MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload — the latest

We’re in an age of information overload, and too much of what we watch, hear and read is mistaken, deceitful or even dangerous. Yet you and I can take control and make media serve us — all of us — by being active consumers and participants. Here’s how.

Those are the first lines of the video that introduces our upcoming ASU-edX MOOC, called “MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload.” They are the course’s guideposts.courselogo

We knew there would be no shortage of material. In a digital age, we’re saturated in media, and a lot of it is junk. (Or, to use guest lecturer Howard Rheingold‘s framing, a lot of information is outright crap.)

We’ve done a lot of thinking about how best to present this to a wide audience, beyond the university students who have been studying the topic in my regular class at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. One way is to make this as up-to-date as we possibly can, in the readings and discussions. If you join us for the course, we’ll be looking at some very current events that illustrate key points.

Another way, and one of (I think) our best decisions early on, is to move this way beyond the standard lecture-readings-quiz format. How? By asking some experts in the media and media-literacy fields to talk with us–and people taking the course–about what they know.

Plenty, as you’ll see if you sign up. Here’s a taste–snippets from the videos we’ll be using in the course–of their wisdom. Such as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales:

and Margaret Sullivan, public editor (ombudsman) at the New York Times:

and Lawrence Krauss, an ASU colleague who’s one of America’s best known scientists:

and Amanda Palmer, a brilliant musician and Internet innovator:

You get the idea.

These folks are among many who were kind enough to discuss how various kinds of media work (and don’t); the vital role of journalism in our world; how we as consumers of media need to handle the deluge of information; and much more.

I’ve been saying “we” a lot in this post. It’s the only word that fits, because I’ve been working with an amazing team from ASU Online’s EdPlus and edX. CNN’s Brian Stelter (one of our guests) recently told me, speaking of his move from newspapers (the New York Times) to television, that the latter is “a team sport.” So, I can assure you, is a MOOC. This wouldn’t be happening without other people’s time, talent and effort.

We’re well aware that the jury is out on whether MOOCs are going to be a major way people learn in the future. Of course they won’t replace traditional education, I’m optimistic that they will be at least helpful, if not transformative in some ways. We all see this project as an experiment that we hope will move the genre forward.

Most of all, however, we envision this MOOC as useful–for you. While putting it together has been (shhh) a lot of fun in addition to hard work, the point of it all is to bring media and news literacy to a wider community. That’s certainly a goal of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which has provided funding to help us build and market the course.

I use the word “community” deliberately, because I don’t see the people who sign up for this course solely as students or members of an audience. We want you to be participants, in this project but especially in the use of media in your lives. We hope we’ll be helpful along the way.

A MOOC for Media Literacy

medialitSome news: We’re launching a MOOC — a massive open online course — on news and media literacy. The course (here’s the registration page) will be based on an online course I currently teach at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and will be open to all who are interested, at no charge.

The  MOOC, which has received funding from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, will be hosted at edX, one of the major–and rapidly growing–course platforms. ASU has become a member of the edX university consortium, and this is the first offering from the school. The course launches July 6, and registration is open now.

(Note: The media-literacy MOOC is not part of the ASU/edX Global Freshman Academy, which will be offering a battery of for-credit courses.)

We’re well aware that the jury is out, to put it mildly, on the ultimate value of MOOCs. Clearly they’ve been oversold in some ways. To think that courselogothey’ll take over education is absurd. Equally clearly, they have enormous potential. This course is experimental by definition, but we have two major goals: to make it a super-useful learning experience, and to learn from what happens in order to improve the next time.

One of the best parts of this project is the people involved. In the past several months we’ve recorded conversations with some of the smartest folks I know in the news and media-literacy communities. They include Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales; New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan; CNN’s Brian Stelter; media-literacy guru Renee Hobbs; and many others. We’ll be featuring these conversations in the course.

