Sunday, March 04, 2012

Hey Mom! I'm a Journalist. I guess!

My 4freeCLE Newsletter has several hundred subscribers now (not counting hundreds more on the Twitterfeed) so, in some sense, I'm a journalist now, covering the admittedly specialized area of free continuing legal education. It's a small beat, but a proud one!
I first published a newsletter back in high school, using a mimeograph with every word and drawing cut into a waxed-paper stencil, and every bit of ink squirted onto rollers that I cranked by hand, with my friend Martin Murphy and who-ever else was helping. How I wish I had those newsletters now! They were probably aweful, but they were awefully fun!
Now-a-days, I publish on the internet, via Constant Contact, blogspot and twitter. I'm ad-supported, just like many paper journals, and very very concerned that the content I provide my readers meets their needs, so they'll read more, pass it on to their friends, and click on the ads! I imagine it couldn't hurt to look at a few real journalists to see how they do it and pick up a few tips.
One thing about this style of journalism is that the ethics are intrinsic to the business model. I might get a tiny bump in readership if I posted a totally bullshit headline, but then the Golden Goose would be dead dead dead; everyone would unsubscribe, no-one would forward, and revenue would be zero. There's nothing at all wrong with a business model that requires ethical conduct, but it's worth pondering what it is about this market's structure that requires it - perhaps it's that customers find it infinitely easy to evaluate bullshit and to find alternative!
Here's last week's newsletter - I thought the Provider profiled is especially interesting:
4freeCLE: The Free CLE Newsletter!Feb 27, 2012
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Provider Profile:
The Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction

This week we introduce an exceptional provider of free CLE: the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI).
It must be stated at the outset that CALI did not necessarily set out to create CLE, yet its products in many cases are exceptional contributions to the free CLE space.  
CALI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit consortium of over 200 US law schools. Among its products is
"Topics In Digital Law Practice" (TDLP), a program takes a new approach to legal education. This nine-session webinar invites participant interaction and collaboration during and after each session!
TDLP was developed originally for law faculty and students, but is of utility to lawyers and technologists as well, and
open to any person anywhere.
Each weekly, one-hour class is delivered via webcast and has an expert lecture followed by a question & answer period and an online, interactive homework assignment for all course students to complete. This interactivity offers an exceptional educational value; how often have you wanted to hang around after a CLE and talk things over with the other participants, but didn't because you had to rush off to some other business?
The "homework" feature is a great innovation! Traditional CLE lectures fail educationally, because they do not require participants to process the imparted information into their own product. In contrast, producing homework requires attorneys to work through the lecture content and actually demonstrate understanding. Participants can skip this step, but those seeking CLE for the sake of education will use homework to make the experience far more effective.
In addition, TDLP lectures are recorded and posted on the web, so you may review the material as often as you wish, far into the future - and share it with colleagues!
Finally, each course includes a wiki and posts homework results. Participants can interact and network long after the live course. How much more useful is this than exchanging business cards!  Participant contributions show all other participants, and anyone on the web, how well they understand the material and may extend it! 
CALI offers lawyers this exceptionally effective educational opportunity. The only hitch is that attorneys must assume responsibility for applying for credit with their own state. Surely this a bargain!
Congratulations to CALI for offering such an important innovation in the field of Continuing Legal Education - even if you weren't exactly intending to!
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