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 J508Report­ing 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.