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Teaching Online Journalism

What journalism students need to learn now

Is blogging still relevant to journalism? This is one of the questions Mark Briggs is considering as he begins work on the third edition of his popular textbook Journalism Next. In his blog post, he listed the following chapters:

  1. How the web works
  2. Blogging for better journalism
  3. Crowd-powered collaboration
  4. Microblogging and social media
  5. Going mobile
  6. Visual storytelling with photographs
  7. Making audio journalism visible
  8. Telling stories with video
  9. Data-driven journalism and digitizing your life
  10. Managing news as a conversation
  11. Building a digital audience for news

This is a good outline for beginner journalism students. This is not a list of things they should learn in an elective course — all of these are basic to being a reporter in the 21st century. The first and second required courses in a journalism curriculum need to cover all of these.

But — what else? What is missing, as Briggs updates his book?

Encryption for reporters

I think he needs a new chapter about encryption and security of online communications. There was a lot of talk about that at ONA14, and while most journalists have no clue what that even means, it’s going to be important to every journalist who needs to protect a source and keep his/her identity private.

Blogging still matters

The chapter on blogging remains important because there are so many different types of blogs, including many different varieties of journalism blogs. One example that’s great to examine and discuss is The Lede from The New York Times. Reasons:

Too many journalists and journalism educators are not really up-to-date on the varieties of blogs and blogging. Just having students “write a blog about a beat” is not enough. We need more analysis and comparison in our journalism courses. Many students are unaware of the variety of styles and approaches the exist now, and educators need to deliberately expose the students to these.

Social skills for journalists

I think these three chapters need to be combined, possibly into two (new) chapters:

Reaching out to a geographic community OR to a community of interest requires the journalist to listen, daily. That means monitoring the conversation in a managed, deliberate way. While 90 percent (or more) of “the conversation” takes place on social media, not all social media platforms play the same way for different types of content. Students are very unaware of these subtleties. People read an article or view a video, but then the conversation takes place elsewhere — not on a news website. Journalists need to embed themselves in the conversation and play an active role in it.

Audio and video: Not optional

Audio and video are important for all journalism students to learn — and from what I’m told by editors and managers at organizations such as the Miami Herald, it’s all iPhone now. That’s not to say we don’t need broadcast quality equipment and training — students in TV specializations do, of course. But every student needs to be able to capture clean, usable audio AND clear, usable video on an iPhone. Concentrate on impromptu interviews, man on the street. Can the student capture a good 60-second statement from a stranger on video, not shaking, not wobbling, with clear audio? This is a key skill today.

What do you think? You can tell Mark at mark@journalism20.com (email) or @markbriggs on Twitter.

Updates


What I read this week

I spent Saturday morning closing tabs in my browser. Here’s what was interesting and good.

Local news

Charting the years-long decline of local news reporting
Paul Farhi
March 26, 2014

“[L]ocal news has become a tough sell, especially online. It’s not that people aren’t interested in their communities — local news usually ranks as the top priority in surveys — it’s that the economics of the digital age work strongly against reporting about schools, cops and the folks down the street.”

News design

Against beautiful journalism
Felix Salmon
March 27, 2014

“The stripped-down, minimal approach to page design has its place — but most of that time, that place isn’t for news stories, which by their nature are mostly snack-sized things written on deadline and designed to be consumed quickly and easily, rather than long meals designed to be slowly savored.”

Data literacy

Data across the curriculum: Is personal data the key?
Brian Mathews
March 24, 2014

“[A]nalogous to Writing Across the Curriculum … Imagine the interdisciplinary possibilities of merging these two — a thought-provoking book accompanied by a related thought-provoking data set. … Big picture: this becomes a teaching moment for students. Third-party businesses are already collecting, using, and selling this personal data — a program like this would help bring better awareness and perhaps action to this situation. The objective becomes to empower students by giving them access (and choice) to data that is currently unavailable to them.”

Assessing U.S. journalism now

State of the News Media 2014
Pew Research Center: Journalism Project
March 26, 2014

This massive annual report is something I scan and dip into over several weeks after it is published.

Popular journalism

Shut up about “clickbait”
Tim Marchman
March 26, 2014

“Used as an epithet, the word ‘clickbait’ presents a tautology as a criticism. You published something, and want people to read it, too. … In theory, it’s a term for something without inherent merit, published principally for the purpose of tricking people into reading it. In practice, it’s something else.”

Data journalism

Debugging the backlash to data journalism
Alexander Howard
March 26, 2014

“This past week, data journalism broke into the hurly burly of mainstream discourse, with the predictable cycle of hype and then backlash … Part of the backlash has something to do with high expectations for [Nate] Silver’s effort. FiveThirtyEight is a new, experimental media venture in which a smart guy has been empowered to try to build something that can find signal in the noise (so to speak) for readers.

