My Register Experience

Transcript of live chat session hosted by AEJMC

Posted in Perspective Week by Michael Bugeja on November 19, 2009


Mich, AEJMC: WELCOME to AEJMC’s first-ever LIVE online chat!

Today’s TOPIC: Survival Tips, New Media Tools & the Changing Reporter

Two journalism professors — Dennis Chamberlin, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and Michael Bugeja, former bureau chief for United Press International — tested their journalism skills during the week of November 8 with a return to the newsroom (The Des Moines Register).

Their assignment: To work on an enterprise piece on “The New Poverty,” documenting how the failing economy in Iowa is affecting all strata of society.

Chamberlin and Bugeja are here today to chat about that experience, and share their thoughts on what changes J-Schools need to make, which new media tools classes should incorporate and the differences between today’s reporter and yesterday’s.

11:55 [Introduction from Michael Bugeja: ]
First of all, thanks to Jennifer McGill and Mich Sineath for hosting our blog on “Hot Topics” and for producing this “Cover It Live” interactive session. To get things started, I wanted to provide some quick answers to questions that many AEJMC members are interested in knowing.

What changes do J-Schools need to make?

As an administrator as well as a journalist, I think we [in academe] have far too many stand-alone presentation courses in new media. Some programs have online sequences. We do need courses such as multimedia production or digital photojournalism and videography. Apart from those, if we haven’t already, we had best introduce new media into our mainstream courses. Dennis Chamberlin stands out as a colleague who has been successful at that in our visual communication classes.

What new media tools should classes incorporate?

It’s important not to emphasize specific tools and build pedagogy around them. That’s silly. That’s technological determinism at its worst. Instead, look at anticipated outcomes for each class. Then ask yourself, How can technology enhance these outcomes?

11:55 [Comment From Dennis Chamberlin: ] Last week’s experience at The Des Moines Register was a great opportunity to observe how professionals are using the available tools to create journalistic content under deadline. Our project didn’t push us as much as a breaking news story would have but I think that we were still able to learn about today’s high-speed news environment and venture a bit into the digital realm by creating material for the web. After last week I feel more confident about emphasizing traditional reporting skills in my classes. I’ve never liked using class time to teach technology and now I feel comfortable in keeping a balance between the latest technology and timeless reporting skills.

11:57 Jennifer, AEJMC: One question–how did you clear the time to actually be away from your normal workload for a week.

11:58 Michael Bugeja: Well, that’s the issue, isn’t it? I had good staff and backup administration, and I answered email from 9 p.m. to midnight every night.

12:00 Jennifer, AEJMC: Dennis — how did you handle your classes?

12:00 Dennis Chamberlin: Great question! I had the help of a colleague who covered one day of classes and on the other day I had prepared an online assignment. The result was that we worked at The Register until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. and then I did my professorial work until 2:00 a.m. I was exhausted by the end of the week.

12:01 Michael Bugeja: Also, Jennifer, I’m hoping to use this experiment to get a grant so that our professors can return to the newsroom or agency in summer when they don’t have to work around the clock.

12:01 Jennifer, AEJMC: Did it help to have two of you doing this?

12:02 Michael Bugeja: Actually, I could have handled the assignment by myself with a digital camera, but my photos could not be as sharp or professional as Dennis’. I also wanted to give the Register something in return for hosting us, and I hoped that would be an award-winning enterprise.

12:03 Jennifer, AEJMC: The Register did seem pleased by the end product–and it likely allowed them a couple of people to do things no one else on staff had time to do.

12:04 [Comment From Mark: ] Did the experience teach you anything new or was it a confirmation of already held ideas?

12:04 Michael Bugeja: There’s a reporter, Reid, who does what we did, and we may have inspired more street reporting in him. He’s an excellent writer. He does narrative work too.

12:05 [Comment From Tricia: ] Did you find any specific social media/new media tools that were essential to the newsroom that students should know?

