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March 25 2013

11:00

How One Student Went Mobile-Only for a Day on Campus

Recently, Reese News Lab students have conducted experiments in living without a smartphone and social media.

NYT ipad.jpg

But because the lab is working on a project on producing media for mobile devices, I thought it was time that someone tried a computer blackout. I'd give up my laptop for a day, navigating the UNC campus with just an iPhone and an iPad (with a Bluetooth keyboard). I figured that way, I could find out how mobile-friendly the world really is.

Before I could attempt this task, though, I knew I had to plan carefully. I had to make sure it wouldn't interfere with my schoolwork, and I tried to account for as many problems as I could beforehand.

I knew I would be unable to print because UNC's printing program requires you to install specific hardware. I also would lose access to a good word-processing program. So I added all the documents I needed to my Google Drive and converted them into PDFs. I also knew I'd lose access to Spotify, so I downloaded MixerBox, which makes playlists of YouTube videos. Set with my arsenal of solutions, I felt confident that this day would be relatively easy, but I quickly discovered that you can't account for everything.

A mobile-only day begins

When I awoke on the day of my experiment, I was pleased to have no trouble going through my routine of checking emails and Twitter. All of the mobile sites I encountered were effective and easy to navigate. But my positivity about the day was soon shattered by the first text I received: a free Redbox code. I don't have a TV in my room, so without my laptop, a disc was useless. This was the first omen that Netflix would be my saving grace later.

With a sense of dread, I embarked on the rest of my day. I immediately noticed how much lighter my backpack was without a laptop, so at least there was one perk. In class, I was already used to doing the reading on my iPad. It was after class that I ran into trouble.

Help! No tabs!

Sticking to my Thursday routine, I headed to the Reese News Lab. However, I realized that doing any kind of research was going to be hard. When I am on a computer, I love using tabs and multiple windows. I can read something in my browser and take notes on it in a Word document. As I write this, I have open six Word documents, Spotify, an Excel spreadsheet and four windows in Google Chrome (31 tabs) open. And yes, those numbers were higher until I was embarrassed by how much I had open and decided to close a few.

In the lab, I decided to scroll through Twitter and Facebook to find the latest news. As I tapped through articles, though, I realized how much I missed the tab and find features. Links in both of these apps opened a new page within the app. However, these pages were slow and harder to navigate. Multimedia components from places like the Wall Street Journal were especially troublesome as I tried to navigate their normally mobile-friendly site within these other apps. Also, I couldn't just search for keywords on any page. Rather, I had to search for terms line-by-line.

Frustrated, I decided that I just wanted a break and opted to try the USA Today crossword, but I hit another road block. I couldn't access it on my Safari app: USA Today requires mobile users to purchase its crossword app. I'm a college student, so thanks, but no thanks.

All eyes on screens

I headed to the Student Union. Although I saw plenty of people I knew there, they all were engrossed by whatever was on their computer screens. The screen blocked them from social interactions.

I headed back to my room around 5 p.m. to charge my phone, which was already in the red. I turned on Netflix, but I quickly got antsy. I needed something else to do simultaneously so that I wasn't just mindlessly watching a TV show. I couldn't do any work on my iPad while I had Netflix running, so I resorted to cleaning. This lasted for an hour or so until I decided I just needed to get out and go to dinner.

But the problem wasn't over. After dinner, I started to try to teach myself HTML/CSS with Codecademy. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to attempt a few more courses, but in a rather ironic turn of events, I found the site was not mobile-friendly. All of the site's features worked on my iPad, but it was not easy to navigate and use. Even with my keyboard, which hides the onscreen keyboard, the site responded by zooming in too much. Sure, most people aren't coding from mobile devices now, but why can't we?

After facing yet another disappointment, I spent the rest of the night using my iPad to watch Netflix and my phone as a second screen, where I could read articles and play games,. But I still never found an adequate solution. I couldn't even clean out my inbox from my phone easily, as the mail app tries to archive messages rather than delete them. I opted to go to bed early knowing that as soon as I woke up Friday, I could have my laptop back.

Lessons learned

So what did I learn?

