My Register Experience

Reflections on my Register Experience

Posted in Perspective Week by Proxiblog on November 16, 2009

I’ve had the weekend to reflect on my Register experience without necessarily thinking about “The New Poverty,” covered in my last post, and share with viewers today the chromatic scale of emotions that colored the week.

Dennis Chamberlin has just sent me a digital contact sheet of his photographs, which he will file today, and will post his thoughts about the week tomorrow. We’ve asked the Register’s managing editor, Randy Brubaker, to comment on our enterprise work, and anything else; we hope to post that on Wednesday. On Thursday, we’ll remind everyone about the national live chat session with Chamberlin and me, set for 11 a.m. central and noon eastern at this URL, hosted by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Chamberlin and I had something to learn and something to prove. We learned that digital journalism is part of everyday journalism, but not nearly as much as educators have made that out to be, as most of us, even me, are so accustomed to living technologically now via e-mail, blog, cell phone, camera-phone, text, tweet, html (or Website application software), Google, YouTube–you name it–that focusing on “new media” seems technostalgic.

Indeed, anyone still touting these tools as the means to secure employment in the digital newsroom should return to the newsroom to see why content is still king.

There are reasons. While advertisement sales may be down from previous highs in the print business, they still generate plenty of pages to fill, and most publishers want to fill them with local news. Also, we heard more than once in the Register newsroom about editors’ no longer relying on the Associated Press to generate local content to supplement the news budget, even in a city as large as Des Moines.

Increasingly, my wire service contacts affirm that the trend has been for them to disseminate local news generated by subscriber partners while their employees focus on all those other premiums that newspapers need, from sports scores to national and international news.

In fact, the Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, is dropping the AP for a week to see how much they actually need it. Read about that here.

During my Register week, I observed reporters creating as much content as possible. Sure, the digital news editor, Web site developers and designers, along with support personnel, focused on what we in academe still label “convergence”; but they would have little work to do without others filing stories, photos, opinion and more from dawn to midnight.

That is what I learned, and perhaps Chamberlin will affirm or refute that.

As for me, I was excited to be back in the newsroom and working with some of the most industrious, dedicated journalists in the business. Many of them, including political columnist Kathie Obradovich, are Iowa State University alumni (or appreciate our hardhat journalism approach). Obradovich captured how I felt most of the week in her blog.

What most didn’t see was how terrified I was that street reporting and narrative journalism would fail in today’s fast-paced news cycle. I was apprehensive accosting people for interviews at Gray’s Park Lake, Southridge Mall and other venues, especially since they assumed (perhaps because of too much television) that we were law enforcement, dressed in suit jackets and brandishing notepads and cameras.

teethBut time after time, our nose for news put us at a newsworthy spot. We interviewed an employed air traffic controlled about fewer flghts to Des Moines, and behind us was an unemployed nurse. We photographed an empty mall parking lot and saw a booming business at a pawn shop where a customer had just sold his gold teeth. Upon hearing about counterfeit notes and coins circulating in the city, I visited a coin shop and witnessed a man being told he had invested in replica brass rather than gold coins.fake_gold

You can read about that encounter in a prior post.

I went to the coin shop on my lunch break and didn’t bring a digital- or videocam; had I done so, I could have documented the reality of “The New Poverty.” It was my one big error of the week.

The biggest emotional toll was remembering the conflict of interest in who comes first with the First Amendment–the source or the audience. Several unemployed sources did not want to be named in our story for fear that such disclosure would prevent them from getting a job. One gave her identity and then reneged. In the end, we decided to honor the source’s request for anonymity because of the nature of our story.

In closing, I believe that the Knight Foundation and other journalism organizations promoting digital journalism should think about funding experiences for professors, such as Chamberlin and I enjoyed. Educators cannot serve the industry as completely as we might without returning to industry. Otherwise we create curricula through our various academic filters (re-accreditation, assessment, program competition, new course-prep anxiety and pedogogical territorialism, etc.).

I will be using this blog as a pilot study for a corporate or foundation endowment to allow professors in the Greenlee School at Iowa State University to return to the newsroom, agency or company for a summer salaried first-hand look at how we can better serve our constituents, chief among them, of course, being our students.

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  1. [...] largely concur with the post-Register reflections by Michael (“Reflections on my Register Experience”) and Dennis(“What our students [...]


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