Journalism Is Changing, So How Do We Teach It?

Friends, Students, Colleagues, Fellow Educators —

The question in the headline is one we’re examining here at UMass and as we go about gathering information, we were curious to hear what folks had to say. We’re certainly not the first to visit this issue. It’s becoming the hot topic as many universities examine how to expand their program.

Many have explored the issue:

* OJR’s Larry Pryor wrote about this in 2006.

* Two summits of journalism educators in California were held in 2005 and 2007 on the theme Rethinking Journalism Education. There’s even a podcast from that most recent event.

* A quick Google search shows countless resources, including this site maintained by Jim Stovall at the University of Tennessee and, of course, the blog run by Mindy McAdams at the University of Florida.

So, please join our discussion and weigh in with thoughts!




About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at He also edits part-time for with the NFL and college football network.
This entry was posted in Business of Journalism, Convergence, Future of Journalism, innovation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Journalism Is Changing, So How Do We Teach It?

  1. I think first and foremost the Journalism Department needs to bill itself as a multimedia program, so that students applying to the major understand that they’ll be expected to do more than just write.

    Maybe a sign on the J-Department office door in Barlett that says: “Luddites Need Not Apply” would do the trick.

    I’ve only recently embraced the digital age, but what I’ve found is that utilizing video technology is the first step. Whether DV or hard disk, a camcorder and basic editing software can make you look a lot more talented and resourceful than you actually are. Everybody should know basic camera. Everybody should know iMovie. Everybody should know FinalCut Pro, though I’ve discovered recently that the latter isn’t ideal for short video packages.

    On top of that, podcasting is something that can be taught in one class period on GarageBand. Charles Sennott told a couple of us Collegian folks that he uses GarageBand when we attended the Georges Conference last year.

    HTML and other web design skills tops my wish list for acquired skills. An integrated program between the J-dept. and, say, computer science departments, that specializes in news-based web design would be great. I don’t know any of this stuff, and I need to get it down before I graduate.

    BUT, writing is still priority number one. An increased focus on web content would be great, but the idealized future I’m still clinging to for Web journalism is based in good writing. The internet provides infinite space, whereas the broadsheet is very limited. We should be moving towards more good writing, not less.

  2. Karen List says:

    As we continue to talk about how to teach journalism in these changing times, our top three considerations should be:

    1) Students
    2) Students
    3) Students

    If we start to get lost in the complexities of this discussion, if our disagreements begin to distract us from the task, I would ask that we remember why we’re here in the first place: to provide our students the best possible journalism education. That’s what should unite us and allow us to enjoy this challenge. Our students are the best at UMass, and they deserve our best–and I know we’ll continue to give it to them. Journalism rocks!

  3. David says:

    Could I suggest we establish an etiquette of identification on this blog? It would be useful if we knew who’s talking and where they’re coming from (physically and otherwise).

    David Perkins
    Lecturer, UMASS Journalism Program

  4. I think that there should be a focus on web coding and design, I edit Amherst wire but I don’t know anything beyond the basics. I can upload stuff to the site and that’s about it. The other editor, Jackie, is the one who ends up getting stuck making all the page layouts because no one else knows how. Luckily, she is exceptionally good at it. It’s frustrating for many students actually, because we are learning how to make stuff for the web, but not how to get it there. Maybe a basic html or css class would be nice, or even a web design course. If you are pushing an online agenda, it’d be nice to start from the roots up.

    Another thing is maybe instead of having a “multimedia” class, there should be a separate course for each of the 3 “big” media mediums. I know there’s already 2 photo ones, but an audio and video one would be nice. That way students could learn them thoroughly rather than a bare bones grasp of each one.

    All that aside, since this doesn’t have ramifications on my grade, I think there should be less emphasis on twitter. Putting it straightly, Twitter sucks. Unless you are covering a groundbreaking event like 9/11 or King Kong at the top of the UMass library. It’s only “cool” in the 35+ crowd, but let me let you in on some juicy student gossip, most of us think it’s incredibly lame and upset that our tuition dollars are being used on teaching us how to text (we’ve been doing that since we were 14) to a website (we’ve been doing that since we were 17) instead of multimedia skills. It will take something more to phase us on the web. Not to mention our parents (at least parents of everyone in our 2/3rds journalism major apartment) are getting upset about our text messaging bills. Does the whole world really want to know “What are you doing”? Really?

