futurejournalism · multimedia · online journalism · writing

What should journalism students be learning?

The media industry is struggling navigate an online media world – that is unquestionable. But what does that mean for those who are training the journalists of the future?

Mindy McAdams has written another excellent post to give food for thought to online journalism teachers. She writes that ideally online skills would be integrated into all journalism courses, but as this isn’t always feasible she offers these guidelines for specialised courses:

  1. A pure production class (students make a news Web site or “zine”) in which the products are only text, static photos, and Web pages is inadequate. This kind of experience alone will not provide students with enough confidence or competence to operate in today’s news environment. Are your students required to do more than this?
  2. Students need to be able to gather audio, still photos and video at the scene of a news event. The audio, still photos and video must be of sufficient quality to satisfy a public audience. What are your classes doing to provide that experience for them?
  3. Familiarity with blogs (including commenting and managing comments), RSS, Twitter, and other social and participatory media (such as YouTube’s comments) is necessary for journalists who will be using these tools in their daily work. And that means everybody. Do your students receive criticism and helpful advice on their use of such tools in a professional context?
  4. Familiarity with best practices for visual presentation of information is necessary for all journalists, even those who will never create a graphic. A reporter in the field needs to recognize when a story cries out for a map, a diagram, an interactive treatment of some kind. How are you preparing your students to make these decisions?
  5. Students may not be reading newspapers, but are they otherwise ensuring that they are informed about current events? Rather than force them to read a newspaper, we should force them to be well informed via aggregators, news alerts, feeds, etc., as well as seeking out reliable sources. This can be used as a springboard for encouraging curiosity. For example, if the drug propofol becomes prominent in the news, where might they look — online — for reliable information about the drug, its manufacture, uses, effects? Most of the students will go to Wikipedia and no further. Are you teaching them to do better than that?
  6. Knowledge of Web standards and HTML and CSS are quite helpful in today’s newsrooms, but are your students: (a) spending too much time on learning these, and not enough time on the reporting tools for audio and images; (b) learning these in a minimal way that instills bad habits (and results in poor code); (c) getting burned out on code instead of learning cool new ways to produce journalism stories?

Mindy makes some interesting points. It’s not enough now for students to only learn print, or only learn television and radio. Skills of writing, shooting and editing video and collecting good quality audio are vital for ALL journalists. That’s why the streaming system, where students elect either a print or broadcast stream, is not a viable option. We are lucky at RMIT that students must take introductory and advanced classes in print, radio, television and online. This means that all students have the skills to write, shoot and edit video and collect and edit good quality audio. These skills are vital for an online newsroom, where an understanding of multimedia is essential.

I also think it is important that students don’t get too burnt out on learning code or particular software. An understanding of it and what it does is useful, but I find that students who believe themselves to be not technologically inclined will be disengaged from the outset if forced into highly fiddly or technical components. I have recently started to focus on using tools already available on the web to create quick multimedia and interactive stories. Tools such as Youtube, GoogleMaps etc. are free and instantly available and given the breaking news aspect of online it is important for students to be able to siphon what is immediately available as quickly as possible.

How are you dealing with the tricky problem of teaching the journalists of the future?

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