Addressing the Call for a Better Journalism Education

My tech and entrepreneurial friends motivated me to respond to public criticism about journalism education and whether we are meeting the obligation to not only serve the journalism student population and profession, but to also assist students in securing a job in a competitive market. I admire these thought leaders for initiating the dialogue and providing their perspectives during this period of transition.

I am also passionate about journalism education and empowering our teachers. In conversations with educators, educators will often withdraw, rather than engage when tech enthusiasts list topics and skills that should be taught in the classroom. Journalists must understand their audiences. And tech evangelists must reorient themselves when speaking to educators with a limited understanding of communication behaviors and preferences of individuals on the web.

University change is a slow and consensual process. And curriculum propositions should acknowledge this understanding of academia if they want to bridge gaps among professionals and educators of all types. I believe that our current approach may be dividing us rather than uniting us. We need to work within the social system and culture of academia. If we want to educators to critically reflect on what they already know, I argue that we need to step a little outside the circle.

Critics have proposed curriculum overhauls, flexibility in course requirements, separate institutes, the teaching hospital approach, and cross department collaborations. In 2008, I suggested courses to adopt as well.  While I agree with many of their suggestions, sweeping changes will not likely take place if we do not consider the culture of academia when making suggestions. Several educators have learned to create change by working within the current system. For example, I know of several educators who simply strategically reinterpret existing courses such as computer assisted reporting, visual communication, and multimedia reporting to meet the literacy needs of students.

Tech experts, who are equipped to navigate the information flood of best practices, may need to speak in terms that are more familiar to a wider group of teachers if they want to encourage broader changes. Terms such as verification, journalistic responsibility, audiences, storytelling, and relationship development may be a way to encourage engagement with such topics.

On April 15, 2013, Tom Rosenstiel provided a framework in which journalism educators could teach tech, business, and critical thinking skills to students. To continue the dialogue about the purpose of a journalism education, each panelist provided their interpretation of Rosentstiel’s four proposed curriculum components: verification, business, technical skills, and journalistic responsibility. At the Broadcast Education Association conference in Las Vegas, Victoria Lim (Disney & multimedia journalist), Tom Rosenstiel (American Press Institute), Debora Wenger (University of Mississippi), and myself (Michigan State University) sought to share concrete ways to incorporate these guiding principles into the classroom. Debora, Tom, and Victoria are people who often reflect on the mission of journalism and the roles educators play in supporting that mission.

I addressed the technical skills component at the convention. Organizations want people with skills, and research shows employers use skills as a filter for resumes. Skills, one component of a quality liberal arts education, refer to the practical knowledge needed for entry-level jobs. The other components of the liberal arts philosophy deal with encouraging civic engagement and learning about different cultures.

My argument is that we need to simplify tech skills if we want to empower educators to learn such skills and apply them to concepts reflecting the mission of journalism or a program. One step I am considering is creating a JSoTech dashboard that houses tutorials, syllabi, and suggested MOOCs. Perhaps, a meaningful curation of such resources may help demystify technology and its potential. I would appreciate any suggested materials or resources to help in making this idea a reality.

Journalism Degree Motivations: A Scale

I spent last summer teaching myself scale development and statistical techniques used to create and validate scales (exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis). As a result of my efforts, I have become fascinated with dissecting existing survey measures in our field.

No validated scale exists measuring students’ motivations for a journalism degree, and researchers vary in their items used to measure it across studies. I felt that it might be interesting to explore these scale development interests by creating a Journalism Degree Motivations (JDM) scale. And such a survey measure may be helpful for administrators, educators, and students during this period of transition for journalism schools. Items used to measure motivations were created based on input from past research, expert feedback, focus groups, and quantitative research. And thanks to a successful collaboration with my coauthors August E. Grant and Anne Hoag on the project, we are able to share the scale with you. In our survey work, answer categories ranged from “very unimportant” (1) to “very important” (7) to the statement “My motivations for choosing my major:”. An overarching theme appearing is that people choose journalism as a major primarily for intrinsic reasons. Intrinsic motivation means that people chose a particular path because they receive pleasure and satisfaction from their choice rather than selecting a major because of external forces such as pressure from parents.

