Tag Archives: journalism education

I’m launching an MA in Online Journalism

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.

3 weeks in: launching a Midlands environmental news site

3 weeks ago my class of online journalism students were introduced to the website they were going to be working on: BirminghamRecycled.co.uk – environmental news for Birmingham and the West Midlands.

The site has been built by final year journalism degree student Kasper Sorensen, who studied the online journalism module last year.

In building and running the service Kasper has done a number of clever, networked things I thought I should highlight. They include:

  • Creating a Delicious network for the site – every journalist in the team has a Delicious account; this gathers together all of the useful webpages that journalists are bookmarking
  • Tweetgrid of all journalists’ tweets – again, every journalist has a Twitter account. This pulls them all together.
  • Twitter account @bhamrecycled
  • Kasper sent the whole team an OPML file of subscriptions to RSS feeds of searches for every Midlands area and environmentally related keywords. In other words, journalists could import this into their Google Reader and at a stroke be monitoring any mention of certain key words (e.g. ‘pollution’, ‘recycling’) in Birmingham areas.
  • He also shared a Google calendar of relevant events

The site itself is clever too.

  • The About page has a list of all contributing journalists with individual RSS feeds.
  • In addition, each author has a link to their own profile page which not only displays their articles but pulls Twitter tweets, Delicious bookmarks and blog posts.

Kasper wanted to explicitly follow a Mashable-style model rather than a traditional news service: he felt an overly formal appearance would undermine his attempts to build a community around the site.

And community is key. When unveiling the site to the journalists Kasper made the following presentation – a wonderful distillation of how journalists need to approach news in a networked world:

#CollegeJourn comes to Europe

The widely respected #CollegeJourn is coming to Europe. #CollegeJourn was established as the real-time online discussion for members of the college journalism community in the US. But it runs in the early hours of Monday mornings, which often stops people from this side of the Atlantic attending.

So Sunderland journalism student Josh Halliday, editor for www.injournalism.co.uk, is launching a chat for Europe at a more amenable hour. #CollegeJourn Europe will launch this Sunday 22nd March at 8pm GMT.

Josh said: “It’s  a great chance for those in journalism education who are either worried or excited about the state of journalism today to come along and see what others think.”

If you want to share some ideas for the discussion in advance, you can send any topic suggestions towards the #collegejourn hashtag on Twitter, to Josh directly or the deceptively named @florida_mike. To read more about plans and topics that might come up then take a read over at Josh’s blog.

The mission of #CollegeJourn is to provide a meaningful and resourceful forum of conversation for college journalists. University journalists, journalism professors, and journalism professionals, are all welcome. Josh is hoping to attract some big names in j-education to the opening debate. The chat takes place in Meebo. Put it in your diary now, and spread the word.

#twask : Help teach twitter

If you have a few minutes to spare this afternoon, log in to Twitter and look for the hashtag #twask. What is #twask? Well, anyone wanting to ask a question about Twitter can use the tag – and anyone answering those questions can do the same.

Questions find answers.

Hopefully.

The whole thing is the idea of final year journalism degree student Kasper Sorensen, who wanted to help online journalism students find their feet on Twitter. I think it’s pretty great. Read more at his site.

Magazine production and interactivity – what the students did

I’ve just been casting my eye over the Magazine Production work of two groups of second year students on the journalism degree I teach on. In addition to design and subbing, they were assessed on ‘web strategy’ – in other words, how they approached distribution online.

To give this a little context: early in the module ideas for magazines had to be pitched to the student union for financial backing in a Dragons’ Den-style competition (where among other things they had to address web strategy and business model). One idea per class ‘won’, which the whole class then had to work together to produce.

The winning ideas were: Nu Life – a magazine aimed at international students; and Skint – a money-saving guide with a particular focus on food. This is what they did…

The social network as web hub

Both groups created a Ning social network as the hub of their activity. Nu Life‘s pulled RSS feeds from the magazine blog and from local news services, in addition to having blog posts on the Ning itself, hosting images, originally produced video, an event, and forums. Continue reading

‘Journalists: learn to code’ says Guardian’s Arthur

Charles Arthur of The Guardian makes his point pretty plain: “If I had one piece of advice to a journalist starting out now, it would be: learn to code”

“Let’s be clear that I’m not saying “code” as in “get deep into C++ or Java” … I mean it in the sense of having a nodding acquaintance with methods of programming, and perhaps a few languages, so that when something comes along where you’ll need, say, to transform data from one form to another, you can. Or where you need to make your own life easier by automating some process or other.

” … None of which is saying you shouldn’t be talking to your sources, and questioning what you’re told, and trying to find other means of finding stuff out from people. But nowadays, computers are a sort of primary source too. You’ve got to learn to interrogate them effectively – and quote them meaningfully – too.”

Amen to that.

Maps, mashups and multimedia: online journalism students tackle interactivity

Alice Fanning's map of UK eco stories

Alice Fanning's map of UK eco stories

As a new semester begins it seems a good time to finally post about how my second year journalism degree students approached the ‘interactive’ element of their portfolio way back in May (yes, everything they do is interactive, but bear with me).

For the first time I gave them an open brief in terms of what they did interactively (in previous years I asked them to produce Flash interactives). Having been taught how to create everything from audio slideshows and image maps to multimedia interactives, Google Maps and Yahoo! Pipes mashups, I was curious to see what they would pick. Would they all plump for the same option? Continue reading