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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.