Social responsibility
I want to work against injustice or corruption.
I want to point people toward possible solutions to society’s problems.
I want to inform the public about political events and consequences.
I want to be a voice for underprivileged or underrepresented groups.
Reporting skills
I enjoy asking questions.
I enjoy frequent interaction with new people.
I enjoy informing people of what they might not have known before.
I enjoy telling stories.
Social prestige
I want to be a local or national celebrity.
I want to have high status in my community.
I want special access to events.
I enjoy public recognition for my work.
Sports media
I want to meet local, national, or international sports athletes.
I want to work in sports media.
I enjoyed playing sports in high school.
I enjoy photography.
I want to refine my photography skills.
I enjoy editing photography or video.
I enjoy writing.
I want to work with new forms of writing.
I want to refine my writing skills.
Varied career
I want a career that has a routine schedule (reversed).
I want to have a varied (non-routine) daily lifestyle.
I want to travel for my job.
Science and numbers anxiety
I want to avoid a major that emphasizes math.
I want to avoid a major that emphasizes science.
I want a job that allows me to use my mathematical skills (reversed).

Transmedia Aproach: Entertainment Storytelling Techiniques

In my multimedia storytelling class this semester, I decided to apply the transmedia philosophy to journalism. I shared what I learned at the Journalism Interactive conference. Henry Jenkins, collaborative genius and educator, developed the term as a way to describe how stories tentacle across platforms. The transmedia approach is practiced primarily in the entertainment industry. Franchises such as Harry Potter, True Blood, and How I Met Your Mother reflect best practices. I seek inspiration from creators outside the field of journalism (entertainment, public relations, ed tech to guide me in the development of my classes. Journalism teachers can apply this approach if they want to challenge students’ media routines and understanding of what is considered news.

As a result of this experiment, I became more in touch with what I should be doing as a teacher. It is challenging to get them to think differently. Here are important points and potential assignments that can be applied in your classroom:

  1. Multiple creator world: Many people post and remix their own content (not just journalists). Jigar Mehta and Yasmin Elayat created a collaborative documentary about “18 days in Egypt” during the uprisings in Egypt. They asked people experiencing the event to submit their media and provide information about it. One emerging role of journalists is to help people make sense of large streams of information.
    • Ask students to create a story using other people’s content. They could create a local story using content from Facebook community sites, TweetsNearby, G+ communities, Banjo, Storify, etc. This exercise could also teach them to how to verify information.  And how to ethically attribute such information: 1) be clear about the image(s) or posts you wish to use, 2) explain how the image(s) or posts will be use, and clarify how the person wishes to be credited (name, username, etc., keeping in mind that in some cases they may wish to remain anonymous)
    • Ask them to collaborate with a student from another university to create a story focused on the same topic. Rural America is a cooperative series created by photojournalists all over the United States.
    • I would also like to see a website that aggregates syllabi, lectures, useful MOOCs, and tutorials. The Open Syllabus Project is an example of this movement. ForJournalism and many MOOCs exist to teach storytelling, web scraping, data journalism and privacy principles. And Cindy Royal received a fellowship to create an open-source platform for teaching coding and data skills to journalists. However I have not found a site that houses these education materials.
  2. Relationship cultivation: Magda Konieczna studied the MinnPost finding that one emerging business model requires journalists to understand how to cultivate relationships with community leaders and members in order to fund important journalism projects. In the beginning of the semester, I required my students to create content for a small local non-profit organization. The logic behind the idea was to teach them about serving their community, being accountable, and learning about business models.
  3. Experience first: Steve Jobs said one reason for his success is that he thought about experience first. Content produced for each platform, online and offline, should reflect the communication behaviors and preferences of the people loyal to that platform (e.g., Reddit, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest). Many of us who teach technology-focused courses repeatedly say students are not as digitally literate as people assume. But they are consumers. They will often identify the weaknesses of their content if you ask them to critique their content from the perspective of a visitor to a specific platform.
  4. Loyalty: Journalists often produce episodic content. It is difficult to build community when traditional news media websites feature episodic content, in which stories are framed as examples of discrete, disconnected events and topics. To encourage them to think differently, I asked them to create content a web series for a YouTube channel. They struggled with conceptualizing a web series. This means they are trying to develop a loyal following around their multimedia content. From an information perspective, students can serve the public by creating educational and artistic videos for a particular group of people.
  5. Visual engagement: Journalists want to have impact. To have that impact, they must understand visual communication principles. In a visually saturated society, we need to teach students how to cut through information flood by understanding basic visual communication principles. Basic tips include shooting faces, smiles, and close-ups. I find that students often post very detached photos. To connect, shoot eyes and learn the visual dissonance principle. For their non-profits, students were required to apply visual engagement principles when producing visual content for a platform reflecting one overall communication goal.

Social Media News & Info syllabus

I spent the past few weeks sifting through online literature to include in my syllabus for Social Media News & Information for our new master’s curriculum in the School of Journalism. I teach the class in Spring 2014. I found some great popular press readings from the Nieman Journalism Lab, Poynter, First Monday, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Mediashift.

