Posted on July 31, 2011
6 Proposals for Journalism Education Today
I’ve spent a huge amount of time this year thinking about and working on journalism curriculum. From developing and teaching a four-week program to train journalism educators in Africa in the practice of online journalism, to helping with a major overhaul of the undergraduate curriculum in my own department, to my current preparations to teach journalism at a university in Indonesia, I have been thinking a lot about what students need to learn today.
Here are six proposals in three distinct areas of journalism that are increasingly important today.
My colleague Ron Rodgers sent me this post from the Guardian, and it has great value in its brevity and directness: Data journalism at the Guardian: What is it and how do we do it? It addresses 10 big themes that a journalism educator could build a whole course around, but you can read the whole post in about 10 minutes.
In contrast, a paper produced last August as the outcome of a conference in Europe about data-driven journalism is quite long — 78 pages. The paper, Data-driven journalism: What is there to learn?, provides many details in a very well organized format, and it includes lots of links to examples and tools (free tools!).
Moreover, there’s a new book to help us teach students about data! The video below explains it.
Proposals: (1) A journalism degree program should ensure that all students are introduced to basic data journalism, using current examples and demonstrating how to apply concepts. (2) A journalism degree program should offer at least one 3-credit elective course that focuses exclusively on data journalism.
Social Media and Participation
Just about everyone who teaches journalism is trying to figure out how to integrate social media into the mix. We all know that young people are already active users of social media — but that doesn’t mean they understand how to use those media ethically and effectively to do journalism.
Did you know that journalists in Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English newsrooms have had intensive social-media training? Read about it here. The same article discusses how social media links drive traffic to news websites.
As well as getting involved (if they choose) in newsgathering, verification and curation of news, readers and viewers have also become part of the news-distribution system as they share and recommend items of interest via e-mail and social networks. [source]
The phrase participatory journalism is not precisely defined, but I take it to mean that the audience participates in setting the agenda for news. This requires that journalists make themselves open to listening more, and listening to more sources (not only official ones), as well as making a commitment to go beyond superficial (and sometimes denigrating) man-on-the-street interviews.
Another important term is crowdsourcing. This is one kind of audience participation in gathering news — but not the only kind. This BBC story provides a good overview of crowdsourcing, and this article from the scholarly journal Journalism Practice discusses some excellent examples.
Proposals: (3) All journalism students need to learn how to use social media for specific journalistic goals. Assignments should focus on distinct uses such as identifying experts, crowdsourcing, and crisis mapping. (4) In any journalism program, the instructors must work together to eliminate unnecessary repetition in the program — for example, two or more required courses might have almost identical Twitter assignments or blogging assignments. This is a particular danger because it’s easy to integrate social media into almost any course — but redundancy risks trivializing the experience for students.
This is not just a matter of design (as in “page layout and design”), and it should never be a mere afterthought in the production of news materials. A wonderful post by designer Andy Rutledge illustrates better than anything else I have seen why news websites — and many news applications for mobile devices — are more likely to repel readers than to attract them.
Sometimes I think the students who choose to major in journalism came to us through a time machine from a place where people still read text that is printed on paper. What’s especially strange is that most of these students do not themselves read any text on paper — but they imagine that someone will give them a job where they will spend all their time writing text, text, text that will not interact with any other media.
In the early days of print newspapers, pictures were added to help attract people who would buy the product and read the text. Formats and font sizes (among other things) make journalism more appealing. When the product is appealing, it does not drive people away.
Unfortunately, many online and digital news products since the mid 1990s have been doing just that — driving people away. Why was this permitted? Why didn’t the entire newsroom stand up and protest that the website was hideous, slow, impossible to read, horrible, offputting, unusable? They didn’t do it because it wasn’t their job — the way their stories looked was of no concern to them. As the readers abandoned them, the journalists continued to be silent and even ignorant about the destructive effects of bad digital design.
Educators could use this book, for example, and assign students to evaluate news web pages according to its principles: Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?
Proposals: (5) Every journalism program needs a required course in visual design. (6) A journalism course in visual design must educate students in the principles that make an image, a frame, a page, and a screen appealing — or offputting. The course does not need to produce skilled designers; rather, it should produce journalists who recognize when a presentation of news or journalism is effective, and when it is confusing, difficult, and fails.