Stuff to teach the next journalists

Please help me with this. In my college, we’ve been working on a list. Rather than a vague list of skills, we’re trying to write what we would expect the student to be able to do. You know — actually DO. So here’s the starter package, which addresses cross-platform concerns:

  • Write a 12-inch story (400–450 words) in AP print style w/ Web-appropriate head, subheads and suitable hyperlink(s).
  • Create a 2-minute audio clip with clear nat sound, narration and interview material, edited digitally and compressed for the Web.
  • Shoot, edit and compress a video of 2 min. 30 sec.
  • Create and maintain a single-subject blog for at least eight weeks (minimum 16 posts), with at least two posts per week.
  • Create a 1:30 to 2 min. Soundslides presentation that tells a coherent journalistic story.

We have also discussed how to ensure that the students understand online ethics, and we figure that will have to be measured via testing. So, students should be able to correctly answer questions about case studies concerning:

  • Advertising interference in editorial
  • Hidden bias or manipulation by the journalist
  • Sock puppetry or other fakery
  • Image and audio manipulation
  • Staged or posed events (video, audio, photo)
  • Fear or favor

This is far from complete, but I think the first question is, Is this a good base, after the traditional journalism skills? We would have a chance to teach storytelling in every case.

29 Comments on “Stuff to teach the next journalists

  1. Hi Mindy,

    I think J students should be taught the basics of file formats and conversion.

    Many of my classmates are quite capable of taking a decent video with their cameras, but from then on they may have no idea how to put it to use.

    Also, what is entailed by a ‘web-appropriate’ headline? Does that include SEO and tagging? I think those are valuable skills which should be taught, and are actually quite simple.


  2. as someone who teaches journalists and journalism students to use the web in The Netherlands, I think it’s most important to teach them how to write as bloggers (personal, conversational, blending insight/opinion with news), instead of AP-style, which I actually almost try to unlearn.
    Web journalism != producing content for the web.

  3. Hi,
    That definitely looks like a good grounding for some of the skills that are essential for journalists in the online world.

    I think the only thing I would tend to add is a microblogging account at a service like Twitter – not only is it becoming increasingly popular and useful, but there have been some interesting ethical cases, such as a newspaper ‘tweeting’ from a court case, or from the funeral of a child.

    I’d probably try not to add anything more to the list, as making the schedule more ‘complete’ would probably also make it more overwhelming, and things like blogging and microblogging will take a significant amount of time to display the potential value.

  4. I know these days it is also taken for granted, but would also include computer assisted research, reporting and analysis for contextual online journalism as a foundation prior to writing and editing.
    Also, how about: Manage metadata for search and social promotion.
    Storytelling using UGC and mashups like polls, geomaps, charts, galleries and timelines could be optional extras depending on the duration of the course.

  5. Jude, as I was reading this, I was thinking to tell Mindy to add our existing Excel and CAR component to the list. We already teach the basics of Excel and charts as part of incorporating data into stories. As that instructor, one of the things I’d love to add to the class is a mapping component as well.

  6. @Luke Appleby – Good suggestions. They need to know how to compress both video and audio, and they need to be taught how to optimize photos too. As for “appropriate” headlines — yes, that means SEO for sure. And the ability to stand alone in RSS, etc.

    @Jaap Stronks – I think they need to know BOTH, and they need to know when to use which approach.

    @Dan Thornton – Do you think microblogging is already essential? I consider users of microblogging to be rather hardcore.

    Jude and Cory – You are right, I need to work on that one. I hope I can come up with a second set to add to this one. I do have a longer list, but some of the skills are more marginal.

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  8. Unfortunately you cannot teach SKILL or COMMON SENSE to today’s journalists. I am appalled at how many can’t read between the lines to find truth in stories – or who blatantly use their own POV’s to tell stories, rather than piece together something as unbiased as any one person can be.

