We started with the story of Ida Tarbell, so it seems fitting to finish with an anecdote that casts a different light on the consensus and its contribution to journalism. In class on Monday I had set students a task of defining a goal around finding an audience or making connections with available digital tools. In reporting back, one student described her exercise to rapt colleagues. In seeking to follow a serious investigative story in a chaotic regime outside the US, she had focused on tweeting links and finding sources on social networks that were of relevance to that country and story. One link led to another and another. Her diligence and work were rewarded with a random contact through Twitter, which in turn led to chance meeting in New York (yes, real shoe leather was expended), and her obtaining a number of key contacts and numbers in the administration she was reporting, new leads in a story that is neither trivial nor easy.

In her words: “It is really incredible, to be able to get this access, this quickly, is really something I would never have imagine was possible.” This winter break she will follow the story, honoring the Tarbell tradition, using the methods of the networked way.

 

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Emily Bell is director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a member of CJR's Board of Overseers.