12:06 Michael Bugeja: Reply to Mark: A newspaper reporter in the past had more time to think through news events more critically. What we now call “depth reporting” used to be just “reporting.” Content really is king in a 24/7 news cycle online. One of my former students at The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a rule that reporters there use as a guide, the 4/5 rule, or four paragraphs online within five minutes of knowing something.

It’s really a deadline every login. It’s the wire service on steroids. So I think we should emphasize speed and accuracy in basic reporting.

12:06 [Comment From Carol J. Pardun: ] A number of our faculty go back into the newsroom fairly regularly, but as far as I know, they do this by themselves (not with any faculty partners). What were the unique benefits of having the two of you at the paper at the same time?

12:06 Dennis Chamberlin: Mark, there is always the risk of walking into any situation and seeing only that which reinforces your established beliefs and I did my best to remain aware of that. I tried to observe and listen to people in order to learn about today’s newsroom from their perspective and I saw that most of those people are enthusiastic about the possibilities that the quickly changing technology brings. I hope I am able to use that perspective in the classroom.

12:07 Michael Bugeja:Reply to Tricia: I think the excitement that we created by our blog, “My Register Experience,” putting the focus on the news rather than on the reporter, is one aspect of the experiment that many folks have missed, with regard to interactive media.

12:08 Michael Bugeja: Reply to Carol: As an administrator, I had an agenda, Carol. I try to model the behavior I wish to see in others. So by taking Dennis, that act might have inspired some other colleagues to try it with me or by themselves. It broke the academic/professional ice, as it were.

12:10 Dennis Chamberlin: Tricia, I was told that Social Media skills is something that they would like to see in new hires and when I brought that up in class the other day my students all groaned. A number of them said that during their internships last summer their employers wanted them to use their Facebook friends to promote events and products. The students were annoyed and said that will be a good reason to stop using social media in the future.

12:12 Michael Bugeja: I want to add to Dennis’ comment to Tricia. This is why I am entirely against use of social media as a means to engage students in the classroom. Facebook is programmed for socialization, not education. Any number of popular consumer applications, including Second Life, are just not programmed to do what many tech advocates want them to, and students know that and groan.

12:12 [Comment From Carol J. Pardun: ] Dennis, that makes sense to me as well. I can tell you that I get annoyed when people use my facebook friends to attempt to market something to me or to others on my list.

12:14 Jennifer, AEJMC: Could something like this work as well for other industry areas — say broadcasting or public relations?

12:14 [Comment From Paul Parsons: ] Michael, when I’m reading the news, I pay attention to how often those in power or leadership roles are the news sources and how often those without power or leadership are the news sources. For your story on the new poverty, what would you say was your ratio?

12:15 Dennis Chamberlin: I’m not against social media but unless it enhances the quality of the content I’m not sure that I believe it will be a great addition to journalism. It is a marketing tool and we shouldn’t forget that and pretend that it is a great addition to modern life.

12:15 Michael Bugeja: Jennifer, you’re right on! I’m hoping in the future to work at an ad agency, broadcast outlet, etc., to get a sense of what students need to know.

12:16 Michael Bugeja: Paul, great question! We wanted to go into the streets and speak with people easily overlooked by reporters. We didn’t need social media to do this. We needed comfortable shoes. And then we took their comments and went to the power brokers.

12:17 [Comment From Alfred Hermida: ] Thinking of Facebook as simply a tool to promote events and products reflects the broadcast mentality that persists in newsrooms. I suggest that social media requires a shift in approach, from a one to many framework to a many to many framework, where the emphasis is on connectivity and participation, rather than content and control.

12:18 Michael Bugeja: Alfred is right. Many of these tools are designed for marketing. But if we analyze how to use them, we can achieve connectivity.

12:18 [Comment From Paul Parsons: ] Dennis, you wrote a blog entry on the serendipitous nature of daily journalism. What was the most serendipitous moment during your Register experience? Michael, was there one for you?

12:20 Michael Bugeja: Reply to Paul: Our story on “the New Poverty” is set to run on Monday. It is all about serendipity. It is narrative journalism. It chronicles almost hour by hour what Dennis and I encountered on the street.

