The new definition of literacy

Suzi Steffen pointed me to this post by Doug McLennan earlier. I like it. Doug writes,

I think the new literate goes beyond words, and beyond making video and image and sound. I think code and meta-data are the new literacy, and that in turn leads to a new literateness. Information and ideas are multi-dimensional. Those who can take dynamic information and mash it up and mix it and find creative ways of presenting it in service of ideas have the possibility of communicating in more compelling ways than with just words or video or image.

He’s spot on. It reminds me of something Matt said earlier this year in a Q&A session with Memburn. He said,

Scripting is the new literacy, and the ability to learn and execute on your ideas without relying on anybody else is going to be invaluable as you iterate and experiment on building something. It’s good to build for yourself first, because in the worst-case scenario where no one else likes it, at least you will.

That type of individual-driven creation and publication is something schools still struggle to grasp. Our school system must move quickly to adopt new ideas of literacy beyond what’s traditional.

I particularly like that Doug pointed out it’s more than the act of creation that makes for literacy. You need to do more than write, record, or photograph. A creative form of presentation is an inherent part of his definition. Your ability to use, master, and build those tools determines how much you control your path.

Notes for #J508

I drove down to Eugene today to chat with Suzi Steffen’s J508 – Reporting and Information Strategies class. It’s always a lot of fun talking with Suzi’s classes and I think it’s awesome that she brings in people to talk with her students. Something I wish had happened more often in my college education.

I promised the class notes from what I talked about so here goes.

Byproduct knowledge

One of the things I spent a while talking about was the idea that you can take all the byproducts from working on a story and turn them into something valuable. This not only provides an outlet for interesting information that doesn’t fit in your main day-to-day production, but also lets others learn from what you’ve already come across.

A tremendous recent example is the way Will Davis has chronicled the Bangor Daily News’ move to having an entirely WordPress-powered site. He’s created a development blog where’s he’s posting tons of helpful back story about the switch. Not only is a cool way of publishing all that extra knowledge but it also got Will, and the BDN some great press.

37signals also does a terrific job of this with their Signal vs. Noise blog. It’s full of great things they’ve run across and lessons they’ve learned while building great products.

Using multiple formats

Something else I touched on was making use of many different formats to tell your stories. Sometimes a story is just an image, other times a 3,000 written piece fits better. The great thing about the web is that your story can take whatever form is most appropriate.

Jeff Jarvis defines this when he writes about what it means to be a digital first news organization. He writes:

Digital first, aggressively implemented, means that digital drives all decisions: how news is covered, in what form, by whom, and when. It dictates that as soon as a journalist knows something, she is prepared to share it with her public. It means that she may share what she knows before she knows everything.

Handily there are tons of ways you can do this with very little cost. has many themes that support various post formats. Tumblr is another option. Twitter, in a way, is even another format you can use to tell stories.

Other tips

Something I forgot to mention when talking about Twitter is an insightful example that Marshall Kirkpatrick gives about how he tracks the future of the music industry on Twitter. If you’re stuck on figuring out how Twitter can help you as a journalist go read that post.

Marshall’s also talked about other ways he finds information at a couple of conferences at the U of O. Daniel Bachhuber posted some notes from one back in 2009. If you ever get the chance to hear Marshall speak about this stuff take it. I guarantee you’ll learn a ton.

Tools, tricks, and hacks

Something I totally neglected to cover was that for all your questions we have a really solid support site. If you’re stuck on how to do something or just want to see how you can make better use of the platform you’ll likely find the answer in there. If you don’t feel free to get in touch.

Instapaper was the first tool I mentioned. Like I said, it’s fundamentally changed my life and how I consume information. I really can’t recommend it enough. Use it.

Evernote and Simplenote were the next two I mentioned. These are like digital reporter’s notebooks and are really great buckets for putting information in to. I use Simplenote, which also syncs seamlessly with Notational Velocity on my Mac. While it’s limited to text the advantage is that all the files are stored as plain text files and can be accessed with any text editor. For future proofing your data there’s not a whole lot better than plain text.

I also recommend taking the 10 minutes necessary to get Google Reader up and running with subscriptions to your favorite sites. They even have a handy video that explains everything. Having automated content subscriptions that you check regularly can really help you stay on top of things.

Anyway, that’s it. I’ve likely left things out so feel free to ask me about them.