Cronkite School “Innovation Chief”

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As the news business continues to change, Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has named a new “Innovation Chief” to help journalism education keep pace. Eric Newton, who will lead innovation projects at the Cronkite school, will talk about his new role.

TED SIMONS: ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has a new innovation chief. He is Eric Newton and he will help students keep pace with a rapidly changing industry. Good to see you. We've had you on before talking about the future.

ERIC NEWTON: Thanks for having me.

TED SIMONS: Innovation chief: What does that mean?

ERIC NEWTON: Since there hasn't been one before we're not entirely sure. But suppose you could in journalistic terms say it's to help people do new things. Help journalism change as the times are changing. If there's anything we know about the news business, journalism business, it's that the digital age, the digital revolution has turned traditional journalism upside down and inside out.

TED SIMONS: How do you then handle what has been turned upside down and inside out and go to students and say, here's what to expect in the future? You're moving the goal posts, aren't you?

ERIC NEWTON: Well, it is not -- it is not only journalism that faces this kind of thing. I mean, the digital revolution is changing education, it's changing government, it's changing business. And you can be, you know, blockbuster and continue to rent DVDs and videotapes until you're out of business or you can be NetFlix. You have a choice of whether to engage with the digital changes going on or not. Even though this is the first time leaders of the news industry are saying they are not sure what the future is, you can still help students get ready.

TED SIMONS: And as far as -- and at Cronkite News at the Cronkite School, it's going to be a test bed of ideas? Talk to us about that.

ERIC NEWTON: The cuts in American journalism, the commercial side of the American journalism have been severe over the last 10 years. Daily newspapers, which do the lions share of local news in America have lost 50% of their revenue. 20,000 newsroom journalists are out of work now compared to 10 years ago. What's happening is that journalism schools are stepping up and providing more local news, the way that a teaching hospital teaches doctors. The journalism students do actual news, and learn by doing in an immersive learning environment. A lot of journalism schools are doing that kind of thing. What Cronkite wants to do is do news that way, but also do experiments with new ideas for innovations for news and journalism.

TED SIMONS: So innovations, what kind of innovations? What kind of experiments are within focus, are viable, are out there and can be without giving away what you plan on doing here, if you even know. Innovation changes every day. What's viable out there? What can you do?

ERIC NEWTON: There are a variety of new forms of journalism that are emerging. Who a journalist is what's been marked a story is what medium is appropriate and how you handle a new interactive relationship with your community, all of that, the who, what, when, where and how of journalism is changing. What's not changing is the why of journalism. Why do we need programs like this. What do they do in society. Do we continue to need an independent flow of, you know, accurate and context wall information to run our governments and our lives. The answer to that is yes. What we have to do is experiment with many different kinds of ways of doing that. And there are hundreds or thousands of different possibilities and different schools are doing different things across the country. The way a medical school might create a new burn protocol or a new heart transplant protocol or infant ICU, all of these things invented at medical schools. Some journalism schools are creating new kind of digital tools used by professionals around the country. And so the foundation where I worked previously, Knight Foundation, has funded a great number of new tools and techniques. But we see that adoption of these is uneven. And so at Cronkite they will be able to experiment with many, many of those and many others. And ones they think of themselves.

TED SIMONS: Like in the old days, if you wanted to get into journalism you wrote it, a broadcaster, you were a newspaper daily or a monthly or a magazine. That all has changed, the one man band replaces the reporter in the field and you need to be able to write a bunch of other things. Will you also get all of these new talents that we're not even aware of, how do you teach kids something that still seems like it's futuristic?

ERIC NEWTON: Robinson talks about the most important quality a student can have now is creativity. What you don't want to do is beat the creativity out of them in the education process. And so helping students learn how to be entrepreneurial, how to invent new things how to adapt things they have just learned about, how to work in open and collaborative groups. Journalism used to be the guy at the typewriter, you stare at the blank piece of paper until the beads of blood form on your forehead, the lone wolf. Teaches people how to work in small groups like the start-up companies that some of them are joining. So there are new kinds of skillsets, teaching students how to teach themselves. Because in the internet age a lot more learning occurs than what people can be taught.

TED SIMONS: All sounds great, sounds innovative, sounds exciting. Where does the marketplace fit into all this? Or should the marketplace? Are we headed toward a nonprofit news future?

ERIC NEWTON: I don't know. I think it's going to be different in every community. America is a big country and I think about it like ecosystems. There are actually news deserts around the country where the amount of local news they have has shriveled up. You can find out what's going on on the other side of the world but not at your school board. People are taking a lot of different approaches to that. There are new commercial start-ups like the old mom and pop weekly newspaper, there are hundreds of those across the country. There's nonprofit news start-ups. There are many, many of those. Public broadcasting is doing new and different things and increasing the news that's coming through public broadcasting. And people are using volunteer systems. Friends of the library in small towns and other places where they are getting together and reporting their own news for themselves.

TED SIMONS: These changes, good changes as far as you can see? Are they not so -- are we losing a little bit of the truth or context? Are people -- people used to say they bring in a new anchor to town and the guy couldn't pronounce half of the cities in the region. Are we going to see a mile wide and an inch deep out there? What's happening?

ERIC NEWTON: It's the most wonderful, horrible thing you could think of. Everything good you could imagine is probably going to happen, and everything bad you can imagine is probably going to happen. All digital technologies are tools. And we can use them to do much better journalism than we did before. You can use tools like document cloud to go through a massive number of documents that -- going through them by hand would be like the scene from "all the President's men" where woodward and burn 16 were going through the file cards by hand. Now you can do things in hours that would take days or weeks, with these new tools. The same digital age is what's called the revenue drain out of traditional media. So where it could take one journalist a give him the power of ten, it could take away the other nine because of economic cuts.

TED SIMONS: And again, your job is now to take the new ideas what, you see happening and what maybe you're going to see happening here in the future, and teaching students these sorts of things. Excited about it?

ERIC NEWTON: Sure. I mean, students have great capacity -- students can do a lot more than some people give them credit for. Law students do real lawsuits and it can take them all the way to the Supreme Court. Medical students save people's lives. Journalism students with the right environment, the right professionals and professors around them can do some of their most important journalism. Here at Arizona State there's a project called News 21 which happens every year, it's an investigative project. Students from around the country come here. They take on some of the most difficult stories there are to do, and they do them from major media outlets and it's an amazing educational experience. They get jobs in the industry at higher rates than the average students.

TED SIMONS: Last question: Before you go, is the future of journalism -- are we going to look back even on these days and say, I can't believe there was a monolithic radio station, television. Are those days gone? Is it so spread out that everyone picks and chooses and you're not going to have your Walter Cronkites anymore?

ERIC NEWTON: It's an odd transition period. The digital age has taken away the fence and the gate. We talked about the mass media as being the gatekeepers of the news. Now the fence and the gate are gone. A lot of people are still walking through where the gate used to be. They have news habits. We're seeing simultaneously massive numbers of people still consuming news in traditional mass media ways and very, very large numbers of milliennials consuming news in different new ways.

TED SIMONS: Congratulations on the appointment and good luck this semester and for future years. Good to have you here.

ERIC NEWTON: Thanks, Ted, glad to be here.

Eric Newton:Cronkite School Innovation Chief

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