Tag Archives: online journalism education

Teaching online journalism: classes as a narrative

For the last few years, I’ve had a problem. It’s a problem with deadlines, and momentum. Here’s how it goes:

Every year, students in my undergraduate Online Journalism module run a live news website – Birmingham Recycled. Six weeks into the module, students have to submit a ‘snapshot’ portfolio for the first of 2 assignment deadlines…

And this is where I hit my problem. The standard of work in that first portfolio is typically impressive – most of them have gotten to grips with a range of online platforms, are understanding their area, and appear motivated.

But once they’ve submitted, students hit a lull. Their stellar performance until that point stalls – their momentum, interrupted by the deadline, falters.

In a nutshell, I think they enter a ‘business as usual’ frame of mind.

So this year I’m trying something new. Continue reading

Experiments in online journalism

Last month the first submissions by students on the MA in Online Journalism landed on my desk. I had set two assignments. The first was a standard portfolio of online journalism work as part of an ongoing, live news project. But the second was explicitly branded ‘Experimental Portfolio‘ – you can see the brief here. I wanted students to have a space to fail. I had no idea how brave they would be, or how successful. The results, thankfully, surpassed any expectations I had. They included:

There are a range of things that I found positive about the results. Firstly, the sheer variety – students seemed to either instinctively or explicitly choose areas distinct from each other. The resulting reservoir of knowledge and experience, then, has huge promise for moving into the second and final parts of the MA, providing a foundation to learn from each other. Continue reading

Teaching blogging: the Social Media Treasure Hunt (#bsmth #snowbrum)

Today I’m trying an experiment with a group of students on my undergraduate Online Journalism module – a ‘Social Media Treasure Hunt’ on their patch: Birmingham.

The students are all reporters who will, next week, be reporting for the environmental news website Birmingham Recycled. Last week they set up their systems – RSS reader, Delicious, and Twitter – and this week they are setting up their blogs. They’ve already had the lecture about the theory – now comes the practice. But instead of the usual workshop-in-a-computer-room, I’m taking them into their community.

This year I’ve made a significant change to how I teach blogging. The focus is explicitly on social capital, and ideas of sharing their processes. So here’s what I wanted to do:

  • Get them meeting people in person rather than virtually – a much more effective way of building social capital
  • Get them away from a desk. It seems to me that most people approach online journalism as a deskbound job – actually, it opens up enormous opportunities for production on the move: moblogging, liveblogging, photoblogging (one student has already tried all 3 in one go).
  • Get them to open their eyes, ears and noses. These students have spent 18 months learning how to be journalists – looking for angles, structuring a story. Now I’m asking them to unlearn some of that when they approach a blog: put out unfinished material; observations; raw material. Sharing – not processing. That can be a hard habit to get into.

Oh, and of course I want to make it fun and engaging. So…

The Social Media Treasure Hunt

At 9am this morning a group of around 15* 7 students will gather at Coffee Lounge in Birmingham city centre. They all have phones with web packages and/or laptops with wifi. I will make sure they are all set up with a blog, and are able to post to it from their phone or laptop.

They will then be given, in pairs:

  • A map of wifi coverage in Birmingham
  • A name
  • The rules of the game

The rules of the game

  1. You have been given the name of a person with a social media presence in Birmingham (e.g. blogs, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook etc.).
  2. You must find a way to contact that person, and arrange to meet them as soon as possible, today.
  3. When you meet them, you must find out about them – then ask them to name another person in Birmingham that they think it would be useful for you (as an environmental reporter) to meet. (If you are unable to meet any person, contact @paulbradshaw for a new name)
  4. From the beginning of this process you must keep your eyes, ears and noses alert – and comment on what you see/hear/smell…
  5. …As you travel, you must generate as much content as possible on social media – tweet; take and upload pictures; bookmark webpages; record or stream video or audio; and of course: write blog posts containing all of the above. The purpose of this hunt is to share as much as possible – experiences, insights, opinions, questions – so that others can get to know the city – and you – through your senses.
  6. Tag everything that you do #bsmth (Birmingham Social Media Treasure Hunt) – and follow all the other material using that tag.
  7. You cannot ‘hunt’ a person who is already being – or has been – hunted by someone else.
  8. Points are awarded as follows:
    1. 100 points for meeting someone named;
    2. 50 points for meeting and finding out about someone else;
    3. 20 points for every blog post;
    4. 5 points for every other piece of valid* social media generated.
    5. *Material generated to ‘game’ the contest (e.g. flooding with meaningless material) will not be counted

