Why j-school?

My last post explained what I was doing, but not neccessarily why I was doing it.  I had to answer some questions for the Medill website about the Knight Scholarship and I thought I’d share my responses here.

What was your undergrad major / graduation year? Did you work in your field of study after graduation?

I graduated from the Ohio State University in 2003 with a degree in computer science and engineering.  Shortly after that, I moved to Bloomington, Indiana where spent the next few years working a number computer-related jobs, mostly in the area of web-based software development, but spent much more time playing music and coordinating the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project.

What interested you about attending Medill? (aka, why journalism and why now?)

Through my work with non-profits and grassroots community activist organizations, I was always engaged around the news and information in my community.  I felt like many of the roadblocks towards solving community problems that became framed as ideological conflicts were, at their roots, a result of an information gap within the community.  People didn’t understand what was happening, how government or institutions functioned, and the stories of different people with different orientations around community issues.  Journalism seemed like one of the fields best positioned to help meet the information needs of communities, and efforts such as the Knight Commission indicated that there was traction for framing the work of journalists beyond traditional news media.

I was also becoming frustrated with my role as a technology maker. I loved coding, but it was often an experience that was isolating from other people and from important things happening in the world.  Through networks such as the Allied Media Conference, I saw that there were exciting possibilities for using technology and technologically-mediated information to engage in the world, but I needed support to move in this direction.

Truthfully,my interest in Medill was the possibility of the Knight scholarship.  In any discipline it is tragically difficult to have the space of a year to switch gears, learn, and experiment while still being able to support oneself.  The possibility of the scholarship made my personal exploration seem possible.

Rich Gordon’s efforts to lower the barriers for hacker-journalists to develop formal journalism skills made me feel that there was a place for my interests at Medill and I thought that it was a pretty clever use of News Challenge funds in developing a framework for new journalism pedagogy rather than a technological framework.

Finally, as someone making music, I was already in the practice of telling stories and mediating information.  I felt wary of the information that could fit in a two or three minute song.  I wanted to have other storytelling abilities to complement making and sharing music.  Projects like Detroit-based MCs Finale and Invincible’s Locusts video (http://emergencetravel.net/node/7)  showed that there could be a complete integration between music and storytelling about news, community, and history.  For me, I felt like the structure of school could help me learn to research and tell stories that had a similar impact.

What role do you see in the future for programmers/developers/electrical/engineers in journalism?

I think there are probably many new roles, especially regarding building and maintaining new platforms, but I am most excited about the emergence of hacker-journalists.  Just as a photojournalist tells news stories through photos, the hacker-journalist tells stories through data and applications.

Can you postulate a bit about what technical folk bring to the journalism table? How will journalism benefit from your POV? (Aside from solving the billing crisis, of course.)

More than anything, technical folk bring a different perspective, different practice, and experience solving different but potentially analogous problems.  There are many, many outside perspectives that could benefit formal journalism and while I’m grateful that I received a scholarship to help fuse my technological practice with formal journalism training, it is extremely unfortunate that there aren’t similarly specific opportunities for people like untrained community journalists reporting from communities under-served by and underrepresented in the media.

Journalism will benefit most from my point of view not so much as a developer, but as a free/libre/open source software (FLOSS) user/developer.  I think that the best of FLOSS practice can bring three things to journalism.  First, FLOSS projects often try to make information free, useful, and don’t presume how users will find their tools or the information that it mediates useful.  Second, successful FLOSS projects build on a base of collaboration and community.  Finally, many FLOSS projects have a goal of sustainability that is more nuanced than the simple profitability of the software products that are produced.