I also decided to test Google Sites to create the website for the syllabus. The tool was similar to using Gmail compose box. So very simple.

The Hero Project: A media engagement experiment

Many student journalists choose the field of journalism and public relations because they want their life to have an impact. And teaching about engagement can help them in their desire to create change.

Research examining engagement tends to fall in three areas: 1) civic engagement, 2) student engagement and 3) employee engagement. Research definitions of engagement tend to reflect the aim of helping people to develop identity, learn how to participate and flourish as a community.

  • “…having both a behavioral component, termed participation, and an emotional component, termed identification” (Finn & Voelkl, 1993; p. 249).
  • “Civic engagement is any activity where people come together in their role as citizens” (Diller, 2001, p. 22).

In the field in journalism, educators have been criticized about teaching students about newsroom socialization rather than teaching them to tailor information to encourage citizens to participate. The intent of a liberal arts education was designed to nurture students to be problem solvers, creative thinkers, and critical scholars (Higginbotham 1961; Wick & Phillips, 2008).

As educators, we should critically evaluate whether our teaching efforts are helping to empower students to create public action and awareness. When teaching engagement, students should be asking themselves whether their efforts reflect a world they want to make and whether their efforts accurately represent people. Engagement has the potential to create a sense of connectedness and self-efficacy among humans, which can lead to loyalty to an individual and organization.

The cultivation of intellectual and critical thinkers starts with encouraging them to connect to people outside their usual social circles. Several organizational leaders are encouraging news reporters to connect their social media identities to stories, post requests for story ideas on social media channels and meet with online community members in a F2F environment.

The line between public relations and journalism is blurring. Both fields recognize the importance of relationships for future sustainability, however many public relations professionals understand the significance of relationships better.

Journalists often view themselves as serving specific communities. Researchers have often referred to community as a physical location. However, a community can refer to a geographic area or refer to a group of people with similar interests. The process of sharing information allows journalists to be more aware of the diversity of communities that exist.

It is important to have a plan in mind when crafting exercises that teach students about media engagement. I had spent fall semester 2011 structuring assignments for my spring 2012 honors Online Media class. I hope that sharing my plan will help or inspire other people to experiment.

In my Online Media class at Arizona State University, I taught social media, visual communication and coding… and time constraints would not allow the full experiment to take place. Time constraints are a common problem for educators who are digitally literate. In this post, I will discuss how I envisioned the assignment, what actually happened, and what how I would like to expand upon this experiment in the future.

The class final project theme centered on examining the meaning of hero. I specifically wanted students dissect the construct of hero. The group discussed and focused on nine sub-themes: 1) the philosophical dissection of the construct, 2) why we needs heroes, 3) superheroes, 4) video games, 5) children’s definition of heroes, 6) how other cultures define heroes, 7) musicians, 8) celebrities and 9) villains.

Plan for Engagement Experiment

First Day
I asked the mostly sophomore-level students to post their thoughts and reactions about The Hero Project to a Tumblr blog. I envisioned students sharing their personal thoughts on this blog throughout the semester. Blog posts can encourage classroom community and topic reflection. And I planned to share this blog on the final project website.

Second Week
Each student was to be responsible for a social media channel and one person was responsible with commenting on sites related to our niche. They were required to set up a social media profile, market the project, create content, connect with others with similar interests and promote the project following publication via their assigned channel. The setup portion of the assignment was to be due during the second week of the semester. The social media sites chosen were Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Pinterest, Quora, Flickr, Delicious, and blog comments.

Third Week
On the Tumblr blog, each student shared the best practices for engagement related to their social media channel.

Sixth Week
We discussed the creation of a promotional video related to the project. I showed examples of videos in class for inspiration: Jacob’s Story, Will it blend?, Free Hugs and Bad Project. Based on Jacob’s story, the students thought it would be engaging to bring a white board to the streets asking people who their hero was and why. Two students did shoot the slideshow, however it was created at the end of the semester.

Eighth Week
The class of nine students was required to create a multimedia piece summarizing the effect their personal hero had on them. They were asked to interview their personal hero and/or interview themselves talking about their hero. I graded them on creativity and focus, rather than production quality. You can view their videos on their class Tumblr site. The majority of the class members voted that this were their favorite assignment of the semester. Here is some of their feedback:

  • “Making this personal hero video was a very cathartic experience … I think it communicates the message I was going for and I would love to make it longer.”
  • “We don’t often get the chance to express ourselves personally in journalism class, and I enjoyed being able to tell my own story for a change. I can’t wait to share this video with my dad. He had no idea while working on this that I was calling him my hero.”
  • “No matter what grade I get, this will probably end up being my favorite assignment of the semester. It was deeply personal, and dug at the core of what makes who I am.”

