Spring 2010

Mapping nextgen media

From left, Resolving Door Instructor Daniel Schaefer, undergrads Patricia Kaowthumrong, Joe Ranero, Kelsi Cooke, Alex Kaufman, Rachel Archibold, Alison Foley, Angela Cotton and master’s degree student Jenny Dean.

By Kelsi Cooke

When students of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication came to their first Citizen Journalism class, they were expecting a lecture. They thought they would take notes, see how citizens are taking journalism into their own hands and learn how this new trend is affecting the news industry.

Instead, they were introduced to a class website called the Resolving Door with the slogan “Where CU Questions Go for Answers.” Think of it as a community website aimed at helping CU students get information about their surroundings by asking questions and waiting for their peers to answer them.

SJMC Dean Paul Voakes came up with the idea for this class last year after trying to answer the question, “How do you run a journalism school when anyone can be a journalist?” He answered his own question with this innovative idea: “The journalism of the future is likely to be a combination of trained professionals in a two-way dynamic with a participating citizen audience.”

From there, Voakes said he wanted to put this idea into practice by creating a special class that would allow journalism students to moderate citizen content.

“I wanted a hands-on experience that requires an extraordinary amount of creativity of the students,” he said.

Voakes applied for a grant from the McCormick Foundation. He received $110,000.

SJMC tech coordinator and doctoral candidate in communication Daniel Schaefer (MA ’04) manages the project and teaches the course, first offered in 2009.

“The journalism industry has communicated very loudly to journalism schools that it is undergoing fundamental changes,” Schaefer said. “As a result, these changes have directly impacted how journalism professors teach and what they teach in class. I’ve designed my course experience with this in mind.”

The Resolving Door website revolves around questions asked by registered users. Students in the class moderate the content of the posts and do other behind-the-scenes work. Queries are typically about CU or Boulder topics. For example, one user recently asked, “What are some good places to park for free on campus?” Four users replied, each suggesting a different location.

Students in the class also develop individual projects that use new technologies and help expand the Resolving Door’s service to the campus community.

For example, one student project attempted to make a CU campus map that is more intuitive and provide valuable campus information that students care about. Schaefer suggested using Layar, a free smartphone application that augments reality. Layar gathers content from a wide range of content providers and overlays the information on top of the view from the phone’s camera. In what seems to be the first news feed for Layar, Schaefer and students in the class developed the Resolving Door augmented-reality content feed of news and campus points of interests.

This makes the application more useful and relevant to students than an official campus map, Schaefer said. What sets it apart even more is that while users contribute the content, making it crowd-sourced, the journalist is still the one who synthesizes the content and adds the individual points of interest.

A new student walking around the central campus unsure of where to go for tea can point his phone toward Norlin Library and see that the Laughing Goat Coffeehouse is nearby. He can also use the application to see what others have written about the Laughing Goat. If it’s not enough to make him want to go there, the student can direct his phone towards other structures to see what they might have, perhaps choosing Peoko Sip House in the Atlas building because someone texted that it has the best chai in town.

One student in Schaefer’s class, News-Editorial junior Joe Kovack, said he was pleasantly surprised by how different the class was from his other journalism courses.

“I like the alternative structure of the class. It adds a more exciting element to the learning,” Kovack said. “It’s dealing with a lot of social media and modern citizen journalism aspects.”

“The business model with which journalism once thrived doesn’t work anymore,” Voakes said. He said he thinks that experiments like the Resolving Door will get journalists closer to figuring out what the new model looks like.

“Through experiments, we can figure this out. We will figure out a new way of producing and receiving journalism.”

Voakes said he hopes that the citizen journalism project can help to not only answer the fundamental question of journalism, but to provide a model for how to make it work.

“We should be able to share with anyone in the world that this can and should work,” he said.

While questions about how this initiative will turn out remain unanswered for now, Voakes and Schaefer remain optimistic about their role in this cutting-edge citizen journalism project.

“We are explorers exploring uncharted waters with new instruments,” Schaefer said. “That is exciting and rewarding.”

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