-made and the wreckage piled up over decades, not days, but the damage was the same. When this summer’s filing of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history came, the nation focused its attention on some hard financial facts. Still, you could hear a backbeat in the stories: a city that motors on, looking for solutions; residents making life work despite broke and broken police, fire, streetlights and more than 75,000 abandoned buildings. The best of us. Disasters also bring out the best in local journalism. Even in these dire days for traditional media, it’s the locals who drive the backbeat, who correct the national blunders (50,000 stray dogs roaming the streets of Detroit). We know we need news and information in disasters. But are we ready to step in and help when the media itself needs a boost? Today, with a $250,000 investment, Knight Foundation is creating the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, pooling the resources of five nonprofit media organizations on data-driven, solutions-based journalism on the city’s challenges. The cooperative hopes to look ahead, beyond daily coverage, and engage residents struggling to understand their options and make the right decisions. (A separate $250,000 grant from Ford Foundation went to Zero Divide, which brought in Renaissance Journalism to launch the Michigan Reporting Initiative, to do similar coverage but with a focus on statewide issues, such as the establishment of emergency managers.) Everyone can benefit from better news and information. Detroit’s nonprofit and for-profit media already work together, so the new stories – and community discussion about them – will flow through the media ecosystem. Four journalism co-op members, the Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine, Michigan Radio, Detroit Public Television and WDET (Detroit public radio), already share their content with the Better Michigan section of the Detroit Free Press. The fifth co-op member, New Michigan Media – a coalition of more than 140 ethnic media outlets – already shares its content with a leading local television station, WXYZ (Channel 7). The Detroit Journalism Cooperative hopes to widen those partnerships.