Teaching Examples

Adding online skills to journalism courses
September 23, 2006, 4:03 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I spent the past three days talking with journalism educators at a large university about how to update their program to better prepare their students for a career in a multiplatform media world. Like many journalism programs, this one is not in a position to change radically all at once.

Much of the advice I wrote in 2004 (Teaching Online Journalism: How to Build the First College-Level Course) still holds. However, I’ve been thinking about ways that online reporting and editing skills can be injected into traditional, non-online journalism courses.

Add audio assignments

One thing I found myself saying again and again during the past three days: Add an assignment (or two) that requires the students to gather and edit audio, and produce an MP3 file of maybe 90 seconds. As a basic add-on, this one is pretty simple. At the very least, students could interview one another just to get the experience.

If your school doesn’t have audio editing software, download and use Audacity. It’s open source and free. If you have Macs, just use GarageBand.

1. Get someone from radio news to give the students a brief lecture (20 minutes) on techniques for interviewing when you want to “publish” the audio.

2. Get someone to give the students a brief introduction to the audio editing software. I do this in about 20 minutes.

3. The audio files can be graded by the regular instuctor (in a print reporting class, for example).

Audio assignments can be added to any class that teaches reporting skills, and also to photojournalism classes.

You might even work up to producing a podcast.

Incorporate blogs

By having students produce individual or group blogs using free software such as Blogger, you can easily add assignments that focus on finding good links, writing good link text, writing headlines, and writing tight and brief for the Web.

You can also add some semi-technical information about topics such as RSS feeds and site visitor statistics.

If you feel adventurous, add an assignment with AudioBlogger.

Any course that teaches writing, editing or fact-finding could add a blogging assignment.

Team a photographer and a reporter

Make them go out together and report together — and then come in and sit together to produce a package with chunks of text and maybe eight to 10 photos. The text blocks should not be captions — they are little stories.

This can be a magazine story or an online story.

Adopt Soundslides

I don’t get a kickback for pushing Soundslides (although you might be starting to wonder about that if you are a regular reader of this blog!). I push it because it’s very easy to learn and use, very inexpensive, and a perfect introduction to constructing a multimedia story.

Your students can get a similar experience by using iMovie, if your school has Macs. The biggest difference is that with Soundslides, the file size of the final package will be smaller, and therefore a faster download if it’s online.

Soundslides is especially great in photojournalism classes, but it’s also great to use in an intro to online journalism course. If your school has rights to use wire photos online, you can have non-photo students work with slideshows using those.

And … ?

What would you do to introduce a bit of online skill-building into a non-online journalism class?

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4 Comments so far
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Students also need to be educated about the changing news cycle and understand that they will often be called upon to write a “breaking news” version for online and then a final, more in-depth version for the newspaper. Perhaps this is a lesson best learned later in their writing education though…

Comment by Danny Sanchez

This could be handled as an exercise in the Reporting class. Maybe they have an e-mail (or blog) deadline four hours earlier than their final deadline. They must submit a brief with a headline to meet the first deadline. Easy!

Comment by Mindy McAdams

At NMSU this weekend, I had to preface part of my talk with this disclaimer: “I do not work for Soundslides, nor do I receive any compensation for endorsing this product, but it makes producing audio slideshows almost ridiculously easy.” šŸ™‚

But perhaps we should have bought shares in Joe Weiss a while back.

Comment by Murley

Thanks for this post of sensible suggestions for adding basic online skills to journalism courses. I’ve forwarded it to the JMC faculty in my school at SJSU, with a note that these suggestions are just as appropriate for PR classes.

Comment by jmcwebmaster

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