Posted on October 2nd, 2012 No comments
Spotlight on Nonny de la Peña, Immersive Journalist (via Journovation Journal)
I first met Nonny de la Peña a few years ago through the Knight News Challenge. She’d just started her project Stroome, a collaborative video editing tool, and I was about to spin off my KNC project Printcasting into BookBrewer. Nonny is still running Stroome on the side, but has meanwhile taken…
Posted on October 1st, 2012 No comments
I’ve started a new site as part of my new position at the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University. It’s called Journovation Journal, and it’s all about journalism innovation. But perhaps more to the point, it’s about journalism innovators themselves.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that technology alone is not what makes new things happen in new ways. It’s creative people who use the technology who are the real heroes. Whenever there’s something unique happening in the world of journalism, the Journovation Journal will put the spotlight on the people behind it.
Here’s more about the site using a cool new tool I found at the Online News Association conference called Repost.Us.
About the Journovation Journal (via Journovation Journal)
Welcome to the Journovation Journal, a publication about innovation in journalism. We operate out of the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University with support from the Peter A. Horvitz Chair in Journalism Innovation. I’m Dan Pacheco and, with a lot of help from research assistant Brian Moritz,…
Posted on August 27th, 2012 No comments
It took a while, but I finally made it to Syracuse and I’m all set up at the S.I. Newhouse school. My first class is called “Creating the Next News Startup.” It will take journalists who have ideas for new products or even companies through the ideation and planning process so they’re set up for success. Here’s the flyer for the class.
Posted on January 18th, 2012 1 comment
A lot has been said about how SOPA would impact Web sites, but not the nascent eBook self-publishing movement. I’m cross-posting this from BookBrewer.com as part of today’s SOPA protest. Feel free to repost it with attribution.
This morning you’re probably hearing a lot about SOPA and PIPA, which stand for Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act. You can read more about them on Wikipedia.
Wait, did that link work? Not if you clicked it on January 18, 2012. Wikipedia has temporarily shut down its site in protest to show what would happen if these laws were passed. They and thousands of other sites that allow anyone to publish content could cease to exist due to SOPA provisions that let copyright holders block sites that they accuse of aiding piracy.
BookBrewer is a self-publishing service, so that includes us.
We’re not shutting BookBrewer down in protest today, but we do feel it’s important to take a stand on SOPA and PIPA with respect to eBook publishing. We fear that SOPA would largely nullify the “safe harbor” copyright provisions that allow us and other companies like us to operate self-publishing services. That could effectively stop the eBook self-publishing movement in its tracks — a real travesty given the proven potential for eBooks to fund content creation.
How Current Copyright Law Makes BookBrewer Possible
BookBrewer and services like it exist expressly to help anyone publish content to sell as eBooks and on-demand paperbacks. Like Wikipedia and Facebook, our publishing tools are set up to allow you to work on your content without external interference. We don’t — and in fact, we can’t — review and edit every book that goes through our system (and you don’t want us to). That’s what makes us a publishing service and not a traditional publisher.
In order to operate such an ecosystem, we require authors to agree to common-sense terms, such as “you agree that you own the copyright to everything you’re publishing” and “you agree that you aren’t engaging in plagiarism.” We take them at their word and only investigate if someone notifies us or files a notice under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Safe Harbor Provisions.
In our 15-month history we have only received one such DMCA notice, despite having thousands of books go through our system. Following the DMCA process, we promptly removed that eBook from circulation and nicely informed the author of the claim. It turns out she had inadvertently used “Dummies” in her book title (a term trademark owned by Wiley), so she renamed the book and republished it. It was an easy, straightforward and fair process for everyone involved.
How SOPA Would Change Things
How would this story change under SOPA? That one complaint could cause BookBrewer to be labeled a piracy site, and the author as a pirate. Our domain name could be blocked, effectively shutting down BookBrewer, and payments we receive through PayPal could be shut off.
