About Kate

I teach journalism at the University of New Mexico. Master's in digital journalism and design. Long time newspaper reporter.

#ONA17 Equips Educators with New Perspectives, Tools

This piece originally was published on the MediaShift.org website.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Journalism educators, striving to be nimble as news organizations evolve, learned about immersive storytelling, social media tools, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, news bots and more at the Online News Association conference last week.

Because tech has become an integral part of reporting, many journalism instructors are now pondering how programs and faculty can innovate — quickly.

“We define news based on models that do not exist anymore,” said CUNY Graduate School of Journalism Associate Dean and Professor Andrew Mendelson. “That has defined us, it still defines us and that’s a really important thing to overturn.”

A study released during the conference by the International Center for Journalists found reporters generally aren’t keeping up with tech trends. This and other studies have led to a renewed effort by journalism educators to embrace and teach new tech.

To be sure graduating students are qualified for emerging jobs such as social media director or community engagement editor, Mendelson and others at a meetup and brainstorming session said educators must continue to learn new things.

“My answer would be to find ways to encourage everyone, all the faculty, to learn something outside their own tent,” said Sue Newhook, an assistant journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“That can mean new skills, ideas and approaches,” she said.

Getting familiar with new tech – and being comfortable enough to teach it – can seem daunting, several instructors said.

ONA 17 took place in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 5-7 this year. (Photo: Kate Nash Cunningham)

But the job can be made easier if journalism educators band together, said Eric Newton, innovation chief of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

“Probably the best thing a professor can do is let go of the idea that one must master something before teaching it to someone else,” he said in an interview with MediaShift.

“There are times when all the students need to know is the existence of new tools, and they can learn them themselves. And then once they’ve learned them, you have a wonderful class discussion about the best ways to use them for journalism, which is the value added that any good journalism educator can bring, even if they are not masters of those tools,” he said.

Newton, a long-time champion of journalism at the Knight Foundation, said educators can get started by connecting to resources such as the ONA Educator’s Facebook page.

As more resources become available, the community of educators using them, and ultimately teaching each other, grows.

“If the entire weight of media innovation falls upon your shoulders, it seems impossible,” he said. “But if a group of 1,500 educators on the ONA Educator’s (Facebook) group organizes itself, or if a class organizes itself or a school organizes itself to find ways to keep current…it’s not really hard.”

Professors also need to give themselves permission and time to experiment, he said.

“When the number of new concepts is so great, it’s a false choice to think that you have to start with any one of those new things,” he said. “The best thing to do is clear the space for a steady stream of new things.”

The conference, where journalists comprise a growing number of attendees, served as a spot for educators and other presenters to share resources and classroom success stories.

Here’s a look at a few of the highlights:

Getting Immersive in the Classroom with 360 Video

For a while, immersive reporting (think 360-degree video or augmented reality) was not a part of the mainstream journalism landscape.

That has changed.

Two of the people who spoke on a panel about 360 reporting are employees of two of the largest news outlets, the Associated Press and The New York Times. Both do extensive work with 360 video, which means it should be a part of j-school curricula soon.

Panelist Robert Hernandez, associate professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, said journalism educators can get started with small and inexpensive spherical cameras to introduce students to this type of reporting.

See more about his 360 journalism projects here. Read this for reviews of equipment.

Coincidentally, Hernandez and his students won an Online Journalism Association Pro-AM student award at the conference for their story on the Salton Sea, which makes heavy use of 360 video.

Knowing How to Search Social

Much of the public conversation about news happens on social media. That means journalists need to know how to search posts across many platforms in breaking news situations, and several parts of the conference focused on tools that make this job easy.

Crowdtangle, owned by and integrated with Facebook, has emerged as a powerhouse.

Those with a Crowdtangle dashboard in Facebook can join the “Crowdtangler” closed group. (Others with pending requests for access to Crowdtangle need to wait.) There’s also a Facebook Instagram Workshop for News and Publishers group for tips.

Crowdtangle allows users to show others the top social posts related to an event in real time. This can be handy for live TV broadcasts.

Integrating Web and Design Tools

Knowing some web and design skills are a must for graduating journalism students, even at print organizations. Three panelists (all educators) shared the tools and tech they use in classes aimed at getting students coding, creating news games and designing.

