Monday, March 22, 2010...8:30 am

Online journalism by the book

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I’ve been rewriting some undergraduate course descriptions for online journalism and I’ve realised I have one big problem with them. I can’t think how to update the recommended student book lists.

One problem is that whatever I choose has to have longevity. Every time a course is rewritten, it has to be validated by an academic panel, and you don’t get to do that very often. So everything from the core texts to the assessment criteria have to be set in stone for a few years. Which is ironic as that’s the one thing that online journalism isn’t.

Online journalism, and digital media in general, is so fast moving that it’s very difficult to predict which technology or techniques will last. The course descriptions I’m revising were written about four or five years ago – an aeon in web time – so there’s an emphasis on repurposing already published print material for the web, as well as a focus on blogging.

But, as Paul Boutin wrote in Wired, blogging is “so 2004”. That’s not to say that it’s unimportant – just that it’s lost a lot of ground to social networking as a disruptive social and communications force.

As for repurposing – that presupposed a model of print-then-upload to the web. But many publications have switched to online only, operate a web-first, then print, model, or were never published physically in the first place.

Over at New Journalism Review, Steve Hill recommends Producing for Web 2.0 (Media Skills), by Jason Whittaker as a good (if not perfect) general textbook.

But this highlights my other problem. Though I am happy to take on his recommendation, I haven’t actually read it. In fact, I haven’t read any books on online journalism.

Shocking though this may seem, it’s not really surprising. I’ve spent much of my time working in journalism, rather than reading books about it. And because the discipline is changing so fast and so much, I tend to find the most interesting and up-to-date thinking and writing is actually online.

But it’s no good recommending a series of web links on a course description. Given the internet’s transience, there’s every chance they will be dead between one student intake and the next (which happened to an interesting account of process journalism on Techcrunch that I linked to a little while ago). [UPDATE: This seems to have been fixed at last – perhaps my email to the IT team at Techcrunch got through…]

But also, I can’t see a series of web links carrying much weight at an academic board meeting. They like books, you see. It’s a university thing.

So I’m stuck. I’m reluctant to swap my reading list of books about blogging and the now-archaic cutting edge of digital media practice in the early 2000s for books about Facebook and Twitter, because I know for sure they will seem equally outdated in a few years’ time. And though I’m not convinced books are the most effective way of teaching online journalism, I can’t rely on the web. What to do?

Aha – the solution is obvious. Put out a call on Twitter for suggestions. I knew it had to have its uses…

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