The same could happen to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo and all the places where the eBook is sold. In fact, selling content with copyright violations is even more dangerous than distributing it due to the potential for monetary damages. We wonder if eBook retailers would even accept self-published content anymore.
Say Goodbye to In-Book Links
But believe it or not, it gets even worse. BookBrewer includes an RSS import feature for bloggers that lets them quickly import their blog posts, edit them and publish eBooks from their blogs. That includes the links from the imported blogs.
SOPA requires sites in the U.S. that link to offshore “rogue web sites” to remove those links or face legal action. Since an eBook is essentially a mobile Web site, who’s the pirate in this case, and what’s the Web site? Is it the eBook?
Let’s look at blogger Brad Feld, who agreed to let us use him as an example in this post. He’s published two books in the past (Do More Faster and Venture Deals) through a traditional publisher. His third book about Entrepreneurial Communities will be self-published.
Since the eBook is based on Brad’s blog posts over the years, you can bet that it will include plenty of links to external sites. If he happened to link to something that contains copyrighted material that was used without permission, guess what? Brad’s eBook itself could be considered a party to piracy. Say “Arrrr,” Brad!
To those who say that SOPA applies to Web sites and not eBooks, we beg to differ. Every eBook is essentially a self-contained Web site that you can copy to your device of choice. How many already published eBooks would need to be rewritten to remove hyperlinks? Could we as BookBrewer continue to host them? Could anyone? The legal liability would be too high.
In the End, It’s About You
We’ve explained how SOPA would impact BookBrewer and our business, but that’s not what bothers us the most. We worry about what will happen to you, the self-publishing authors who are redefining what it means to “get published.”
It’s one thing for a startup to get shut down, but even worse for an honest individual to be made out as a criminal. The average self-published author is over 40 years old, and is someone’s mom, dad, grandmother, uncle or teacher. We’re increasingly seeing books from college students and teens, and even a few art eBooks from elementary school kids publishing with their parents’ permission.
We understand that piracy is a real problem for large publishers, but there are more effective and fair ways to deal with it. Tying the hands of honest writers and allowing them to be labeled as criminals is not the solution.
If you agree, please call or write to your member of Congress and let them know what you think of SOPA.
Posted on March 3rd, 2011 No comments
Dreaming of your own startup? This is your moment. The next Denver Founder Institute starts in May, and it’s now accepting early applications.
As an alum from 2010 I can tell you that this is a great program that comes with a top-notch network of entrepreneurs from around the world. We entered the program with a fuzzy idea and emerged with BookBrewer. Some other cool companies were born too, including JetJaw, VisuTalk and CipherPoint. I recommend FI to anyone who is serious about starting a company.
This year’s Denver session will be co-lead by Jon Nordmark, CEO of UsingMiles (founder of eBags) and Jim Franklin of Oracle Crystal Ball fame. They’re two of Colorado tech’s best, but they’re also joined by a strong lineup of CEO mentors. You can see past mentors from Denver and other FI programs here.
If you’re not in Denver, there may be another Founder Institute program near you, as it currently operates in 17 cities worldwide. Learn more and sign up at http://founderinstitute.com.
What Makes Founder Institute Unique?
The Founder Institute isn’t the only technology incubator program out there, nor is it in competition with them. In fact, some of the CEOs who mentor Boulder’s excellent TechStars program also get involved in FI (including Franklin, who’s also a mentor in TechStars).
If you’re serious about starting a company and think an incubator is right for you, you’re looking into many programs. So what makes Founder Institute different and unique?
For one, you don’t have to quit your day job, as all of the weekly sessions are at night. Most start around 6-ish and go until around 9. You get to hear the real-life stories of people who started companies and succeeded, then talk to them afterward (sometimes over beer). This is way more fun than it sounds, and your mind will be buzzing every night with ideas from what you learned.
