Hello Dolly: Test Tube Journalism

This fall I threw out the book on our sophomore-junior level writing class, Journalism 310 Writing, Reporting & Ethics III. Literally.

After months of departmental discussions, major purchases of backpack journalism equipment, a week-long convergence bootcamp, and a university Beck grant, I completely re-imagined what was once a feature writing class.  J310 became a test tube for multimedia journalism unlike anything I’ve taught before.

The results?  Students  shot and edited video, wrote reviews for Yelp, created Google Maps, and even tried their hands at live blogging.   They used WordPress blogs as the sites for the content they produced, and signed up for YouTube accounts to post video.  (This tag cloud gives a sense of what we covered, or you can visit the class site or blog for more specifics. To see what students produced, visit their individual blogs.)

I’ve just gotten back the anonymous student reviews (thank you, J310ers for your many kind comments), and wanted to share some of their critiques:

“I was under the impression this would be an intensive writing class not a Web 2.0 class . . . In fact, the writing we have done seems supplemental to technology.” This is a key issue facing all print journalists — technology is taking away from the basics of reporting and writing.   To what extent should that be happening in student journalism classes as well?

“I needed further explanation on how to use these tools.” While writing skills vary in journo classes, the variation in tech skills seems greater to me, and thus presents a thornier problem.  Some students wanted minimal explanation and then an opportunity to dive in; others wanted more guidance.  Perhaps more emphasis on peer mentoring?

“Would have liked a more solid syllabus that mapped out assignments better.” Because the class was new, I wasn’t entirely sure how much we could cover, so the syllabus was a bit vague.  I revised it as the semester went along but it still needs fleshing out.

Faculty perspectives

The curriculum committee also surveyed faculty this semester about their use of new media and their thoughts about incorporating such tools.

Faculty are teaching:  Soundslides, Garageband, iMovie/Windows Movie Maker, blogging, wikis, Twitter, RSS, Firefox plugin architecture, social bookmarking, website creation, HTML, CSS.  Examples of student work:

Student-produced PR VNR (De Veaux)

J110 News Spotting blog (Charles)

J210 blog (Bowen)

Scene Magazine (Shapiro)

El Nuevo Sol (Benavides)

Faculty comments:

Basic Internet skills need to be taught earlier in the program vs. No online skills until the 300 level (whoa, how do we reconcile those lines of thought?)

Problems include “giving up certain assignments in favor of the multimedia projects.”

Students need to spend extra time learning the tools early in the semester, so they don’t scramble to do so with their final, major assignments.

Inconsistency in departmental software;  mainly Mac labs but mainly PC-owning students.

Taking my J310 students’ comments and those from faculty into account, the issues are the same:

  • What’s our emphasis as we incorporate new skills with traditional ones?  How do we keep up-to-date without forgetting our roots?
  • When and at which levels do we incorporate new technology skills?
  • Professors need to calibrate how much more time will be needed to teach these new forms journalism, and whether traditional ways of explaining still work.

One thought on “Hello Dolly: Test Tube Journalism

  1. This is a great summary, Melissa. As I watch the traditional media outlets disappear, we must make a concerted effort to teach students new media. It is our duty to them, no matter how foreign the concepts are to us. My students in the J440 class did multimedia news releases, uploading them to UTube. And each reported on a new media tool, i.e. RSS feeds, Twitter, etc. There is much we all must learn, but first we must make a commitment to new media, no matter how far it takes us out of our comfort zone. I liken this to the transition from typewriters to computers. Change is tough, but change is needed. Otherwise our students, and ourselves, will wind up in the dark ages.

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