  5. Ashleigh: Agree with you 100 percent on Twitter. I think it’s a novelty that will go the way of the beeper. Everyone else I’ve talked to seems to agree.

    David Perkins: I agree. It would be a good idea if you knew who we were. I’m an undergrad, former Ed/Op editor of The Collegian and current columnist, and an intern for The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

    I was a print journalist until I decided I wanted a job after college. Now I’m a “multimedia storyteller.”

  6. I love what ashleigh bennett wrote about Twitter. Undergrad students do not need instruction in how to use Twitter! We should mention it, show a few examples, and move on. Especially pertinent is her reference to the 35+ crowd. There are younger users, mostly technology fiends, using Twitter — but yeah, it seems like mostly an old guy’s medium to me. (And I do use it … so, old girls too.)

  7. journalismprofs says:

    Hey Mindy,

    Good to hear from you!

    The findings/reactions to the Twitter exercise were interesting. Some students said that trying to watch the debates, monitor Twitter feeds and use Twitter to report reactions to the debates was too much. In trying to do several things at once, they couldn’t really focus on what the candidates were saying.

    I thought it was a valuable lesson.

    The overall exercise was not how to use Twitter per se but became one about how reporting well takes time — even in an environment where students (and journalists) are constantly multi-tasking. Our discussions also mentioned how Twitter is a tool for journalists, certainly not the only way to report — but another of many tools to help the process.

    Hope all is well,

  8. journalismprofs says:

    Hi again —

    “Multimedia storyteller” — I like that.

    In that vein, I was recently asked to review a cover letter of a soon to be graduate. It included this line:

    “I’ve worked hard in and out of college to build a skill set founded in traditional news writing while
    embracing the future of our industry.”

    Sounds like a multimedia storyteller…


  9. David says:

    The best proof of Twitter’s inadequacy I know of is to contrast the experiment of the Rocky Mountain News this fall in assigning a reporter to twitter the funeral of a young person, and Steve Fox’ own moving piece a few weeks later in the Hampshire Gazette about his children and their school’s reaction to another young person’s premature death. The latter had head and heart and the maturity of years, and writing skills honed over time, behind it. (If I may say so of my colleague.)

    The former was just bits–“The mother is now weeping” etc.– and it made the community angry. I suspect Steve’s piece, on the other hand, helped his community heal after its ordeal. That is one thing good journalism can do.

    Now, my question: Would Steve have written it, and would his piece have had an impact, if we did not have a (fairly good) community newspaper here in the Valley to publish it? What do communities miss that don’t have one?

    David P.

  10. Jackie Hai says:

    Two thoughts:

    1) I like Ashleigh’s idea of making sure we have in-depth classes for each of the “big 3” of multimedia – photo, audio and video – to ensure we don’t end up with students who are jacks of all trades, masters of none. Maybe start with an intro class that lets freshmen and sophomores get their feet wet in the different mediums, then offer photo, audio and video electives to let them explore their interests more deeply, and in the end, have an upper-level multimedia class that puts it all together again.

    Come to think of it, the upper-level class could teach concepts like design and layout for feature web pages, and the requisite HTML/CSS coding skills to implement them. Projects would be similar to the ones we’ve been making over at the Amherst Wire:

    2) That said, however, I emphatically second Sean’s sentiment that good writing cannot, must not, be left by the wayside. Students should walk out of here knowing how to write tight copy, compelling narratives and prose that sings. All good storytelling, including multimedia (where storyboarding and scripting come into play), depends on it.

    -Jackie Hai
    Journalism ’09
    Webmaster/Editor of

  11. I agree with what everyone has said… I don’t a thing about HTML or any of that jazz… and I do see that in some job listings from time to time.

    I think it was a really good step in my sports journalism class to have kids film and upload videos for blogs and stories – I think that is something that has been helping me out a bit with work I’m doing.

    I also heard about Twitter first from the journalism page and then heard about it a lot more from the rest of the world about two or three weeks later – so it seems like you guys beat out people by getting to that first – which is cool.

    I think basically, if you just try and focus on new ways to get stories out by using multimedia, that will keep you in the front of the pack.