For another, the goal of the program is not necessarily to lead you up to an investor pitch day or to get funded right away — although there are opportunities to talk to investors. You’ll learn a lot about how to get funding should you needed it, but you’ll also learn about how to “bootstrap” — which in some ways is more effective at first because it shows potential investors that your business has legs. Most of the focus is on your idea, your product, your business model and your ability to execute. How you choose to run or fund your business after that is completely up to you.
And finally, while I don’t know enough about the other programs to know how they compare in this regard, in Founder Institute you get a lot of feedback from your fellow class members. You’re assigned to three different working groups of 4-5 people throughout the semester and are encouraged to share information about your businesses, collectively brainstorm and poke holes.
I personally found the small-group aspect to be the most helpful in the end, because let’s face it. Entrepreneurship is hard and often lonely. Having a community of peers makes a big difference in the end. Having to constantly talk about my business with others in a safe, non-threatening way helped me identify problems and other opportunities early on before spending my hard-earned money making mistakes (although I did make some of those, and you will too).
The most unique aspect that I don’t believe exists in other programs is shared ownership. After a certain date in the program your peers get a small fraction of your business, and you theirs, so you all have an incentive to help each other succeed. In my view this is largely symbolic, as the percentages are so low to make a big payout unlikely unless someone is sitting on the next Facebook. You primarily help each other because of your friendship and shared goals, but I won’t exactly complain if one of the companies in my class makes it big and I get a check in the mail as a result.
And that gets to the best thing about Founder Institute, which I suspect other programs share. After “graduation,” you’re part of a global community of other entrepreneurs who are always ready and willing to help each other out. What you’ll find as you embark on a startup is that anyone crazy enough to have founded a company before is always happy to help newcomers. Founder Institute takes that a step further by also knitting together a community of entrepreneurs who help each other long after graduation.
Posted on February 25th, 2011 No comments
I haven’t had time to share updates on CU journalism school closure / reinvention lately, and will do so more next week. But in light of recent events, and as a member of the advisory board that originally recommended discontinuance, I want to repeat that I’m still in favor of its closure in concert with a new campus-wide strategy of journalism education and digital media training.
Renovation from within at CU’s J-school has been tried and failed too many times. I believe this is true of many journalism programs, not just CU’s. It’s time for a fresh start, and I think we owe that to both current and future college students. This is a difficult thing to say as an alum of the J-school from 15 years ago who has good friends there, but it’s the sad truth.
I encourage everyone to look at this as an opportunity for reinvention, almost like a flower that has reached the end of its useful life. Rather than let it rot in the grass, only to be mowed over or composted, we should blow its seeds across the field so that other flowers can bloom and benefit from the DNA that made that first flower so beautiful. Without that past history, others who meet the critical needs that were once only fulfilled by journalists will have to re-learn their hard lessons from the ground up.
This is particularly important given how media works in the digital age. For our Democratic society to continue to function, we now need everyone — not just those admitted to journalism schools — to receive adequate training around the values of truth, accuracy, fairness and first amendment rights. The fact is that any blogger or even Facebook user can now reach as many or more people as a trained journalist in a newspaper or at a TV station could in the past.
It’s important to look at “journalism” through this wider prism, and not just through the lens of the news industries that developed before the age of social media. Rather than training journalists for a trade that has only three or four logical career paths, we should be training everyone to be responsible communicators regardless of industry or media form.
Posted on November 22nd, 2010 No comments
Some of you may have heard that I’m now running a startup called BookBrewer that makes it easy for people to create and publish eBooks that can be sold right next to John Grisham or Norah Jones. The project grew out of my Knight News Challenge Printcasting project. It has the same “anyone can be a publisher” message, but with a different output.
We also now power the eBook creation service for Borders called Borders Get Published: http://borders.bookbrewer.com.
Borders and BookBrewer are interested in promoting all quality content that comes through this co-branded service. Given my jouralism background, I’ve been telling Borders that news organizations have a a lot of good “bookable” content that people would buy if it were presented in eBook format, including:
- Multipart investigative news packages.