“… 2014 was the year that I saw the worm really turn on the use of term ‘data journalism,’ from its adoption by David Kaplan, a pillar of the investigative journalism community, to its use as self-identification by dozens of attendees [at] the annual conference of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR) …”

Journalism education

Course remix: Meshing reporting skills and multimedia storytelling
Rachele Kanigel
March 24, 2014

“My department now requires all majors to take three digital media courses – JOUR 226 Digital Newsgathering, JOUR 395 Online Journalism and JOUR 400 Multimedia Journalism. But even as we’ve found ways to squeeze in more multimedia and social media skills, the faculty have had long debates about where to fit these skills and courses into the curriculum.

“… Last fall, my colleague Jesse Garnier and I launched an experiment: We paired one section of our introductory multimedia skills class, Digital Newsgathering, with our boot-camp Reporting class. Our goal was to mesh the two courses together, so students would learn the fundamentals of shoe-leather reporting while simultaneously developing multimedia storytelling skills. Our secondary goal: to keep our students from getting totally overwhelmed.”

Journalism education

Is ‘journalism’ losing its clout in U.S. higher education?
Steve Outing
March 24, 2014

“The University of Colorado’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication ceased to exist (it was ‘discontinued’) on June 30, 2011. Journalism education at CU lives on, for now as a ‘program’ housed in the CU Graduate School. At some point, CU will have a Journalism ‘department’ inside a still-being-planned new College of Media, Communication, & Information.

“… The CU-Boulder situation has me wondering: Is it a sign that Journalism is waning in importance at American universities and colleges? Are some higher-education administrators mistaking Journalism’s disruption period for a decline in the importance of Journalism, and making decisions that defy the significance of Journalism?”

Journalism education

Aiming for the stars: Teaching investigative journalism
James Hollings
March 24, 2014

“This paper outlines an approach to teaching investigative journalism that produces publishable stories within an approximately four –month period. It is based on a five-step method that has been developed over the past few years on a journalism programme for graduate students. With refinements, the method is getting an increasing proportion of students to complete a successful investigation.”

Link rot

The Million Dollar Homepage still exists, but 22% of it has rotted away
David Yanofsky
March 25, 2014

“The atrophy of links has been shown to stabilize over time, meaning we should expect fewer than 22% of links to break over the next eight years. The longer a link continues to work on a webpage, the longer it can been expected to work into the future.

“Nonetheless, it remains a problem for thought experiments and seminal works alike. Researchers at Harvard found that at least 50% of URL-based legal citations in US Supreme Court opinions, for instance, no longer point to the originally referenced material.”

Learning to use data in journalism

Making Sense of Data
Google

This is a free online course, extremely (and wonderfully) free of unnecessary steps and verbiage, that teaches us how to think about data while using Google Fusion Tables to put the steps into practice.


Computer code that writes stories

It’s about the power of code, and it’s also about a UF J-school alum, Ken Schwencke (JM – 2009), who works on the Data Desk at the Los Angeles Times.

Whenever there’s an earthquake, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sends out email alerts. Schwencke set up an email account to receive those emails. This past Monday, an email landed in that inbox. Automatically, because the email had arrived, a program (written by Schwencke) parsed the text of the email to find answers to these three questions:

  • Is the quake in LA, with greater than 2.5-magnitude?
  • Is the quake in California, with greater than 3.0-magnitude?
  • Is the quake in the U.S., with greater than a 4.5-magnitude?

If only the last question is answered affirmatively, the bot emails the paper’s national reporters and editors — a kind of early alert to a developing story. If either of the first two questions are affirmative, though, it both alerts the metro desk to the quake and writes a simple post.

The Atlantic published a first-rate story about it: How a California Earthquake Becomes the News: An Extremely Precise Timeline. The quote above comes from that story.

Slate published the shorter, more hip-sounding The First News Report on the L.A. Earthquake Was Written by a Robot. This one reproduces the complete text of the very first report (written by the program) — this was later expanded and updated by humans at the same URL.

Schwencke was interviewed on NPR’s morning Weekend Edition news program on March 22 (2 min. 59 sec.).

Not every journalism story lends itself to this kind of treatment. Most don’t. I like it as an example of what a journalist can do if — like Schwencke — he or she can think algorithmically. Learning how to write programs in a computer programming language (any language, with some popular examples being JavaScript, Python, and Ruby) benefits journalists because it opens up new ways to solve problems. This earthquake case is only one example.

A version of this post also appeared on the course website for MMC 4341 Advanced Online Media Production.


Smarter(9): A list for journalism students

Each week, I post links to three (and only three) recent articles that are informative about, or pointing the way to, the future in journalism. Previous posts can be found here. There is also a Tumblr for this series, named Smarter.

