a short riff on turning processes into products
Teaching new approaches to journalism and media content production is a challenge: Students often want a clear method, and I want them to develop traditional reporting skills, and also find new ways to find and tell the stories that really matter. To get them to consider both the challenges and opportunities that networked media offers journalists, I have developed a provocation, a question that serves as a kind of meta-method :
Can you turn your process into a product?
It’s a question meant to frame a host of practices in such a way that students feel that they have a contribution to make. It’s by no means an original quandary—colleagues across media studies are engaging with similar questions and experimenting with new methods and this very blog is evidence of this collective project and possible solutions. This provocation has become a refrain in my classes, an invitation to think of new ways to use social media and other kinds of networked platforms to capture their research process in a way that is useful to others. My hope is that the question can be used to frame a host of now familiar social media practices, in such a way that students feel confident that they have a contribution to make to the future of the practice and industry.
In media studies, a common theme we discuss and interrogate is how digital and network technologies serve to make what was once invisible, visible. Network visibility is a double-edged sword, on the one hand bringing to the surface previously inaccessible ways of knowing and facilitating transparency but also enabling surveillance and eroding privacy.It is this theoretical debate around the tension of network visibility and my own work on the aesthetics of circulation, that underpins my practical provocation, a question that wouldn’t be out of place in a design thinking course. How can media makers use the affordances and biases of the network to work smarter, not harder? How might sharing part of your process serve as rapid prototyping to improve your product?
Journalists, like academic researchers, have so many useful platforms vying for their time and attention; choosing which platform to use to share what and when can feel overwhelming and exhausting. The question”Can you turn your process into a product” reminds you that you’re already doing the work—how can you selectively make this visible without making more work. How can you take control of what you choose to make visible. How can you play the network? It becomes a kind of Duchampian thinking: How can you make an art out of the everyday? What’s ready made?
When I ask students how can might turn their process into a product I am trying to get them to realize and emphasize the importance of their process as well as their end products. Reporting a story is often a lot more time consuming than actually writing one. By asking them to document their process, I hope that they become more attuned to this. I also hope to tap into their own desire to work less not more; I want students to train their attention and make the space they need to be both productive and interesting.Being always on, posting constantly, documenting everything, will not only lead to burn out, it also doesn’t serve their possible audiences. In business speak: it doesn’t add value. To borrow organization guru Marie Kondo’s turn of phrase: it doesn’t spark joy. Just as with any kind of creative practice, sometimes the most important thing is what you leave out.
 Thanks to Annette Markham for pointing out the function that this turn of phrase was serving.