- Collections of stories and photos about major events, such as big disasters, elections, sports events and the like.
- “News you can use,” such as financial advice and car-buying tips.
- Columnists who have a following and/or blogs that could be brought together and sold as a book. I point to this collection of hiking guides from a former Boulder Daily Camera columnist as an example.
- Collections of celebrity interviews, biographies and even celebrity obituaries.
Borders is now promoting Get Published in e-mails that reach tens of millions each week, as well as on its Web site. One of my favorite things to be able to say about this job that I’ve created for myself is that I have the ability to recommend content for Borders to feature. They’re actually asking me for suggestions, but they want to know that it came through their Get Published service.
So I have two questions for journalists:
- What type of content are you aware of that newspapers or non-profit news organizations have that could be packaged and resold a book — especially an on-demand eBook?
- What specific news organization-provided content are you aware of that you would love to see as a book?
And then there’s the question that I’m NOT asking, which is the inevitable “Why would anyone buy content that’s available for free online?” That’s the wrong question to ask because the fact is that the eBook market is exploding right now. People are buying all kinds of content as books, even content from Twitter feeds like “Sh*t My Dad Says.” If you don’t believe me, here are the stats: http://www.idpf.org/doc_library/industrystats.htm
eBooks are a great opportunity for news organizations, and as a previous News Challenge winner nothing would make me happier than to see some news organizations and especially freelance writers use BookBrewer to fund their great journalism. It’s also a great opportunity to shift the paid-content debate away from paywalls (which I still think are a terrible idea) and toward a paid-content model that is already working. We have the power to harness the energy from that decade-long debate and refocus it on a proven model.
Posted on November 17th, 2010 No comments
On the eve of the University of Colorado’s expected recommendation to close its Journalism School (for which I’m an advisor), I just sent this letter to Provost Russell Moore and Exploratory Committee chair Merrill Lessley. I copied Chancellor Phil DiStefano.
Russ & Merrill,
I want to thank you for meeting with the CU Journalism School Advisory Board last week. It gave me a better idea of what the exploratory committee is thinking.
I was particularly happy to hear that you are not, in fact, proposing a faculty-only research institute — something I believe would be a tragedy if done at the expense of undergraduate and graduate education. A state-funded university should always be first and foremost about its students, and any research and development must also include students as much as possible.
You may remember me as the angry board member who spouted off about his discontent with the SJMC discontinuance / exploratory process at a public hearing, then expounded on my blog. I’m still dissatisfied with the process, but just to be clear, I am 100% in favor of the reinvention of journalism education — and then some — and I am still in favor of the school’s discontinuance.
More to the point, I’m passionate about the need to give CU students rich, interdisciplinary, project-based experience. Why? Because that is what I received from CU 16 years ago (more on that later).
What You Have to Gain
CU now has a unique opportunity to not only teach students about responsible and effective uses of digital publishing, but to help them “learn by doing” with other students from business, computer science, law and even art & design. These are the important roles in any startup, business and even non-profit, and the most novel innovations always come out of companies where people of such different and complementary backgrounds work together.
If you set up this new entity the right way, I think it’s likely that the next Google or Facebook will come out of CU — but with much more thought put into their desirable effects on society.
Why should you believe me? I have a unique background as a Boulder entrepreneur who attended the School of Engineering and College of Music for two years, then graduated from the School of Journalism. Think of me as someone who created his own ATLAS experience before ATLAS existed.
Since earning my CU degree, I have worked on the leading edge of user-contributed content and social networking at iconic brands like The Washington Post and Knight Ridder, as well as “pure-play” Internet companies like America Online and now my own Boulder-based startup, FeedBrewer.
Thinking back to my college days, it was interdisciplinary experiences with other students that best prepared me for my career. Through what was then called the Campus Press newspaper (now the CU Independent), I digitized all operations and put the “paper” online for the first time — quite literally stumbling about in the dark of Macky Auditorium and learning as I went along. This experience prepared me for a career in the digital operations of iconic news brands, and now my own startup company.