    Many are too concerned with learning multimedia, or showing off their knowledge of audio and video editing, and blogging skills, rather than true REPORTING. No matter if they are broadcast or print, they first need to develop writing and critical thinking skills, so they will be able to see the real story BEHIND the pomp and circumstance, and get the facts right before publication. THEN, and only then, teach them the multimedia aspects. If they cannot get the skills down, they need to find another occupation.

  9. The outline looks great! I would add something on alternative story forms.

  10. How about teaching them to understand when stories can be enhanced with online database applications and interactive graphics like maps and timelines?

  11. Students should be able to create an analysis of their blog’s traffic based on their metrics (Googly Analytics would work well) and understand the fundamentals of writing SEO-friendly headlines. They should also be able to write a three-sentence, error-free breaking news story in under 5 minutes using the facts at hand. Also, using a WYSIWG tool to create a news-driven Google Map is a commonly needed skill

  12. Mindy,

    These are all skills. But what about the intellectual tools students need to have: Should they be able to defend the role of journalism in our democracy? Understand the financial models that support journalism and participate in conversations about their future? Should they have the tools to analyze their audiences?

    If you are just looking at hard-and-fast skills, I would add basic research methods. In the Internet age, journalists have access to reams of data, both for reporting and analyzing the impact of their reporting. They should be able to make sense of this data, or at least understand how others make sense of this data.

    We need to be preparing students to partake and lead discussions about the many questions facing the industry, and to be credible these conversations can’t just be based on the anecdotes journalists always fall back on, but must be based in thoughtful empirical analysis.

    I think focusing too heavily on skills is dangerous. Both because the technology changes faster that we can teach a specific technical skill, and because skills training takes away from lessons that are harder to teach on the job. When I was in a multimedia newsroom, I saw a lot of student interns come out of j-schools are that trying to be at the forefront of skills training who had impressive technical skills, but lacked basic professionalism in many other regards. When I spoke to an online journalism class at Missouri last year they asked me what the one class is that I wish I took while there. My answer: copy editing. Classes like that are getting lost in the curriculum to the long-term detriment of the students and the industry.

  13. how about the ability to publish for and perform research via rss, api’s, integration services such as yahoo pipes – its not just about publishing once today but also about leveraging the loosely coupled ecosystem that is today’s online news network…

    forget twitter – teach them about friendfeed, much more relevant for next gen journalists – imo 🙂

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  16. @Mindy: you’re right. But they’re bound to have learned to write AP-style already – it’s the conversational, informal writing they still have to master. Also, I’d like to add what I’ll call networked journalism, or horizontal journalism, operating in a networked environment, in an ecosystem you’re sharing with your readers, other bloggers and journalists, social news sites, Twitter, et cetera. Where traditional journalism basically creates an isolated environment (you should have to read only one newspaper), online journalism is shared. linked and networked, every aspect of it. That takes experience and practice. I find that most people are clueless in that regard, and what’s worse: even journalists who are willing to learn, they typically just want to learn how to produce content for the web. I find it hard to teach it, too.

  17. @Mindy,
    I don’t think microblogging in itself is essential yet, although more and more news and media organisations are starting to use it.

    But what I’ve found is that the speed of updates and interactions provides an accelerated way of learning many of the techniques that make online social skills a driving force for making contacts, maintaining relationships with readers, etc.

  18. Don’t forget to include copyright and libel in your list of things to teach and test.

    I’m apalled at our interns’ lack of knowledge in these areas — these are things that can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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  23. I think that maintaining a blog is a start but I feel that some other social media aspects should be incorporated into the course. Someone did mention Twitter and another mentioned that it isn’t an “essential.” That may be the case but the ability to reach people through various social media platforms is essential in my opinion. I think that the way this generation views social media for their personal lives is very different from the way they will need to view it professionally. As a journalist and online community manager, I believe there are essential interpersonal skills and writing skills that jobs like mine entail and you will not get them by blogging alone. You have to interact, and and we need to encourage this interaction and teach what it takes to engage our audience.

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  27. Maybe something on conducting an online chat? Seems like many newspapers are using these frequently to communicate with readers so might be good to learn some guidelines/procedures for chatting online.

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