Jay Rosen and the Studio 20 experience

IMG_0019It was difficult not to make my first question to Jay Rosen – “so what’s up with this new, dream team media venture you’ve joined?”

Rosen teaches journalism at New York University. But he announced recently on his PressThink blog that he’s spending his 2014 sabbatical with NewCo. That’s the working name of the big project that eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar and former Guardian reporter Glen Greenwald are currently developing (among several others).

This is quite the “launch team”. Greenwald broke what has pretty much become the biggest series of international investigative stories of 2013 – thanks to Edward Snowden and his National Security Agency leaks. Omidyar has very deep pockets. (He’s apparently willing to part with a big chunk of money for this endeavour.) And Rosen has a solid reputation as a journalism critic and innovator. (Listen to NPR‘s take on Omidyar and his project.)

BUT – that wasn’t my first question, nor was it why I chose to visit Rosen. I had come to talk to him about Studio 20.

In this NYU class, graduate journalism students “focus on innovation and adapting journalism to the web”. They help develop cutting edge solutions for a variety of mainstream media companies. It’s a diverse mix of students including broadcasters, writers and some non-journalists with an interest in new media.

“Some are working in journalism and are frustrated with the pace of change,” said Rosen.

They come to NYU to share their skills and acquire new ones – immersed in what Rosen calls the studio approach.

Click here to watch video from NYU

Click photo to watch video from NYU

“Our method is to teach by doing,” said Rosen. “We do this with media partners and it always includes innovation.”

The current project consuming these 15 students (mostly women) is helping MIT’s Technology Review build a new, tech news aggregator. On the day I visit, the students are quizzing their client about his organization’s needs, interests and constraints. I can tell they’ve done their homework. They know the magazine and its content and they have good ideas about how to make this new aggregator a success.

“We’re like a consulting company paid in problems. No money changes hands,” said Rosen. “Having a real problem makes it a good problem.”

One student is the project manager. She takes copious notes. The final deliverable will be a report that all the students will contribute to over the next three weeks.

Unlike other entrepreneurial, new media courses, Studio 20 students work to create something new inside established media firms, rather than trying to start something completely new, from scratch. It’s a different model, perhaps one that helps understand how to change from within, as in intrapreneurship –something many traditional organizations desperately need.

This knack for innovating from within is something Rosen obviously takes to NewCo.

I did get around to asking him about that little project. He calls it exciting and says he’s looking forward to contributing to the planning. He’s just “one voice at the table.”

In his PressThink  blog post Rosen explains what NewCo is expected to be: “an up-to-date technology company resting inside the news company… also important: building a learning culture within the organization. (NewCo has to be its own J-school or it cannot succeed.)”

I’ll look forward to hearing about the kinds of problems Rosen and Studio 20’s class tackles when (if?) he returns to NYU in 2015.

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