  1. It's expensive to use only mobile devices. While content is often free for desktop users, mobile users are forced to buy apps to access the same content.
  2. Mobile devices make multitasking harder.
  3. We miss social interactions and are less observant hiding behind computer screens.
  4. We can still perform most of our daily routines on mobile devices. In fact, most of the sites we interact with have a mobile-friendly version.

And when I finally did check my laptop, I found I hadn't really missed anything. Sure, I was unable to get ahead on my work, but I had still been connected to the rest of the world. So could I learn to survive without a laptop? Absolutely. Do I want to try it? Not in the slightest.

Lincoln Pennington is a freshman in the journalism school at UNC Chapel Hill with a second major in political science. He works as a staffer for reesenews.org and tweets from @Lincoln_Ross. He is a politics junkie interested in the future of the media and hopes to work in D.C. upon graduation in 2016.

This story originally appeared on Reese News Lab.

reeselablogo.jpgReese News Lab is an experimental news and research project based at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The lab was established in 2010 with a gift from the estate of journalism school alum Reese Felts. Our mission is to push past the boundaries of media today, refine best practices and embrace the risks of experimentation. We do this through: collaborating with researchers, students, the public and industry partners; producing tested, academically grounded insights for media professionals; and providing engaging content. We pursue projects that enable us to create engaging content and to answer research questions about the digital media environment. All of our projects are programmed, designed, reported, packaged and edited by a staff of undergraduate and graduate students.

April 20 2012

04:33

The courses a student wishes he had taken

As he prepares to graduate, University of Oregon public relations student Sam Drake reflects on the courses he did not take:

  • Computer science: “To be able to code in Java, HTML, C++ or Python is one skill that is going to be extremely important in the coming years.”
  • Marketing classes: “If I could have taken a few marketing classes then I would have a better grasp of how the business world works.”
  • Language classes: “The last language class that I took was a Spanish class during my sophomore year of high school. After that, I never really used my Spanish speaking ability and have since lost most of my ability to speak it.”
  • Grammar: “I had taken J101 which is the equivalent to beginning grammar at the U of O but I never really got much out of that class. After an internship … I have come to the conclusion that I really need to learn how to write with better grammar.”

Read his full post here.

A lot of students tell me after graduation that they wish they had taken this or that — usually some technology-oriented courses that were offered as electives in our journalism program.

And why didn’t they sign up and take those courses when they had the chance? Only they can answer that.

04:33

The courses a student wishes he had taken

As he prepares to graduate, University of Oregon public relations student Sam Drake reflects on the courses he did not take:

  • Computer science: “To be able to code in Java, HTML, C++ or Python is one skill that is going to be extremely important in the coming years.”
  • Marketing classes: “If I could have taken a few marketing classes then I would have a better grasp of how the business world works.”
  • Language classes: “The last language class that I took was a Spanish class during my sophomore year of high school. After that, I never really used my Spanish speaking ability and have since lost most of my ability to speak it.”
  • Grammar: “I had taken J101 which is the equivalent to beginning grammar at the U of O but I never really got much out of that class. After an internship … I have come to the conclusion that I really need to learn how to write with better grammar.”

Read his full post here.

A lot of students tell me after graduation that they wish they had taken this or that — usually some technology-oriented courses that were offered as electives in our journalism program.

And why didn’t they sign up and take those courses when they had the chance? Only they can answer that.

September 15 2011

09:44

Daily mail student media awards?

Yeah, wouldn’t happen. But should it?

The always interesting Wannabehacks posted yesterday stating that The industry isn’t doing enough to support student journalists. The post really should have been titled The Guardian isn’t doing enough to support student journalists as it takes a pop at the frankly risible prize the Guardian is offering for its Guardian student media award:

[T]he quality of prizes has diminished year on year: “Seven weeks of placement with expenses paid (offered 2003-2006) is a good way to spend the summer. Two weeks of self-funded work experience is an insult to supposedly the best student journalists in Britain.”

It’s a fair point. Just how good you have to be to actually be paid to work at the Guardian?

Maybe we are being unfair to the Guardian though. Why do they need to carry this stuff? I know plenty of students who don’t want to work for the Guardian. So why don’t more papers step up? If it’s about spotting talent then shouldn’t every media org have a media award?

Truth is there is a bit of black hole out there when it comes to awards. Aspiring journos could be forgiven for thinking that there is very little on offer between that letter writing competition the local paper runs for schoolkids and the Guardian awards. There are actually quite a few – the NUS student awards for example. But none with the direct association of the Guardian awards.

