It’s all about online journalism. Isn’t it?

City University have recently announced a new Masters degree: An Interactive Journalism MA which offers:

  • Data Journalism | Sourcing, reporting and presenting stories through data-driven journalism
    and visualising and presenting data (databases, mapping and other interactive graphics).
  • Online Communities | Developing and managing online communities including social media – in the changing relationship of journalists with consumers.
  • Content Management | Understanding and using the content management systems that underlie online journalism.

These are all useful skills which will be supplemented by other core modules from City’s offerings, but it left me wondering whether City are ahead of the curve or behind it?

So I have taken a quick look around some of the other courses on offer. The obvious place to start seemed to be the Online Journalism MA at BCU – also (as I understand it) developed by Paul Bradshaw. Part of the course outline describes what students will be learning:

“The course offers tuition in all practical areas of online journalism, including writing for the web and using content management systems; blogging and microblogging; podcasting; online video production; mapping; Flash interactivity; Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) and using social media for newsgathering; creating data mash-ups; building content management systems and social networking and online distribution strategies.”

The University of Sheffield is somewhat similar:

“You will learn how to search out information and conduct interviews, how to use your news judgment to evaluate stories, and how to organise and structure the material you have garnered and present it in an engaging and informative way. You will learn how to build a website, how to construct stories in a web-friendly manner, and how to take advantage of the multi-media aspects of the web such as video and audio.”

There was also an offering from Goldsmiths, all of which existed before City’s addition to the party (although Cardiff don’t seem to offer a web, online or interactive-specific course). So City are wandering in late to the party…

…but is it fashionably late?

Old Pc's

Photo by Eurleif

Has this MA arrived fresh on the scene – part developed by one of the most respected lecturers in the future of news – ready to grab hold of students who are seeing what the likes of The Guardian Data Blog and Scraper Wiki (among many others) are up to? Do students want to learn how it’s done?

I can’t help but feel that these dedicated courses are somewhat unnecessary; I already know that The Student and The Chancer are being put through their paces by Bradshaw in their Online Module and not only are they being taught practical skills, but they are also being encouraged to analyse what is changing each and everyday in the industry.

Being a journalist is about having a knowledge of all the means you can use to tell a story and some of them – writing / podcasting / whatever your preference – you can excel at – but you can’t do everything and surely you need to get the basics down first.

It has always been my experience that journalism is collaborative, rarely will you take the story from source to page yourself. Along the way you are edited, subbed; the page is laid up, graphics and pictures are sourced. You should understand  the process and be able to help with it, but you cannot do it all.

You can know a content management system inside out and Twitter up and down – but if you don’t know where to get a story or how to follow a lead you’ve got nothing.


About Nick Petrie
Social Media & Campaigns Editor @TheTimes of London. Co-founder @Wannabehacks. Interested in communities, conversations, storytelling.

4 Responses to It’s all about online journalism. Isn’t it?

  1. Jamie Smith says:

    Isn’t being able to work a content management system just copy and paste?

    Don’t think you need a whole module to know how to do that, Shirley?

    • The Intern says:

      I think that is quite an over simplification – your content management system can release or tie up information in ways you have never considered until it is to late. Think of the restrictions of as opposed to .org. If you’re CMS can’t handle video and you end up with the scoop of the century via film – you cannot get it out.

      Does it allow sharing, signing in – comments and conversation? – not all CMS’ were born equal and they don’t all evolve well either. Understanding the potential pitfalls and building an open enough system to cope with future developments in the way we deliver online news is essential.

      The Guardian’s CMS ‘Tools’ is beautifully thought through and stunningly powerful – it makes WordPress look like a joke. So whilst I stand by my original argument, it would be wise not to be so flippant about understanding CMS.

  2. The Student says:

    Yeah, you’re probably quite right Jamie, content management systems aren’t hugely complicated. The web is probably well equipped enough to give you the basics on any CMS.

    Saying that though, I was surprised when I came to City how many hadn’t used and didn’t know how to use WordPress, supposedly the most accessible and popular blogging platform. Perhaps giving CMS their own module will allow people to really get to grips with them, rather than being something students know a little of but not a great deal

  3. Interesting article guys, I agree on the same lines as you. Having a course purely around online media is not necessarily something I would want to do. The most important skills I am learning from Investigative Journalism are the traditional ones – researching, writing news copy and shorthand. The online stuff is useful and important but I doubt it is the focus for many. It is becoming more and more important but how can you teach a format that has no certainty about it? It’s not something I would be sure about investing £9,000 in.

    Also, to be cynical, what is the point of teaching something that does not have a clear opportunity for income? Most of those running successful online ventures are entrepreneurial journalists and I am sure those wanting to be entrepreneurs are in the minority. However, onwards and upwards and all that…

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