This blog is a place for discussing the future of our field, which we’ll explore through readings and hands-on exercises this semester in J 349T Writing for Online Publication, a course offered by the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Download the course syllabus here. You can contact the instructor, Seth Lewis at: seth.lewis [at] mail.utexas.edu.
What does it mean to be a journalist and do journalism in the 21st century? This class will let you explore and experiment with the innovations and ideas reshaping the way news is produced and disseminated in the digital era. Consider this a journey at the bleeding edge of the news industry.
We’ll discuss contemporary challenges facing the news media, with special emphasis on the technological tools and trends rewriting the rules of journalism—think: blogs and wikis, hyperlocal and crowdsourcing, YouTube and Twitter, Web 2.0 and the Long Tail. We’ll put all of this in the context of media work today.
Journalism students are entering an industry in transformation, as new job roles and opportunities emerge. As the industry experiments and adapts in a fast-changing environment, the critical question (for them and for us) is how to mix aspects of digital culture, such as increased collaboration between audiences and producers, with journalistic ideals, such as fairness and accuracy. By the end of the semester, you’ll have a better grasp of the skill set and mindset needed to compete for these jobs or create new ones.
This is classified as a writing course, but even more it’s an ideas course, and the writing you do—in blog comments, in term papers, and in other forms of storytelling—should demonstrate your fluidity with the principles and practices of digital culture. Thus, this course is designed to get you thinking digitally—through timely readings and discussions that highlight key issues and ideas; acting creatively and collaboratively—through work that will require you to build a group blog and engage reader/writers; and communicating across platforms—through frequent blog posts, comments, videos/photos, and in-class presentations. The group projects in the second half of the semester will provide a laboratory for experimenting with the new tools and concepts discussed in the class, and give you hands-on experiences for your résumés.
And, in the end, all of this should be fun.
The course will be taught through a series of lectures, discussions, hands-on exercises, guest lectures, and student presentations. You will be exposed to the broader issues driving the changes in the news industry, as well as the practical skills of blogging and maintaining a website. There are no initial technical skill requirements. I’m more concerned with what happens after the website is up and running—such as creating interesting content and developing a community of users. I’ll also help with technical questions as they come up.
Despite the experimental nature of this course, I’ll still expect and stress the fundamental requirements of journalism—such as fairness, accuracy, and meeting deadlines. Many of the changes in the field that we’ll talk about are making the practice of reporting more transparent and demanding than ever, and having strong basic skills will be vital.
With that in mind, there are several objectives for this course:
1) Build awareness of new forms of journalism online—including networked, citizen, hyperlocal and crowdsourced journalism, among others.
2) Understand theoretical concepts such as digital culture, attention economy, and the Long Tail, and see how they apply to the work of building and engaging online communities.
3) Develop the ability to maintain blogs through creation and posting of content (text, photo, and video) while also maintaining journalistic standards such as fairness, accuracy, and research/interviewing.
4) Exercise critical thinking in the planning and execution of online communities, such as a building interest in and traffic to a website, and otherwise adopting best practices for successful blogs.
5) Apply this knowledge in writing a grant application for an innovative and entrepreneurial news venture.