futurejournalism · online journalism · teaching

Teaching convergence

This semester I, along with my colleague Amanda Crane, taught for the first time a subject called Converged Newsroom. It was a new subject developed to replace the previous advanced print production subject and the advance online production subject.

Essentially, it aimed to have students take on newsroom roles and produce a fortnightly newspaper and sister website. In theory, the online site could be updated at any time and the paper came out fortnightly – in practice a version of the newspaper and online site were produced fortnightly. This wasn’t ideal, but I don’t think this was a result of a lack of understanding of the online medium, but more the result of study pressures of all of their subjects.

Even when only producing content for the site fortnightly a couple of key convergence principles were tested:

  • How do you keep the content of the newspaper current when it hits stands on Tuesday and the online content (which is based on similar material) goes live on the Thursday of the previous week?
  • How do you adapt content that is written for a newspaper for the online medium (think a 2,000 word feature)?

For the most part, students worked well to find realistic solutions to these issues. They included content in the newspaper which focused more on indepth analysis and incorporated high levels of multimedia content to value add on the web. Sometimes they fell into the trap of shovelling print copy straight online without changing or enhancing for the medium – something that unfortunately they see replicated in industry too much. Check out the results for yourself at City Journal Online.

My question for you readers is: Is that enough? How do we prepare students for the ‘converged newsroom’ when industry itself doesn’t know what that means?

I know many university journalism courses view convergence as just teaching students skills in all mediums i.e. a graduate will be able to produce a text, radio and television story. But is this enough? I don’t think so. I think students need to have all of those skills, yes, but they also need to know how to shoot video and know how video works online (it is very different to what is required for television). They need to know how to select the right media to tell a story – does it suit video best, an audio slideshow or just text? Luckily at RMIT students do get all of these skills (at least we give them the opportunity to)  and I try in the introductory online subject to get them thinking about what the digital landscape means for storytelling. But that still leaves us with the tricky question of convergence and how we prepare students for this new world. What do you think? How do we prepare journalism students for this unknown future?

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