The next big thing

Sree Sreenivasan’s insights on teaching digital journalism, tablets and more

A conversation

Sree Sreenivasan is the dean of student affairs and digital media professor at the Columbia Journalism School in New York City. A self-proclaimed “technology evangelist and skeptic,” Sreenivasan teaches courses on social media and digital entrepreneurship, gives social media tips at his CNET News blog, and has amassed thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook. I had the opportunity to speak with Sreenivasan about the impact tablets and digital technologies are having on journalism.

How are tablets changing the news landscape? 

Tablets are dramatically changing the way people convene and think about content. They’re also changing how people look at news itself. Take the “Flipboard” app for the iPad. People think they’re reading the news, but they’re really reading the news recommendations of their friends. They trust their friends’ recommendations, and they are getting these recommendations via a tablet app. 

Digital is the world we’re living in. We have to teach people how to make content for mobile, how to capture the rich colors and experience that a tablet offers. It’s what we have to do to be successful. But, we’re only in 1996 as far as the tablet goes because things are just getting started. As we proceed, we’ll see more and more content designed specifically for tablets. These are early days.

How are you teaching digital journalism at the Columbia Journalism School?

At Columbia, we’ve been thinking about mobile generally and within the context of tablets for a couple of years now. It’s clear to us that what you’re discovering at The Economist is happening across the board. So we need to be teaching mobile and how it works to everyone.

At the same time, I’ve been teaching for 19 years now. I’ve seen technologies coming and going. The best use of time is to teach, in the words of my colleague Sig Gissler, ‘tra-digital” journalism, which is traditional journalism with a digital overlay. This means journalists are ready for the web, ready for the iPad, ready for anything and everything. Journalism is the delivery model; it’s the delivery format that is changing. At the heart of it, though, it’s still reporting and storytelling and writing and producing. That is the key.

Do you teach courses in the business of journalism at the Columbia Journalism School?

Traditionally, in decades past, we didn’t teach the business of journalism. Twenty years ago, we started to offer optional courses in it. You now can’t graduate without taking a class in the business of journalism.

There is a false view that journalists need to be separated from the business of journalism. As if figuring out how to make money would be bad for journalism. Journalists wore this distinction like a badge of honor. And when the industry started to face difficult times, journalists didn’t know how to make sense of these changes that were happening.

The great journalism innovators in history, like Henry Luce, were folks who understood the business side. We’re now in a world where everyone is working together. We need to produce new ideas. And we have to be serious about getting new ideas coming out of journalism schools and universities. We need to have more innovation bubble up.  

You can learn more about Sree Sreenivasan on his website, on his Facebook page or on his CNET blog. You can also follow him on Twitter at @sree