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For many year’s Medill’s School of Journalism at Northwestern University has conducted a wonderful investigative journalism program for undergraduates. As part of the program, undergrads researched criminal cases where convictions may have sent innocent people to death row. Now the program is (wrongly) under fire. From the New York Times: “Since 1992, Prof. David Protess…

Wrongly Convicted

For many year’s Medill’s School of Journalism at Northwestern University has conducted a wonderful investigative journalism program for undergraduates. As part of the program, undergrads researched criminal cases where convictions may have sent innocent people to death row. Now the program is (wrongly) under fire. From the New York Times:

“Since 1992, Prof. David Protess at the Medill school at Northwestern University has worked with undergraduate journalism students to investigate cases in which prosecutors appear to have taken aim at the wrong people. That might be about to happen again, only this time the students themselves would be the targets.” The students’ work has always been considered journalism, and has received its due protection under the law. Yet, now with journalism weakened both economically and politically, the professions enemies are emboldened to take it on.

From the Times: “And because of that investigative work — and perhaps work on other cases, which has led to the exoneration of 11 people, 5 of whom had been sentenced to death — the project and its students find themselves in the gun sights of Cook County prosecutors ... The prosecutors are seeking access to investigative materials, e-mail messages, course outlines, syllabuses, training materials and, yes, even grades, to explore the “bias, motive and interest” behind the students’ work.”

I encourage you to read the entire story. This is what I most fear as journalism undergoes its transition from print to digital, from professional to crowd-sourcing.

Posted by Joel on November 22 2009 • Journalism

Cultured Traveler

The New York Times recently ran this story on rare book collections that are more accessible than one might first think. I love touring libraries and rare book collections when I get the chance during a trip. Some of these locations are not far from home.

One example: The Linda Hall Library, located in Kansas City. For those who enjoy the history of science, as I do, their special collections includes copy of The Starry Messenger, “the revelatory book in which Galileo detailed his astronomical observations made with his own “spyglass” — the instrument that would later be known as the telescope.

From the Times story: “Treat it with care,” Mr. Bradley (director of science special collections) said as he gently handed me the library’s first edition, one of the more than 500 initially printed in Latin as “Sidereus Nuncius.” The library paid $38,000 for the book in 1988 — at the time the costliest book the library had ever bought. But it’s hardly the only jewel in a collection of 500,000 books, journals and pamphlets that make this private library among the largest science libraries in the world. Also in its stacks are Isaac Newton’s “Principia,” the 1687 book that presented his laws of gravity, and Copernicus’s 1543 “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres,” among other noteworthy works.

Here are some of the other museums that are highlighted in this Cultured Traveler piece:

The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library (2520 Cimarron Street, Los Angeles; 323-731-8529; http://www.humnet.ucla.edu) is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

The Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology (5109 Cherry Street, Kansas City, Mo.; 816-363-4600; http://www.lindahall.org). Hours vary.

The Library Company of Philadelphia (1314 Locust Street; 215-546-3181; http://www.librarycompany.org) is open 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. on weekdays.

The New York Academy of Medicine Library (1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street; 212-822-7321; http://www.nyam.org) is open by appointment 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday.

The Rosenbach Museum and Library (2008-2010 DeLancey Place, Philadelphia; 215-732-1600; http://www.rosenbach.org). Hours vary.

Posted by Joel on November 15 2009 • Books

An Upheaval

"The hard truth about the future of journalism is that nobody knows for sure what will happen; the current system is so brittle, and the alternatives are so speculative, that there’s no hope for a simple and orderly transition from State A to State B.” So says Clay Shirky in an interesting analysis of the future of journalism published at CATO Unbound. The economic model for journalism is changing to be sure, yet nobody is sure where it will lead. But Shirky makes some good points in his essay that can help as we begin to plan for the future.

“We can expect changes in journalism to be linked to changes in subsidy. There are many shifts coming, but three big ones are an increase in direct participation; an increase in the leverage of the professionals working alongside the amateurs; and a second great age of patronage,” writes Shirky. He examines each point in a bit more detail, so I encourage you to read the entire essay.

Neither the simple preservation of the old system of journalism, nor a full replacement of the current journalistic model will happen, writes Shirky. Instead the future is open for something entirely new and different. “The change we’re living through isn’t an upgrade, it’s a upheaval, and it will be decades before anyone can really sort out the value of what’s been lost versus what’s been gained. In the meantime, the changes in self-assembling publics and new models of subsidy will drive journalistic experimentation in ways that surprise us all.”

Posted by Joel on November 15 2009 • Journalism

The Vestigial Narrative

Joel Achenbach has a good piece in the Washington Post that tackles the question of text in a modern age head on: Is there less time today for the finely crafted narrative? The Web offers no way to read a narrative, argues Achebach. But does that mean that long-form journalism or fiction is dead? No.

“There’s endless talk in the news media about the next killer app. Maybe Twitter really will change the world. Maybe the next big thing will be just an algorithm, like Google’s citation-ranking equation. But Smith is betting that there will still be a market, somehow, for what he does. Narrative isn’t merely a technique for communicating; it’s how we make sense of the world. The storytellers know this,” writes Achenbach.

“They know that the story is the original killer app.”

Posted by Joel on November 03 2009 • Journalism