Here’s a link to resources shared by Mindy McAdams, digital journalism professor at the University of Florida; Juli James, a lecturer at the University of North Texas who teaches gaming; and Katherine Hepworth, an assistant professor of visual communication at the University of Reno-Nevada. The resources ranged from easy ways to teach font pairing to methods of showing students how to use JavaScript and think about game design.

Artificial intelligence: Taking News to a New Level

Amy Webb, left, speaks with ONA17 attendees during the conference in Washington, D.C. Webb’s Tech Trends report for 2017 was released to the public in conjunction with her session. (Photo: Kate Nash Cunningham)

Futurist Amy Webb, who gives an annual “Tech Trends in Journalism” talk at ONA, said as everybody is talking about the tech of the future, few news organizations are taking action.

“What’s about to happen is going to fundamentally alter journalism,” she said. “We’re going to wind up on the other side of this with a media landscape we don’t recognize.”

One example: We’ll be getting our news from post-smartphone services like Amazon’s Alexa and other technologies without any physical user interface. This could make it complicated for readers to understand where news is coming from.

Media companies that focus on technologies like artificial intelligence, however, will pull ahead. Her “trend clusters” this year relate to visual computing, voice interface and access to news.

Regarding journalism education, Webb suggested grounding students in news literacy. Professors could use recent examples of sloppy and inaccurate reporting as examples to talk about “the appropriate time to send out information given that we have a proliferation of news sources…we are now news organizations that publish on the wire that is Twitter,” she told MediaShift.

In terms of artificial intelligence, Webb said “it would be very wise for professors not to teach AI, but to talk through what is it, what is it not, what can it do, want can’t it do and a brief history of it.”

Read the 2018 tech trends for journalism and media and see her folders of related information including recommendations and readings for professors here.

Watch the video of her talk here.

Build a Bot in Your Classroom

During one session, journalism educators heard from Quartz’s John Keefe, who led a hands-on session in bot building.

One example of news bots is the Quartz app, where users interact with an interface that resembles a text-messaging service, delivering summaries of the day’s top stories in SMS-like chat bubbles.

To demonstrate how bot newcomers could create something similar, Keefe, a bot developer and project manager at the company, guided attendees through the basics in chatbot script writing during the RSVP-only “Build-a-Bot Workshop.”

Participants created a basic Facebook Messenger chatbot using Dexter — a free-to-use tool for simple experimentation.

The step-by-step walk-through outlined in the session can be found on Keefe’s Github page. After users complete Step 1 — registering for Dexter by clicking “Make Your First Bot” on the site’s homepage — they can learn bot syntax and see publishing options.

Keefe said using bots as a means of information delivery is in its early stages, but it makes sense to go where the users are.

“If people are using Facebook and Messenger to communicate with each other and access other forms of information, it’d be wise for us to figure out how to best be there, too,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what that means for journalism and storytelling and to see how it will work.”

With so much new tech to teach, educators at the conference spoke of new classes to add to their programs – although many said they struggle with a glacial pace for adapting new courses.

As journalism continues to dramatically change, Newton, who is updating his landmark journalism education book “Searchlights and Sunglasses,” said evolving will just become part of what educators do.

“It’s not that the future is any one technology or one particular genre of technologies; the future is ever-changing technologies and the capacity to be comfortable with that,” Newton said.

Kate Nash Cunningham is the social media editor for MediaShift. She teaches digital journalism at the University of New Mexico. Additional reporting by Matt Veto, professor of practice at Lehigh University.

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How to assign a 360 video in a multimedia reporting class

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UNM IFDM instructor Elan Colello, center, helps UNM students Kyra Begay, left and Ben Yazza with the settings on a 360 video camera during an exercise on immersive storytelling April 6, 2017.

As more news outlets wade into immersive reporting and prices drop for 360 cameras and storytelling equipment, it makes sense that journalism educators begin to experiment with such technologies in the classroom.

That’s one reason I decided to assign a short 360 video to students in a 300-level intermediate multimedia reporting class this spring at the University of New Mexico.

The idea was to spend one day introducing students to the history and the technology of 360 reporting and to spend another day having students try out beginner level equipment and produce a short video in a journalism context.

For the background on immersive storytelling, I called on Elan Colello, a colleague in the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media program who teaches a Virtual Reality Cinema class. Colello, who also is the CEO of ARVRUS, a 360º video distribution management platform, brought students up to speed in an hour and 15 minutes. His talk focused on the history and the current trends in virtual reality, using examples that showed various ways the technology can be used to present different types of stories.