But thanks to my journalism classes, I was also well prepared for the responsibility side of providing digital news and information. My training in writing, research methods, accurate and fair reporting, ethics and media law gave me valuable skills that I use to this day. And while I didn’t take any advertising classes, what I learned about business while running the Campus Press — which under my watch was brought out of $50,000 in debt for the first time — gave me a good grounding in business and marketing.
What You Stand to Lose
So now let me get to the point of what I am most concerned about, which speaks to what Merrill Lessley means when he says that what’s at stake is the future of human society. And it speaks directly to the main reason I supported discontinuance.
As legacy media companies and “media forms” falter and fail, the core needs that they fill for communities are being taken up by entrepreneurial startups (both for- and non-profit). This is a great thing, but these organizations are in large part unequipped to deal with their new responsibility to society.
I personally feel a sense of guilt about this, because at AOL and now even at my BookBrewer.com startup, I fanned the flames that allow anyone to publish to a community of interest — something that not that long ago was only possible for a newspaper, magazine, TV or radio station.
I firmly believe that digital self-publishing is the purest expression of Democracy and I’m proud of what I’ve helped happen, but where our society is gaining in some ways, it’s losing in others. People are increasingly getting their news from ideologically filtered sources, and even from commercial brands like consumer packaged goods (yes, now even Tide is a source of news and information!)
These new types of organizations and companies need the same basic training in truth, accuracy, fairness, research, and good writing that are taught in journalism schools — and currently ONLY journalism schools. And how will they get these skills? From their university.
This is About Society, Not Industry
Where I probably differ from some is that I really don’t care what happens to legacy media companies anymore, or the “news industry” as it is currently organized. Despite a lot of attempts (including by me) to help these companies innovate from within, I now feel that most are destined to disappear. Their problems go beyond their ability to embrace technology, and go straight to how these companies are managed and the business models upon which they’re built. Most will fail because they simply cannot save themselves.
Realize that this is quite a statement from someone who only a few years ago receive a “20 Under 40″ award from the Newspaper Association of America. It’s not that I dislike newspapers — I just don’t think their organizations have been able to change quickly enough.
This makes training the individuals and startups that are already replacing these organizations all the more urgent. As a society, it’s in all of our best interest to ensure that the next generation of “journalists” however that is defined are trained in the most important values that the news industry has fostered for centuries.
The Path Ahead
In closing, I urge you to think hard about how to provide the right mix of journalism education along with ample opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students of many disciplines to collaborate and learn together. If CU can graduate seniors who have hands-on experience working on projects — or even developing products — in conjunction with students who have different backgrounds and expertise (software engineering, business, content, community, and even entertainment) they will be the most sought-after graduates in the country. And society will be all the better for it.
If, however, you kill your journalism school and create a faculty-only research institute (an expensive playground), you will be part of society’s problems and not their solutions. Please choose the right path!
Posted on November 10th, 2010 No comments
It’s been nearly eight months since I co-founded FeedBrewer, Inc., and five months since drawing a traditional salary.
In the days leading up to the company’s formation, and especially before leaving the comfort of having someone else paying me, I’ve learned that I was actually better prepared than I thought. I should have started my own company a long time ago. But I’ll never forget the sleepless nights in the early days when I would wake up in a cold sweat, heart thumping, wondering if I was making a big mistake for myself and my family.
A good friend just moved to Boulder, and I’ve been telling him that he’s a startup waiting to happen. After he shared some of his fears with me I sent him the following in an e-mail. I’m sharing this more broadly in the hopes that others will benefit (but with personal information removed.
Are You Ready for Your Own Startup?
If you’ve always dreamed of running your own startup company, your temptation will be to think that you’re not ready. After 8 months I’ve learned that you’re ready if the following are true:
- You have planned ahead financially, which means having savings to draw on and reducing your expenses. Every true startup has to go through the “ramen phase.” No real startup is sustained on steak dinners. (The 1990s were an aberration in that regard).