But maybe it’s not about the award. The wannabe hacks post (and the letter it references) suggests that there is more a problem of expectation here.

The Guardian is a very attractive proposition to many aspiring journos. In a lot of respects it plays on that strength; it presents itself as a like the paper where things are happening. But there is a danger that things like competitions exploit that aspiration and begin to suggest a slightly dysfunctional relationship - aspiring journos trying their best to please the indifferent and aloof object of their affection.

Show them the money.

This isn’t just a print problem. The truth is the industry has a bit of problem of putting its money where it’s mouth is when it comes to student journos.

As an academic I see more offers of valuable experience than paid opportunities in my inbox. They tend to coincide with large events where industry doesn’t have the manpower to match their plans for coverage. In that sense there is no secret here, the industry is living beyond its means and it’s increasingly relying on low and no paid input to keep newsrooms running. But student journo’s bear the brunt of that. Yes, they get experience, but not much else.

No return on investment

Of course the flip-side to that argument is that many of those who enter the competitions would happily benefit from the association but don’t put back in. I wonder how many people who enter the Guardian student media awards have regularly bought the paper rather than accessing the (free) website?  You could argue the same when talking about work experience. How many students actually buy the product they aspire to work on?

But the reality is that, regardless of how much is put in, if you court an audience, you have to live up to their expectations – unreasonable or otherwise.

This is happening at a time when those same newsrooms are reporting on the commercial realities of education and how students need to demand value from their investment. As someone trying to respond to those expectations, perhaps I can offer some advice.  Perhaps the industry need to reflect on their advice to prospective students the next time they reach out or connect with student journalists.  Just how much are you expecting them to invest in your newsroom and what’s the return?

 

June 16 2011

07:13

"Flash Mob on South Street" - video games or how to connect kids with news

Niemanlab ::  "Flash Mob on South Street" : Students ranging in age from 9 to 11 years old spent time learning more about these flash mobs, and with the help of their teacher, John Landis, they created video games to tell this story in a way and through a medium that kids can relate to. Youngsters made video games, and educators found that "hands-on activity helped kids to process news reporting. It also gave them ways to tell this story by integrating their perspectives as they aimed it at fresh audiences."

How to connect kids with news - continue to read Renee Hobbs, www.nieman.harvard.edu

January 20 2011

09:37

December 06 2010

16:35

UBC Students, Globe and Mail Investigate Hidden Cost of Shrimp

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

Twenty-something university students usually head to Thailand in search of exotic adventures. But when a group of 10 University of British Columbia journalism students went almost a year ago, they were searching for the untold story of shrimp, a seafood delicacy that has become common in North America.

Led by associate professor Peter Klein, the students spoke to exploited Burmese migrant workers, documented devastated mangrove swamps, and visited labs where shrimp are tested for carcinogenic chemicals.

Their work was published recently in partnership with Canada's newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, together with a companion micro-site to showcase the breadth and depth of the students' work.

"The Globe was preparing to do a series on global food, and we had just finished this reporting in Thailand, so we discussed with the editors the idea of a collaboration," said Klein, a former "60 Minutes" producer. "We shared transcripts of our interviews with one of their print reporters, and our students gave the reporter some advice on what we found in the field."

The project is an example of a growing trend of partnerships between major news organizations and universities, and it highlights the role of journalism schools as homes for investigative reporting projects.

This is the second project of UBC's International Reporting program. The first documentary, Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, was produced in partnership with PBS Frontline/World and went on to win an Emmy Award in September for investigative reporting.

A Nuanced Story

The International Reporting program takes 10 journalism students abroad to cover under-reported international issues. The idea of looking at the real cost of those all-you-can-eat platters of cheap shrimp came out of a pitch by one of the students, Kate Allen.

mangrove.jpgShe suggested a general story about seafood, the ocean and fisheries. As the students researched the topic, the issue of shrimp aquaculture started to take shape.

"There are environmental concerns, human rights issues, and even health issues that can affect us back home in North America and Europe, where most farmed shrimp ends up," said Klein.