    I guess thats about all I have to say for now 🙂

    -Amber ‘Slam’ Vaillancourt
    Journalism 08!
    ESPN Insider content editor blogger
    former peer mentor/lecture series organizer

  12. journalismprofs says:

    Hi everyone,

    With his permission, I’m passing along an email from Jim Foudy, one of our fine instructors and editor of the Daily Hampshire Gazette:

    The Web needs to be incorporated into courses — writing, ethics, for sure, press history, etc. I’m devoting a couple of my Tuesday nights to Web convergence and writing online. I think the idea of short workshop sessions to teach some specific tech skills useful for the new media age also makes sense. The workshops would need a component that requires them to produce some pieces for AmherstWire or some other Web publishing operation. Could be local media (no, I am not shilling for GazetteNET here) or their hometown paper or broadcast outlet. It’s all about practice.

    Here’s what I am finding with young reporters and especially interns at the Gazette: Most of them are getting their skills with video, sound and film editing on their own. An intern last summer from Concordia worked in sports and, in addition to the usual night game roundups and agate work, produced four excellent print/Web features. Her stories needed editing, but not a lot, and her video work was top notch. Her skills came mostly from work for the student-run TV station at her university .

    This semester, Sean Sullivan from UMass is an intern and has produced several good print and video pieces. There’s a link at the end. CTRL + Click will bring up the story and video on GazetteNET. Sean took the Politics, Journalism and Web course from Steve, but most of his tech skills he learned in high school hanging with kids in the video club. He uses FinalCut Pro, but that’s more high end than he needs.

    Basic camera, Apple iMovie or Adobe Premier skills are key. And this can be taught pretty easily, as can podcast skills with the software GarageBand for podcasts, Our UMass sports reporter Matt Vautour has been podcasting as well as blogging for a couple years now and others in the newsroom are starting to shoot video. Mary Carey is shooting video for events she covers. But honestly, the interns are showing the way and most of them — those who are ambitious and can read the writing on the screen — are learning it on their own. Workshop sessions for the students who are eager to learn and have not had same opportunities to pick up the skills would be perfect.

    As for the much debated retreat, have it, for no other reason than to learn what it is we are asking the students to learn. And bring back some of recent graduates who have gone from print to Web for the conversation. They understand the market better than anyone.

    My final point is that students must know how to write. Why do I get senior journalism majors in my class who are just taking 300 and act like AP Style is a foreign concept ?

    A video package requires the same language, organizational and journalism skills as a print piece. Students need to identify the news in the event they are covering, fashion a lede, check accuracy, make sure material is attributed, filter out their own biases, etc.

    Students need to know how to write news write before they start trying to create news pieces with video. I’m sure everyone is already concerned about this and probably working hard to make sure students take the Journalism requirements in some sensible order, but it is a concern of mine. The core skills always deserve attention.

    With resources limited, this is a difficult conversation — in newsrooms as well as in journalism schools. But you are having it, and that’s the most important thing. Press on.

  13. Daryl Popper says:

    Gaining hands on experience outside of the classroom is a great way to further multimedia, journalism and communication skills. The encouragement provided by professors and staff at UMass to take on internships during the academic year as well as winter/summer breaks is greatly appreciated. I highly recommend those interested in interning to check out The Washington Center for internships and academic seminars, located in Washington, D.C.

    I also think that in the process of developing professional skills for the working world that Journalism students would benefit from the implementation of networking workshops that compliment department course work or programming. Networking does not come easy to all, and it is very helpful to learn tricks of the trade and even how and where to order business cards.

    Daryl Popper
    UMass Journalism 2008

  14. Karen List says:

    Hey Journalism Majors!

    While we re-think and re-configure some of our courses, remember that we regularly offer classes that focus on digital photography, radio/audio/podcasting and broadcasting/video. Any of those might be helpful.



  15. Pingback: Journalism Profs Want Your Input « The Writing for the Web Blog

  16. scottbrodeur says:

    While I can appreciate Twitter-bashing with the best of them, I would say it is eye-opening and informative to look at some of the novel ways major news agencies like the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and CNN are using Twitter and other tools like Facebook, CoverItLive, Utterli, etc. as part of their overall news coverage.

    As a few students have said within these comments, I don’t think students need to be taught how to send effective tweets. But it is helpful, I believe, to explore and to analyze the new and emerging tools that journalists are using to tell stories in an online environment.

    —Scott Brodeur

  17. David says:


    Please give us some details! How are the new tools, including Twitter, being used in a really informative way–as journalism? I’m genuinely curious. And perhaps some links too?