- Your family and support network is on board. If they’re not you need to either get them on board (which can take a while), or change course. This can take time. Looking back, while my wife was supportive of my startup, I can’t say that she was necessarily excited about it. Something changed after a few months and she started to see that I was making traction. She started coming up with ideas, then asked to be involved. Then other friends, family and even neighbors did the same. This is the biggest factor in my startup’s success that I never considered in the early stages, but now consider essential.
- You’re passionate about what you’re trying to do. Your startup has to be something that makes you get up every day with a smile on your face because you know you’re building meaning, and because it makes you proud. Note that I didn’t say anything about money here. The promise of making a lot of money has to come second in my opinion, because otherwise the ramen doesn’t taste so good.
- You are passionate about building something that you own and fully control, and you’re comfortable with taking responsibility for its successes and failures.
- You want true personal freedom and financial independence. Someone once told me “Money is stored up choices.” If you think of money that way, you know that all the time and sacrifice you put into a startup will pay off one day with freedom. You can look forward to not feeling like you have to do certain things just to maintain your lifestyle, whatever it may be. My personal financial goal is to one day be able to focus my energies solely on things that I feel are making a positive difference in the world and/or are just fun. Everything else is secondary to that.
- You have a Plan B if your startup doesn’t work out on a predetermined timeframe. If my startup were to fail (and I seriously doubt that now based on recent developments), my plan has always been to create so much heat and light during its existence that it makes me infinitely more employable should I need to go back to work for a traditional company. Nobody ever faults someone for giving something their best, and every noble effort is experience that you can put on your resume.
I suspect most future entrepreneurs reading this will be able to say yes to 80% of the conditions above. The trick is to get past 1) and 2), and that takes planning and time. But in my experience, if you’re truly passionate about what you’re trying to do, you will do it. Maybe not today, but when you and those around you are ready.
And my last message to my friend was this: “When you’re ready I will be right down there in the trenches with you cheering you on and helping you any way I can!”
I will do this for any entrepreneur who I know and respect. Why? Because so many others have done it for me. I never understood the value of community to entrepreneurship and small business until I ran my own startup. Giving back to other newbies is my way to pay back what I received from the Karma bank.
Posted on October 21st, 2010 1 comment
It has been a while since I was a journalist, and truth be told most of my career has been more about supporting journalists or helping everyday people publish their stories without the aid of gatekeepers. But despite that, I am still a product of the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication (class of 1994). I received a lot of help from CU in my younger years, and because of that I will always feel a sense of obligation to help other CU students realize their full potential.
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on the school’s advisory board for the past four years, and signed a controversial letter in the Spring of 2010 recommending the school’s closure. Many were surprised at this, but it was a nearly unanimous board decision that was made based on the key assumption that “discontinuance” was a necessary step to create a more ambitious, cross-functional entity that brings technology and media closer together.
I put my faith in the multi-headed hydra that is the University of Colorado to hold true to that promise, and I backed it with my reputation. I’m sad to say that based on how things are unfolding, CU is failing miserably at keeping that promise. But I think there is still a last chance for the school to do right by its students and alums like me.
Tonight I delivered the following message to the “exploratory committee” that is considering what to do with the pieces left behind after CU’s J-school is shut down. When I learned that the committee is considering an institute meant purely for faculty and graduate students to collaborate on projects they want to work on with no opportunities for undergraduate students, I could no longer stay silent.
My message to the committee, and to CU’s administration — especially Chancellor Phil DiStefano — is simple. Don’t allow this horribly bungled process to destroy an opportunity to create a new, world-class educational opportunity for students who may very well create the next Facebook or Twitter. And I have to tell you, you’re really close to doing that. I’m profoundly disappointed in you and the way you have handled this situation, but I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt in hopes that you can make it whole.
