Firstly, tell us a bit about WiredAcademic.com and what you cover.
The blog started as an experiment by myself and another journalist named Elbert Chu in 2011. We cover higher education and how it's being changed by technology and money. We see the changes as a mix of good, bad and ugly and we say so. We are interested in start-ups in this space and what established institutions are doing with online learning, MOOCs (massive open online courses) and classroom technology. We're generally more skeptical toward the for-profit, online colleges as we think these companies have a hard time serving both students and investors adequately. We publish several leading thinkers in the education innovation space as well.
What initially sparked your interest in education innovation?
I'd written some education stories at The Wall Street Journal (on the side while covering business beats) including a page one feature about a non-traditional snowboarding academy in the mid-2000s, another about former GE CEO Jack Welch investing in an online college in 2009 and launching an online MBA program, and about an experimental high school for gifted youth at Stanford University in 2009. While doing these stories, I saw that technology was poised to disrupt education but, at that time, for-profit companies had stained and overshadowed the industry's reputation. In 2011, as I was moving to Germany for some fellowships, I wanted to start a blog to follow an area poised for economic disruption so Elbert and I picked education. We wanted to watch that space as business and tech journalists (not just education journalists). The blog grew nicely. Elbert and I both had fellowships (he at CUNY, me at Freie Universitat in Berlin) last year to work on the project.
How can PRs help with content?
We welcome advertisements for the site, sponsors for our e-mail newsletter and other collaborations that fit with our ethics and mission. Though our traffic has grown, Elbert and I have limited time to maintain the site with day jobs and other commitments. Having committed advertisers and sponsors helps buy back more of our time to report and edit content for the site.
Do you have any plans to add new features to your site or to expand it in any way?
I have a book manuscript I may sell through the site and Amazon.com in coming months. Elbert, Biagio Arobba (our programmer) and I have some ideas for other new products as well. But as the MOOC mania has subsided a bit, I think the enthusiasm around EdTech has slightly slowed. It may be that education disruption is in the 2nd inning of a 9-inning game. That means we can keep planning new products and ideas for release at the right time when the market is ready.
You were recently named Director of The Phillips Journalism Institute and Professor of Journalism at The King’s College. What made you get into teaching and what courses do you cover?
I've always enjoyed higher education environments and thought I'd want to teach journalism. The idea of teaching, writing for magazines and running blogs appealed to me as my wife and I have a 2-year-old and appreciate the flexible schedule. While I do miss the energy and excitement of a newsroom, I find that teaching brings different challenges and excitement.
This year, I've taught Intro to Journalism, Opinion Journalism (persuasive writing and speaking), Freshman Composition (College Writing I & II), and I'm advisor to the student newspaper (The Empire State Tribune). I'll be adding a business journalism and sports journalism course this coming year. John McCandlish Phillips, a legendary former New York Times writer, passed away recently so we are launching a small journalism institute in his honor that will do several things such as offering journalism training for undergraduates visiting from other Christian colleges around the country. Students from that background are, interestingly, underrepresented in New York newsrooms.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I prepare readings or grade papers while commuting from Long Island by train. Every day, I walk down Wall Street, past the NYSE to my office and teach no earlier than 10:30 a.m. and no later than 4:30. In between classes, I'm meeting with students or doing research, reporting or making calls for magazine stories and editing blog posts on Forbes.com and WiredAcademic.com. I try to grab lunch and coffees with sources, other writers and old friends when I can. Then, before long, I'm back on the LIRR grading papers and reading books.
Do you think the relationship between journalists and PRs has changed from when you first started you career? If so, in which way?
Not too much, really. The fundamentals and roles are the same. Social media allows the two occupations to interact more and in a smarter, less invasive way, which can be a good thing. We are also seeing some blending of the professions. For example, with a decline in some forms of journalism, some companies are offering their own thought-leadership papers, glossy magazines and blogs.
Do you have any guilty pleasure reading?
In Berlin at Freie University, I took a class on Cormac McCarthy and became hooked on his work. I've read probably half his books and want to finish the other half when I get a lull from teaching. I also read the NYT and the New Yorker thoroughly and a mix of other good news sources.
What is the best thing about doing your job?
I'm always learning something new, both as a professor and as a journalist. And the roles give me a lot of flexibility to pursue stories or academic topics that interest me. I also enjoy the knowledge-sharing that happens with students and colleagues. In my Intro to Journalism class, I have 20 students covering local news and features around New York City. Running this mini-newsroom and teaching a new generation of journalists reboots my own enjoyment in the profession.