    I’m not dead set against Twitter. I can imagine great live reports from the path of a hurricane, for example, with Twitter-Flickr photos and audio uploads. This would be a record that would also “keep” after the event. Imagine such a lasting record of Katrina, with overlays of the weather pattern, flood levels etc., a kind of three- or four-dimensional interactive display. I see incredible interactive maps coming down the pike.

    However, I don’t see why or how Twitter’s limit of 140 characters helps, or its starting question, “What are you doing?” But Twitter is just a convention–the founder liked the idea of encouraging people to write “haiku-like” messages–and it could easily be modified, right?

    I can imagine much more detailed mapping through GPS to cover local news: flooding on the river, or “Tell us about your snowstorm!” I remember the Gazette trying to do that in print a couple of years ago–did they have a website then? They asked six citizen-correspondents to write from around the Valley, after a snowstorm. I didn’t think it worked very well because the submissions weren’t carefully written or well reported… or synthesized by a storytelling, fact-discriminating mind. In my opinion, that will always be the problem with “citizens journalism.” And they had time and more than 140 characters to work with.
    Hope that’s provocative!

    –David P.

  18. journalismprofs says:

    Hi everyone —

    One of the more recent interesting examples of Twitter providing information was the Vote Report experiment:

    The list of people/journalists/using Twitter to pass along information/journalism is endless:

    USA Today:

    The Washington Post:

    The Baltimore Business Journal:

    The Fresno Bee:

    You can also follow the musing of your favorite bloggers/journalists/information providers:

    Scott Brodeur:

    Patrick Thornton:

    Amy Gahran:

    Jay Rosen:

    Even the candidates used Twitter during the campaign. Anyway, you get the idea….in the end, Twitter is another delivery form for journalism.

    This gets at the next blog entry, but someone (Scott?) mentioned to me recently that Twitter is the latest in the “Link Legacy.”

    Circa 1996, both news consumers and news providers were sharing links/stories/journalism by e-mail. Link-sharing has evolved to the point now where links are passed via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. News organizations have e-mail products for almost every subject area and sell ads against their e-mail products.

    So, Twitter is a way to deliver news, but what about reporting? As mentioned, it’s a possible tool for delivering breaking news.

    But, let’s say you’re a political writer for the NYT and you run into Bill Clinton at the coffee shop, and he tells you some specific plans of Hillary’s if she were to become sec of state. Sitting there, you might whip out your blackberry and Twitter the news (since we all know exclusives don’t remain that way very long.) Then after Bill leaves you might whip out your laptop and blog about it; then perhaps call into the NYT continuous newsdesk and dictate a story for posting to the Web site; then you might work the story all day for an in-depth analysis on the Web site and in the newspaper.

    In the end, Twitter is another tool in the journalists’ backpack. The either-or dichotomy is gone. Twitter is one of many tools, sitting next to your audio recorder and your pad and your laptop.

    Are there pitfalls? Sure.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, the value of some of the Twitter lessons this semester was the need for journalists/reporters/information providers/students to slow down and focus. I consider that a pretty important lesson.

    So, maybe you interview Clinton and then Twitter — or do a series of Twitters — rather than trying to Twitter as he speaks. It’s another tool, one we should monitor as educators.


  19. ScottB says:


    I am not a Twitter zealot or evangelist by any means. But per your request, I have pulled together some links that I think help explain some of Twitter’s strengths.

    First of all, to those reading this who do not currently have a Twitter account, I strongly urge you to go to and sign up. It is free, easy and very helpful in many ways. Once you have done that, I would encourage you to begin “following” Brian Stelter (NY Times), Jay Rosen (NYU), Kurt Greenbaum (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) , Leslie Bradshaw (C-SPAN), Robert Scoble (Fast Company), Ana Marie Cox (Time), Col. Tribune (Chicago Tribune),Patrick Thornton (, Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine) and Jason Calacanis (

    By following those and others you come across, you will start to be exposed to many valuable links about journalism that you might not otherwise come across during your day.

    In addition, I have culled a smattering of links that show some of the ways major news organizations have used Twitter to report.

    *New York Times critic Jon Pareles and reporter Melena Ryzik used Twitter to send instant updates/critiques and more from the five-day CMJ Music Festival in New York City this fall.