The rest of my message speaks for itself:
Comments to the University of Colorado Exploratory Committee for Information, Communication and Technology
Dan Pacheco, October 20, 2010
Four-year member of the Journalism School Advisory Committee
My name is Dan Pacheco, and I am a CU alum and a product of the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication (class of 1994). The education and opportunities I received at this school allowed my career to blossom in ways that have had a large and storied impact on the increasingly dynamic and cross-functional field we call “media.” While my work spans multiple industries – including journalism, but also Web technology — I’m often cited as an example to budding new journalists about what’s possible for them and their future careers.
You may have heard of or even used some of the projects I championed:
- Soon after graduating, I found a job on the team that launched Washingtonpost.com.
- I spent six years at America Online managing innovative community and user-contributed content services that were used by tens of millions of AOL members in their day.
- I pioneered the use of so-called “citizen journalism” and social networking within the newspaper industry at The Bakersfield Californian and have been invited around the world to help other newspapers launch similar programs.
- I am a past recipient of an $837,000 Knight News Challenge grant to democratize magazine publishing, and as part of that fraternity I regularly blog on the PBS Web site.
- Most recently, I have my own brand new startup off Pearl Street called BookBrewer, an e-book creation service which Borders just chose to power self-publishing for its audience of 37 million.
For these reasons and more, I’m regularly invited to speak to students about my career path as well as my views on the future of media. It’s also why I’ve sat on the advisory board of the J-school these past four years.
I’m not one of those wealthy individuals who sits on a board in order to direct the use of his millions (I have none), or because I’m looking for ways to fill my time (none of that, either!) To be honest, I’m so busy these days in my career that it’s an ongoing struggle to give extra time to CU on my own dime. Still, I give on average a few hundred dollars a year at the full discretion of the dean, and this week alone I talked to three different classes for 90 minutes.
I sit on the J-school’s advisory board for one and only one reason: I am passionate about helping afford those same opportunities to students who sit in the same chairs I did 15 years ago. And in this age of rapid change, it’s why I have increasingly advocated for different, cross-functional and ultimately more integrative approaches to journalism education.
But enough about that. Let me share with you my frustration with CU and the bungled process that is alternately referred to as “discontinuance” and “exploration.” Then, I want to clearly outline what I personally believe CU needs to do in order to prepare students for the Digital Now.
But first, let me just clarify something. I want to make it extremely clear what I as a signatory on the Advisory board’s letter supporting discontinuance intended by that action.
With one exception, we unanimously supported discontinuance because it was seen as an important and necessary step to create a more multi-disciplinary program that would afford new opportunities to primarily undergraduate students, and secondarily to graduate students. Where it included research, it would be more focused on solving the problems of today and tomorrow, and less on studying nearly-dead media models from the past.
I personally also wanted CU to be able to offer a top-notch program that was focused on experiential learning and even research and development. I wanted students from other, non-content-related disciplines such as computer science and entrepreneurship to be able to work together. Why? These are the disciplines that are currently causing the most disruption and change to media, and causing legacy media forms to fall. They are also its future, if not its present.
But I’m also an optimist. Before signing that letter, I spent four years advising the school on ways to effect such change from within. Despite a few incremental improvements, the pace of change has been abysmal when compared to what’s happening outside the halls of academia. From my perspective, change has been periodically and systematically stifled by various self-interested constituencies within the CU Journalism School and CU overall, and these groups have grown adept at routing around change. After one or two semesters of incremental improvement, the organism always inevitably settles back into its old rhythms.
So it should be no surprise that after four years, I gladly jumped at the opportunity to support an even more radical change. I and all of my advisory board colleagues were led to believe that through discontinuance, CU could take down the cozy walls that allow professors and students to maintain practices that last made sense 20 years ago, then reorganize those disciplines in a more natural way that reflects the world we live in now.