For the investigation, the students visited several sites in Thailand. They interviewed exploited Burmese migrants who are paid a pittance for their labor, filmed the underwater effects of shrimp runoff on the country's reefs and reported on how the clear-cutting of mangrove swamps by shrimp farmers contributed to the effects of the 2004 tsunami.

"It's a nuanced story," said student Kerry Blackadar. "We went there expecting a black-and-white story about run-offs from shrimp farms impacting reefs and mangroves, but realized the complexities of the industry when we were in Thailand."

Allen, the student who suggested the topic that eventually became this project, said,
"By the end of our Thai trip, we were left with a palpable sense of how North America's raging appetite for one tiny species of crustacean had done serious harm to this beautiful country."

Multimedia Treatment

The students produced a web video project for the Globe that offers a snapshot of the impact of cheap shrimp. The journalism school also produced a micro-site that highlights different aspects of the story, drawing from more than 100 hours of footage shot in the field.

shrimp_telephone.jpg"This project was really well suited for a multimedia piece," said Klein. "There are several distinct themes we addressed, and in a linear TV piece we would have had to do awkward transitions between these themes. In this project, we were able to separate out the themes and address them as individual video clips."

The website was created using WordPress, which is the content management system we use for our student online publications. I was involved in supervising the site, which was developed by student Erin Empey.

"This worked well as a multimedia project because of its complexity," she said. "By using several multimedia tools and breaking the video into chapters, we were able to present the nuances of the story clearly."

Here's one of the videos produced for the project:

Non-Profit Investigative Reporting

The website was the culmination of a year-long investigation that started back in September 2009, when the students embarked on the second year of a new course called International Reporting.

The course is an example of foundation-funded journalism. It was launched in 2008 thanks to a generous donation from Alison Lawton of the Mindset Foundation.

For the shrimp micro-site, the school also secured funding from the MITACS Accelerate internship program. The program provides federal and provincial funding to offer students the opportunity to apply their research to real-world issues.

Funding programs like these can help established media undertake innovative research and development projects. Last year, the UBC journalism school also received a grant from MITACS to partner with CBC Radio 3 to create a Canadian music wiki.

These kinds of partnerships are evolving as news outlets, foundations and journalism schools pool their resources, particularly at a time when established media are devoting fewer resources to investigative reporting

"This is classic investigative journalism, the kind of reporting that rarely gets done anymore on international topics," said Klein.

Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.
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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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November 29 2010

16:30

Why We Gave Our Students Droid Smartphones to Capture News

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

On a cold fall night about 20 years ago I was standing in a phone booth alongside the Welland Canal. The deck of the lake freighter I was writing about was slowly sinking down as the lock level lowered. In front of me was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 computer with a faint 8-line LCD display. It was acoustically coupled to the grimy pay phone's handset and was sputtering my copy at 300 characters per second back to my newsroom. It spurted the last period of my story in time for me to leap down to the descending, ice-rimmed deck and continue my journey.

Now, two decades later, I want my students to have the same experience. I want them to witness and then file from the scene. But, I want them to use smartphones connected to a high speed, 3G network. And I want those phones to be capable of capturing video, stills and text and sharing.

Okay, I don't want them to back a pig-slow file transfer in a race against a departing lake freighter. But, the idea remains the same.

Droids for All

This semester at Ryerson University in Toronto, thanks to help from Motorola and Telus, a major Canadian cell phone provider, my fellow third-year online journalism instructor Vinita Srivastava and I have been able to provide all our two dozen students with Android-powered Droid smartphones.

While some of the students already have feature phones and Blackberries (and a few iPhones), it's great to have them all at the same level and give them equal and free access to a technology that can get pretty pricey when you factor in a monthly data plan, especially in Canada.

Our intention is to have the students, where possible and appropriate, do as many aspects of their reporting on the phones. That includes research, using social media, recording audio, capturing video, taking still photos, writing and editing stories and filing online to Flickr, YouTube, our class blog and the Toronto-based hyper-local news site, OpenFile. (Disclosure: MediaShift managing editor Craig Silverman is the digital journalism director of OpenFile.)

We are working with OpenFile because they have created a very interesting model for hyper-local news. They fully engage communities in their own coverage and encourage non-journalists to open files on the site on issues or events that interest them or that they are curious about. Site editors then assign freelance journalists to follow up on the leads and produce stories for the site. And, those stories can be followed up by anyone and leave an online comet trail of evidence and additions in their wake.

