Journalism education: There is no spoon

At a journalism education conference in Canada recently, it appears media economics scholar Robert Picard gave a stirring keynote address. Stirring as in “stir things up!”

He began by reminding the audience that journalism and the media environment today are vastly different from what they were in the previous century. I’d say the decline began in 1995 and became undeniably apparent around 2008, when job losses in the newspaper industry first spiked.

Of course, you know this. But probably you take it for granted. Probably, like most journalism educators, you have not really stared into the eyes of a reality where children under the age of 10 have a powerful tiny computer in their pocket that is connected to a global 24/7 cornucopia of news, information and entertainment.

It changes everything.  Read More

Teaching online journalism in South Africa

Thanks to an invitation from the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, I was awarded a Mellon Scholar-in-Residence fellowship. I’ve been in Grahamstown, South Africa, since May 30. Here are some things I have learned so far.

Home of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at RU

Journalism education

A journalism degree here can take three years or four. A student must apply to be accepted for a fourth year. Others go straight into newsrooms after the third year.

The academic year begins in February, after the long summer break (December and January). They have four terms, with two terms constituting a semester. At the end of a semester, the students take exams in all their subjects.

First-year students take four subjects — the same four throughout the year — one of which is journalism. In their journalism class, the first-years meet in a lecture of about 200 students four times a week. They also have smaller tutorial meetings, in groups of about 20. As there are not many graduate students, many of the tutors are third- or fourth year undergrads.  Read More

(Re)defining multimedia journalism

I published a post on 11 days ago. The title is (Re)defining multimedia journalism. I thought it would be interesting to publish it there, instead of here, on my own blog, and see what would happen.

Stats for (Re)defining multimedia journalism, at, April 19

Medium has this nice graph with options to see how many people viewed my post, or how many people READ my post. (I don’t have that option in WordPress.) I also get to see how many people recommended my post (and who they are), and the percentage of readers out of viewers.  Read More

Introducing the HTML5 canvas element

In a Web coding class, in which students work with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, they should also have some exposure to the canvas.

HTML5 canvas examples

Here are the materials I’ve developed for a basic introduction:

Feel free to use, copy, share or modify any of these for any class or course.

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:

  • It doesn’t duplicate NYT articles but instead enhances, extends them.
  • It also includes a photo or (often) a non-NYT video.
  • It includes well-chosen links, including links to off-site content.

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:

  • Crowd-powered collaboration
  • Microblogging and social media
  • Managing news as a conversation

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 (email) or @markbriggs on Twitter.


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

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.