And what are the changes that I personally felt needed to be made? To anyone outside of the Armory building, they’re obvious:
- A breakdown of artificial barriers between CU’s content, technology and business programs, just like in the real business world.
- More experiential learning opportunities for students that focus not just on learning the how and the why, but providing hands-on opportunities to create new monetizable information products that are focused on specific audiences and communities of interest.
- Less focus on research per-se, and more focus on research and development. It’s long been my belief that by pairing CU’s best and brightest student programmers, business and marketing mavens, and content creators that this school would create the next Facebooks, Twitters, AOL’s, Yahoo’s, and even Googles that would change the way people send and receive information.
- And perhaps most importantly, a continuance of instruction around the civic responsibility side of content creation – which is another way of saying “journalism.” Things like truth, accuracy, fairness and media law are more important than ever in today’s fragmented media world. By including the basic training and values of journalism at the center, we could also ensure that these future platforms create the kind of change that’s good for society. That is what journalism is fundamentally about in the digital age.
That was my hope from this process. What I’m seeing does not reflect those goals in the slightest. In fact, it disgusts me.
What I see happening after the discontinuance process began is so far from the vision I and many other advisory board members shared that it makes me want to publicly wash my hands of the entire affair, set the record straight about my own intentions, and leave you to destroy what was otherwise a golden opportunity to create a world-renowned university experience.
However, as I said I am an optimist. So I reach out to members of the exploratory committee and offer my hand to help you help yourselves, and by doing so to help students. I hope that you will rise to that challenge and really help the undergraduate student body, rather than create an expensive playground for faculty and graduate students.
Let me end by putting this in the personal perspective of a father.
I have two bright, beautiful little girls, 4 and 7, the first of whom will graduate from high school in 10 years. Like many children, both are extremely interested in creating content and having other people validate it – which is to say, they are future publishers. My youngest recently used her father’s “BookBrewer” product to publish her own eBook on Amazon.com, and was amazed when she saw it not only up in the Amazon store, but that it was purchased by four people.
Ten years from now, if my daughter is still interested in media and wants me to spend her college savings account to send her to a school that will help her be successful in communication-focused businesses, what will I be comfortable paying for? Let’s say I have two choices:
- Door number 1: A program that teaches her about the latest communication technologies, and also gives her the opportunity to work with students with complementary skillsets (such as coding) to create new ways to share information, and uses business students to apply cutting edge revenue models so that those products can ultimately continue beyond their university years. In a city like Boulder, which is now a world-renowned tech startup Mecca, I know such a program would give her both the skills and experience to choose her own job, and even the working knowledge to start her own company should she so choose.
- Door number 2: A media studies program that teaches her nothing about creating anything, but sets her up to be a critic of other peoples’ work. It sits alongside a research institute that has no opportunities for her other than, perhaps, making photocopies (if copiers even exist then). She graduates with few choices other than to enroll in graduate school in hopes of getting a Ph.D. and maybe being a professor, who maybe one day gets tenure (but most likely won’t).
My challenge to you: put yourself in the shoes of my bright young daughter and look at the students who thousands of parents pay good money to send them through your doors every year. Put them first, and you will also put CU first, as well as Boulder and Colorado.
Conversely, if you sacrifice these childrens’ future for your own career goals you will end up in exactly the same boat that the Journalism school is in today. You will be even more irrelevant, you will be deemed a failure, and you will close. I will gladly put the last nail in that coffin.
One year after the second worst financial crisis in the modern world, when unemployment is hovering at 10 percent, the University of Colorado simply can’t afford to sit comfortably in its ivory tower and remove opportunities for undergraduate students to learn and grow. This state-funded institution needs to do the opposite: give students an edge in the growing field of entrepreneurial technology-driven media.
This is what I expected of you when I supported the discontinuance process. Given what I am seeing, I now regret ever signing that letter. The most I can do now is to appeal to those who have been given the ball and urge them to do the right thing for the CU student body.
Entrepreneur and Former Journalist