Repainting Journalism

October 1, 2013

Last week, I attended a panel discussion about the Nieman Journalism Lab’s ambitious oral history, “Riptide,” at the Paley Center for Media in New York. “Riptide,” which chronicles legacy news media’s failure to adapt to the internet, covers 35 years of history, and includes interviews with 61 media leaders, including Donald Graham of the Washington Post and Arthur Sulzberger Jr. of The New York Times.

Despite the magnitude of the project, it was criticized almost immediately for being the white male version of this historical epoch. Only five of the interviewees were women; only two were black. Éminences grise, indeed.

Sitting in the back row of the Paley meeting room, looking out upon a small sea of gray suits, I couldn’t help thinking that the criticism continued to hold true. Not only were Riptide’s subjects white and male, so were most of those invited to the Paley Center to discuss and celebrate the project. The point wasn’t lost on Jeff Jarvis, professor at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, who tweeted out:

The story of journalism and the internet is hardly all in the past. It will continue to be written for years. And the faces of the new digital forms of journalism are changing — even if you don’t see many them at the Paley Center in the year 2013. With the generosity of The Geraldine Dodge Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and other funders, the NJ News Commons (led by women!) is in process of building this future. Two of our most recent initiatives intersected recently when, over the same weekend, we sponsored Hack Jersey’s “Law, Money and Politics” hack day at NJIT and chose seven winners of micro-grants to start new news sites in New Jersey.

Winning one of those grants and attending Hack Jersey were two shiny new news entrepreneurs building the future of journalism.  Shaodi Huang (pictured) and Chase Brush are co-founders of Muckgers,  an “online publishing platform for borne-of-the-digital-age student journalists, based out of Rutgers University,” which launched this fall on $520 in Kickstarter funds.

Huang, 20, is leaning towards becoming an Information Technology and Informatics major in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers.

Born in China, Huang moved to the United States with his family at the age of 2 ½, becoming a naturalized citizen the summer before his senior year in high school. A former graphics editor at The Daily Targum, Rutgers’ more traditional school newspaper, Huang is more comfortable with spreadsheets, graphs, and animated gifs than he is with straightforward writing. So it was no sweat for him to create data visualizations of Rutgers crime reports and when it came to covering a boring old groundbreaking, he pulled out his Canon EOS 30D and created a clever photo gallery of the event.

When asked what news site he admires most, it’s not The Washington Post or The New York Times, but The Verge, a video- and graphics-rich technology news website that’s less than two years old.

Another media entrepreneur who attended our Sept. 21 Hack Jersey event was Mark Gavagan, founder of, a website dedicated to “tweet-sized opinions on both sides of any issue.” Also an Excel ace, Gavagan quickly discovered that 8 percent of Gov. Christie’s campaign financing this year has come from Californians.

One of our micro-grant winners plans to help consumers find Obamacare in New Jersey. We’ve suggested that she start her work, immediately, on Facebook and move her audience, if need be, to a mobile-responsive WordPress site. After all, Justin Auciello built Jersey Shore Hurricane News’s audience of 216,000 on Facebook — creating one of the most envied and fasted-growing news sites in the state.

It’s exciting to find these new faces of media. As we write the next 35 years of journalism — using not just the internet, but mobile technologies, data and crowdsourcing — I think we’ll find white hair and gray suits making way for new and colorful generations of media superstars.

When I visited Shaodi Huang’s class at Rutgers last week and asked if I could take a picture of him to go with our story about the grants, he whispered to his professor, “I’m glad I brought a nice shirt.” I’m so glad it was a green check, and not gray.

Debbie Galant is director of the NJ News Commons, a project of the School of the Communication and Media at Montclair State University. It resides within the Center for Cooperative Media and is funded, in part, by contributions of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.