Posted on March 3, 2008
What every journalism student needs to know (now)
Journalism educators debate about what students need to know today. I have some ideas about that.
We insist, of course, on reporting fundamentals — news judgment, interviewing skills, fact checking, ethics, law. The need to master these remains strong.
All students should have basic familiarity with (basic) XHTML and CSS. That’s about 10 tags in XHTML. For CSS, that’s fonts, color, and divs. They may not need this every day on the job, but these are the foundation bricks of everything they will ever do — because everything they will do is going to be online.
Every reporter should know how to gather AND edit audio. It’s so close to the normal job of every print reporter, it’s a natural fit. Audio also has a shallow learning curve. Low stress, big returns.
All journalists need to understand the basics of photo composition, photo ethics and simple Photoshop (cropping, resizing, resolution, etc.). I would expect a journalist to have a high-res digital point-and-shoot in her pocket at all times, just in case news happens.
All journalism students should be exposed to Soundslides, because it has become the industry standard. I’d think one required homework assignment using the Soundslides demo version would be enough for many students to get the idea. Anyone who wants to work as a photojournalist should work to become adept.
Video is hard — takes longer to teach than everything else. I hope I’m figuring out how to teach it to print journalism students in less than one semester. I’ll let you know. You may not have cameras and you may not have enough time, but at least you could look at current examples. (And read Colin’s awesome blog.)
Podcasting is not as important as audio interviewing skills and audio editing, but depending on the course, it might make sense to combine the two and produce a weekly podcast — if you can come up with a format.
I recently wrote about why NOT to teach Dreamweaver. Nothing wrong with Dreamweaver — I use it almost daily. But learning it is not the best use of the students’ time. Other stuff is much more important.
Finally, the much neglected matter of storytelling. No matter which vehicle you’re using to carry it, your story is the dealbreaker. No story (or a weak story)? No deal.
Amid all the talk about how to add all this “new” stuff without compromising the “important” stuff (implying that the new skills are not as important as the old ones), most educators never get around to discussing how hard it is to get a really good story out of students. When the subject does come up, there’s universal agreement that the ability to recognize, pursue, and develop a story seems to elude many journalism students.
Don’t forget story. In teaching each of these skills, no matter how technical or tool-based, we have to keep the idea of story prominent and clear.
Update (March 5): See related ideas in a Poynter article published on March 4.