Running a journalism newsday (part 2)

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.

Do as I say

A possible negative of newsdays is the tendency to focus on ‘now’ skills, rather than looking to the future. There is a long tradition of journalism skills being taught by an experienced professional. The cub reporters are sent out to practice and essentially duplicate what they have just been told. Repetition is obviously important – it is one of the key ways we learn. Repeat for 15 hours each year!  Job done.

But if an industry is to progress, then clearly we need to encourage rule breaking and the exploration of different types of journalism. So we need to ensure that more experimental forms of learning appear elsewhere in the curriculum. Some have questioned whether the focus of a newsday should be on a single student news website. What about mobile output and social media?

Are newsdays the best way of encouraging those all important mindset skills that allow students to cope with constant and rapid change in industry practice?

Shiny new newsroom

The emphasis on newsdays comes at a time when university journalism departments are often investing heavily in shiny new, fully converged and digital new newsrooms. Those universities that don’t have the dosh (did they forget to charge £9K a year!?) will suffer if they can’t take the converged approach demanded by the BJTC. In ideal world you need students working in the same room on the various media outputs.

Some journo departments even have ambitions to run professional newsgathering operations to take on national or local media. While perhaps not quite as crazy as getting involved with local TV, it is coming close. This area was debated on Andy Dickinson’s blog.

He asked:

Should we as a public funded body (unless the government really get the claws out) plonk ourselves in to that landscape and risk flattening or at the very least skewing the local media economy? Even a relatively small journalism school represents an effective staff far in excess of most local newsrooms.

Student feedback

Five years  ago the unit Web Production For Sports Journalists was run at Solent. Students contributed to a live public-facing students sports site built in Joomla! (we later moved to WordPress).

An anonymous unit evaluation survey included the following comments:

“Great idea that allowed us to simulate working for a real sports website.”

“It has a strong relevance to what I hope I will do as a career. It incorporates everything that we have learnt and the way the industry is going.”

“I believe that if I were to work for an Internet publication I would have a ‘heads-up’ on others who haven’t had the first hand experience of it that this unit offers”

There was of course some negative feedback. Some students said that the sessions were rather repetitive (I had some sympathy with this). It may sound like a minor point, but students without cars or their own transport complained that they were unable to cover stories for practical reasons.

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