Expert Commentary

Leading journalists talk tech, transformation and diversity: Highlights from the Shorenstein Center, 2015

During the spring 2015 semester a wide range of journalists spoke at the Shorenstein Center on issues such as newsroom diversity, emerging platforms and audience-engagement techniques.

Throughout the academic year, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy hosts a weekly speaker series. Over the spring 2015 semester, these events have featured a variety of journalists and media thinkers, from David Skok of the Boston Globe to Anna Holmes of Fusion. A common topic addressed during this semester’s events was the role of journalists and editors in a rapidly evolving digital media industry. The following are highlights from this spring’s discussions, with a focus on advice and tips for journalists and reflections on the media landscape.

A full list of past Shorenstein Center events can be found in the calendar archive. You can also subscribe to the center’s iTunes feed to hear these and future conversations.


David Skok of the Boston Globe: “I can write the best lead for a story in the world, but if you can’t read it on your phone within 0.1 seconds, it’s irrelevant”

Skok, newly promoted managing editor for digital of the Boston Globe, discussed digital media strategy through the lens of disruptive innovation. Skok, who co-authored a report with Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen on disruption in journalism, spoke about the need for legacy media organizations to prioritize the user experience if they are to thrive in the digital marketplace. Skok highlighted examples of his work toward this goal at the Globe, including increased interaction between editorial, engineers and designers; experimentation with digital-first reporting; and a move away from traditional print release schedules. The importance of analytics, optimization for mobile and use of social platforms were also outlined in the talk.


Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post: “If you don’t tackle these stories this way, you’re going to lose your relevance”

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery received widespread attention for his extensive coverage of the events surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. In his talk, Lowery spoke about the need for national media to take a more nuanced approach to covering issues specific to a local region, such as learning more about the idiosyncrasies of the town and its people. Lowery described how social media have helped his reporting, both through posting videos and photos on Twitter to augment his traditional reporting, and by sharing the perspective of the people who lived in the region. Lowery challenged media organizations to earn their relevance and readership by engaging people on the platforms they use, empowering them to tell their own stories, and responding to their viewpoints and concerns.


Anna Holmes of Fusion: “When [opinion] gets in the way of facts and truth is when it becomes disturbing to me”

Anna Holmes, founder of and now editor of digital voices at Fusion, spoke about engaging the next generation of media consumers and her work to diversify contributors and perspectives within an organization. Holmes discussed her efforts to recruit writers who “weren’t the usual suspects,” and how the rise of digital media has helped highlight voices that have been marginalized at print publications. Holmes also cautioned digital media producers against an over-reliance on “hot takes” and advocacy opinion-writing at the expense of original reporting; and she encouraged young journalists to occasionally “try and adopt a neutral stance,” to avoid getting lost in a crowded marketplace of commentary.


Panel on sexism, science and science writing: Women and the need to “hack the system”

A multi-disciplinary panel of women in science and journalism  gathered to discuss sexism in the science lab and newsroom, and interrelated problems in both fields. Anne Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Chicago Tribune’s first female editor, commented on the challenges women face in securing senior positions at news organizations, despite increased numbers graduating from journalism schools. She called on hiring managers to require diverse pools of applicants for editorial positions. Jennifer Bogo, executive editor of Popular Science, remarked,“We know enough now to hack the system,” and she encouraged women in leadership roles to help younger women learn the skills and acquire the tools they need to advance in the professional world. The event was co-hosted by the Belfer Center’s Environment & Natural Resources Program (ENRP)Knight Science Journalism at MIT; the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy; the Women & Public Policy Program; and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism.


Meredith Artley of CNN: Five rules for modern journalists

Artley, editor-in-chief of CNN Digital, provided practical tips for modern journalists to help create engaging content and manage their presence across a range of platforms. Artley’s tips included advice on choosing the social media platform that best fits one’s area of journalistic expertise, rather than diluting impact across too wide a range. And she encouraged writers and content producers to think beyond the initial publication of a story to how they can engage audiences over time.


Jorge Ramos of Univision: Getting over “denial” about new demographics and audiences

Jorge Ramos, host of Noticiero Univision and contributor to Fusion, spoke at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on the future of news and Latinos in the U.S. Ramos began by questioning his own role as anchorman in an increasingly on-demand media environment, reflecting on the limiting nature of fixed timeslots for news broadcasts and challenging himself and the wider news industry to “morph” into “something other than a dinosaur.” He remarked that some television executives were “in denial” over the fast-changing consumption habits of younger viewers. Ramos said he’s bullish about the future of Spanish-language news and entertainment, noting that viewers of Univision’s Sunday night entertainment shows regularly surpass the ratings of channels that receive more mainstream attention, such as HBO. With the Latino population in the U.S. continuing to rise, Ramos expects the Spanish-language news market to continue to gain greater prominence accordingly.


Keywords: Shorenstein Center, news, technology, diversity, journalism, social media