Media Innovation at Northeastern University

IMG_1479Hedgehogs, geeks, artists and storytellers are all part of Jeff Howe’s vision for a new, journalism education ecosystem at Northeastern University in Boston. 

Howe is an author (Crowdsourcing, 2008) and former writer and editor at Wired. He’s now a Northeastern professor. He envisions a multidisciplinary, learning team at the university.  The idea brings together investigative reporters (he calls them the hedgehogs), computer scientists (he “lovingly” calls them the geeks) and graphic artists who can dream up new ways to visualize stories online.

“And finally a storyteller, because I will need employment in the brave new world, because I write long form narratives…We are in a period where narrative and story telling are more important than ever.”

This graduate level program for experienced journalists would have input from other parts of the university including business, computer science, art and design. Diversity is key.

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Click photo see video from Northeastern U

“The idea is to bring in constituencies that haven’t always interacted a lot, and bring them together in essentially a newsroom — a university newsroom.”

Howe is a smart, dynamic guy. We found a common interest, as we’re both developing new media courses. He calls his program Media Innovation.

“I think teaching innovation within institutions is really essential, because I think a lot of these kids are going to graduate and they’ll need to shake things up. It’s tremendously important that we make students aware that there is an option that there wasn’t before to create media startups and that’s very exciting.”

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Teams and Talent

tools smWhether you’re working on a class project or starting up a new company, picking the right people to be part of the team is essential for success.

“You may gel as friends, but can you work together?” asks Adam Dufresne, from Breakthrough Coach in Ottawa.

Dufresne says he learned the hard way. He quickly admits he made mistakes when it came to building his own start-ups. Now his job is coaching others.  He says people spend too much time making sure the candidate or partner has the right technical skills, without thinking about whether he or she will get along with everyone.

“Do they have the soft skills, can they communicate?”

Several senior journalism students have told me about the small enterprises they’re developing in their spare time. Some are starting blogs or news sites. They’re showing terrific initiative and passion. But often these students are working with friends that have the same skills, ideas and backgrounds. What they’re now realizing is if they’re going to take their projects to the next level, they need to invite people to the team with a diverse skill set, including coding and programming smarts.

“You need to do the same planning when it comes to talent as you do with areas such as finance,” says human resources guru, Margo Crawford, the CEO of the Business Sherpa Group.

Crawford says the entrepreneur has to define the problem his start-up is trying to solve by adding a new member to the team. And she notes in the early stages, a fledgling company doesn’t have time or money to make mistakes.

“Choose wisely.”

According to Crawford, diversity is key to a successful team. A company needs talent from different backgrounds and perspectives including culture, experience and age. But she says they also need to share a work ethic and long-term vision. And that includes money.

How are you going to pay your partners  – especially when there’s little to no start-up money nor revenue coming in?

Dufresne says you need to bring in people who are willing and able to work for next to nothing. But he says it also means you likely need to make these new members partners and define what cut they get if and when the company starts to bring in money.

“You need to deal with that upfront,” says Dufresne. “You need to work out the terms.”

What are some of the signs a team isn’t meshing?

“You need to watch for signs like, things aren’t feeling right, poor communications, or maybe productivity is affected. You have to listen to your gut,” says Crawford.

Impressive Innovative Students

I met two young women this week — 20 something, fourth year Journalism students who have taken a personal passion to the next level.

A lot of students start blogs, but these women have a blog that’s already attracting 2000 views a week, and they haven’t even started to promote the site yet. They’ve even started earning some ad revenue. But it’s all happening quickly and they want some tech help with their website before they have their big launch. These women came to me for some help with their start-up. I’m going to mentor them and I’m working on finding someone in Ottawa’s technology community who can give them some free web training. I’ve also reached out to Ladies Learning Code for some advice.

This project is just one example of arts students (in other words students outside the engineering or computer science faculties) who want to be innovators putting in the time and effort to follow a passion. It takes some guts, but I say go for it. The key is knowing where to go for help so you can make it happen. This is what the “Start-up Journalism” project is all about. Once these students are ready to start promoting their site I’ll post more information here.