Winners will receive a prize of non-monetary value…

So that’s the Social Media Treasure Hunt – I’ll blog about the results in due course. Meanwhile, you can of course follow the tag on social media…

*UPDATE: We had a couple inches of snow overnight, which disrupted transport (yeah, I know – just a couple of inches) and prevented around half of the students from taking part, so I adapted by starting a second meme, #snowbrum, for those who were housebound. This was overseen by Birmingham Recycled’s editor, Natalie Adcock, and I’ll blog about that in due course too.

What does John Terry’s case mean for superinjuntions?

The superinjunction obtained by England Captain John Terry was overturned on Friday – and the case raises some interesting issues (cross posted from John Terry: another nail in the superinjunction coffin):

  • Ecen when the superinjunction was in force, you could find out about the story on Twitter and Google – both even promoted the fact of Terry’s affair – via the Twitter trends list and the real-time Google search box.
  • No one got the difference between an injunction and a superinjunction – the former banned reporting of Terry’s alleged affair, the latter banned revealing there was an injunction. They weren’t necessarily both overturned, but there was a widespread assumption you could say what you liked about Terry once the superinjunction was overturned. This wasn’t necessarily the case …
  • The Mail and Telegraph seemed to flout the superinjunction – as did the Press Gazette which decided if wasn’t bound as it hadn’t seen a copy. This seemed risky behaviour legally – which makes me wonder if the papers were looking for a weak case to try to discredit superinjunctions.
  • This superinjunction should never have been granted. What was the original judge thinking?

Google and Twitter ignored the superinjunction

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

The superinjunction was overturned at about 1pm or 2pm on Friday. Needless to say, the papers had a field day over the weekend. Continue reading

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:

#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.

BCU’s ‘Trinity Mirror Student Online Journalist of the Year 2008’ – Azeem Ahmad

Before the year ends please allow me to publicly congratulate Azeem Ahmad on winning the Birmingham City University ‘Student Online Journalist of the Year’ award, sponsored by Trinity Mirror.

Azeem graduated this year from the journalism degree. For his final year project he worked as the Web Editor for ENO (Environmental News Online), along with Editor Rachael Wilson.

Azeem built the site from scratch using open source content management system Joomla, a raft of plugins, and even survived a hacker attack. But more importantly, he has probably grasped the workings of a networked environment better than any other student, using Twitter particularly effectively, building RSS mashups, learning about search engine optimisation, and exploring the vagaries of online communities. With Rachael he managed a team of second year journalism students as they learned online journalism on the job – the first time I’d tried such a model, which seemed to work very well.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Azeem’s blog entries and seeing the problems he faced in building and maintaining the site both technically and editorially. But, unsurprisingly in the current environment, Azeem has not yet landed a permanent journalism job and so is not blogging as often these days. I’m hoping that changes in ’09. Good luck, Azeem.

Journalism training orgs combine to form Shovelware Alliance

The UK’s three leading journalism training bodies have finally announced that they are to work together as part of a new ‘Joint journalism training council’.

The National Council for the Training of Journalists, the Broadcasting Journalism Training Council and the Periodicals Training Council – who have traditionally provided training for regional newspapers, broadcast journalists, and magazines respectively – have been encroaching on each others’ territories for a while as the industries converged.

It’s early days yet, but the statement doesn’t make encouraging reading for anyone with an interest in the potential of online journalism as a separate medium: the three “new skills and awareness that are and will be required of journalists aiming to work in multi platform news organisations” include:

“b.    Developing ideas for repurposing and adding to print or broadcast news material for use on websites including the use of links, background material, writing for the website, the basics of search engine optimisation and use of basic content management systems. [my emphasis]

“c.     Using video and audio equipment to produce content for websites and other platforms and publishing it.”

In other words, treating the website as a place to shovel – and possibly add to – content produced for another medium.

The statement does go on to say “It is recognised that this is not an exhaustive list”, but it’s not a promising start.

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