Monday, 11 January 2010

Online journalism teaching - the good and the not-so-good

An interesting debate is taking place on Twitter and blogs about the quality of online journalism education. Students are quite rightly critical of courses which don't take online journalism seriously (a particularly shortsighted position as many of our students get online jobs when they graduate). We're working very hard at Kingston to keep our courses up to date and have made a number of significant changes, including junking Online Journalism as an option and making multimedia reporting compulsory for all first and second years. They're assessed on work uploaded onto our internal CMS as well as work done for print. Students are introduced to Twitter, blogs and video journalism and learn how to develop an online brand. Our MA students run their own news website, RiverOnline where they put their multimedia skills into practice.

But all this has only happened after a lot of meetings and arguments (sorry, discussion) about timing and resources. As Marie Kinsey @journotutor, my colleague at Sheffield, points out, university bureaucracy is not set up for instant and regular change. Any changes to assessments have to be agreed by a committee which meets only every couple of months, so introducing assessment of students' Twitter use (one suggestion on the blogs) would have to wait an academic year, unless we could sneak it in under the guise of a "portfolio" of work. The obsession with "quality" means that everything has to have a paper trail. Software changes which need technical support or resources have to be planned and agreed more than a year in advance. Obviously we're not alone - the whole university sector works the same way, as far as I can gather from colleagues at other institutions.

As an NCTJ-accredited institution, we also have to shape our syllabus to a certain extent to the demands of the NCTJ exams. The NCTJ has just announced a massive overhaul of its newswriting syllabus and not a moment too soon. The disjunct between its old-fashioned, local newspaper print journalism exam and our attempts to teach our students the skills to survive in a 21st century newsroom make session-planning a tricky task.

Of course students don't see all this frantic paddling under the surface and they could argue, quite justifiably, that it isn't their problem. But in the interests of fairness (good journalism), this is just to suggest that there are two sides to every story...

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