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HERE’S MY ANSWER TO THE QUESTIONS I KEEP GETTING ASKED:

WHAT IS NEW MEDIA? WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU DOING IN IT? WHY EXACTLY ARE YOU DOING THIS?

(I took this post from my About the Blog page, which nobody reads so I’m moving it here.)

I’m a former newspaper reporter now teaching New Media Communications at Oregon State University. My students require an entirely new set of skills and talents far more technologically sophisticated than my Gen X peers did when we came up, when “media” was called “journalism” and things made more sense.

Now there’s a whole generation of editors and profs working under a whole new set of rules, trying desperately to hold onto as many of the old values of content, substance, accuracy, fairness, justice and professionalism while learning to Fark and Twitter and Vodcast  and Podcast, Twitter my Tweets and Optimize my Search Engines.

This blog is me writing from that tightrope, balancing like we all are, on what feels like a crossroads made of dental floss. The extra trick for me is that this journey of technologizing and socially mediating my media is not one I’m making alone. I actually have to teach students what I know, while I’m learning it.

So there it is.

Like New Media itself, those of us who came up in Old School, big-city newspaper journalism are flailing in transformation. We have a trove of essential journalistic skills. We are diligent and enterprising reporters, skilled and empathic interviewers. We have a hound’s nose for news. We see stories leaping out of the woodwork and we know how to report the hell out of them and make them sing. We can pound out a 1500-word story in 24 minutes that does the readers and sources justice. We demand fairness, balance and accuracy of ourselves and our work.

We still believe deeply in the old saw about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

We learned on typewriters, moved up to Trash 80s and portabubbles; we transmitted stories through pay phone lines and the raw nerve of deadline dictation. We did not fight technology. No siree. We embraced the newfangled. We boogied and House Partied onto the Internet and got our first e-mail accounts in the 90s. We rode the Information Superhighway, pal. I mean, all our aerobics classes played Techno music!

But the story was still king. We worked on our own time writing those long Sunday Page One features about how the system failed the most vulnerable of us. We gave voice to the voiceless.

We wrote tight and bright when our bosses went to management conferences and learned we all had to write like USA Today.

We embraced the long and winding narrative lead where the nut graph didn’t make it before the jump.

We wrote touchy-feely trend thumbsuckers on parenting when our Boomer bosses started having kids.

When our bosses made us rip a comb through our hair and run an iron over our clothes we chugged down our Joe, spiffed up and dragged our perk-o-lated selves onto televsion spots, learning how…to…speak….using…a….telepromp….ter….um…without….um…cursing…much.

After two decades of the frantic, hectic, adrenalinized daily news life, you expect us to do WHAT now? Podcast and vodcast and slideshows? Yahoo who? Facebook my what? Film it? Blog it? Twitter it? Digg it? FARK it?

Alrighty then, we say. Bring it.

My students chuckle or roll their eyes when I use the quaint expressions of old fashioned journalism. I try to hippen it up…”Your kicker’s got to rock!” (Meaning: The last line of your story must be powerful, must end with a bang, not a whimper.)

This reminds me of how often I must translate words, concepts, skills from a practical, newsroom setting into the classroom. That reminds me of the differences between the the news business and the college-teaching business. That reminds me that, in my opinion, neither should be a business. And THAT reminds me of the retirement parties I attended earlier this summer, where faculty members ended their 30-year careers at this undefunded, underperforming, underrated, oddly run, land grant state university. The parties were long on the best of Oregon — wild salmon, Pinot Noir, local herbed goat cheese, organic greens picked that day from nearby farms; cool, breezy evenings beneath Evergreens of all persuasions. The parties were also long (winded) on speeches. What’s striking was how civilized these endings were. Folks who’d done G-d’s work for 30 or more years, teaching those 8 a.m. surveys of 200 or more students — many of whom were up all night working at the mill or the local pub just to pay for school, many of whom are the first in their family to got to college, some in their fifth or sixth year because they have to drop out to work for their families, some who come straight from picking in the fields at dawn to hear your take on whatever; writing endless letters to Financial Aid begging for money on behalf of students. After  30-odd years of that, they got toasted. And toasted. And congratulated and celebrated. The pay is for crap. The lifestyle, they tell you, more than makes up for it. But we all raised our Pinot to their good work and big hearts and new lives. That’s their kicker.

And THAT brings me back TO THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE. As I’ve mentioned, many of the most revered journalists around recently volunteered to leave after 20, 30-odd years of service. And what was their goodbye? On Friday at 2 pm they were told to pack up and exit the building by 5pm.

Now that’s a kicker.

Voluntary reductions. They are not breasts. They are Democracy.

Tribune embarks on latest staff cuts

By: Ann Saphir Aug. 08, 2008

(Crain’s) — The Chicago Tribune’s managing editor for news, its Washington bureau chief and its public editor are leaving Friday as the paper begins a new round of newsroom cuts.

Hanke Gratteau, who was promoted to managing editor in May; Michael Tackett, who has covered every presidential election since 1988, and Timothy McNulty, who has been public editor since 2006, head a list of staffers who are leaving voluntarily.

“We still must make some additional involuntary reductions,” Editor Gerould Kern told staffers in a memo Friday afternoon. “We now are in the process of evaluating the scope of these reductions. Nothing about this is easy, but it is necessary.”

In an interview published Friday on a Tribune blog, Randy Michaels, Tribune’s chief operating officer, is unsentimental about the changes.

“We are not running a museum. We are running a business in a time of increased competition and economic hardship,” he says. “We should grieve for those who have been downsized. We should NOT be mourning the loss of anything else.”

Read the whole article, if you can stomach it: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=30532

     Okay. These “voluntary reductions” are some of the greatest, most heroic journalists in the country.  Not only should we be grieving their loss, but should indeed be mourning the loss, Mr. Randy Michaels, of the kind of reporters who do the kind of reporting that stops innocent people from being executed. Those voluntary reductions did that.

     They were also my colleagues, and many remain my friends, and the loss of their combined brain power and institutional memory and source base and understanding and mastery of the complex societal systems they explored is a grave loss to Democracy. We’re ALL being involuntarily reduced.