September 12, 2007

Thoughts on the initial attempt

Here are a few thoughts from Dan Bernard about the use of blogs in his news writing and reporting section:

Daniel Lynx Bernard
Reflections on the introduction of news blogs during spring 2007
University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication

As you recall, I asked students to blog three times a week. Each entry was supposed to compare two articles on the same event or issue and analyze the writers’ approaches to the challenges they faced. One week they instead described their attempts to obtain public records, and in the final week they wrote mini-essays on the future of journalism and their potential roles in it.
Many students enjoyed being introduced to the technology, and many thrived on the routine of summarizing and comparing news. Still, I think the exercise weakened our attempt to sharpen the students’ conceptions of the distinction between factual reporting and commentary. The students view blogs as a free-flowing genre where the writer scores points for the originality of his or her own embellishments. Although I instructed students to hold their opinions until the end of the entries, and to clearly label them as opinion, nevertheless some students gave in to the temptation to offer personal opinions throughout their entries, including ideological views. Some students said in lecture that they would enjoy the assignment more if they were allowed to blog about their reaction to news events rather than comparing news articles for journalistic merit. Obviously, that sort of blogging would not further the objectives of journalism education, but the suggestion reveals students’ preconceptions about the purpose of blogs.
Many complained that the blogs were make-work, as reflected in these comments from anonymous course evaluation forms:
“News blogs were overly time-consuming. I felt punished for reading the newspaper because that was not sufficient to fulfill the assignment. Instead, I spent time exploring news web sites for relevant articles that I already read and had knowledge on.? (This student mistakenly thought that the blog entries must hyperlink to online articles; in fact the instructions allowed students to refer to hard-copy articles, citing the date and page number.)
“Too much busywork. Blogs are stupid.?
“The blogs added a lot more busywork. They are hard to keep up with, and I have noticed that to be true in other classes, as well.?

If I were to use the blogs again, I might try to tighten the connection between the blogs and the lectures. In spring 2007 I gave the students free rein as to what aspects of the news articles they would compare. It might be better to attempt to focus each week’s blogging by connecting it to the themes of the week’s lecture –to instruct the students each week to look for, for example, how reporters used quotations versus paraphrasing, visual description versus factual statements, etc. That might increase students’ sense of purpose.
Similarly, I perceived that students took the blog assignment more seriously when I referred to the blogs during lecture and occasionally showed students’ blog postings that related to the week’s topic.
At the same time we should acknowledge that the above improvements would demand more time of the instructor – choosing a weekly theme, drafting and disseminating instructions, etc. Although I wanted to mention students’ blogs in class more often, inevitably the blogs were the last priority on the list. The lecture has to be dominated by introducing new concepts, providing examples, and preparing for and reviewing lab assignments. The blogs are appealing because they add another dimension to the instructors’ interaction with students outside of the constraints of the physical classroom: That appeal would be reduced if the blogs ended up cutting into the available in class for core matters.
In the final analysis I agree with you that blogging represents a new journalistic genre that will become important, and we serve our students well by introducing them to it. News-blogging might work best in a class devoted to Internet journalism, where the instructor can devote the necessary time to explain the need to uphold journalistic standards within the blog medium.

GG thoughts on Dan's summary:
Good points, Dan. I agree that it's time-consuming and difficult to integrate the blogs into the lecture. This is the biggest drawback. Too often, blogs were the last priority to evaluate and, as such, the students did not get regular viewers and comments to their efforts. I think that's why they expressed frustration at the "make work" quality of the blogs. I also agree that students used the blogs at times to depart from the straight fact-based approach to reporting. My view is that these skills evolve through the semester and, while we set standards for the news log entries, students also benefit from a venue in which they can express opinions about how the news was covered.

For me, the blog approach was a successful departure from the news quiz approach. My goal was to engage the students with news and to engage them with blog format itself. I was willing to let the format bleed a little into expression, as long as that stayed focused on expression about the journalistic practices. Overall, my students reported knowing much more about the news at the end of the semester than they had at the beginning.

March 2, 2007

Here and there about how blogs are used

Check out this entry, and its updates, for comments from TAs and instructors about specific issues that arise with the news blogs.

Here's from John Hoff, posted March 1, 2007:

One of my students told me something I found, well, almost amazing.

He had blogged about a news story concerning an animal shelter. The shelter had an outbreak of disease and put a bunch of animals to sleep.

(That term, "put to sleep" is such a truth-maiming phrase it should be *verbotten* in journalism, and I used it just to be able to say as much)

Anyway, somebody found my student's blog on the Internet and contacted this student to see if he had more information about the news event in question. The person who contacted my student was desperate for more information about the event and thought, just maybe, my student might have something.

This leads me to think, once again, we should be encouraging our students to find their own news. And I can think of a recent example of a student "finding news" in Dan's class, but I'll save that one for another time, another post.

February 7, 2007

How students are using the blogs

Students report in both classes that the news blogs are engaging them more with news. Most report they're having fun with the exercise and that it's helping them write as well as read the news. So in that respect, all is well. We did have a student complain that the blogs weren't helping her writing -- that she was just learning about how to gather information. I told her I didn't think that was a problem at all. In fact, that's exactly the skill these introductory news blogs can develop. The student also complained that it was difficult to find stories reported in more than one news outlet. To find stories she could compare, she said, she had to look for ones that weren't as interesting to her. Also, some students noted that if both local newspapers carried a story, often it was the same AP report. My response to the student's complaint about having to go outside her interest area? Great. That's the goal of this assignment. What good is it to read only news that interests you? How do you expand your interests? And my response to the complaint that local papers are frequently running wire stories on important stories? Welcome to journalistic consolidation. It's a reality. Students are seeing it. And so, we have another unanticipated benefit.

Some students are merely summarizing news coverage in their blogs. But at times, we get engaged students who note -- and are surprised by -- interesting gaps in coverage. Check out one student's blog of local coverage about the recent cartoon-promotion scare on the East Coast. . As a teaching tool for engaging students with news, I coudn't be happier with these kinds of observations. It's the basis for the critical thinking they need as journalists.

See the comments sections for notes from the other instructors and TAs about how students are using the blogs.