While the recent municipal election was going on in Toronto, the students used their smartphones to bring citywide election issues down to the neighborhood level. They also live-tweeted candidate meetings and, on election night, results and reactions. They've already used them to capture and share video interviews with candidates, share photo essays of wards, write their stories in coffee shops and even catch breaking news in the form of a dramatic fire in a Wellsley Avenue apartment that led to the evacuation of hundreds of residents. Some of those residents were interviewed by video using a smartphone.

Other students roamed the streets, looking for local stories. Here's a video interview that student Claire Penhorwood conducted with the owner of a local business:

Device of the Future

All well and good, but why is using smartphones important?

First, because mobile devices like smartphones are not only perfect little tools for journalism; but, equally as important, more and more people are using these devices to consume content and also to create and distribute photos, gossip, events and the other little flakes of experience that are taken for news by those that care deeply about them. So, if we want to tell and share our stories, we should learn to use and master the devices more and more people are using to consume and create it.

ryerson.pngSecond, if you want to explore community-level hyper-local journalism, smartphones are a natural tool for a diffuse, mobile news team.

Third, smartphones are powerful multimedia tools capable of capturing high quality audio and video, but they are also light, unobtrusive and non-threatening for folks not used to media attention.

Fourth, these devices are built for social networks, online sharing and diffuse content creation. If you want to teach the journalistic application of these things, they're an ideal ally.

Finally, they help us model the future. These devices will only get faster, smarter and more capable (and probably thinner). Networks will get faster and ubiquitous. Devices like tablets and smartphones will be our go-to devices for consuming news. We should help our students get used to it.

There's one other aspect of this experiment I should mention. The students post final stories to OpenFile, but also collectively contribute notes on their progress and process to our shared blog, Rye Here, Rye Now, which is built on the Posterous microblogging platform. Students contribute text, video, photos or photo slideshows from their phones just by emailing them to Posterous.

That combination gives students an on-the-ground tool for news capture and a near-instant place to post it. We want to make mobile news coverage gestural. We'll let you know how that turns out.

Wayne MacPhail began in the industry as a magazine photographer, feature writer and editor. In 1983, he moved to the Hamilton Spectator where was a health, science and social services columnist, feature writer and editor. In 1991, he founded Southam InfoLab, a research and development lab looking into future information products for this Canadian national newspaper chain. After leaving Southam, he developed online content for most Canadian online networks. He now heads up w8nc inc., helping non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, charitable organizations and associations develop and implement technology-based, marketing driven communications strategies. He also teaches online journalism at the University of Western Ontario and Ryerson University.

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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This article was originally published on J-Source. J-Source and MediaShift have a content-sharing arrangement to broaden the audience of both sites.

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September 30 2010

15:45

Ivory tower dispatch: Nothing is simple anymore

I’m going to try and share a little of what I do each week with the students and now that teaching has settled in a little bit after freshers it seemed a good time to start.

This week I wanted to get all the students thinking about some of the issues that contribute to the ‘changing media landscape’ that we have to function in as journalists.

Process in to content

For my second year, Digital Newsroom students I picked on process.

The lecture was really about how the process has changed because of digital. So I took a very basic view of the process – find, research and report – and looked at where in the process digital had made an impact. Here are the slides from my lecture (a bit cryptic without notes I know – come to the lectures!)

I started by saying that the reporting part was where the real medium specific stuff really made itself known (the mechanics of output for a particular platform). Given that we are platform agnostic, this was not where we wanted to be.  Maybe the first parts where more generic? More about broad journalism.

In truth, the process is no longer that discreet. In a multi-platform world we can’t simply focus on one ‘point of delivery’ when the point of delivery is changing all the time. By rights we are (and should be) generating content all the time; what Robin Hamman called turning process in to content. (I’ve written on that issue before.)

But in stumbling along to that conclusion we looked at how digital allows us to inject input from ‘communities’ in to the early parts of our process. We also started to explore the pros and cons of that involvement – legal, ethical and practical.

As a conclusion and starting point for more discussion later on, I picked out three ‘keywords’ that I wanted them to think about.

  • Community
  • Social media
  • Crowdsourcing

All of which, in some form, have contributed to the changing media landscape in which we practice, regardless of medium.

