From September I will be running an MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. I hope it’s going to be different from any other journalism MA.
That’s because in putting it together I’ve had the luxury of a largely blank canvas, which means I’ve not had to work within the strictures and structures of linear production based courses.
The first words I put down on that blank piece of paper were: Enterprise; experimentation; community; creativity.
And then I fleshed it out:
In the Online Journalism MA’s first stage (Certificate) students will study Journalism Enterprise. This will look at business models for online journalism, from freemium to mobile, public funding to ad networks, alongside legal and ethical considerations. I’m thinking at the moment that each student will have to research a different area and present a business case for a startup.
They will also study Newsgathering, Production and Distribution. I’m not teaching them separately because, online, they are often one and the same thing. And as students should already have basic skills in these areas, I will be focusing on building and reinventing those as they run a live news website (I’ll also be involved in an MA in Social Media, so there should be some interesting overlap).
The second stage of the MA Online Journalism (Diploma) includes the module I’m most excited about: Experimentation – aka Online Journalism Labs.
This is an explicit space for students to try new things, fail well, and learn what works. They will do this in partnership with a news organisation based on a problem they both identify (e.g. not making enough revenue; poor community; etc.) – I’ve already lined up partnerships with national and regional newspapers, broadcasters and startups in the UK and internationally: effectively the student acts as a consultant, with the class as a whole sharing knowledge and experience.
Alongside that they will continue to explore more newsgathering, production and distribution, exploring areas such as computer assisted reporting, user generated content, multimedia and interactivity. They may, for example, conduct an investigation that produces particularly deep, engaging and distributed content and conversation.
The final stage is MA by Project – either individually or as a group, students make a business case for a startup or offshoot, research it, build it, run it and bid for funding.
By the time they leave the course, graduates should not be going into the industry at entry level (after all, who is recruiting these days?), but at a more senior, strategic level – or, equally likely, to establish startups themselves. I’m hoping these are the people who are going to save journalism.
At the moment all these plans are in draft form. I am hoping this will be a course without walls, responding to ideas from industry and evolving as a result. Which is why I’m asking for your input now: what would you like to see included in an MA Online Journalism? The BJTC’s Steve Harris has mentioned voice training, media law and ethics. The BBC’s Peter Horrocks has suggested programming and design skills. You may agree or disagree.
Let’s get a conversation going.