12:20 [Comment From Donna D: ] Considering the student “groan” mentality of using social networking tools in the classroom, I think if you’re asking them to tap into their private friend networks for marketing, it’s like asking them to hit up all their friends for favors or they see something they like to use for social purposes turned into a “class gimmick.” It’s all in how it’s used and why, I think.

12:21 [Comment From Donna D: ] Reminds me of being a teenager and hearing my favorite Beatles tune played on my mother’s “easy listening” station.

12:22 Dennis Chamberlin: Paul, I learned about a few people’s experiences that had me really excited to tell their stories in audio and photos but I wasn’t able to convince them to go on the record. They were ashamed that they had fallen on hard times and didn’t want others in the community to know.

12:22 Michael Bugeja: You’re right, Donna. But social media was sold to traditional media as a marketing tool. And it was sold to education as an engagement tool. It’s a tool to make friends, to meet folks, to advocate for causes and the like. And it’s a databank for reporters to search out sources because they violate their privacy via social media, and you can track them down.

12:24 Jennifer, AEJMC: Do reporters really do that now?

12:24 [Comment From Donna D: ] I had a reporter in NYC read a high school message board and turned my private life into a headline, so yes, Jennifer.

12:24 Michael Bugeja: Reply to Jennifer: Use of Facebook to track down sources? You bet. Employers use it for different reasons. …

12:25 Dennis Chamberlin: I’ve seen the reporters in our campus paper use it to track down sources on a pretty regular basis.

12:25 [Comment From Paul Parsons: ] Dennis, do you find ways to tell some of their stories anyway, or without ID, are the stories simply not tell-able?

12:26 [Comment From Mark: ] If FB, etc. really are only tools, being put to different uses by different actors, doesn’t that increase the need to teach *about* them?

12:28 Michael Bugeja: Reply to Mark. [I’ll repeat what I said in the introduction, and expand on that] It’s important not to emphasize specific tools and build pedagogy around them. That’s silly. That’s technological determinism at its worst. Instead, look at anticipated outcomes for each class. Then ask yourself, How can technology enhance these outcomes? For example, I wouldn’t want an iPhone incorporated into a class whose main focus is writing across platforms. An iPhone might come in handy in some reporting classes on some assignments emphasizing spot news coverage. You can tweet, shoot pictures or video, and text to the newsroom. But that’s only one assignment in a class that may require other reporting skills for which an iPhone is ill-suited.

12:28 [Comment From Donna D: ] Seems social networking tools have the potential to be great research tools, as we learn how to use them in other ways.

12:29 Jennifer, AEJMC: Do professors talk about that in class?

12:29 Jennifer, AEJMC: Not just do it, but let students in on the thought process?

12:29 Michael Bugeja: Donna: Absolutely correct! But then we’ll be using them for research in a way that marketers do. But what you just noted is vital on how we should approach technology–as a concept, rather than as a tool.

12:30 [Comment From David: ] From what I read, it seems some faculty members readily embrace use of new media — while others steadfastly hold to the idea that colleges need to educate students about journalism, not train them to use specific technology. Where are you on this?

12:30 [Comment From Donna D: ] I agree totally with Michael

12:30 Dennis Chamberlin: Paul, I still haven’t given up on these stories. One woman will probably tell the story in her own words and I will make images ot go along with it. The other story is about a woman that might be recognizable if the situation was described and I have to respect her wishes. To be honest, I wish we were in the pre-internet era because I could probably do it for a European publication and she would be safe that no one in Iowa would see it. Last summer I taught a multimedia class in Italy and one team of students ran across a situation where the people agreed to be featured if it was for a print publication but they would not give permission for the story to run online. They said that you never know where it will end up or how it will be used.

12:31 [Comment From Eric: ] Is it your experience that students often are more interesting in learning technology for technology’s sake than they are in coming up with something to cover, then looking around to find what tools tell their story best?

12:32 [Comment From Chip: ] How do you feel about having more than one facebook account? Should reporters have one for friends, one for sources?