To make the assignment’s production day go as quickly as possible, I preloaded the students with some homework and gave each student group a specific assignment that fit with a larger student reporting project on criminal justice being done by the New Mexico News Port, an online student publication. Each group of students had to produce a short video about a recent crime. Students had to use police reports to first write a broadcast script based on what the report said as well as add other additional information they could find. The reporting topics included a car burglary, criminal damage to property and an alleged sexual assault.

Here’s the wording of the assignment:

You’ll create a short (minute or so) 360 video that shows the viewer a place on campus where a crime occurred. You’ll shoot and edit the video this week, upload to YouTube and then upload the link to Learn. When you upload, write a few paragraphs about your role, what you learned and how you think you could use this technology for your journalism in the future.

The idea is to allow the viewer to look around the area where a crime has happened and to learn more about the incident. Team members will play various roles, including using video equipment as well as appearing on camera to narrate important parts of the story. Other students will research a story and use broadcast writing skills to produce a script.

The goals and objectives were:

Through a lecture on the history and trends in immersive journalism, students will use research, broadcast script writing and video recording and editing skills to practice 360 video technology to produce their piece.

I divided the class into teams of four or five and assigned various roles:

One member of your group will research your incident and write a short script BEFORE class time.

One of you will be the on-air reporter.

One or two of you will run the equipment (camera and audio).

At the start of the second day, students were given an overview of the cameras we had available, borrowed from the IFDM program. These included the Insta 360 4K and the Ricoh Theta S and M15 models. The overview was brief, but the models are pretty straightforward. Students also checked out lavalier mics and Zooms or Tascams to record the audio and used $40 monopods to hold their cameras.

Overall, the students in the class, who at this point in the program have experience in broadcast reporting and video editing but no previous experience with immersive storytelling, were able to quickly pull in their videos and edit and produce something short. This took some editing guidance in the lab and Colello helped install the right plugins for the spherical video formats. In the end, two of the five groups were able to produce stories that day while others did so shortly after. We used Premiere Pro CC to edit and YouTube for hosting.

I would do this assignment again for sure, but with more time and additional cameras so that each group member could experiment with the equipment. Student feedback overall was positive, but included some comments that more time for the work would have been beneficial.

Here’s a wrap up of tweets that students produced during the assignment, and a little more information on how the exercise went overall.

How to assign a Snapchat story in a journalism class

University of New Mexico students Savana Carollo, Arianna Sena and John Acosta created a Snapchat My Story on Feb. 11, 2016 as part of an assignment aimed at learning how to use the app as a storytelling platform.

University of New Mexico students Savana Carollo, Arianna Sena and John Acosta created a Snapchat My Story on Feb. 11, 2016 as part of an assignment aimed at learning how to use the app as a storytelling platform.

As journalism educators, we can’t ignore the emergence of Snapchat as a storytelling platform. With news outlets and Snapchat itself hiring reporters to cover major news like the presidential elections using the app, I feel compelled to talk with students about Snapchat’s potential to tell stories and connect with the audience. During a 300-level multimedia journalism class this semester, I tried an assignment where students worked on deadline to create a short story on campus.

When I mentioned the assignment at the start of the semester, students immediately were interested in how it might work in a news context. About half of them said they use the app on a regular basis.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a frequent user, although I do spend more and more time looking at how news organizations use the platform. So to prepare, I focused on the My Story function, where journalists can create stories of an event that can be shared for 24 hours (unlike Snap photos or video, which are shared with friends for up to 10 seconds and then disappear.)

I didn’t focus as much on the other features of Snapchat, including filters that are added to people’s faces. When I showed filters that put your city name on a photo based on your geolocation, a few students excitedly piped in and said I should try the “face filters.” Sure enough, you can take a photo and then add a filter that looks as if you are breathing fire. Or swimming underwater. Or have purple eyes. I wouldn’t use those in a news context of course, but that’s the interesting intersection we’re at with social platforms that can be used as journalism tools but that largely are used for more lighthearted topics. I made everyone laugh as I projected my fire-breathing selfie onto the large screen in the front of the room — a moment captured in a video Snap by a student. I am a little bummed that the student sent the video to her friends instead of saving it to her My Story, as that moment is gone forever. Of course, that’s part of what Snapchat is.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 11.36.03 AM

To start the lecture, I talked about the history of Snapchat. I showed the first Snapchat resume and then went through the basics of using the app.

