COLA Connections Newsletter: April 2015

Journalism Is a Process, Not a Product: David Cohn and Communicating Connections

Our School of Communication and other attendees were in for a treat when they had the opportunity to listen to David Cohn, Executive Producer for AJ Plus, the new digital arm of international media network Al Jazeera. AJ Plus aims to deliver content to new media audiences through mobile engagement and social media use. Cohn spent two days at RIT giving a series of talks to journalism classes and more, delving into the topic of where the journalism industry is headed based on his direct, diverse, and active experience.


His RIT appearances were part of the School of Communication’s professional development workshop “Communicating Connections.” The all-day event took place on Tuesday, March 3rd, in RIT’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies. Hour-long panels and presentations addressed a variety of topics and skills in the communications field, with three per hour from 9:30 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. The seminar was a community effort assembled by the school’s Dr. Ammina Kothari, assistant professor of journalism, and Keri Barone, senior lecturer in communication.


This was the second year for the communications workshop. In meetings with advisors for peer mentors last year, professors Kothari and Barone learned that communications students were requesting more professional development training in areas like social media, resume building, and cover letter writing. This lead to a small seminar last year, with a few outside speakers and panels. For this year’s, students have been asking for more, so the event was made into a whole day. There were more industry experts in areas beyond just media, such as public relations in art.


Cohn’s credentials are extensive and show a wide range of experience in the field over the last decade. Prior to his current gig with AJ Plus, he was Chief Content Officer for Circa, a mobile news service app released in 2012 that breaks down stories to the essential information for easy on-the-go reading. The program experiments with news content delivery, utilizing a card system limited to 300 words and one idea per card, as well as push updates for developing stories. Cohn was the company’s first editorial hire and said that he gained much from “creating the publication’s culture from the ground up.”


Alongside much freelance writing (for Wired and Seed magazines, among others), his focus has been on citizen engagement and crowdfunding; he helped found, an early journalism crowdfunding platform. His career exists at the intersection of media and technology, the topic of his 4 p.m. presentation in COLA’s McKenzie Commons on March 2nd.


His talk reflected the universal nature of journalism, given his motto of “Journalism is a process, not a product.” He professed that we need to be looking at the discipline as an ethos that can be applied broadly. Journalism should be more about being in the information business, rather than a specific medium’s business. He encouraged attendees to experiment with the internet’s possibilities like he has, as it is “cheaper and easier to try than to debate.”


The overall tone of his discussion was a very positive one, looking at the struggles of the journalism industry as opportunities rather than symptoms of its downfall. He talked of how storytelling is different for the mobile format: “Your news is intimate in a way like never before,” he said. According to him, his work seeks ways to “make it easier to connect with things that matter most.” AJ Plus has an emphasis on interactivity, utilizing quizzes and feedback alongside its video and text content. Overall, he said that journalism will figure out success on the internet on the knowledge gained from its productive failures.


The following day held the seminar, with its 21 highly informative programs. Industry experts discussed many extremely important abilities to possess for emerging graduates. Cohn’s talk about branding journalists took place in the first hour alongside a business writing talk by Lori Gable, journalist with Rochester Business Journal, and a discussion on how to apply a communications degree to the medical world by Kelly McCormick-Sullivan, former president and CEO of Pluta Cancer Center.


The morning continued with discussions by RIT faculty and beyond about website design, LinkedIn profiles, grad school applications, personal branding, and public speaking skills. Later in the afternoon, experts delivered presentations on topics like globalization, resumes, intercultural communication, and video editing. The day concluded with a panel of alumni sharing their experience of how they used their communication degrees toward their careers.

Seminars like this are great opportunities for students because they not only teach practical skills, but show that RIT is invested in the future of its students. For liberal arts students, sometimes this means the more skills, the better.