I encourage educators to allow at least one assignment that challenges students to apply a different or more personal lens related to the class focus.

Fifteenth Week
The crew coded and created a website called The Hero Project. And they posted their final thoughts about the project on the Tumblr blog. Ideally, I wanted them to interact more in social media spheres, however I am quite proud of what they did accomplish.

The Future

Ideally, I would like to teach a class called “Engaging Communities.” In such a class, I would like teaching crowdsourcing/curation, engagement, search, alternative forms of storytelling, verification and much more.

My students did begin to understand that they need to learn how to connect their content to people in the online environment. I wanted students to post suggested hashtags, live Twitter feeds, live chats and Ustreams, social media share buttons near stories and create a resources page and sidebars to encourage people to engage the content offline and online.

I have accepted a position at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism for fall 2012. I am co-teaching and helping design a journalism capstone class in this department. Based on my experience with this experiment this past Spring semester, I am inspired to continue. Here are some of my plans for the fall semester course:

During the first week students, students will search social media channels and search engines for story idea inspiration around an assigned theme. Sites could include:

Students will pitch their ideas on a G+ class circle. They will then vote (+1) and comment critically on the ideas. They will be required to observe and create content for niche communities throughout the semester. Team members will also be required to create crowdsourced stories, experiment with storytelling and engage in niche communities throughout the semester.

When I taught at Bloomsburg University in PA, I noticed that students would grow creatively and intellectually when given the opportunity to express themselves. Several academic studies show that the desire to be creative is a top reason why many journalism students choose the major of journalism. This fall semester, I am assigning every student to visually summarize their interpretation of the team’s topic using multimedia. The multimedia piece could be a montage of feet or it could be them expressing their thoughts to the camera about the niche topic. The more creative projects will receive higher grades. They will embed the SEOed video on the team’s Tumblr blog. And I also plan to still have them create promotional videos.

My goal ultimately with these assignments is to send a message that I want them to approach journalism from different angles. Many educators spend a great amount of time telling them what is and what is not journalism. In my class, I want them to take risks that reflect their desire to inform, help and motivate people. Research in political communication and other fields has shown that mobilizing efforts do influence positive behavior within individuals. Thus, I want them to also think about how they can mobilize the public for civic good. To find inspirational examples of mobilizing efforts, one should look at historical newspapers of the underground press in the 1960s.

Some syllabi suggestions would be to: 1) assign a social media editor to team projects, 2) require research of a social media channel and formulating story ideas within the channels, 3) assign a crowdsourced assignment, 4) embrace personal expression and interpretation and 5) require public and private reflection.

To learn more about engagement, I suggest reading posts from Steve Buttry, Knight Foundation’s Engagement Commons or Howard Rheingold. And of course, here is my presentation and visit my teaching page for updates on my classroom experiments at Michigan State University.

And if you have questions or comments, please comment or email me at And I want to thank the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication public relations and communication technology divisions for the speaking invitation (#AEJMC12 #prprofs) and my co-panelists @PRvolsProf, @jizaks, @abbylovett, @marcusmessner, @RedClayHound, Charles Lubbers and moderator @Gallicano.

The effectiveness of Google+ Hangout office hours

I experimented with Google+ Hangout office hours this semester. However, the success of the experiment was lukewarm. I video chatted with a total of two students over the semester. I don’t believe new students feel comfortable video chatting with teachers. I think that there may be a greater likelihood that I will chat with former students more often than my present students.

But many students were logged into their Gmail accounts. Many students regularly text messaged me through GChat. They would ask about assignments or about my day.

Andrew Lih, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism, uses Google+ Hangouts for weekly story meetings with students. He also speculated that interactions with students were minimal because the service was so new.

Here is some advice on how to Hangout:

1. First, you will need to set up and label a circle for your class.

2. Sharing your circle with your students is the easiest way to connect with the class which includes yourself. Students will have to label the shared circle.

3. Select “Start a hangout.” A post in the G+ feed will appear that indicates you are hanging out. You can control which circles of people you engage while hanging out.

There is a newer feature called “Hangout with extras.” You can add a document from Google Documents or Share a Screen from your computer. The Documents feature has potential because student teams or teacher and a student could edit a document together while they video chat.

Other academic uses for G+ Hangouts include requiring your students to hangout with niche communities related to a professional interest. I hear photographers regularly use G+. If you click the hangout icon on the left side panel, you can see that public hangouts exist. gphangouts also lists permanent and future hangouts.

Students could also embed an On Air broadcast adjacent to a story or blog post because they can record and upload a hangout to a YouTube account.  You could critique their interviewing skills with this exercise.

