Helping Journalists Become Hackers and Entrepreneurs

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Journalism schools are useful for many things, including research into ethical standards, traditional skill development, and so on. Increasingly, some journalism schools are focusing on building their students’ digital chops and entrepreneurial spirit alongside interview etiquette and the correct use of off-the-record comments. One of the most recent projects in that vein is called Local East Village, a joint venture between New York University’s journalism school and the New York Times that launched on Monday.

The website describes the venture as an attempt to “help foster a journalistic collaboration with a third partner, our neighbors in the East Village,” and to “give voice to its people in a wide-reaching online public forum and create a space for our neighbors to tell stories about themselves.” As NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen — who helped create the project — notes in his blog post about the launch, the area of the city that the site aims to cover is already well-covered by local blogs, but the LEV site states that it hopes to bring the “academic and intellectual resources of NYU [and] the vast journalistic experience and high professional standards of The Times.” The LEV site also adds that:

We hope, too, to provide innovation: For years now the lines between those who produce news and those who consume it have become increasingly blurred. And so we hope to bring our readers even more into the process of producing news in ways that few other sites have tried before.

One of the most interesting features of the project is what it calls the “Virtual Assignment Desk,” which is an application — essentially a plugin for the WordPress blog-hosting platform, which the site uses to publish its content — developed by a team led by Daniel Bachhuber, who is the digital media manager for the City University of New York graduate journalism school. The plugin makes it easy for anyone who wants to contribute to the site to see what stories or events need to be covered so they can volunteer. Readers can vote on the topics or news stories they want to see covered as well. A video intro to the service is embedded below.

The LEV project started life last year as one of two hyper-local experiments by the New York Times: one in New York and one in New Jersey. The latter site folded earlier this year and was absorbed by Baristanet (a local blog network), while the New York project was expanded to include NYU and became Local East Village. The site is definitely entering a fairly crowded field; not only are there plenty of local blogs, but there are other hyper-local content options as well, such as Outside.in (a local news aggregator), not to mention AOL’s Patch.com, which has ambitious expansion plans. Not surprisingly, some of the response to the NYT project from other local outlets has been less than positive.

Whatever the risks, it’s refreshing to see schools like the NYU J-school trying something different in the hope of giving students some real skills — both business, journalistic and digital — that they might be able to use when they leave. Turning out typists and videographers for a dwindling number of jobs at traditional media outlets doesn’t seem like a great use of a journalism school’s resources, although many continue to do so (and not everyone is a fan of NYU’s entrepreneurial bent, as suggested by some recent comments from the Columbia School of Journalism).

NYU isn’t the only school to take the entrepreneurial tack: in Toronto, the school of journalism at Ryerson University has set up an incubator-style “digital media zone” that provides working space and resources for anyone developing a startup or service that involves digital media.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): What We Can Learn From the Guardian’s Open Platform

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Yan Arief

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