This is a team effort in every possible way. I’m incredibly fortunate to be working with the ASU Online folks, who’ve been helping me sweat the details and who know lots of things I don’t. A team of students at the Cronkite School’s Public Relations Lab has put together some great marketing ideas. PhD candidate Kristy Roschke, whose focus is media literacy, is playing a key role in the course development and will be the lead teaching assistant when the course goes live.

MOOCs are open in ways that most university courses are not. Openness is core to my work–such as the Mediactive book, on which the course is largely based, is free to read online and/or download from this site, and is available under a Creative Commons copyright license (“Some Rights Reserved”). I want to apply the principle of openness, as much as possible, to the new project. So I’ll be blogging regularly about how we’re doing this between now and the July 6 launch.

You may find this interesting to watch. If so, and if you think we can improve on what we’re doing, let me know. I’m looking for the best ideas, not just my own.

My class post on what I read (watch, etc.)

NOTE: For a digital media literacy class I’m teaching, I’ve asked students to do this assignment: Write a blog post of 300-500 words about the media you follow every day. By “follow” I mean, for example, what you read / listen to / watch in email, Twitter, Facebook, YikYak, Instagram, news websites/apps, and the like. Which of these are “news” in the traditional sense? Do you read news articles mostly from recommendations, or do you have some homepages you visit routinely?

Here’s my stab at it–a bit longer than what I assigned, but I didn’t have enough time to make this short. I promised to post by the end of the day today, and will add links later.

My daily media consumption is enormous, because I do this for a living. Here’s what happened one recent day:

When I wake up I briefly check email and Twitter. If something seems super-urgent I may open an email or click through to a link. Usually I don’t.

At breakfast, using a tablet, I go to the homepages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian and Financial Times. All of those outlets have a world view, and I want to see what their editors–some of the best in journalism–believe is important. I also check my RSS newsreader, which collects stories and links from a variet of sources I’ve pre-selected.

At my home-office desk:

— I check out a number of websites including Reddit, Slashdot, All Things Digital, BoingBoing, Talking Points Memo, Ars Technica, National Review, Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, Jon Stewart, John Oliver (when HBO posts his regular commentary), among others.

— I run Twitter and Google+ in separate browser tabs but don’t try to keep up with it all the time (though I confess I check them more often than I should.) Whether an important story or some ridiculous meme is bubbling up, I’ll be likely to notice it among the people I follow. I also check 5 Twitter lists I follow on these topics: journalism, the media business, technology, entrepreneurship and media literacy.

— Besides regular email, I subscribe to several mail lists on those topics, as well as a great daily list of five items from, a site that creates serendipity for me. I sort those separately in my email inbox, and read them one after the other. Many of the links have already shown up in Twitter, and many point to the traditional and other media sites I routinely scan.

During the day I’m constantly bouncing around to various media including videos (typically posted on YouTube and Vimeo), audio (NPR and others), and other websites.

After dinner I sometimes watch videos on our television, but almost never live TV. We subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and satellite (Dish). I record some TV series (e.g. “Justified”) and watch when I have time, skipping through the commercials.

On my bedside table I have a hardcover book or two (one from the library and one I’ve bought, the latter almost always written by someone I know), and a Kindle Voyager e-reader. I read for a half hour or so before going to sleep.

Takeaways (similar to what I found when I did this several years ago):

I listen to or watch very little broadcast media apart from NPR (or super-important breaking news, very very rarely).

My main sources of trusted information resemble some of the ones from several decades ago, such as the New York times. I get to them in some different ways, however.

In particular, several Twitter lists and Google+ circles (roughly the same thing; collections of people I follow about specific topics) have become filters of great value. I can generally depend on them to send me to information I need to know about. However, I know I’m missing some important things if I rely only on other people to flag things.

For me, media consumption is an evolving collection of people, sites, conversations, and entertainment. Much of it overlaps. It takes more effort on my part, but I believe I’m vastly better informed — and entertained.