Students seemed well versed in the how tos of using the app to communicate with friends, so we also talked about the Discover section of Snapchat, where news organizations like CNN and the Wall Street Journal are presenting news. A quick survey in the room showed that students were equally interested in news topics as much as content from outlets like Cosmo and people like DJ Khaled.

My goal was for students to think about using a tool they already understand and enjoy as a platform for journalism. I wanted them to practice their interviewing skills using the video Snap option, and I wanted them to practice producing something on deadline. So I gave them about 30 minutes to do five interviews and five photos with at least two titles.

I tied their interviews into a project we have on campus where journalism students ask the public what they are curious about and then report on those questions. For this assignment, students were to ask people what they want to know about Albuquerque or New Mexico.

The results were pretty good. In their work, I saw my more shy students open up on camera. I saw my more visual students show their talents. And I saw the students who were newer to the app take an interest in how they could use it for reporting. Along the way, they produced a story that could be used to complement other reporting. They also seemed excited, and many of you know that getting students excited in the classroom can be a challenge.

One student tweeted:

I would try this assignment again for sure, maybe as a component to larger story that students are producing using more traditional multi-media approaches.

Here are my takeaways for other journalism educators considering a Snapchat assignment:

Assign groups and team captains.

Chances are, one-fourth of your students are experts in Snapchat and can show others. They also can help you during your demonstration if you aren’t a Snapchat pro.

Explain the limitations of the app.

For video, there’s a 10-second limit in Snapchat, so students had to prep their sources that their answers had to be succinct.

Have a specific content focus for the assignment.

Newer students will be focused on learning how to use the app, so directing them on the content side lets them focus on learning the tool.

Explain that there might be a disconnect between the tone of Snapchat and the subject of the story.

For example, students don’t want to be lighthearted and using all kinds of emoji if they are covering something serious.

Remind students that accuracy and good cutlines still matter.

I asked students to get the same kind of cutline information they would get if they were publishing a photo online or in a news outlet.

Journalism students at the University of New Mexico recently completed a Snapchat story as part of a class assignment aimed at having students explore the popular app's journalism potential.

Journalism students at the University of New Mexico recently completed a Snapchat story as part of a class assignment aimed at having students explore the popular app’s journalism potential.

Remember to have students save their My Stories so you can see them later on for grading and class critique.

If they don’t, you have nothing to see.

Have fun.

Many of my students this semester are in the middle of learning the technical aspects of professional video cameras and audio recorders, which are unfamiliar and can be complicated. Allowing them to try storytelling with something a little more familiar allowed them to relax a bit — which is what Snapchat is all about.

How to incorporate Periscope into your newsroom or classroom

Students at the New Mexico News Port used an iPad mini to live broadcast a television show in Albuquerque on Feb. 10, 2016.

Students at the New Mexico News Port used an iPad mini to live broadcast a television show in Albuquerque on Feb. 10, 2016.

The recent explosion of popularity for live streaming video means more newsrooms and journalism classrooms are looking for better ways to integrate real-time broadcasting into their online reporting.

With a little planning and practice, getting set up to go live can be a rewarding experience for journalists and journalism students who want to tell video stories on the go.

Apps like Meerkat and Periscope largely have been used to broadcast events like rallies, speeches or concerts. But there are ways to bring the immediacy of live streaming to other non-breaking news events such as interviews.

At the student journalism lab New Mexico News Port, we recently decided to try to live stream a tv-talk-show-style interview from campus. We spent about a month planning for the show.

First, we considered a show that would feature our guests being interviewed as they walked through campus while live on air. That idea didn’t last very long, given our windy weather, boisterous middle-of-the-city location and bright Southwestern sun. (Think bad, noisy audio and squinting guests — not to mention trying to figure out how not to trip over each other as one of us walked backwards with the camera). So we settled on a studio in our Communication and Journalism building, although the set up we came up with could be used in a variety of locations.

Early on, we considered using the Blab app as our platform. But it seemed more suitable for people in various locations and too much like a Google Hangout for the style of show we were hoping to achieve.

In the end, we chose Periscope, in part because we would have our audience all in one place, and getting followers on Blab seemed like a lot of work.

Our goal was to use mobile equipment — in our case the oldish iPad mini we already had — and to try to get the quality of the broadcast to be as high as possible.

We produced our show in mid-February and plan to produce three more this semester. The students were excited to experiment with a new way to reach our audience through Twitter followers and Periscope users, and to see themselves in a broadcast that they now have the expertise to set up and run.