Where chips go, the nation follows.

I didn’t see the thirds year print students this week as they were putting together their first newspaper (1st. week back. No hanging around). But the time I spent with our post-graduate newspaper students looked at similar issues to the second years.

I started with a little debate. I split the group in to two. One side took the position “newspapers will die in five years”. With the other side getting “newspapers will survive the next five years”. As you can imagine interesting debates ensued. Including the position that newspapers weren’t even used to wrap chips in anymore(and the wonderful statement that headed this section), countered of course by ‘you can’t wrap your chips in an ipad’.

It was great to see that the range of debate broadly mirrored the industry concerns(or you may see it as a sad reflection of the echo chamber!) and that the students took a admirable middle ground. Passionate but realistic.

For them, the list of things to ponder was longer but similar:

  • Community
  • Multi-platform
  • Multimedia
  • Hyperlocal
  • Data Journalism

I also included Profile/engagement on the list but that became a broader discussion of brand and identity.  Something that began to touch on the deeper issues of professionalism and ethics.

Nothing is simple

If this week could be summed up in a nutshell it would be “nothing is simple anymore”. We don’t just simply write for newspapers ( or make TV/radio etc) – we have an eye on multiplatform.  It’s not as simple as just talking to the community anymore – we interact. Everything is made more complex by technology and the influx of digital. Some of it is in our control. Some of it isn’t.

What we can’t avoid is that some of that pressure lands on the journalist, right from the point they engage with a story,  regardless of where it ultimately ends up. It may not be your employer who brings that pressure to bear. It may be the audience…

PS. Just in case you thought that we do nothing practical they also started (or, in the case of the second years restarted) blogs (platform up to them) and google reader.  The postgrads got their beats and patches to play with and got to explore their hyperlocal/patch site.

Image from tim_ellis on Flickr

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September 17 2010

11:27

Financial protection for NCTJ courses

Rachel McAthy at journalism.co.uk chips in to the recent NCTJ debate asking NCTJ accreditation: essential or an outdated demand? She reports on the recent meeting of the NCTJ’s cross-media accreditation board where the answer is an emphatic, if predictable, yes.

Most interesting for me though was a quote from the report of the meeting by Professor Richard Tait, director of the Centre of Journalism Studies at Cardiff University:

While the NCTJ is quite right to insist on sufficient resources and expertise so that skills are properly taught and honed, education is a competitive market, and NCTJ courses are expensive to run. In the likely cuts ahead, it is vital for accredited courses to retain their funding so that they are not forced to charge students exorbitant fees; otherwise, diversity will be further compromised.

On the face of it a reasonable demand. But one that in turn demands a lot more clarification.  Who should be offering that financial security?  The universities, the industry or the NCTJ who take a fee.

Some more NCTJ bursaries perhaps….

September 07 2010

08:06

September 02 2010

18:00

How to Conquer Journalism Students' Fear of Technology

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

In a time and age when many of my generation assume the younger generation understands technology, I have been surprised by the number of students who walk into my class and announce that they "don't know anything about computers."

It's a rampant attitude. I beg each and every student who says this to pretend they never said it and try everything I introduce to them in my class. Over the last seven years I've been teaching, I've seen a slow change that is now very obvious: It isn't just a belief that they don't know about computers, many students are simply afraid to fail.

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I am open to writing about my professional failures for this site. I thrive from the learning experience that comes from doing everything I can, even if I fail. So my students' reaction to failure has been difficult to understand, and even more difficult to verbalize.

A Different Approach

When they arrive in my class, I teach students how to go beyond what they already learned in the radio/television sequence at the Missouri School of Journalism. The students know how to produce stories for on-the-air and online. They know how to edit stellar video and audio. But there is another level of multimedia journalism that I try to help them add to an already solid base of knowledge. This can be scary, as many of my students are overachievers who are frightened to get a bad grade. They're afraid to jump into something new before they even have a chance to fail. I used to just think that was funny and it didn't interfere with my teaching. But lately I have decided it is time to teach my class differently.

In the past I taught students the basics of software like Flash, Photoshop and Illustrator. I introduced blogging, video conversion tools and many other web-based tools that can make delivering online stories a richer experience. The students who try it all walk away with a knowledge of how things work. But even more important, they understand how to talk about the technology. They may not be experts, but they can talk to an expert and be able to understand his or her needs when they work together on a project.

