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January 25, 2007

About the Project

In the Spring of 2007, instructors at the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication began using student-created news blogs to enhance learning among undergraduate journalism students. The project aims to engage students with the news more deeply and to do so through Web technologies. Students are using news blogs in the basic reporting and news writing class and in an intermediate public affairs reporting class. This blog will track discussions and issues in the project to encourage other faculty in journalism schools to consider the approach. The initiative is led by Gayle Golden, a full-time faculty lecturer and journalist who has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines during her 25-year career. At the U, she has led initiatives on curriculum coordination and innovative approaches to learning. Participating instructors are journalist and writing coach Marilyn Moyer and journalist Dan Bernard. Teaching assistants offering substantial support are John Hoff and Garlyn Moen.

Guidelines for the news blogs

We have all come up with guidelines for the news blogs. It's important for students to have clear parameters to avoid the blather of unfettered blogging. Here are some guildelines I put forward linked to the points students can accrue for their blog entries:

We are judging the blogs based on the following criteria:

• The blogs must be fact-based, not based on opinion rants.
• The blogs must primarily summarize stories from credible news organizations, which profess journalistic standards. If the entry does link to a blog, that link must be because the blog’s reporting has spurred coverage in a credible news organization.
• The blogs must have links to more than one version of the story, again drawn from credible news organizations.
• The blogs may offer opinion on the journalistic techniques in a story, such as the nature of sources or the disclosure of sensitive information.
• The blogs may NOT offer opinion on the content of the news itself . (In other words, do not take sides with an issue. Remain reportorial and balanced in your approach.)
• The blogs should look deeply at various reporting issues we cover from week to week. (You won’t be asked to do this every week. But many weeks, we will ask you – announced in class – to analyze how a basic reporting skill shows itself in a story. Please do this only during the weeks we say in class that you should do this.)

We will communicate with you on your blog entries. If you’re getting too far from facts, or too opinionated about the content of news itself, we will let you know via the comments.

One issue, of course, is what constitutes a credible news organization. I'm sure we'll be in discussion about that. Meanwhile, here are some related and other guidelines Dan Bernard put forward in a response to a student's question on that:

# "Full-length" excludes briefs. News articles excludes opinion columns and editorials. Articles labeled "news analysis" are OK.
# "Timely" means coverage of news that occurred in the past day or so.
# Magazine articles usually don't count, because they usually have a weekly or monthly cycle and so do not face the sort of pressures that we're talking about in this class. However, the newsweeklies have begun posting breaking-news stories on their web sites. So, if you find an online article by Time or Newsweek or the Economist or U.S. News and World Report, etc., that covers news that occurred in the past day or so, that would count. If their articles use opinion, please note that in your blog posting.
# TV coverage usually doesn't count. However, the major national television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC) often produce written coverage exclusively for their web sites. So do NPR and MPR. Those would count, if they read like news articles. CAUTION: Some stations and networks simply type up their scripts or transcripts and post those on their web sites. Those do not count. If you can't tell whether it was written to be read, don't use it.

So, for now, we're off and running. Links to the blogs forthcoming.

January 24, 2007

Blogs? Or Online News Journals?

The instructors of the basic news writing course, along with several graduate TAs, had a lively discussion about how to introduce a news blog to students without sending them unfettered into the partisan, opinion-based, questionably reliable world of the blogosphere. From my viewpoint, blogging is simply a tool -- a technology that allows postings, comments and efficient access to varied sources of information. The other instructors worried, however, that the word "blog" has too unfavorable and unjournalistic a reputation. So students will get confused, they argue, and muddle the distinctions between fact and opinion on these blogs.

After some discussion, our solution was to more clearly define and restrict the blogs. We are limiting the kinds of sources they can use, restricting those to credible journaistic enterprises. Where relevant, they can link to other blogs, but only insofar as those blogs have reported news taken up by credible news organizations. Their entries must 1) summarize the news; 2) link to other sources of information and identify differences in reporting; 3) offer context or background by linking to direct sources of information; and 4) offer analysis of the reporting methods or writing effectiveness in the stories they follow. They must attribute or link to everything they cite. They must note HOW the reporters appear to have gotten the information. They must report, not judge or rail in any partisan fashion about the news.

In short, they must approach the news blog as journalistically as possible. This is useful beyond the exercise itself. It's no good to complain about blogs disrupting journalism. That's just history. The time has come to integrate sound journalistic training with those blogging technologies that have already disrupted and changed the industry. This seems like just the place and the way to do it.

January 16, 2007

Getting Started

This is Day One of introducing our journalism students to blogging as a way of teaching reporting. We are applying this at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication as part of the basic news writing and reporting curriculum, the first intensive skills-based class of our professional journalism majors. Instructors in all three sections of Jour 3101 have agreed to use blogs primarily to encourage students to engage with news.

In my section of 3101, students must blog five stories per week in the fashion of The Times' approach in must summarize news stories and look for ways those stories are sourced and treated on other sites. In the basic reporting course, students will create five entries per week.

I am also using this idea in an intermediate reporting course, where students will create three entries per week on public affairs stories that include coverage of cops, courts or government. Entries will automatically be summarized on an aggregator site. Students can then click on the entries and comment directly to the students on the blog.

My hopes? Engagement with news, depth of analysis and experience with the technology they need to know. These blogs -- designed to be fact-based commentaries on reported information -- will not replace the reporting, writing and editing that goes on in the courses. But it might send the students into news more effectively than news quizzes or class discusssions have been able to do. For years, I have been trying to get journalism students to engage with news, with some frustration.. Even those intent on becoming journalists aren't reading newspapers with any consistency or depth. They surf the web, though. My hope is that these blog sites will encourage engagement.

They will also provide a much-needed portfolio item as they look for jobs. When describing the blog assignments to my intermediate reporting students, I asked how many of them had blogs already. None raised a hand. That gave me everything I needed to know: This kind of approach is critical for journalism students today.