Here’s a look at what we learned along with the pros and cons of the equipment we used.

Pros of using Periscope on an iPad mini

Live streaming

Going live is the selling point when it comes to using a mobile setup. The fact that Periscope and an iPad can stream live to Twitter (no satellite truck or website required) make up for the fact that the image and audio quality aren’t yet on par with more traditional broadcast equipment.

Affordability

The beauty of the mobile setup is its price. For this project, we spent about $115 on a microphone and its cable. We used lights that are built into our studio, but you could do a cheap lighting setup or use natural light and reflectors, depending on the situation. We had an iPad mini 2 ($270 or so when they were new) and a $13 case that mounts the iPad on a tripod. The Periscope app — which is tightly connected to Twitter — is free.

Learning curve

The student who ran the camera for the show had been introduced to the iPad and Periscope just days before. With simple explanations of iOS and Periscope, he did fine.

Portability

Many students and journalists have smartphones and tablets in their purses and backpacks. Adding a tripod and a case increases a journalist’s load slightly, but is not as cumbersome as large video cameras or even DSLRs.

Conversation starter

Students hanging around our news lab were curious what we were doing with the iPad on the tripod. We also found that the small and familiar nature of an iPhone or iPad wasn’t overly intimidating to show guests because the equipment is so commonplace.

The set up needed to broadcast live is relatively simple and affordable. Pictured are a Mikey microphone, an iPad mini and power cords.

The set up needed to broadcast live is relatively simple and affordable. Pictured are a Mikey microphone, an iPad mini and power cords.

Cons

On-board audio quality is low

Many of us have watched Periscope broadcasts where it’s hard to hear/understand what’s happening. But for less than $100, you can get an external mic for your iPhone or iPad. I recommend getting one like the Mikey.

I have played with low-end external mics for the iPad mini and haven’t been impressed. The Mikey did well during our tests and our show. It has three settings, a simple interface and can be set on or taped to a table. We also experimented with taping it to a boom hooked on to a light stand, which was O.K. except that in order to get it close enough to all our guests, it showed up in the frame. For this particular setup with four people on camera, it just didn’t work. If you had the ability to hold the boom just out of the frame, it could work.

If you go with an external mic, be sure to get a six-foot cord that’s going to allow you to put your mic close to the person speaking.

The Mikey Blue microphone increased the audio quality of a recent television broadcast by the New Mexico News Port.

The Mikey Blue microphone increased the audio quality of a recent television broadcast by the New Mexico News Port.

Video quality not super

We tested our studio lighting setup extensively with the stock iPad photo/video app. Because of the ability to control for focus and exposure, we had our video looking sharp and well lit. That wasn’t the case when we went into Periscope to test the live stream. The auto-focusing and exposure were thrown off by the studio lighting against a black backdrop and the quality was terrible.

This quality issue was the only thing that caused me to panic ahead of the show. In the end, we used studio lights (dialed down a bit from our tests to provide less contrast) together with the overhead lights. This boosted the image quality and helped the camera with its focusing and exposure, so avoid low-light situations.

Battery life is a concern during live broadcasts

Knowing that live streaming video eats batteries, I made sure to leave home the day of the show with the wall charger for the iPad, and I had already set aside an extension cord in the studio so that the iPad could run on AC power. I even had a backup portable battery charger, just in case.

My plan was foiled when I remembered that the Mikey uses the same (and only) lightning connection on the iPad. I was forced to chose between good audio and a shorter show. I chose the good audio. And because our live show turned out to be less than 20 minutes, our battery life was fine. But streaming anything longer could prove problematic.

Inability to add graphics

Periscope lacks the ability to add graphics or titles as is done in a more traditional broadcast setup. We thought about name tags or signs for our guests, but in the end we decided if the show went long, that we would pause and just reintroduce them. The ability to add names to the screen was one thing we liked about the Blab app.

One-camera limit

Periscope is really set up for a hand-held, one camera situation. In our case, we crammed our two guests and two interviewers into one frame and made it work. For this type of broadcast, it would have been more ideal to run a switcher between two or more cameras, but I’m not aware of a setup for that using an iPad. I would love to know if anyone has found a workaround for this. (Hint, hint, Periscope.)

An iPad set up in a studio with one mic and minimal lighting was all it took a group of students with the New Mexico News Port to start a live broadcast from the campus of the University of New Mexico.

