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    The Place of Blogs in Journalism Education

    by Alfred Hermida
    December 22, 2008
    Students are required to maintain a blog as part of their core journalism training

    Blogs have become part of the editorial furniture of most news sites. In the U.S., 95% of the top 100 newspapers feature reporter blogs. So it seems appropriate to include blogging in the curriculum of journalism schools. For the past couple of years, my students at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism have written blogs as part of their course work.

    For several weeks starting in January, my graduate students will be required to maintain a blog with twice-per-week entries. The aim of this assignment is to introduce students to the notion of blogging as a form of journalism. Just because this is a blog, it doesn’t mean the students can write about anything.

    The blog has to have a specific focus. Ideally, it should cover an area where the student has some personal expertise that they can bring to bear. This is perhaps one of the most important decisions as the best blogs are those where the author brings their own personal experience and expertise to the table.

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    This is more than just choosing a topic like politics or arts. Students need to focus on a specific aspect within these overarching topics. In the past, students have chosen to write about marketing, consumer culture and money in sports. These blogs worked as the students chose topics they were passionate about and then approached it from a particular angle, taking a strand from events in the news and unraveling it to provide a fresh perspective.

    A place for reflection

    The challenge becomes explaining that the blog is not a platform for students to pontificate about what they think about a particular issue. Rather, it is to provide a critical perspective on issues in the news within a student’s specific area of expertise. In some ways, the blog is similar to op-ed writing. The value of blogging in a journalism course is as a tool for reflection and critical thinking about events in the headlines.

    The blog has emerged as a powerful platform for journalists to provide context, analysis and interpretation, often including behind-the-scenes information that does not fit into the structure of a traditional news story. It has also provided journalists with a way to communicate with readers in a more conversational and informal tone, rather than in an abstract voice of authority.

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    Even though blogging has been around for more than a decade, there is still an unease about blogging among some professional journalists, often encapsulated in the phrase, “blogging isn’t journalism.” This is a tired argument that mistakes form for content.

    Blogs, just like magazines, radio or television, can contain journalism, but they may not. The content, rather than the platform, defines whether or not it is a work of journalism.

    However, the form does affect the content. The technology and history of blogging has lent the medium some generic qualities. Blogs are expected to be written in a personal and conversational tone, often in short posts, with links to related sites and reader comments.

    Live to the web

    In some cases, blogging can be seen as a new form of real-time reporting that does not have the filtering or editing associated with established journalistic practices.

    This can be somewhat of a challenge to the students when they first hear of the blogging assignment. During the fall semester, their stories routinely went through various editing stages and rewrites. Come January, they will be publishing live to their blogs, without having passed the copy by one of their professors first.

    i-da001587216dbe7c19c980a894b26ee7-yorker.jpg
    One student blogged about the writing and writers of The New Yorker

    The notion of blogs as immediate, uncensored and unmediated can appear at odds with established journalistic norms and practices. But it provides a valuable learning tool as it makes the students directly responsible for what they write.

    The students are not only graded on the quality of the content and writing, but also on the links they provide. The more specific a link, the more value it has to a reader. This is intended to encourage students to look online for new and interesting material from other sources. In other words, it recognizes that a student blog is part of a web of information, part of a network of journalism.

    Some students have found that having written a blog as part of a journalism course can make a difference when it comes to applying for internships. One student who kept a blog about The New Yorker went on to intern at CBC Vancouver. He worked on a summer series on climate change and ran the show’s blog, which unfortunately is no longer online.

    Blogs and new media have undoubtedly changed the landscape of journalism. In terms of its form, journalism as a whole has become more conversational, and iterative, as readers seek to contribute to the story, and journalists open more of their processes to public view. Blogging has played a role in this process and warrants a place on the curriculum at journalism schools.

    Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and journalism educator. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

    Tagged: blogs education journalism journalism school
    • This is a great assignment, but in my view any journalism student who is not blogging already doesn’t get it and is missing a huge opportunity to show case his or her skills.

      The blog provides a solid writing sample, shows you can commit to writing regularly, shows editors your unfiltered writing and provides a personal publishing outlet I would have jumped on when I was a journalism student in the late 70s.

      A writer should be writing, period. And a blog provides a way for students to practice their craft on a regular basis without worrying about editorial filters or professors or anyone else.

      This to me is Journalism 101 in 2009 and that you have to explain blogging to graduate students in journalism is shocking to me.

      Ron Miller
      By Ron Miller Blog
      http://byronmiller.typepad.com

    • Anna Rodrigues

      I decided to add some online elements, including blogging, to the courses I was teaching when I was hired three years ago to develop a broadcast component to a print journalism program.

      I was questioned at the time as to whether these skills would be used in the workplace once the students graduated. I said that I believed that online skills would be very much valued at newspapers in the near future.

      It wasn’t long after that I received a job posting from a local newspaper looking for a recent journalism graduate with blogging experience and other online journalism skills.

    • I’m a high school journalism teacher in New Jersey, and I have been using a blog for my class for over five years now. Each student has a blog to post their work, but they don’t use it like real journalists do.
      What suprises me somewhat is that few teens regularly read blogs, and even fewer regularly post to one. Even the blogging feature of their Facebooks and Myspaces are rarely used. I wonder if they will become regular reader later, and what the future of blogs in journalism might be. My students generally have a negative view of blogs, and I’d like for them to better realize their role in journalism.
      I also run a blog for the Garden State Student Press Association that brings students, teachers, and professionals together. And despite all the journalism teachers and students in New Jersey we sometimes struggle to get members and participation.

      Perhaps an interaction between your graduate journalism students and the members of the GSSPA blog would prove beneficial to both. Would you and your students have any interest in this?

    • this is fun stuff! thank you

    • Thank you all for the comments. And glad to hear that you are using blogs in the classroom, Tom. There might scope for some collaboration with the GSSPA blog. Drop me a email and we’ll continue the conversation.

    • I think the point you made about blogs having a focus is the most important part. As a journalism undergrad student, my university is trying hard to advance new media and incorporate blogging into the curriculum. One problem: they assign an essay-like prompt and have students post their responses like a blog. There is a huge difference between posting in a “blog-like” medium and actually blogging.

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    • Ya. Of course it has become a part of the editorial furniture… Also some journalists feel that as a part of journalism..
      by thoi trang

    • Ya. Of course it has become a part of the editorial furniture… Also some journalists feel that as a part of journalism..
      by thoi trang

    • adm

      good

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    • The challenge becomes explaining that the blog is not a platform for students to pontificate about what they think about a particular issue.

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