My Media Habits: One Day

I’m teaching a media literacy course in Arizona State University’s online program, and one of my assignments has been to ask students to keep a detailed record of their media use — consuming and producing, but an emphasis on the former — for a day. (Maybe it should be a week…)

Here’s the assignment in detail:

For one full day, keep track of your own media consumption.  I don’t care if it’s reading a newspaper (in print or online), TV or radio program (broadcast or online), Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Twitter or anything else. Take notes. Then, do a blog post on your own impressions of how you get information and entertainment. For example, what are your main sources of news? Why do you trust them (if you do), and which do you trust more than others? Do you go to news organizations’ home pages or do you mostly read articles via links from other places, such as Facebook? A key question: What do you think you might be missing? Do you care? In general, I want you to explore your own use of media as a consumer. (We’ll look at media creation later on in the course.)

In the spirit of doing, not just telling, here’s my media use for Monday, Oct. 21:

  • 5:15 am: Wake up to a smart-phone alarm-clock app. Quickly check email.
  • 5:45 am: On a tablet at the breakfast table, check the New York Times homepage. Read a couple of articles including a fascinating piece about a Hungarian opera aimed at countering anti-Semitism.
  • 6 am: Before leaving for the airport, check to see if flight is scheduled on time (it is); print boarding pass.
  • 6:10 am: Listen to NPR’s Morning Edition on car radio.
  • 6:50 am: At the gate after checking in, an announcement tells us the plane were supposed to board is being taken out of service. Check the airline’s mobile site to see what is leaving later in the day if this one is cancelled.
  • 6:55-7:30 am: On phone, check out my Twitter feed, looking at stories several people have linked to, plus retweeting a couple of items and posting a tweet or two of my own (expressing annoyance at airline’s lack of information about the delay).
  • 8 am: We are told to go to another gate. Once there, read an e-book (in my Kindle phone app, on loan via my local public library) until we board.
  • 9:00 am: When flight attendant tells us to turn off our devices for takeoff, skim the San Francisco Chronicle, one of three newspapers I picked up in the frequent flier lounge). Catch up on the Bay Area Rapid Transit strike news; not much else of interest in the paper.
  • 9:45 am: On mobile phone, watch part of a saved TV show episode (Person of Interest, if it matters).
  • 10:30 am: On laptop computer, work on a chapter for upcoming book.
  • 11 am: When we’re told to turn off devices for landing, skim the Wall Street Journal (dead-tree edition), reading several articles carefully, including one about a broadcasting company’s expansion via what a critic calls a legal “shell game” that lets it artfully skirt media consolidation rules.
  • 1 pm: At ASU office. For next few hours, catch up on email, check Twitter, meet with students, read a number of news articles — via Twitter, bookmarks, Reddit, Slashdot, Feedly, Google and Yahoo News keyword alerts, email referrals, etc. — from sites including the New York Times, All Things Digital, BoingBoing, Talking Points Memo, Ars Technica, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Washington Post, National Review, Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, and many, many others. Make notes on some, tweet and Google+ a few others, send several URLs to ReadItLater for further attention. Do a quick post on my personal blog, pointing to my most recent Guardian column. Work on my opening statement for a debate in which I’m a participant on Tuesday evening. Work on next lecture for my online course.
  • 6:15 pm. At dinner in hotel restaurant, read a few articles from favorite tech and policy websites, some listed above.
  • 7 pm: Skype conference call: meeting of search committee for the next director of the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism & Media Studies Centre (where I taught part-time from 1999-2004)
  • 9 pm: Watch previous day’s Jon Stewart Daily Show monologue, then watch a film via Netflix (Fargo, a great 1990s movie).

A couple of things jump out at me when I look at this — apart from the immense amount of media use, more than most people (which makes sense since I do this for a living):

First, I didn’t watch live TV even once, and the only time I listened to the radio was on the way to the airport. (Note: I just edited this sentence to add the word “live” before TV, after a Twitter follower asked me why watching a saved show wasn’t actual TV.)

Second, my main sources of trusted information are in some ways a lot like the main sources 20 years ago in some ways — the New York Times, for example, as well as several other large media sites. But my way of getting to them is evolving, and I have many more trusted sources than before.

