Tips and tools from the Journalism Interactive 2014 conference

I’m just back from Journalism Interactive, a two-day conference at the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. In short: it rocked. In long: if you care about the intersection of journalism and technology, you have to go next year. Picture the country’s best journalists, technologists and educators all in one place. Add some caffeine and a good measure of geeky excitement about technology and that pretty much sums up the event.

There were so many high-caliber speakers with great tips and thoughts, I left with my brain stuffed with new ideas about what I can and should be teaching my students. These are my ten takeaways. (I could have written 100, but Dan Reimold already has that covered at College Media Matters.)

ONE: We need to teach students to create journalism that’s interactive. Not too long ago, creating interactive graphics was the domain of those who know code. Not anymore. Thinglink is a cool (free) little tool that allows students to place text and video over a still image to make them interactive. The possibilities are pretty much endless with this simple software.

TWO: Why Google it when you can Wolfram Alpha it? Amy Webb of Webbmedia gave a wonderful presentation on six tech trends and showed us the Wolfram Alpha search engine. I’ve seen it before, but never used it much. A few weeks ago, I watched a presentation from Stephen Wolfram, and now that I know Webb uses it, the site is high on my list to show students as not only a great search engine example, but what can be done some clever coding and math.

Webb’s whole presentation, which has many other goodies and is worth your time:

THREE: Speaking of coders, they are the most sharing people you’ll meet. Journalists need to get to know more of them. I had already gotten great advice from Michelle Minkoff’s blog before I got to meet her at a session on web scraping. She made the point several times that coders are more than willing to share what they know with others. If you are not the most techy journalist, coders are good people to know when you want to do that cool thing that’s going to take more than a Google spreadsheet to do.

Michelle Minkoff, an interactive producer for the Associated Press, helps Serena Carpenter with a question about web scraping during Journalism Interactive 2014.

Michelle Minkoff, an interactive producer for the Associated Press, helps Serena Carpenter with a question about web scraping during Journalism Interactive 2014.

FOUR: Wearables are here to stay, and students need to know about tools like Google Glass. Professor Jeremy Littau gave a presentation on teaching with Glass at the conference and his links are worth checking out, as is his presentation.

FIVE: Another interactive tool that students can easily use is Infogr.am. Students can create info graphics or charts without much hassle. It’s a low-tech way to build high-tech looking visuals. Another speaker, Richard Koci Hernandez of UC Berkeley, mentioned a bunch of other great storytelling tools and techniques. His presentations is worth watching here.

SIX: Robots are here to help journalists, says NPR data journalist Jeremy Bowers. They can automate the most tedious tasks that reporters have to do, like checking local seismic activity data or quickly editing stories for the web. When they notice changes in data, they can send you alerts or even write short stories. If you teach sports writers, remind them that much of what they write relates to data, and then show them the New York Time’s Fourth Down Bot. Check out the panel on data-driven journalism here.

4thdownbot

SEVEN: Computer science is inseparable from journalism. So get your kids (and by that I mean any preschooler you know and/or your college students) all the computer science exposure you can. Specific recommendations at the conference included Code Academy, School of Data and Coursera MOOCs. While many tools are out there like Infogr.am help students produce visuals without coding knowledge, students with coding skills will be the best prepared to create custom work that sets them apart. One way to help expose students to computer science is to team teach with other departments or have CS professors speak in your classes. Apart from code, students need to know about topics like anticipatory computing and algorithmic accountability.

EIGHT: Stay connected with likeminded others. Sounds more than obvious, right? But I can’t say enough about the virtual networking and groups that are a part of the journalism and tech community. There are hashtags to use throughout the year (#edshift, #wjchat, #jiconf, etc) and groups to join (Online News Association, NICAR, data journalism groups on Meetup.com, etc.) Apart from tip sharing and camaraderie, some of the groups, like ONA, have grants. Yes, money, for journalism! I’m part of a group at the University of New Mexico that won an ONA Challenge Fund grant, announced at the conference. (Follow @nmnewsport for more details on our project.)

Along with staying connected comes staying charged. And by that I mean your electronics. I learned two pro tips related to powering your smart phone. First, from someone in the back of the room whose name I didn’t catch: putting your iPhone on airplane mode charges it faster. Second, a nifty USB charger called Photive allows you to recharge without having to plug in to a wall.

NINE: Mobile reporting skills are key. Carl Corry of Newsday gave a presentation on mobile reporting technology. In short, reporting with phones and tablets is a key skill students are expected to have to work at any type of news organization. He mentioned the site of WTOP reporter Neal Augenstein, which has some great how-tos and insights on using the iPhone.

TEN: Keep learning. It’s up to us to keep our students on the cutting edge. That means attending conferences like this, but it also means homework when we can’t travel. Consider Amy Webb’s summer course for journalism instructors.

Here are more takes on the conference from others who attended.

American Journalism Review’s take.

Post by professor Katy Culver on PBS Education Shift.

Professor Tiffini Theisen’s blog

14 takeaways by teacher Aaron Manfull.

Storify curation by Professor Jeremy Littau

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