    *Newhouse School at Syracuse University (my alma mater) teamed up with (one of my company’s Web sites) to have students help cover the most recent election. Twitter was a giant part of those students’ reporting. (Hey, why couldn’t we do similar things here?)

    *The Chicago Tribune has been using the character Col. Tribune to engage with its audience, helping the paper and the Web site to report stories and to distribute interesting headlines.

    *St. Louis Today Web site used Twitter to receive and retransmit real-time updates, adding to its coverage of the great traffic snarls from the major road construction project on Highway 40.

    *C-SPAN used Twitter as a prominent part of its political coverage during the conventions, the debates and on Election Night.

    Ana Marie Cox (formerly of Wonkette and Radar) used Twitter updates from the campaign trail to provide color and coverage from the bus for Time.

    Also, here are two posts from PBS MediaShift about the strengths of using Twitter for news gathering and reporting. The first is from Chris O’Brien from the San Jose Mercury News.

    The second is from Jennifer Woodard Maderzo, an associate editor of MediaShift.

    Finally, I think it warrants repeating: I do not believe Twitter provides any sort of magic answer for the present or the future of journalism. I simply think it is one tool that journalists and others are using to engage efficiently and effectively with the community and to tell powerful stories.

    I hope this is helpful.


  20. ScottB says:

    Steve, our comments must have crisscrossed the blogosphere at the same time. Too funny.

    I apologize to others for some of the redundancy between our links. And I recommend you also follow Steve Fox on Twitter.


  21. BJ Roche says:

    How do we integrate the technology while also keeping our eye on the prize: critical thinking, accurate reporting and terrific writing?

    First problem: technology is a moving target. When I developed the first Writing for the Web course three? four? years ago, there was no YouTube, and if Snapfish, Photobucket or Flickr were around, I didn’t know about them.

    Blogging wasn’t as prolific, if it even existed. If you wanted to produce a website, you had to learn Dreamwweaver and learn HTML.

    Today those obstacles have been removed. You can sit down to and produce something reasonably decent in a couple of hours. Or you can go to drupal and with a programmer, get something more sophisticated.

    So, as we get more adept at web publishing, it’s become easier and easier to publish badly written and edited work. That’s a problem.

    So I say, more writing courses! And more tools courses, so we get students into the game sooner, and they can carry those skills with them to student media outlets and internships and hone them further!

    One or two credit tools courses in which we do Garageband (Yes, you can do it in a couple of classes) HTML, Basic Typography, Photoshop Elements, Flash, Final Cut.

    I’m also hoping to develop a course, possibly for next year, on the Entrepreneurial Journalist, that looks at how a journalist might develop a niche site, how to find an audience, etc. and include the possible business models for finding advertising or other support.

    I’m learning a lot through my own experiment in web publishing:, a site for your mothers. (Ha, they’re online, too!)

    –BJ Roche

  22. Pingback: Multimedia Discussion « Steve Fox’s Multimedia Journalism Class

  23. Eric Athas says:

    Hey everyone,

    As many of you have already mentioned, it is important to continue an emphasis on strong journalistic values and reporting. What good is HTML, Twitter, YouTube and Final Cut Pro if you don’t know how to apply it to solid reporting skills?

    Even though possible employers want to see technical and innovative experience on a resume, they still ask for clips and need journalists, not just techies.

    That said, it makes sense to keep a “new media” mindset present throughout the early newswriting and reporting courses. I don’t think it should be “first you learn this type of journalism and then you learn this type,” but rather one continuous theme that reflects the modern media world.

    I want to echo B.J.’s “entrepreneur” comments. More and more, we’re seeing major media figures splitting off and starting new online ventures (for example, ProPublica, GlobalPost, The Daily Beast to name a few). I would definitely recommend including the entrepreneurial side of journalism in any discussion about the program. We created in one semester and I can only imagine what a venture like that would look like with an entire course curriculum behind it.


    Eric Athas
    Journalism ’08
    News Producer for
    Owner of snazzy “UMass Journalism” t-shirt

  24. David says:

    Thanks Eric,

    I’m sure you keep Steve F. well informed about your learning experiences at the Pst–but I hope you will share the same with the rest of us on this blog from time to time. News from the Real World is always useful to us academics!

    We’re all wishing you the best of luck–what an interesting time to be in DC, doing what you’re doing!

    David Perkins

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