John Wihbey is an assistant professor of Journalism at CAMD and a writer, producer, and media analyst. He was formerly Assistant Director for Journalist’s Resource at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy and a lecturer in journalism at Boston University. His areas of interest include social networks, information-seeking behavior, access to knowledge issues, and sustainability and climate change. John has reported for The Star-Ledger (New Jersey), and produced NPR’s “On Point with Tom Ashbrook.” He currently writes for The Boston Globe, Nieman Journalism Lab, and Yale Climate Connections.
Can you explain your media education project, Journalist’s Resource, and how you intend to bring your experience working on this to Northeastern?
The project is an ongoing, web-based program, funded by the Knight Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York and run by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, to deepen the journalism profession and bridge the gap between social science and journalism. I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to guest lecture here at Northeastern in the past, and I have a few ideas about scaling this further in teaching. I strongly believe that we can help media students learn how, on deadline, to tap into larger pools of knowledge, data, and context to strengthen their storytelling.
With such a vast range of professional experience, spanning from radio producer to newspaper reporter, what advice do you have for journalism students who will be entering the professional world soon?
I think the core reporting skills – being able to ask intelligent questions, synthesize information efficiently, interview effectively, and write precisely and interestingly – have not changed. That said, I think it’s essential that students have a passion for new digital platforms and online storytelling techniques. Sure, the trendy apps and formats will change constantly. But one needs to be curious about new tools that can help us convey important stories to the public. I also think that carving out an area of content – a field, beat or discipline – where one has some expertise can be vitally important career-wise.
“I think it’s essential that students have a passion for new digital platforms and online storytelling techniques.”
Can you describe your research, as well as any projects you plan on working on while at Northeastern?
My research focuses on the persistent idea in the public that peer-to-peer connectivity radically alters how all news and information flow. At the popular level, there are seemingly a lot of examples to support that idea: it’s the fuel of revolutions, protests, consumer activism, etc. But we tend to judge things based on “successes” and neglect the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, important issues actually don’t get any public attention. Very few things are truly viral.
At Northeastern, I’ll look to write more about data and networks from both a news industry and consumer perspective and to continue pursuing my interests in climate change and sustainability. I’d like to be a part of some projects that harness the creativity and smarts of the amazing student community here, too, and look for ways Northeastern can both educate and serve the public good. It’s a wonderful place to be right now. I feel very lucky.