Hacking Online Journalism – The Local East Village Project
October 4, 2010
An interesting journalism experiment has caused some recent buzz, for better or for worse, on matters of journalism ethics, blogging, and student labor. The Local East Village, or LEV is a collaborative project launched by The New York Times and the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University to cover the East Village borough of New York City. It is presented as an innovative experiment to change the way that journalism can, and should be taught, in an age where such specifications as majors in “print” journalism are leading students to an increasingly obsolete job market. According to the website, the project is defined as such:
The site is designed to reflect our community, report on its issues and concerns, give voice to its people in a wide-reaching online public forum and create a space for our neighbors to tell stories about themselves.
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.
NYU isn’t the first to use this model, either. Ryherson University in Dundas Square, Toronto has created the Digital Media Zone as a tool for motivated students to build their entrepreneurship skills and create innovative new ideas. Says the website:
…the Zone is an incubator that offers workspace, equipment, utilities and services to help further develop your business plan, to network and to showcase your projects. This means significantly reduced start-up costs so that you, the entrepreneur, can focus on getting your product or service out the door.
Sounds familiar. Like a hackerspace(.edu), perhaps? Matthew Ingram got it right in his Gigaom article “Helping Journalists Become Hackers and Entrepreneurs”, but that’s no surprise. While inspirational, LEV is full of lofty goals for a news organization that is in a perpetual hiring freeze, and like so many other classic media organizations, struggling to keep monetary gain high enough to provide substantial income. It provides a good framework for redefining journalistic education for different media and a modern readership, by focusing students on building their tech savvy and encouraging entrepreneurship, all the while still teaching classic interview etiquette and writing skills. For all its promise, there are too many bitter edges to make it a true success. One, it’s placed in an area that is already frustrating local media with a lack of interesting material, according to Laura Kusisto in a New York Observer article. Second are the poignant conversation starters from an online article from The Awl regarding the ethics of using free student labor to keep a failing news media afloat, while continuing to give students hope that their over-priced journalism school degree will lad to a financially stable lifestyle.
Regardless of the negative commentary, it’s a trend to watch. Though the New Jersey equivalent has already failed, LEV is still up and running with content uploaded daily. The writing of the articles are strong, as should be expected from a team of undergraduate and graduate students and NYU, but the content seems stale. New York is a vibrant city with so many undiscovered stories, and it takes just one talented writer to begin to bring them to life. Though the LEV project may be short lived, it has created the opportunity to revitalize inspiration and innovation in online journalism, all the while promoting the downfall of the traditional newspaper empire.