The Carnival of Journalism Assignment: “For December I would like you all to write a letter to your younger self. You can write about anything, no rules, no apologies. You may like to share with yourself advice, things to look out for, things you wished you did differently, regrets, hopes, what you’ve learned, about your life, choices… or just about anything that is on your mind. Ideally these are deeply personal to you and I hope it’ll be enlightening to others in its universality to the human condition.”
All of the other bloggers are writing incredibly profound and insightful comments to their younger selves. Today, you feel somewhat humbled in their company. Every time you go to craft a worthy advice column that will be enlightening to the human condition, everything seems preachy and cliche. The truth is, young Self, I could tell you all sorts of things to watch out for (editors with personal agendas, that liar you trusted on the beat, lima beans) or to pay more attention to (that HTML class you took, that stats class you took, those cookies in the oven). But you won’t really listen. In your 20s, you thought you knew everything already. (Heck, at 12 you thought you knew everything). You had travelled the world. Lived in France. Your work had been seen by hundreds of thousands of people. You knew how to do your homework before an interview already. You knew not to make stuff up. You knew how to pretend you knew what was going on even when you didn’t. You pretended so well you even convinced yourself. Youth, you thought, was not wasted on THIS youth. What could an older Self possibly have to share with you?
Self, now you’re in your 40s. I’m here to tell you: you do not matter so much. That’s pretty blasphemous both in the culture you grew up in and in today’s sticker world where your kids get claps and hugs just for not playing a video game. I’ll say it a different way: everything around you – everyONE around you – matters more.
So yes, yes, you were very prescient to be learning HTML in your 20s when most people around you thought “online” meant the wait at the movies and email was a novel phase. Yes yes, you are very brilliant. But um… Self? Why didn’t you stick with it? Keep building web pages? So that you had to relearn it again when you turned 40 so you could talk about it with these other young Selves you are now teaching so they don’t miss out on opportunities? Think of how much more helpful you could have been in your subsequent newsrooms as you watched them struggle with digital transitions.
And true, true, you and your fellow reporters thought yourselves fighting the good fight afflicting the comfortable and all that. But you shied away from chances to really probe inequities — class, racial, gender — that you saw all around you. You really spent way too much time writing about annual reports and company perspective than you had to. At some point you will finally do all the reading you should be doing in your 20s and conduct the interviews that you should have done along the way to help you really grasp what disparity looks like. You thought you knew and you did understand in an abstract way, but not really in a nitty-gritty-reality-check way. What if you had opened your eyes sooner while you were regularly reaching so many people?
And yes, yes, perhaps you were right not to take the web reporting job and stick with the safe gig at a print newspaper in Vermont; after all that .com company folded within a couple years and you thrived on the business beat with the help of that incredible staff of mentors at the Burlington Free Press. You thought yourself quite the smartie. But what if you had taken the less safe path for once? What if you had taken yourself just a little less seriously, given yourself over to chance just a little bit more, and opened yourself up much more to mistake and failure than you did?
I guess we don’t know, Self.
Somewhere along the way, Self, you finally figured out in your 40s how little you really know. And that lesson — the knowledge that many, many, many more lessons await — is probably the most important one you’ve had so far.
Every time I go to a website to make a comment or buy something, it asks me for my username and password. After a couple failed tries, my instinct is to give up — though my desire to be obnoxious or to participate in consumerism ultimately vanquish and I persist until I break through. But, man, what a pain.
I was reading this New York Times article with interest: “Logging In With a Touch or a Phrase.”
Passwords are a pain to remember. What if a quick wiggle of five fingers on a screen could log you in instead? Or speaking a simple phrase? Neither idea is far-fetched. Computer scientists in Brooklyn are training their iPads to recognize their owners by the touch of their fingers as they make a caressing gesture. Banks are already using software that recognizes your voice, supplementing the standard PIN.
A couple years ago I conducted a bunch of interviews with regular Madison folk about their use of the Internet, particularly as that use pertained to information actions and community engagement. One of my side findings had to do with passwords. The number one reason these people — and these included often those like journalists and bloggers — did not participate in online forums or other digital spaces? PASSWORDS. They try once, maybe twice, but who can keep track of all of them?
If we could resolve the password issues, I suspect the amount of civic participation in online deliberative spaces would significantly increase.
And then I imagine what our coffeeshops would look like with all of us waving at our computers. We’d all be thinking: “Now, was it a five-finger motion that I recorded? Or something more jaunty?” Even this solution, I predict, would ultimately involve some choice gestures.
The coming digital journalist will mean refined ways of researching stories, knowing who is where at news events, easier source identification through face-recognition software and digital note-taking.
Oh and by the way? That digital journalist is now here.
Amy Webb, a technology guru whom I revere, offered up her annual 10 tech trends for journalists at the Online News Association conference in Boston in September 2011. The trends come from the work she does through her company, Webbmedia Group, which is basically a digital-strategy consultant business that tracks techy trends through research, interviews, networking, focus groups and observations.
The top trends to be aware of in journalism, according to Amy Webb, are the following:
- Refined Search: New kinds of search engines can help you target your research findings much more precisely than just Google or Yahoo. Take advantage of the “smart” functions of features like “Google +1” that help the engine know your preferences. See: Google +1, Google Related, Heliod, Greplin’s app.
- Topics: New software is arriving that allows us to conduct topic-focused dynamic curation. This all goes WAY beyond aggregation. See: Twylah, Klout, Scoop.it, Google Propeller. (Some of these are still in private beta, but they are coming, says Amy!!)
- Inner Circles: Features like Google Circles are allowing you to curate conversation around specific topics and groups of people. So for journalists, consider exploring these new programs to conduct focus groups, organize key influencers and keep up to date on product launches and other industry-specific news.
- Social-Proximity Networks: These show you who else is around you when you are at a conference, in a meeting, or just out and about. Besides Foursquare, there is also: Nerd Nearby (and a bunch of others but I can’t seem to verify on the web, so I’m going to have to get back to them later when I make sure I’ve written them down correctly).
- Face and Iris Recognition: Face.com and Facebook are helping us identify and tag people in images. Creepy, right?! But imagine as a reporter taking a picture of someone on your phone and finding out who they are in a few seconds. Great for those of us who can’t remember people’s names for the life of us. See: Viewdyl. A bunch of others are coming too.
- Digital Note-Taking: The Livescribe, ABBYY, and Wacom Inkling mean you can take notes (and comment on your notes) digitally by hand.
- Quick and Long Reads: Consider marketing that long piece to byliner or longreads, which show the reader how many minutes it would take to read the entire thing. And for that shorter stuff, check out Amazon Kindle Singles and Apple short-reads content.
- Gestural Interfaces: This technology will enable people to interact with a digital device without touching it. (I had to wikipedia it while she was talking.) Not a lot out right now, but she says to look out for: Kinect, Android@Home, and stuff from Apple, MSFT, and Primesense 3D.
- Pre-cognition reporting: Data visualization tools that can predict where trends are heading (in other words, to see the future!). Check out the Terminator Vision app and Recorded Future.
- Ethics in Digital Journalism: Amy ended with a caution about digital technologies taking over the world, and more importantly, our souls (my words, not hers). She reminded us that just because you CAN use digital tools to do just about anything, doesn’t mean you SHOULD (again, my words, not hers but this was the basic takeaway).
(*** ALL OF THIS COMES FROM WEBB’S PRESENTATION!!)