in Just Journalism

Three tools Journalism 101 should introduce to students

AP Stylebook - Not the only tool for j-students

The AP Stylebook may be handy, but it's not the only tool Journalism 101 students should be handed. Photo by Lee Bennett on Flickr.

Looking back at my college education, I’m left wishing that I had been introduced to some tools a bit earlier. Instead of being set up as a life-long learner and digital journalist, I was required to buy an Associated Press Stylebook and spent my time practicing how to bang out different types of ledes that blend into different story structures.

That material is not complex, but some people have the knack for it and lots don’t. The camp of students that does get it right away (and is already practicing it at the student paper or internships) suffers through the rest of the semester while professors patiently try teaching the same things in different ways to students who don’t get it. Years later, as graduation approached, I realized lots of the students who had held back the class because they didn’t understand the basics were either no longer in the program—or still couldn’t write a good hard news lead and a basic inverted pyramid.

The attitude was that everything worth learning could be gained by religiously attending class and doing one or two internships.

I can’t help wondering what I would have already learned independently had my journalism professors introduced me to these three tools for learning journalism:

1. Blogging

Throughout my journalism program, professors required students to start up a blog, usually using Blogger, and use it for a variety of purposes, including actually blogging about a neighborhood or topic a few times during the course or just posting assignments to it in an effort to go paperless and encourage online discourse between classmates.

What I wish would have happened is that my professors across courses worked to graduate bloggers. That means introducing us to good blogging software (so definitely not Blogger) and guiding us through setting up those blogs (buying domains, setting up hosting, etc.); focusing in on a blogging topic that we were passionate about and would blog about; continually emphasizing blogging best practice along with print journalism techniques; and working across classes and the program to start and stick with one blog.

Blogging would be a like a whole new classroom for journalism students, and the benefits would be many, including: introducing students to essential technology for web publishing, teaching them to network through the Internet effectively and giving them practice writing in a less formal, conversational manner for web readers.

2. RSS Reader

Sure, many programs have classes that require students to read their local newspaper and even take quizzes on the news. It’s an effective way to force students to start a news-reading habit if they didn’t have one already. But it also pretends that there aren’t plenty of other sources out there that will help students pick up journalism skills—namely blogs about social media, new media, journalism, etc. Having students read blogs like Mindy McAdams’ Teaching Online Journalism blog is like enrolling them in a whole new journalism class.

3. Twitter and other social media

Twitter was in its infancy when I was entering my journalism program, but now that it’s widely accepted as an excellent tool for many tasks in journalism, it’s time journalism professors learn about it themselves and then get students using it as a networking tool, social version of an RSS reader, and a method of sourcing stories and engaging with audiences.

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