In particular, several Twitter lists and Google+ circles (roughly the same thing; collections of people I follow about specific topics) have become filters of great value. I can generally depend on them to send me to information I need to know about.

Nonetheless, I know I’m missing some important things if I rely only on other people to flag things. This is one reason why I go to the home pages of some news sites on a regular basis. The Hungarian opera story is one great example: I don’t think any of my automated (e.g. RSS) or human feeds (e.g. Twitter) flagged it for me. Serendipity lives in the new world, but the serendipity created by great editors is still pretty valuable.

Two decades ago, just before the graphical World Wide Web exploded into our lives like the Big Bang of the Internet era, my news/information/entertainment consumption was basically a daily sameness. Trusted (or mostly trusted) editors — including network TV people — put together reports, which could take or leave.

Today it’s a constantly evolving collection of people, sites, conversations and more. It takes more effort on my part, but I believe I’m vastly better informed.



I’m at the World Journalism Education Congress in Mechelen, Belgium, where I’m going to be heading a roundtable on citizen journalism and participating in a panel on media literacy.

Hundreds of folks from around the world are here. It’s the third such conference. I was at the last one in South Africa several years ago, and found it fascinating to hear how educators are doing their work in different cultures.

I’ll be tweeting from here and posting my conference talk slides later today.

NY Times Offers Multimedia Reporting Lesson Plan Using Current Events

The New York Times is offering an excellent lesson plan for multimedia journalism based on its Libya coverage. 

News organizations should lead the way in 21st Century media literacy. This is a good example of how it can be done.

IdeasProject: What Can We Each Do to Get Reliable Information?

Here’s a question I hope you’ll take a crack at answering, and not just because you might win a phone if you come up with the best answer:

What single thing can each of us do to to assure that we and our communities (of interest and geography) have enough trustworthy, useful information?

That’s the “Question of the Week“  at Nokia’s The idea is that once a week, someone involved in the project asks a question that sparks some interesting ideas and conversation.

Next Sunday, I’ll pick the best response. Remember, I’m looking for a single thing we each can do; you probably have a dozen good suggestions, but pick the one that will give us the greatest return for our time.

There’s a reward for the best answer: The one who comes up with it gets a Nokia phone.

Some background to my question, which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following our conversations here already:

We are in a splintering media world where anyone can commit a globally visible act of journalism — or deception. This means we’re awash in both good and bad information, and if Theodore Sturgeon’s maxim is true, most of it is crud. But with the huge amount of new stuff out there, this also means that there’s an enormous amount of good stuff, too.

So how do we sort the good from the bad? I’ve discussed it at some length in my own new project, but I’d like to be sure I haven’t missed anything.

To answer the question, visit to get directly to the Question of the Week. I’ll be updating here and on Twitter during the week. Please use the hashtag “#ideasproject”.

While you’re visiting, be sure to spend a little time looking at the other folks who’ve contributed not just the weekly questions but a whole variety of other thoughts, including Clay Shirky, Charlene Li, Robert Scoble and many others.

Several disclosures: Nokia is giving me one of their Netbooks in return for participating in this feature; I plan to donate it to a local school. In addition, in 2009 Nokia purchased, a company I co-founded. I also have friends at Nokia, and the company gave us some phones several years ago to do mobile experiments as part of student projects.


Teach Journalists (and Students) and Business

(Here’s another excerpt from my upcoming book.)

Throughout my print-journalism career, I worked hard to stay at the edges of organization charts—the lower edges. I had opportunities to run several publications, but in the end I decided that my best role at the time was reporting, writing and (as a columnist) being an advocate. I admire many of the editors I’ve known, and have had some great bosses. But I’ve steered clear of the hiring and firing role, and—though I ran the business affairs of a group of musicians in an earlier career—I never had to make a payroll in the print media business.

Most traditional journalists have also been insulated from the business side of journalism, but not because they’ve chosen to steer clear of it—others have steered them away. Management requires them to keep away from the advertising department, as if they’d get a terminal disease if they had much contact.