An iPad set up in a studio with one mic and minimal lighting was all it took a group of students with the New Mexico News Port to start a live broadcast from the campus of the University of New Mexico.

The most interesting 12 months of my career

Ever have the sense that you are so busy teaching students how to blog that you don’t have time to blog yourself?

I’m guilty. For about the past year, I have neglected my own writing about journalism and journalism education. But the things that have kept me busy are good ones. In short, this has been the best and most dynamic year of my teaching career. I’ve learned more in the past 12 months than during any other point in my time on this planet.

In July 2014, I was named as the editor of the New Mexico News Port, a student journalism lab at the University of New Mexico, where I teach journalism. The lab, first funded by the Online News Association and now by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, serves as a hub for journalism students to collaborate with local media partners including the public television and radio stations on campus as well as the independent student newspaper.

To date, we’ve done three theme-based projects, including covering the mid-term election; producing audience-based reporting based on the WBEZ Curious City model and crafting an in-depth look at New Mexico’s innovation economy. Our work has won several local and national awards.

My work at the News Port includes story planning and editing with students in various classes in the department, overseeing a crew of student employees, and designing and developing our website.

Here’s a look at a student-produced video about our first year. The project continues to expand and grow as we reach out to new partners and help more students publish their work as they prepare for careers in journalism.

In the spring of 2015, I taught the first Mobile Reporting course at UNM. I created and pitched this class, which is cross listed as an elective in the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media program and the Communication and Journalism Department here. To fund the iPad kits for students, I wrote my first grant.

In the class, students use an iPad mini to report and produce audio and video pieces that they publish to a group WordPress site. I will teach the class again in spring 2016, and the class has been chosen to be part of a new Innovation Academy at UNM.

Here’s some of the best work from the inaugural class.

Meanwhile, this summer, I started helping guide students at the New Mexico Daily Lobo from a daily print schedule into a twice-weekly, online-first approach. Part of my work with students as their writing coach involves helping them incorporate digital and social media into a new newsroom workflow and mentality. Next month, I will give a training on using Periscope to cover breaking news.

For the fall 2015 semester, I’m teaching a 200-level writing and editing for multimedia class. I was given the latitude and encouragement to shake up the syllabus a bit and run the course more as a newsroom than a classroom. I consider this my tiny corner of the teaching hospital model of journalism education. I believe students can only learn journalism from doing journalism and the sooner this starts in their college careers, the better.

As part of their work in my class, students write directly for the Daily Lobo as well as the News Port. So far, students have been excited to see their work in print and online. To ease students into the idea, I have a student editor in the classroom with me every other week to go over edits and workshop ideas. I think this helps the students feel more connected to the newsroom process.

As this semester progresses, I look forward to reporting back (more often) on this initiative and a few of the other projects I have underway. Stay here or follow my blog for updates.

Kate

What grad school taught me about teaching journalism students

When students come to see me just before they graduate, they are often a bit afraid of what their job prospects look like. Each year, I tell them I can relate to their fears, especially about the journalism job market. Never has that been more true than this year. In May, I completed my master’s degree in digital journalism and design, and I know intimately what the market looks like, both for journalists and journalism professors. Right now, it’s bleak for students who don’t have advanced digital skills to go along with their solid journalism acumen. Jobs in traditional news outlets are tough to come by. But the news is mixed: while those legacy jobs may be shrinking, digital journalism and journalism-related jobs exist like never before. A 2014 Pew Research study found that 500 digital news outlets employ almost 5,000 full time employees. That tally suggests that opportunities abound for those who combine their news savvy with their computer skills.

‘Journalism-related jobs’
So what are journalism-related jobs? And what can journalism programs do to prepare students for them?

Having taught college journalism for almost four years and having worked as a reporter for almost 15 years, I have thought about those questions a great deal. I spend time pondering how journalism programs prepare journalism students. I teach undergraduates, but I also just finished a nearly brand new graduate program. In one role, at the University of New Mexico, I help students write cover letters and resumes for the entry level jobs they are seeking, among other things. In some cases, I look at job ads to see if my students are a match for open positions. In my other role as a graduate student at the University of South Florida, I took classes that taught me skills that the directors of the program considered pertinent to students wanting to work (or teach) in digital journalism, including web publishing, data journalism and entrepreneurial know-how. The two universities are pretty different, but the experiences have helped me come up with this list of skills I think are most important for future reporters to know.

