New Journalism

Hosted by

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

One night this week, I went down to USC to talk to a class of graduate students in the Annenberg School of Journalism.

This might not seem like the best time to be pursuing journalism as a career. Not with so many traditional employers, the newspapers and television networks, stumbling toward a future of scaled-back ambitions.

But these students were upbeat about eventually finding a place in their chosen field. At least, they were as optimistic as students ever are when they look out into the uncertainty that faces them.

And I joined them in their optimism.

Not necessarily for the more traditional models of news and journalism.

But these kids wanted to talk about more creative and entrepreneurial models of gathering and reporting news.

Viewed through that lens, there's plenty for aspiring chroniclers of America to be encouraged about. If they have an aptitude for venturing out on their own and a bit of a risk-taking streak.

This week at LA, we mentioned a writer and photographer who moved in with an immigrant Mexican family in the Westlake district of Los Angeles, just west of Downtown.

The point of The Entryway, as they call their project, is to be embedded in a Los Angeles culture that many journalists in town never see.

They plan to learn Spanish and to live as many recently arrived immigrants do, day to day in the so-called port of entry neighborhoods around MacArthur Park.

This style of immersion journalism is always open to criticism as inauthentic or patronizing. After all, there are plenty of experts already on L.A. immigrant culture – hundreds of thousands live it every day. They could just be interviewed, or hired to report it themselves.

But this reporting method, by outsider who can leave anytime, also can yield wonderfully detailed and authentic insights.

Very few mainstream media sources devote the resources needed for this level of street reporting anymore. So I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

The Entryway project is getting financial support in a new way. It has aligned with Spot.US, a website that lets independent journalists pitch their projects directly to the public and ask for money.

If visitors to the site like what they hear, they can make a donation. So far, twelve donors have given $655 to The Entryway.

In the same LA Observed post where that project was mentioned, I linked to California Watch, a non-profit venture that employs former newspaper investigative reporters and editors to produce detailed reports for use in papers around the state.

Recently, California Watch fed papers a major project on the seismic safety status of universities and colleges – the kind of important but unsexy topic that the mainstream media seldom tackle any more.

California Watch has also hooked up with USC Annenberg on a multimedia project investigating hunger in California.

USC already has journalism students producing stories all over Los Angeles for a website called Neon Tommy, and focusing on South Los Angeles for a site called Intersections.

Every week, it seems, I'm posting announcements about a new media effort being launched. Or links to their stories, usually told online, and often taking advantage of the web's arsenal of multimedia and social networking tools.

Right now can actually be a pretty good time to be starting out as a journalist. Of course it helps if you don't have a family to support or a health problem that makes insurance coverage unaffordable.

A lawyer to keep you safe from lawsuits and help break down government stonewalling helps too.

But I'm optimistic that the business and non-profit models – the good ones, anyway -- will evolve to let journalists do good work and have a life.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.