This separation of church and state, as we journalists called it with such hubris, came from good motives: not to allow the advertisers—the main customers of the newspaper, if the people who supply the most revenues are the main customers—to dictate or, allegedly, even influence news coverage. This separation was always something of a fiction, given publishers’ and broadcasting station managers’ business duties and influence over the people who worked for them, but it did serve a purpose.

Unfortunately, ivory-tower isolation had more than one downside. In particular, it served, especially during the monopoly and oligopoly decades, to insulate journalists from any semblance of reality about the industries in which they worked. So when the financial underpinnings started getting shaky, more than a decade ago, the journalists were too willing cover their eyes and ears and pretend nothing was wrong. And, later, when reality arrived, layoffs and staff buyouts gathered momentum, and news organizations started getting sold to even greedier owners, the journalists suspended belief as the new owners promised they had “no plans” for further cutbacks.

My experiences on the business side of life, both early in my adulthood and more recently as co-founder of a failed startup, investor, and co-founder of a successful startup, persuade me that one of 20th century pro journalism’s cardinal flaws has been the church-state wall. By all means, tell advertisers (and mean it) that they don’t run the news operations. But a journalist who has no idea how his industry really works from a business perspective is missing way too much of the big picture.

If I ran a news organization today (or a journalism school), I’d insist that the journalists understood, appreciated and embraced the new arena we all inhabit—and that emphatically includes how business works. They’d understand the variety of financial models that support media, especially the organization they worked for, and would be versed in the lingo of CPM, SEO, and the like. I would not ask journalists to grub for the most page views, a new trend that tends to bring out the worst in media, but would very much want them to know what was happening in all parts of their enterprise, not just the content area.

The Future of Journalism Education

Next week I’ll be attending a one-day conference at the Paley Center for Media in New York. The center and the Carnegie Corp. are asking what the future of journalism education should be — who should do it, how it should be done, and for what purpose.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, and have blogged a number of ideas in the past several years, and one chapter in my upcoming book, Mediactive, will look closely at media education. Here’s an excerpt:

If I ran a journalism school, I would start with the same basic principles of honorable, high-quality journalism and mediactivism, and embed them at the core of everything else. If our students didn’t understand and appreciate them, nothing else we did would matter very much.

With the principles as the foundation, I would, among many other things:

  • Emphasize undergraduate journalism degrees as great liberal arts programs, even more valuable that way than as training for journalism careers. At the same time, focus graduate journalism studies on helping people with expertise in specific areas to be the best possible journalists in their fields.
  • Do away with the still-common “track” system for would-be journalists where students focus on print, broadcast, online, etc. These are merging. There would be one track. We wouldn’t just recognize our students’ digital future; we’d immerse them in it.
  • Encourage, and require in some cases, cross-disciplinary learning and doing. We’d create partnerships around the university, working with business, engineering/computer science, film, political science, law, design and many other programs. The goals would be both to develop our own projects and to be an essential community-wide resource for the future of local media.
  • Teach students not just the basics of digital media but also the value of data and programming to their future work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to become programmers; but they absolutely need to know how to communicate with programmers. We’d also encourage computer science undergraduates to become journalism graduate students, so they can help create tomorrow’s media.
  • Require all students to learn basic statistics, survey research and fundamental scientific methodology. The inability of journalists to understand what they’re reading is one of journalism’s — and society’s — major flaws.
  • Encourage a research agenda with deep connections to key media issues of today. More than ever, we need solid data and rigorous analysis. And translate faculty research into language average people can understand as opposed to the dense, even impenetrable, prose that’s clear (if it really is) only to readers of academic journals.
  • Require all journalism students to understand business concepts, especially those relating to media. This is not just to cure the longstanding ignorance of business issues in the craft, but also to recognize that today’s students will be among the people who develop tomorrow’s journalism business models. We’d discuss for-profit and not-for-profit methods, and look at advertising, marketing, social networking, and search-engine optimization, among many other elements.
  • Make entrepreneurship a core part of journalism education. Arizona State University, where I’m working, is among several schools working on this, and the early experiments are gratifying. Several of our student projects have won funding. At City University of New York, Jeff Jarvis has received foundation funding for student projects to continue after the class is over, based on semester-ending competitive “pitches” to a judging panel of journalists and investors. We need to see more and more of these and other kinds of experiments.
  • Recognize that not all, and probably not most, students will end up as entrepreneurs. But they will all come to appreciate two key elements of entrepreneurship. One is the notion of taking ownership of a process and outcome. The other, which may be the most important single thing students — of all kinds — need in this fast-changing world is an appreciation of ambiguity, and the ability to deal with it. This means reacting to changes around us, being flexible and swift when circumstances change. Ambiguity is not something to fear; it is part of our lives, and we need to embrace it.
  • In a related area, recognize that many of our best students, particularly the ones with a genuine entrepreneurial bent, will not graduate as scheduled, if ever. They’ll create or join startups while they have the passion and energy, and we should encourage them to try.
  • Appreciate our graduates no matter where their careers have taken them. If we understand that journalism education is a valuable step into any number of professions, we should not just celebrate the graduates who’ve gone on to fame (if not fortune) in journalism, but also those who’ve made marks in other fields.
  • Persuade the president (or chancellor or whatever the title) and trustees of the university that every student on the campus should learn journalism principles and skills before graduating, preferably during freshman year. At State University of New York’s Stony Book campus, the journalism school has been given a special mandate of exactly this kind. Howard Schneider, a former newspaper journalist who now is dean of Stony Brook’s journalism school, won foundation funding to bring news literacy into the university’s broader community, not just those enrolled in journalism courses.
  • Create a program of the same kind for people in the community, starting with teachers. Our goal would be to help schools across our geographical area bring mediactivism to every level of education—not just college, but also grade, middle, and high school. We would offer workshops, conferences and online training.
  • Offer that program, or one like it, to concerned parents who feel overwhelmed by the media deluge themselves, to help turn them into better media consumers and to give them ways to help their children.
  • Keep what we now call public relations as part of the mission, but move it into a separate program. Call it “Persuasion,” and include marketing and other kinds of non-journalistic advocacy in this category. As we recognize that the lines are blurring, sometimes uncomfortably, we’ll require all journalism students to learn the techniques of persuasion. But Persuasion majors would conversely be steeped in the principles of honorable media creation.
  • Provide for-fee training to communicators who work in major local institutions, such as PR and marketing folks from private companies, governmental organizations, and others. If they could be persuaded that the principles matter, they might offer the public less BS and more reality, and we’d all be better off for the exercise.
  • Enlist another vital player in the effort to help people appreciate the value of solid, ethical journalism: local media of all kinds, not just traditional media. Of course, as noted earlier, they should be making this a core part of their missions, given that their own credibility would rise if they helped people understand the principles and process of quality journalism. But we’d very much want to work with local new media organizations and individuals, too.
  • Advise and train citizen journalists to understand and apply the principles and best practices. They are going to be an essential part of the local journalism ecosystem, and we should reach out to show them how we can help.
  • Augment local media with our own journalism. We train students to do journalism, after all, and their work should be widely available in the community, particularly when it fills in gaps left by the shrinking traditional media. At Arizona State, the Cronkite News Service provides all kinds of coverage of topics the local news organizations rarely cover, making our students’ work available to those organizations. Soon, we’ll be publishing it ourselves on our own website.

All this suggests a considerably broader mission for journalism schools and programs than the one they’ve had in the past. It also suggests a huge opportunity for journalism schools. The need for this kind of training has never been greater. We’re not the only ones who can do it, but we may be among the best equipped.

Note: Seth Lewis at the Nieman Journalism Lab is looking for ideas in this space. He’s dead-on in wanting to see students come out of the experience with great flexibility, and his piece has already attracted some excellent comments.