First, think about the web editor, or the person building/designing/maintaining and promoting the website of your local newspaper. In many cases, that person is not a journalist in the way we traditionally describe the person who does original reporting and produces content. But, you bet that he or she is using journalism skills to make phone calls, investigate tips and write copy as part of his or her work. And journalism programs by and large do a great job of teaching those kinds of basics. But it’s the other part of the web designer/editor’s work that many programs are missing. Students interested in journalism but perhaps not being the city hall reporter need coding, design and multimedia skills to work in jobs such as web producer or manager.

Or, think about those cool interactive graphics you see on websites like the New York Times or the Guardian or a favorite of mine, La Nacion of Argentina. The folks on the teams at each paper that produce infographics, interactive graphics and more have solid journalism credentials. But they also have related skills that took them to where they are. Those skills include (again) coding and design, but they also involve critical thinking and analysis and firm understanding of data, something that isn’t commonly taught as part of journalism curricula. That is changing, as more schools realize the value of data journalism (and facility with data in general), a recent special series of articles on the PBS EducationShift blog showed.

At the same time, there’s been a lot made of the importance of teaching journalism students journalism-related entrepreneurial skills. I’m mostly on board with that, although I think the number of journalists starting their own companies (vs. freelancing or working for a company) tends to be overestimated. Nonetheless, I believe it’s key for students to know what the economics are behind the news business. They should know what a new tablet or a nice DSLR camera costs, if only so they can be cognizant of how lucky they are when someone hands them new equipment — or of how many lattes they will have to skip to buy their own. Students also should understand the digital marketplace that can be key in determining who sees and buys their content.

Another theme I’ve seen at recent journalism education conferences is that students need to learn how to keep learning. That means many different things, but to me it means students must become comfortable enrolling and participating in online classes, whether the smaller for credit classes nearly all universities now offer, or the much larger Massive Open Online Courses offered by larger universities, often for a certificate instead of credit. Why? The technical savvy needed to operate (and troubleshoot) a learning management system is important, but so is the ability to communicate remotely, through live web cam video, virtual presentations and discussion boards. Doing that with ease is key for students who might work for a company that’s based in another city — or time zone. Along with the conversation of how students should learn what they need to learn (in person, online or a bit of both) comes the discussion of how we should teach. That’s an important part of what I’m outlining here, but I don’t think it’s the only discussion. If a student can learn basic coding for a news app at a school that doesn’t subscribe to the teaching hospital model for example, I think that’s great, even though I support the newer models of innovative teaching.

A separate set of skills that comes to mind as key for about-to-be graduates are those of the mobile journalist. I don’t consider those journalism related, however, I consider them the manifestation of journalism in its modern form. The dated definition of print journalists — those who simply wrote a story for the printed edition and went home — has been updated to mean reporters who write a story for the web, do some tweeting and then write a story for print. In the past five years, however, reporters’ workloads have increased again, with the expectation by top news outlets (print and broadcast) that students will report, produce, edit and publish from the field, and not with the help of a satellite truck or a even a laptop. Instead, many professionals use nothing bigger than an iPad (and often times smaller) to post complete video packages or live text updates to the web. That means students need to work independently to use, maintain and troubleshoot mobile equipment, apps, file storage and publication. And journalism students should learn about those in the setting of a journalism class, where context, privacy and accuracy are discussed in detail. This helps set trained reporters apart from everyone else in the world who can upload a photo, video or tweet to the web with a mobile phone or tablet. Along with mobile reporting, mobile design is a huge consideration for the world’s next journalists and those who work with them.

To wrap up, we must teach students more design and data. Along with that should come coding, and not just for web sites. Students who can design or build news apps are a step ahead of those with knowledge of HTML, CSS, Javascript and server-side languages. This strong need for technical know-how and computer science prowess as part of journalism education has become clear to me in recent years as not only increasingly important, but necessary for both students looking for work and for journalism departments looking for more students. Countless others, too, have advocated for adjustments to journalism programs, while others have conducted studies of what skills educators think are most important. Implementing such changes, of course, isn’t easy, but we need to continue the discussion about how we can best prepare journalism students not just for the jobs of the future, but for work that many of our students could do now.

P.S. Many of you have asked about my own plans now that I am done with grad school. Along with teaching news writing at UNM, I’ve got one big project lined up for this fall and next spring that I can’t wait to reveal. Check out my next blog post for details as soon as I can announce it.

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