I will not stop teaching these tools, but I am going to do it with more help. I think I need to spend classroom time presenting my case for the basic knowledge of software instead of teaching it during class time. I plan on going about this campaign in a number of ways.

Four Elements

Here are the four main elements of my new approach:

  1. First, I want to make sure my students know there is no other time in their life when they will have this much free time to experience and be curious about new tools for journalism. I'm handing them access to tools to explore and an outlet to share their lessons. Each of my students work in the KOMU-TV or KBIA-FM newsrooms. (KOMU is a university-owned local NBC station; KBIA is the local NPR station.) They also have a chance to work with a number of social media applications for each of the newsrooms.
  2. Second, instead of focusing on the software in the classroom, I will spend more time showing examples of what technology can produce for the journalism industry. I hope to introduce my students to a number of people in the profession (thanks to Skype) who have a wide range of skills. I hope to use their backgrounds to explain why it's important to break past fear of the new.
  3. Third, I have added five online courses from Lynda.com to my class, which my students will be able to take at their own pace. I will not teach software in class, but I will hold open, non-mandatory meetings for students who are still confused and want to work through the confusion.
  4. At the end of the class, I will ask students to use the lessons they learned with Lynda.com to produce content that will benefit their online portfolio. I will expect examples of photo editing, graphic creation and, as extra credit, a use of interactive graphics. I'm hoping that by requiring content that will benefit the student portfolios, it will motivate my students to jump into learning software.

Not all of my students are afraid of technology. The shifts I am making in my class are focused on helping this group of students succeed just as well as the more fearful ones. And I'm ready to push ahead with these changes with the knowledge that they too could fail.

Jennifer Reeves worked in television news for the majority of her career. In the last six years, she has moved from traditional journalist to non-traditional thinker about journalism and education. Jen is currently the New Media Director at KOMU-TV and komu.com. At the same time, she is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was a part of the inaugural class of Reynolds Journalism Institute fellows (2008-09).

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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July 27 2010

02:20

USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism for Prospective Students

USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism for Prospective Students The undergraduate degrees at USC Annenberg provide a strong foundation for people interested in working in the communication industries: the media, public relations, advertising, strategic corporate and organizational communication, political consulting, higher education, and many more. USC Annenberg offers three undergraduate degrees: * Communication: One of the most versatile degrees offered at USC, a bachelor’s degree in communication prepares you for professional employment or graduate work. * Journalism: With options in Print & Digital Journalism and Broadcast & Digital Journalism, undergraduate students focus on writing, ethics and the use of new technology in a rapidly changing industry. * Public Relations: Emphasizes communication problem solving, strategic thinking, applied skills and management, rather than communication theory; alumni work in all types of organizations. For more information for prospective students: annenberg.usc.edu

April 12 2010

16:45

How Going Online Can Help Save Struggling College Papers

In an old episode of "The West Wing," a leader of an AIDS-stricken African nation tells the president plainly, "It's a terrible thing to beg for your life."

The quote comes to mind as I read about the current plight of the Technician, the student newspaper at North Carolina State University. In a recent editorial, the few remaining staff at the newspaper declared that the publication "is looking down the business end of the barrel and is in serious need of student involvement ... Without student support, the paper could cease publication at the end of the semester ... Today's paper was only on the stand because of what the staff would describe as a printing miracle."

The newspaper's decline rapidly accelerated last fall when a lack of staffers in higher editorial positions left the multi-tasking editor-in-chief "overwhelmed and overworked." His extra effort in the newsroom cost him in the classroom, leading to poor grades which, ironically enough dealt him an automatic suspension from the newspaper. So the guy holding the paper together by the skin of his ink-stained hands was suddenly gone. Cue free-fall, or what one editor called, "sort of mayhem."

But the Technician can take heart in the advent of small campus publications that have sprung up online on smaller budgets, often surving and thriving without print editions.

On the Cusp of Extinction

The Technician's mayhem is also an important reminder: College media, on the whole, are not rich, overstaffed, well-oiled machines. In fact, most student journalism outlets are one bad semester, staff shortage or poor leadership transition away from near-extinction every academic term.

