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.



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 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.


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 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, 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