I will try Hangout office hours in the future. But I believe students prefer to meet in person when it is an issue of serious concern and they prefer to text when it is not.

Online portfolios and the splash page

Each year I encourage my students to visit sites that aggregate the latest web design trends in hopes that they will become inspired.

This semester appears to be the semester of the splash page. A splash page is a page that is typically taken up by an image. Many students recruited someone to take professional portfolio pictures of them. As you browse these sites, you will see many sites feature an image of the student with a quote adjacent to their image.

Feel free to comment on their sites or visit sites from previous semesters.

Section 1
Kelly Andersen
Tara Boyd
Caitlin Cruz
Harmony Huskinson
Olivia Khiel
Leila O’Hara
Torunn Sinclair
Preston Sotelo
Cassie Strauss

Section 2
Hayden Packwood
Erin O’Connor
Vanja Veric
David Sydiongco
Ali Lasch
Haley Buntrock
Michelle Rivas
Hannah Shive
Devin McIntyre
Samantha Koukoulas
Sebastian Zotoff
Sonya Chavez
Haley Madden
Monique Zatcoff
Charissa Heckard
Mohamud Ali
Charles Hall
Daniel Escobedo
Osej Serratos

A letter to my students

I have accepted an academic position at Michigan State University in the School of Journalism, and I am excited to engage with the professors and students intellectually.

I am saying goodbye to the past five years at Arizona State University, but I most sad to say goodbye to my students. My students handed in their final projects last night.

This is a note to them:

As a teacher, I have several goals for you: increase your confidence, help you find your creative self and understand the importance of relationships.

Most students do not believe at the beginning of my class that they can handle learning social media, multimedia and coding. At the end of the semester, many of you were teaching students in other classes.

Each person is able to do anything if they work for it. You will discover that skills are only a small part of your future success; the most important part of the equation for your future is developing a work ethic.

In the future, I plan to develop more exercises that allow students to tap into their creative selves. Through this exploration, you better discover your many sides and potential. I hope that you will continue to experiment and challenge ways to share and communicate information.

Most teachers at ASU are only able to work with students during one semester. This means that students are less likely to develop relationships with potential mentors. I want you to seek out people who will challenge and critique you. It is the most efficient path to professional success. It is important to develop relationships with people in the administration, with leaders at your jobs or internships and with other professors.

Many of you have learned that your classmates are resources as well. Remember, the bonds developed in my class do not have to end. You can connect with your classmates again to create another product together.

My professors are the reason that I became a professor. They helped me see my potential. I owe them so much for their kindness and time. And I am still here to help you.

I saw many of you became teachers in this class and previous classes, which means you are leaders. And I hope that with what you have learned you are better able to follow your passions and be happy. I firmly believe you can have it all.


Journalism and public relations student’ blogs

Online Media 1:30 section
Kelly Anderson
Tara Boyd
Caitlin Cruz
Harmony Huskison
Olivia Khiel
Leila O’Hara
Torunn Sinclair
Preston Sotelo
Cassie Strauss

Online Media 4:30 section

Erin O’Connor
Charissa Heckard
Charles J. Hall
Mohamud Ali
Vanja Veric
Haley Madden
Ali Lasch
Haley Buntrock
Hayden Packwood
Osej Serratos
Sonya Chavez
Hannah Shive
Devin McIntyre
Samantha Koukoulas
Michelle Rivas
David Sydiongco
Monique Zatcoff
Daniel Escobedo
Sebastian Zotoff

Digital and social media class syllabi

I try to identify and share recent syllabi that I believe would be of use for the academic community. I know many educators are working on their syllabi over winter break. If you have one you would like to share related to digital media topics, email me or post it below.

I have also posted other syllabi in previous posts. Be sure to browse those posts as well.

Tim Currie | University of King’s College | Audience and Content Strategies
Marcus Messner | Virgina Commonwealth University | Reporting for Print and Web and Business of Media
Susan Currie Sivek | Linfield College | Introduction to Mass Communication

Keith Hampton | University of Pennsylvania | Five Digital Media and Social Network Classes
Zizi Papacharissi | University  of Illinois at Chicago | Democracy in a Digital Age
Columbia Graduate School of Journalism | Social Media Skills for Journalists
Mark W. Smith | Central Michigan University | Social Media and Journalism
Bill Handy | Oklahoma State University | Social Media

Cindy Royal | Texas State University | Web Design and Publishing
Jake Batsell | Southern Methodist University | Technology Reporting | Digital Reporting
Katy Bartzen Culver | University of Wisconsin-Madison | In-depth Multimedia Reporting
Serena Carpenter | Arizona State University | Online Media