Professor Barbara Iverson
Barbara Iverson is not a fortuneteller—but she does have a demonstrated knack for knowing what digital tools are on the horizon for practicing journalists. As Associate Professor in the Journalism Department at Columbia, Iverson makes sure that the graduate Journalism program not only keeps pace with a rapidly evolving industry, but remains one of its innovators.
Iverson makes sure that the graduate Journalism program not only keeps pace with a rapidly evolving industry, but remains one of its innovators.“I always see these new technologies and say, everybody is going to have this! But other people think, ‘What is she talking about?!’ because sometimes the technologies don’t catch on for another ten years.” For example, “There weren’t blogs in the late 90s, but [at Columbia] we had a class called Online Publishing—we taught students how to publish content on their own home page and over the years it evolved into other online publications.”
One of those publications is ChicagoTalks.org, a non-profit, local news source for Chicago and its many neighborhoods. Iverson co-founded the site with Suzanne McBride, who is also a faculty member in the Journalism Department. Stories for the site come from Columbia students and “citizen journalists” from all corners of the city. Iverson enjoys seeing how technology can enhance communication and get more people involved in journalism. “I’m no [computer] programmer,” she says, “I’m more interested in how you would use something. I like it when technology goes from really being at the forefront to when it turns into something that everyone can use.”
Her innovative digital courses are designed to complement the department’s dedication to the fundamentals of news and information gathering. This balance of tradition and innovation means graduates emerge as professional journalists trained across all media platforms.
Iverson began teaching interactive multimedia at Columbia in the late 80’s after she finished a Ph.D. in Public Policy Analysis from the University of Illinois at Chicago. When she moved to the Journalism department, blogging was a very new concept. “There were some adjustments in the beginning,” she says, of her first few months at Columbia. “I was a blogger, and they were very skeptical; journalists are very skeptical. On the one hand, they wanted a blogger in the department, but on the other hand, they didn’t exactly consider me a journalist. I’d written several magazine articles, I’d had a couple cover [stories], and I had to show that I could write news.” Iverson has no problem convincing anyone now. Her innovative digital courses are designed to complement the department’s dedication to the fundamentals of news and information gathering. This balance of tradition and innovation means graduates emerge as professional journalists trained across all media platforms.
“This summer I am preparing to teach a new course [called] Digital Newsroom, which will allow students to learn to do community reporting. It will help them focus on what communities and neighborhoods are, and then what local stories are,” says Iverson. This hands-on approach means students in this program are not just observers or consumers of news and information in the city of Chicago, they are active participants: investigating, reporting, and delivering that news.
In addition to a strong academic base and essential practical experience, Iverson knows that the preparation for today’s journalists must include tools for career development. “We also want to build a section into the [Digital Newsroom] course which helps students learn how to sell their story, because there are always new ways that journalists can do that.” She ends with another prediction: “Fewer people will have a job where they go to a news organization and stay there 12 or 15 years—they’re going to be freelancing and putting together their own careers, and Columbia will help show them how to do that.”