And yet, this reality is often overlooked on campuses and within news reports.

A few years back, Newsweek told the story of a young man named David Burrick. As the piece noted:

David Burrick edits a daily newspaper in Philadelphia. When big news breaks he deploys a staff of 200 reporters and photographers, flying them across the country if necessary, keeping an eye toward his $1 million budget. And then he goes to class. Burrick's paper? The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania. "We're a bunch of 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds," he says, "but we operate like a major business and a professional paper."

What the article did not mention: The DP, Daily Northwestern, Independent Florida Alligator, Columbia Spectator, Daily Californian, and a few other big-money campus pubs are the exceptions, not the rule.

For the most part, college media are about the mayhem, not the millions. Many college news outlets are run on shoestring budgets. They are supported by the blood, sweat, and red pens of a small group of unpaid students who juggle competing commitments and operate with little journalistic training. A fair number of papers are run out of dorm rooms and via meet-ups in campus cafeterias -- newsrooms are a luxury that staff or their schools cannot afford. Ultimately, most student media are not looking to break the bank. They are fighting simply to stay alive.

Fortunately, student media survival and success with less -- less staff, less training, less time -- has never been more assured. Need proof? Look online, and onward.

A 'Rogue Campus Blog'

Onward State, a student news site at Penn State University, has been dubbed a "rogue campus blog" and a "sociological petri dish." Its founder, Davis Shaver, calls the outlet simply "a blogging fraternity."

onward.jpg The frat rushed into hyperlinked existence in November 2008, built atop Shaver's frustrations with what he considered the "technologically-phobic bureaucracy" of the campus newspaper, the Daily Collegian. Just 16 months later, even while still "as new as Joe Paterno is old," it has grown into a 20-student operation averaging 40,000 visitors per month, regularly breaking stories, and "giving the Daily Collegian a run for its money."

(A similar online-only publication, NYU Local serves the New York University campus.)

Blueprint for Reinvention

Onward State's "flash-bang success" is a chin-up for college media in mayhem, and a reason for the troubled Technician to take heart -- and take notice. The site's structure and style serve as a potential blueprint for saving (and reinventing) a student newspaper in peril.

The key rules it breaks are as follows:

  • Print, Out: Print publications provide student media an undeniable presence on campus, but they are expensive and require extraordinary care and special design skills to produce. Onward State's online-only push has allowed fewer staff to put out more news with much greater ease. Staffers serving on what I'll call Technician 2.0 could conceivably publish on their own terms, at their own speed, and without the specter of empty pages looming over them, waiting to be filled. As a student editor at an online news outlet at Ohio University told me a few years ago, "Ink stains are so 20th century."
  • Virtual Workspace: Face-to-face meetings and nights in the newsroom can be great for bonding, but are increasingly overwhelming for students already weighed down by classes, club meetings, and upcoming Spring Break trips. Onward State operates digitally, with a (Google) wave and a nod to the online-inspired portability of modern undergrads. Staff can live their lives and balance their outside workloads while still communicating constantly and feeding the site. No last-minute trudging across campus or sigh-inducing newsroom shifts needed.
  • User Friendly: Onward State has 20 dedicated staffers, and more than 40,000 potential contributors. Since its inception, the outlet has focused on generating involvement and content from the student body, in part by using social media. As Shaver recently told Mashable, "We focused on our Twitter presence from the very beginning, and it's paid dividends for us in terms of referring traffic to the site and really becoming a part of the community ... in the sense that people will actually send stories to us on Twitter."
  • Dress Down: Onward State is snarky, personal, occasionally gossipy -- and extremely well-informed. Too many student media think the key is parroting the professionals. One student described it to me as "dress up journalism." A campus outlet with a tiny or inexperienced editorial board should not pretend to be the New York Times. It's a disservice to student readers, and a turn-off to potential staff. Drop the pretense. Do something else, something new. As journalist and blogger Will Sullivan wrote, "College is one of the few times in your career that you can try something totally wacky, fail and it won't really set you back or ruin your career. Try alternative story forms. Learn new technologies. Break the mold of traditional journalism. Your generation and its ability to innovate will save the craft."

Dan Reimold is a visiting assistant professor of journalism at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, "Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy and a Student Journalism Revolution," is due out later this year by Rutgers University Press.

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