12:32 [Comment From Alfred Hermida: ] To David’s comment: Technology is a tool for journalism. The challenge in class is not whether to chose between teaching journalism or technology. It is to teach students how to harness the potential of new tools to produce high quality journalism.

12:32 Michael Bugeja: Reply to David: Dennis had a post on keeping an open mind. That’s essential with technology. Often because of my research I’m accused of being a Luddite. See

A person has to know technology to critique it in this manner. Actually, I have five Web sites, three blogs, a Twitter account and even have interviewed avatars in SL. But I see these applications for what they are, not what we want them to be.

12:34 Michael Bugeja: Reply to Eric: Students don’t want to learn about technology. They know it. They’ll learn about it if it can get them a job, such as portfolio class. But they use technology for different purposes. So we do have to critique applications, social media, and the like. And we do have to teach them how to use technology so that it doesn’t use them.

12:35 Michael Bugeja: Reporters have been fired for what they wrote on blogs. So yes, Chip. Keep a personal and professional Facebook account.

12:35 [Comment From Paul Parsons: ] Dennis, the concept of “proximity” in the internet age still remains important, doesn’t it?

12:35 [Comment From Tricia: ] You mentioned earlier that you created excitement about the project though blogging. Can you expand on that? Why did you decide to blog? What were your goals for the blog? Were you monitoring hits and feedback?

12:36 Michael Bugeja: Alfred: My biggest complaint, not only concerning technology in journalism, but in higher education, is how so few are willing to critique it. How can we use it if we cannot say anything against it?

12:37 Dennis Chamberlin: David, your description covers our department quite well. I like to see what we can do with all the tools but only to the degree that I still have time for covering reporting skills. I never got a job because I knew how to focus a camera and develop film. I got assignments because I knew how to sell the story idea to an editor and then pull it off under a tight deadline. I like to make sure students realize that tools are something that you need to feel comfortable with and know when to use.

12:38 Michael Bugeja: Tricia, I’ve seen reporter blogs speak about going fishing on the weekend, and what they caught. Nobody’s interested in that. If you check out our blog in “Hot Topics” or read the comments at our site,, you’ll see that we generated excitement about our story. Many folks emailed us. Comments helped us, too.

12:41 Michael Bugeja: Just a general observatioin about content: We need to teach students speed and accuracy now more than ever. They can text quickly, but do they know the databanks to access in providing a fact-base for their interviews?

12:42 [Comment From Alfred Hermida: ] Michael, I agree. A critical approach is necessary. At the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, we teach the students to understand the different forms of media and platforms, and be able to assess technology tools to tell a story.

12:43 [Comment From Carol J. Pardun: ] As far as speed and accuracy go, we are hosting a British journalist turned professor in the UK. Their school teaches short hand (as part of the accrediting process in the UK) for the very reasons of what you point to Michael: speed and accuracy. Short hand seems pretty old school, doesn’t it? Yet…..

12:44 Michael Bugeja: Alfred, your comment is so important. Think about this: How did McLuhan or even I in Interpersonal Divide write about technology so that the observations still spark debate? Because we wrote as you teach. That’s what we have to remember and reinforce, or our students will panic when they switch from QuarkXpress to InDesign.

12:45 Michael Bugeja: I regret not learning shorthand, Carol. Only I can decipher my notebook. On the otherhand, a district attorney couldn’t decipher it if I interviewed someone she or he wanted to prosecute, based on my notes.

12:46 [Comment From Paul Parsons: ] Michael and Dennis (and AEJMC)… Thanks for doing this live online chat. I now have to head to a live in-person group chat — called a meeting! I look forward to seeing what the Register does with your “The New Poverty” contributions.

12:47 Michael Bugeja: Thank you for your good questions, Paul. We appreciate everyone who participated with us live and online.

12:47 Jennifer, AEJMC: Thanks everyone.

12:48 Mich, AEJMC: Thanks to everyone for participating. If you haven’t had a chance to read Michael and Dennis’ series on “Returning to the Digital Newsroom” please do so. …


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