Graphic from freepress.net

The Net Neutrality Court Case Decoded. I fear that most students know far too little about this. A Jan. 14 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals means U.S. broadband service providers — the companies that you pay for your Internet access — are not limited by certain FCC rules that essentially require(d) those companies to offer equal access to all sites and all types of online content. This article plainly lays out the issues and explains why they matter.

Takeaways: What could change about the Internet if “Net neutrality” is, in fact, dead? Look at what might happen to video streaming. Price structures for Internet service could change. The most serious concern, however, is about free speech itself. If you’ve learned about the gatekeeper role of journalism, you probably understand that on the open Internet, there are no gatekeepers. The gates are wide open, and you can get anything. The new ruling changes this, allowing U.S. broadband service providers to become powerful gatekeepers.

Image from Twitter @AdamsLisa

Social Media Is a Conversation, Not a Press Release. Debate erupted over a pair of columns written by a journalist (in The Guardian) and her husband (in The New York Times) about the social media communications of Lisa Adams, who writes about her experiences with metastatic breast cancer. The matter exploded so messily that The Guardian took down Emma G. Keller’s column (see commentary on that decision) and The New York Times‘s public editor wrote about the NYT column, suggesting that perhaps “[Bill] Keller didn’t make a full effort to understand the point of view of the person he’s writing about.”

Takeaways: Writer and professor Zeynep Tufekci zeros in on the journalistic failing of misunderstanding. In this case the subject, Adams, is able to speak for herself (largely on Twitter, where she has more than 14,000 followers). The assertions and assumptions of the two journalists who wrote about her can be fact-checked against Adams’s own social media record (Tufekci points out some fact errors). Big lesson: A superficial skim of a person’s blog and tweets is not sufficient for credible journalism. Tufekci says both Kellers failed to understand “how social media works as a conversation and as a community.”

Photo: KBME studios, by Flickr user tmat1075

Is This Thing On? Actually focused on viral content, this well-written article meanders enjoyably around ideas about audio stories, why we love them, why reporters make them, and why they so rarely go viral. There’s a great case concerning a Vimeo hit video titled “The Scared is Scared.” There’s the uber-case of  viral audio — “Two Little Girls Explain the Worst Haircut Ever” — in which MetaFilter played a role. There are also some interesting thoughts about podcasting, which hardly anyone talks about anymore.

Takeaways: Lots of questions here. What do we mean when we talk about “viral”? How much of it is luck? How much is having a great story that people want to share? And how much of it is the medium? Why is video more viral than audio? Pay attention to what the article says about SoundCloud at the end. That might be the key to the next viral audio event.

I’d love to know what you think. Are these three items new to you? Did they make you think? Did you learn something? Tell me via Twitter or Facebook or here, in the comments.


Smarter(8): A list for journalism students

Each Sunday, I post links to three (and only three) recent articles that are informative about, or pointing the way to, the future in journalism. (Oops — this week, it’s Monday.) Previous posts can be found here. There is also a Tumblr for this series, named Smarter.

Photo: Bradley Cooper, David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence on set

How David O. Russell Made Me a Journalist. I’ve read a lot of essays about “my first story as a journalist” and “how I wrote my first story.” Usually they do not really wow me. This one is different. (It was published in August, but I found it a week ago, via Explore.)

Takeaways: You won’t get a blueprint for how to become a journalist from this story, but you will get some strong hints: “people can surprise you in the most unexpected ways”; “life-changing moments are within reach .” You might say this essay is not so much about the future in journalism, but for me it is about the courage and good luck that make a start for many young journalists.

Photo: Writer, by Flickr user Alan Weir

The Intrinsic Value of Blogging. In this short blog post, Matthew Mullenweg (a founding developer of WordPress) writes about the frustrations of knowing who is reading what you’ve written. Or rather, we don’t know. We have loads of statistics about how many people viewed a page and what they clicked and where they came from, but we don’t know who these people are — not really.

Takeaways: Writing “just for yourself” is not sufficient. Writing for a faceless mass audience will not push you to do your best — and neither will writing for massive pageviews and retweets. Decide whom you’re writing for, in addition to yourself. This is a tool that can help you improve.

Graphic: Twitter bird

You don’t tip competitors on Twitter; you beat them. Lots of journalists use Twitter for sharing links — especially links to their own published stories. Well, that’s just one of the many ways a really savvy reporter can use Twitter. Steve Buttry, a top editor for Digital First Media, talks about letting go of fear — fear that you are tipping your competition when you are first to tweet. Get over it! You’re there, they’re not, and the way to let everyone know that is to tweet.

Takeaways: Being first does not mean being careless. Accuracy still rules. However, being incomplete is not the same as being wrong. People who follow you on Twitter are not necessarily people who buy your newspaper or watch your newscast — and that’s fine. “Scooping the competition” has a new face nowadays.

