Running a journalism newsday (part 3)

Most university journalism degrees include newsdays or production workshops where students work individually and in teams to produce a media output of a professional standard. This series of posts aims to discuss the value of newsdays based on my experience running a unit that offers a similar workplace simulation.

More Research Required 

A study by John Mathews and Kate Heathman of Liverpool John Moores University involved a survey of students working on a journalism news website at LJMU. It described a mostly positive experience and provides many useful tips for those looking to run similar newsgathering operations.

The report highlights what I feel is one of the most important lessons on running a newssday –

‘At the outset of the academic year students were encouraged to abandon preconceived notions of the university experience thus far and to adopt a new mindset towards their studies; treating [the unit] as ‘going to work’ rather than simply attending a scheduled class.’

This is of course is easier said than done. Students tend to view newsdays as just ‘another scheduled class’ if they are being assessed. The decision to assess or not is important. Assessment is a form of motivation to many students.

Mathews and Heathman describes the importance of setting up a student ‘website team’, following ‘interviews conducted with academic staff’.

One of the trickiest issues is how you involve weaker students. I have found from personal experience that a ‘democratic model’ where students do a bit of everything rarely works. It usually better to have some system in place to identify the best students who will be able to lead the group.

AT LJMU all of the stories submitted to the site by students were ‘checked for factual/legal/grammatical errors and sub-edited before being published by academic staff’ the report states.

This is a controversial area in my view. In an ideal world you want students to take responsibility for the editing and uploading to the site even if  some mistakes and errors get published on the public-facing site (as they certainly will).  I would even like students to start the site, manage the theme and play with the code as this provides students with more involvement and far more potential learning opportunities.

Also the huge amount of content being produced by students means that academic staff may not have the time to edit it all. Ideally, a team of student sub-editors should be doing this.

What news do you cover?

The BJTC is clear when it states that it doesn’t want what it deems ‘student stories’. I presume it views student stories as being easier to produce compared to following the local or national news agenda.

On a unit I used to run students covered university sport in the BUCs league, indeed the class was specifically banned from covering national sports stories.

Some students told me that they felt the focus on student sport was a little parochial – they would much rather be covering Saints or Pompey matches rather than covering the Solent Redhawks American Football playing UWE away. However, the unit succeeded as it meant that students had to be very resourceful when covering stories and build close contacts among the teams.

They also had go out get original quotes, images, audio and video as none of it could be copied off the net (a potential problem when students follow the national news agenda). The site built a small, but loyal following and students got to analyse the metrics. When it comes to web publishing is is all about the verticals, hence why university sites that cover national news are doomed to fail.

One student site at another university live blogged the response to the shooting down of MH17, although it is hard to see what students could offer in the way of original output. They have no hope of getting original images, so most were pulled off the net and there was nothing in the way of new material.

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