How to teach online journalism: 6 questions

We’ve reached the point where having journalism students take one isolated class about “online journalism” is not sufficient.

Ideally, online reporting and editing skills (and associated ethics) would be integrated into every reporting and editing class. If that’s not happening, then your program will need to offer specialized courses. Here are a few guidelines:

  1. A pure production class (students make a news Web site or “zine”) in which the products are only text, static photos, and Web pages is inadequate. This kind of experience alone will not provide students with enough confidence or competence to operate in today’s news environment. Are your students required to do more than this?
  2. Students need to be able to gather audio, still photos and video at the scene of a news event. The audio, still photos and video must be of sufficient quality to satisfy a public audience. What are your classes doing to provide that experience for them?
  3. Familiarity with blogs (including commenting and managing comments), RSS, Twitter, and other social and participatory media (such as YouTube’s comments) is necessary for journalists who will be using these tools in their daily work. And that means everybody. Do your students receive criticism and helpful advice on their use of such tools in a professional context?
  4. Familiarity with best practices for visual presentation of information is necessary for all journalists, even those who will never create a graphic. A reporter in the field needs to recognize when a story cries out for a map, a diagram, an interactive treatment of some kind. How are you preparing your students to make these decisions?
  5. Students may not be reading newspapers, but are they otherwise ensuring that they are informed about current events? Rather than force them to read a newspaper, we should force them to be well informed via aggregators, news alerts, feeds, etc., as well as seeking out reliable sources. This can be used as a springboard for encouraging curiosity. For example, if the drug propofol becomes prominent in the news, where might they look — online — for reliable information about the drug, its manufacture, uses, effects? Most of the students will go to Wikipedia and no further. Are you teaching them to do better than that?
  6. Knowledge of Web standards and HTML and CSS are quite helpful in today’s newsrooms, but are your students: (a) spending too much time on learning these, and not enough time on the reporting tools for audio and images; (b) learning these in a minimal way that instills bad habits (and results in poor code); (c) getting burned out on code instead of learning cool new ways to produce journalism stories?

I hope you can apply those six questions to classes in your journalism program and use them to revise, improve, and update.

These are probably the most helpful posts here for journalism educators who are revising curriculum or planning new courses about online journalism:

  1. Stuff to teach the next journalists
  2. Multimedia journalism teaching: 10 things I learned
  3. Skills needed by today’s journalists
  4. Flash training materials and new examples
  5. Why does anyone major in journalism?

Best of luck with your teaching!

8 Comments on “How to teach online journalism: 6 questions

  1. Great thoughts, as always. I would also add that j-schools need to do a much better job of teaching students about how communication and journalism are changing. I’m thinking of Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen (and the Rebooting the News podcast) and others as good places to point students.

    Basically, educators need to be able to take a step back and better evaluate our situation. For example, skills are important, but they may be useless if you can’t get a job. Thus, students should be prepared to “create their own jobs,” to borrow a phrase from Daniel Bachhuber.

    On a related note: Daniel, Joey Baker and I discussed some topics we see as fundamental issues with j-schools:

    http://www.danielbachhuber.com/2009/08/02/fundamentally-rebooting-j-school

    Mindy, I know you’ve already listened (thanks, Twitter!).

  2. great list mindy. proud to say that we are like-minded and following a similar track. i will be tracking back from my blog.

  3. Pingback: Teaching Online Journalism » How to teach online journalism: 6 questions | D@J

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  5. As an information gathering/news research instructor, I like that you included #5, because it often gets overlooked as part of online journalism. It’s assumed students know how to find info online, but they really don’t. And when they do, they can’t evaluate it’s authenticity.

    However, in #4, I think I’d add ability to make a basic data graphic/chart, using simple tools (eg. Excel charts, Google maps). This could be a separate tool, but I think it’s not only important to recognize the need for a display, but have the ability to bang out a basic graph for presentation. For small orgs, that may be enough. I’ve been told that often the data reporters will make a simple Excel chart to pitch the story idea to editors.

    Thoughts?

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  8. Its a good idea to teach the student this, but who will teach the working journos who think the web is still a bit of a joke? Will be glad to see them die off with print because they are simple too ignorant to consider learning/teaching themselves.

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