I’d love to know what you think. Are these three items new to you? Did they make you think? Did you learn something? Tell me via Twitter or Facebook or here, in the comments.


Top 10 posts of 2013: Teaching online journalism

In case you missed them, here are links to the posts on this blog that were viewed most often in the past year, according to the stats provided by WordPress. Only three on the list are from 2013 (I published only 27 posts this year). The oldest are from 2008 (also three posts), demonstrating the value of the long tail.

If you like these posts, please share the links with others.

1) Timelines in journalism: A closer look – 4,591 views (I’ve studied the stats on this post — people come mostly via search, often with terms including the words history or examples)

2) 10 examples of bespoke article design and scrolling goodness – 3,082 views

3) 10 Rules for Visual Storytelling – 2,964 views

4) Advice to journalism students: Forget grad school! – 2,094 views

5) Recording phone interviews: A solution that works – 1,840 views

6) Best social media tools for journalists – 1,601 views

7) Get started with Web coding. Part 1: HTML and CSS – 1,514 views (there were five posts in this series)

8) How to shoot video interviews – 1,240 views

9) Cheat sheet for multimedia story decisions – 1,120 views

10) Aggregation and curation in journalism – 1,077 views


Smarter(7): A list for journalism students

Each Sunday, I post links to three (and only three) recent articles that are informative about, or pointing the way to, the future in journalism. (Oops — this week, it’s Monday.) Previous posts can be found here. There is also a Tumblr for this series, named Smarter.

Screen capture - National Geographic - 2013 Year in Review

National Geographic: Year in Review. Get on your big screen for this lush, photo-filled extravaganza. Each of 12 categories (Adventure, Animals, Cultures, Space, and more) offers 10 or more glimpses into amazement (brain-eating amoebas! Kyrgyz nomads! nano flowers! Eurasian otters! cougars!), and most link out to a full-text story from NatGeo’s famous magazine. Just browsing provides plenty of satisfaction, but it’s nice to know that when your curiosity is truly piqued, you’re one click away from deeper details.

Takeaways: Having perfected this full-screen interface in the brilliant Serengeti Lion multimedia epic, NatGeo applied it to a year-end roundup that features its own best stories. There are two lessons here: (1) Re-use and repurpose code and design when appropriate; and (2) Do not let your past stories, photos, etc., go to waste, forgotten and unviewed. NatGeo plays to its strengths here, showcasing stories and images that other publications do not have.

Photo: tape measure by Flickr user Leo Reynolds (lwr)

Tomorrow’s metric for news is action. Measuring things is important, especially when those things are growing or shrinking and we’re not sure why. Newspapers, magazines, and TV networks always liked to measure (or count) subscribers or viewers. Online, however, that measurement breaks apart into individual stories or segments, and journalists look to the numbers as indicators of what they should produce more of. But wait — does that mean more stupid viral videos? NPR reporter Elise Hu says no — in this article for Nieman Journalism Lab, she suggests we should really be measuring how our journalism influences real outcomes in the world. In other words: Measure the difference your journalism makes.

Takeaways: Students should make themselves familiar with the terms Hu uses in this article, such as “social lift,” “impact,” “engagement,” “time reading” (also called “time spent”). Follow her links to learn about the engagement strategies of ProPublica and Medium, two journalism organizations you definitely should be following. If you don’t know exactly what she means by “agency,” “participation,” and “community,” then get busy. Hu is writing about journalism that has value, and that’s journalism that knows what its purpose is. How do you measure that?

Screen capture from Michael Wolff's column

Even the New York Times can’t resist going lowbrow with native advertising. Writers now inhabit “a flattened world … in which there is only one real measure, traffic,” says Guardian columnist Michael Wolff. He means traffic to stories, which means audience, and sharing, and how many people view (and presumably also read, although that’s up for debate). Native advertising (also known as branded content) “can sometimes blur the distinction between advertising and editorial, especially in the digital space” (Joe Pompeo, writing at Capital), and that’s something most journalists know to be both dangerous and distasteful. For the esteemed New York Times to stoop so low(brow) is, well, a giant flashing confirmation that the business of journalism has changed. The question remains whether the ethics and values of journalism can survive this.

Takeaways: Students who want to be writers might scoff at the idea, but everyone who works in journalism today needs to be looking at the business side. It’s how you get paid, after all! Wolff’s column provides a good introduction to the stakes and the present playing field. If you read it carefully, you’ll understand why he says: “How advertising is handled has always been a key distinction between low and high order publishing,” and “it’s very hard, if not pointless, to separate real content from phony stuff.” Pay attention to what he means by “content disaggregation” and “traffic aggregation” — these are two very important factors in the business of journalism online. Those who aspire to be writers need to understand that even The New York Times has “lost the wherewithal to sell high publishing.”