The AdaptNY project got some great attention again this year at the biggest annual gathering of journalism educators, held in early August in the francophone city of Montreal.
I presented twice – once about our work covering Sandy’s aftermath and once our outreach to community members – to some of the thousands of educators who are part of the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, or AEJMC. I had previously presented about Sandy and AdaptNY at AEJMC’s August 2013 conference in Washington, D.C.
This year, I was invited to speak first to several dozen educators Aug. 5 at the opening panel of a workshop focused on journalism’s expanding role in the future of education.
Joining me on this “Thinking Outside the Box” panel were leading lights like Penny Abernathy, a former news exec who now chairs the journalism and digital media economics program at UNC; Eric Freedman, the dean of School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte; Brant Houston, a long-time investigative reporter who’s now professor at the University of Illinois, and Len Witt, who ran Minnesota Public Radio’s Civic Journalism Initiative and is now professor and chair of communication at Kennesaw State University. Moderating was my colleague at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and workshop director Geanne Rosenberg. (See bios for each and more about the overall workshop here.)
So how did AdaptNY fit in to this stellar group? We were to talk about how journalism programs reach out beyond journalists to connect with other members of the community – and that’s something that’s always been at the heart of AdaptNY’s mission.
Connecting with community, face to face
For my part, I focused in on our efforts to go beyond building a virtual community to encouraging face-to-face engagement as well, centered on our February community brainstorming workshop on climate resilience.
I described how the day-long workshop brought together several dozen community members to brainstorm community-based climate resilience solutions. And not just other journalists and media experts, but also local politicians, community organizers, climate and environment experts, urban planners, etc.
I also noted that this approach workshop was successful enough that one of our partners, the leading digital journalism group the Online News Association, had now asked us to present a version of the workshop at ONA’s national conference in Chicago in September. We’re also going to be working on a step-by-step training guide to help others produce their own local workshops bringing together journalists and media folks with community stakeholders on climate issues (more on that in a post coming soon)
Journalism, from content to service
In addition to work like AdaptNY’s, which I suggested can be done successfully by individual faculty or journalists, I also briefed the workshop gathering on a truly exciting university-level initiative – CUNY J School’s pending new social journalism degree program. I was part of the faculty team that wrote the curriculum this spring for the new program, which we hope to start in 2015.
I spoke to the gathering about how the essence of the new program’s journalistic mission is the practice and study of informed and engaged communities, and that its aim is to, in effect, reset journalism’s relationship to the public as one providing service, rather than content, what my colleague Jeff Jarvis calls “outcomes-based journalism.”
Part of that means bringing new disciplines beyond journalism from the community to the school, whether among faculty or students, including community organizers, cultural anthropologists, political and legal wonks, former marketers, etc.
It’s the kind of new way of thinking that I’ve been trying in my small way to formulate with the AdaptNY project, and it will certainly be a great inspiration to my efforts.
(As an aside, while at AEJMC, I had a good hour-long sitdown with the just-named new head of the social journalism degree program, Carrie Brown. She’ll certainly bring great ideas and energy to the effort, as well as great teaching skills. And I’m looking forward to tapping her thoughts about applying these social journalism and engagement concepts to my ongoing AdaptNY initiatives. Here’s more on her appointment.)
AdaptNY & the ‘teaching hospital model’
AdaptNY’s work got more attention at a second workshop presentation on Aug. 6, when I joined a teaching panel that focused on how students and professors are increasingly working out in the field together, reporting and sharing stories with the community.
The panel’s organizer called it experiential immersion, but it’s more commonly known as “the teaching hospital model.” At it’s heart, it’s a way in which student and faculty journalists become more fully part of the reporting process within the community – rather than keeping their work within the classroom, they engage, report, and share their stories more fully with the community.
For this panel, also attended by several dozen, I highlighting the several ways the school – and AdaptNY – had been using the teaching hospital approach to cover Sandy.
The first example, which I had also touched on in my 2013 AEJMC presentation, was the school-wide Sandy coverage rapidly amassed in the immediate aftermath of the storm by the J school’s New York City News Service in its Scenes of Sandy project, which centered on photos, and brief human-interest vignettes. That effort won the school recognition, with a second-place showing in the 2013 Society of Professional Journalists’ Region 1 Mark of Excellence awards.
Then I detailed how, in the weeks and months that followed Sandy, the school developed a new project, called In Sandy’s Wake, that published three-and-a-half dozen stories leading up to the storm’s one-year mark in fall 2013. A dozen and a half of those stories were also published or broadcast elsewhere, including on the New York Times and in local sites.
And it too won recognization as an SPJ Region 1 finalist for online in-depth reporting, and an honorable mention for the national Eppy awards for investigative/documentary reporting (read more about the awards).
Using student reporting teams
In addition to these school-wide efforts on Sandy, I also shared with the assembled educators how AdaptNY itself had brought J School journalists into the community to report the climate resilience story.
In particular, I outlined how in the fall of 2013, I had hired a team of a dozen current students and recent grads as part of a two-month investigation in partnership with a public news watchdog site called Gotham Gazette.Using the students’ research and reporting, we found a striking disconnect between city hall and local community boards on planning for so-called climate resilience in Sandy’s wake. I described how students had researched and surveyed or interviewed dozens of community leaders, then fed their findings to a writer and interactive producers, yielding several long reports, interactive maps and sidebars.
I also shared how for the February community brainstorming workshop, I had hired a team of three students and a recent grad to provide live blogging and on-the-spot reporting using tools like CoverItLive, Twitter and Instagram. Much of the material they gathered then allowed them to create more in in-depth writeups after the conference. And students also created raw video material that was later edited into short video features for the AdaptNY site following the workshop.
I mentioned a nice turn of events in which we also provided that raw student video to the WNET public affairs TV news weekly magazine, MetroFocus, which used it to edit a video story about the workshop, part of a nine-minute segment that included an in-depth interview with me on AdaptNY.
Hacking the mold
Finally, I told the gathering about one great additional example of a student-driven “teaching hospital model” reporting project coming up this fall, one with its origins in the school’s Sandy coverage.
Out of J school discussions last fall about how to build our the long-term focus on Sandy’s aftermath, and at the same time to innovate in our curriculum, we began to zero in on the problem of unhealthy mold in public housing in New York.
Even before Sandy, untreated mold was an huge problem, and had gotten some news coverage, especially from the NY Daily News. After Sandy, the problem exploded, and the city’s response collapsed to the point where it required federal intervention.
So, I was part of a small team at the J School to put together a plan to cover this problem in partnership with the Daily News, by using student reporting power together with public crowdsourcing and engagement techniques. And we were very fortunate in that this “Hack the Mold” proposal was awarded a $35,000 seed grant, one of a dozen as part of the first round of a new $1 million Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. Here’s more on the mold project.
All in all, a very successful AEJMC for me, for AdaptNY, and for the CUNY J School. Here’s to next year’s conference in San Francisco!