This year I started my online journalism module with three things: Twitter, Del.icio.us, and RSS readers. I asked students to:
socially bookmark useful webpages,
subscribe to useful feeds through their RSS reader,
use social recommendation and tags to discover new sources
– and to twitter the whole process.
The results? Frankly, disappointing.
If you think 19- and 20-year-olds are au fait with Twitter, think again. Only one had used it before starting the class. And even afterwards, the journalism students I was teaching hardly hit the ground running.
In fact, in the ten days since my class, around half have not twittered at all.
That’s the bad news. Here’s the good.
Those that have used the technology have demonstrated how well it can work as a distribution and publishing tool.
Step up Natalie Chillington, Stephanie Grant, Alice Fanning, Laura Blood, Tuuli Platner, and Anu Gamangari, who are all using it to post updates about their search for stories as they get to grips with reporting on an area completely new to them.
And Kasper Sorensen, who has been a little more creative in using it to post news updates and factoids.
But this is just the start.
I have aggregated their feeds – and those of the rest of the class – using the wonderful RSS mashup service xFruits.
The combined feed (see it here) is then fed to an email update (also through xFruits), delivered to my inbox so I get a daily update what my reporters are up to.
And of course, so could the readers. Because, even if Twitter doesn’t become a mass market consumption channel, it remains a very effective publishing and distribution one.
Interestingly, that mashed up feed has already had 27 views, despite no publicity – presumably through people browsing xFruits.
But there’s still a further cultural hurdle here. Despite orders to engage, to immerse, and to network, only one student is following a twitterer outside their class (another is following the BBC twitter feed but that hardly counts).
My feeling is that there is still a clear one-way – and gated – publishing mentality from journalism students. My challenge over the following eight lessons is to demonstrate that, online, journalism is not just writing a webpage or filming a video; it is commenting on a blog, or bookmarking a webpage. That there are no walls in cyberspace, only links; and that journalism lies in every act that you commit online. You just need to make it visible.