Developing Social Media Workshops for Journalists

    by Roland Legrand
    March 4, 2009
    Photo by "Little Shiva":http://www.flickr.com/people/littleshiva/ via Flickr; Flash animation version "here":http://www.littleshiva.com/flash.html.

    For the last few weeks, my colleague Raphael and I have been organizing a series of social media workshops for our fellow journalists at the Belgian business newspapers and websites De Tijd and L’Echo. I’d like to open this up to reader suggestions, so let me tell you what we intend to cover in this course — and I hope you can give us feedback, telling us if we’ve overlooked something important or if you have ideas for how we could facilitate the whole process.

    Social Media

    We are organizing five workshops about social media:

    Working on such [cross-media] projects would make the exciting potential of new media tools obvious to the newsroom."

    1) The very basics.
    The first workshop starts with what we consider to be the very basics: RSS Feeds. To familiarize journalists with this tool, we will hold hour-long sessions, of about 15 journalists each, where they can work with Google Reader.


    We also say a few words about how RSS feeds apply to blogs. The principle is that of “My friends’ friends are my friends.” If a blog or a news site one trusts discusses other blogs on a regular basis or includes them in its blogroll, then there is a good chance those blogs are interesting as well. Of course, these recommended blogs will have additional recommended blogs of their own, which could very well be interesting as well. The number of worthwhile blogs grows exponentially, hence the need to organize all the feeds, for instance using Google Reader.

    We explain that RSS feeds can also be used to keep track of searches in Google News or for monitoring the new bookmarks in your network at Delicious.

    However, the very first thing we teach is how to use Mozilla Firefox in an efficient way — showing shortcuts, extensions, etc. In that way, we want to be sure that everybody masters some of the basics.


    2) Sharing articles and links.
    This is where we go into more detail on the sharing possibilities of Google Reader and of Delicious, but also Twitter as a way to exchange links and ideas. For Twitter, we’ll let our colleagues compare Twhirl, Tweetdeck and Twitterfall, with special attention to the search possibilities.

    i-a3078af0e250e016690bb39cb7e437c2-flickr grab.jpg

    3) Photo and video sharing.
    I think that we’ll need to devote another session to “sharing,” this time focusing on pictures and videos. Most of my colleagues don’t use Flickr, for instance, and because we want to publish the pictures, we’ll need to explain the principles of Creative Commons and when you can publish someone’s photos. To integrate all these media streams, we’ll present them with the life-stream aggregator FriendFeed as a possible solution.

    4) The social dimension.
    One of the most important aspects of all this is learning how to navigate the social dimension, to deal with other users on the networks. In the fourth session, we’ll play around with Facebook, LinkedIn and social news websites such as Digg. Maybe we’ll have a look at virtual worlds, to see what other media do there to engage their audiences in an immersive way. We’ll see if we can start a debate about the best ways to practice crowdsourcing and meet interesting people using networks.

    5) Striking out for yourself. The last session of the social media series is for those who want to launch their own blog, network or wiki. We’ll discuss the projects collectively and take the first steps to launching some. We’ll use an internal wiki to enable people to react, to suggest other tools and practices after the discussion. This wiki is organized to be ongoing as we anticipate that we’ll have repeat courses and additions, taking into account that new tools come on to the market about every day.

    Audio, video, stills, animations

    Most of our journalists are “writers.” They are text people. We would like to introduce them to other possibilities to bring their stories to life. To that end, we have also envisioned some voluntary courses on audio, video and animation. Not all of our reporters will choose to follow these sessions, but we think they will help those that do attend to understand some new tools.

    Introduction to Flash.
    We’d like to have a group of journalists who know the basics of Flash so that they can communicate with our Flash specialist on behalf of our writers. If reporters are more aware of the possibilities and challenges of Flash, it would help to bridge relations between the departments. Also, journalists could take over producing some not-too-complicated animations themselves.

    i-470bb428c95f35be5891e32eafa44393-video training pic.jpg

    Basic Video.
    We hope to involve as many journalists as possible in a course teaching video production, basic editing skills and uploading/publishing skills. They would also learn some basic stuff about what to do and not to do when shooting video, and also how to handle themselves when speaking in front of a camera. The same applies for stills: Knowledge of some simple rules would not harm anybody!

    We hope our colleagues will enjoy this training, because, after all, most of us use cameras in our spare time and it would be nice to have some basic skills to take better pictures. Those skills will also help us to select pictures made by others and to filter the best videos and pictures.

    The Endgame: Cross-media Storytelling

    Sometime in the fall, we hope to conclude our “new media” workshops. Around that time, we’d like to invite some expert in cross-media storytelling (preferably based in Europe) to give a seminar on how to use various media to create interactive, immersive stories.

    Our goal is more than just a seminar: We hope we’ll be able to produce some of those cross-media stories during the remainder of the year. I think that a lot of the previously discussed skills will be involved in such projects; working on such projects would make the exciting potential of new media tools obvious to the newsroom.

    Help us train

    The social media workshop runs for one month, before we move to the sessions about “sharing.” My colleagues seem to be very interested and active during the workshops, but it remains to be seen whether they will actually use the new techniques in everyday work.

    It is crucial for us to demonstrate to our colleagues that the new tools should not be thought of as creating an additional burden. Instead, they can make work easier and more interesting. It is obvious that the workshops are not the place to have philosophical discussions about old and new media. What people want right now are skills and tools which help them produce better stories.

    We would appreciate any insights and recommendations you might have for our training program. Feel free to point out anything you think we forgot or any aspects that you think we’ve overplayed or shortchanged in our approach.

    Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

    Photo of man with videocamera by Amancay Maahs via Flickr.

    Tagged: delicious education google reader training twitter workshops
    • We offer a very similar course for our citizen journalists here at Cambridge Community Television in Cambridge, MA.

      In our blogging module, we talk about the advantages/disadvantages of using free blogging services, such and Blogger and WordPress v. buying a domain and hosting service to host your blog.

      In our video sharing module, we talk about the advantages/disadvantages of using YouTube, Blip.tv and archive.org. We provide Flip Mino video cameras for participants in the course and use iMovie to get people started in basic video editing.

    • jane

      i want to take a class like this! i’m in l-a.

    • I would add some session on SEO and writing for the web. I know the lack of time is the biggest issue in those workshops but I find it very useful talk about basics of Web usability since this topic is largely ignored but important nonetheless. What is the point of using WordPress and knowing how to shoot video if one doesn’t know how to place those elements appropriately together?

    • @vadim I agree. SEO and writing for the web is part of the on-the-job training, but you are right, it should be explained in a more formal way and be part of the training program.

    • The topics listed above sound great. One component I would add is the basics of graphic storytelling to be included in your discussion of Flash. How do users make maps, charts and diagrams interactive in Flash to enhance user experience? What tools and concepts can be helpful to take a print graphic and refurbish it for the Web?

      Oh! Also a class just for audio storytelling (gathering, editing, producing) would be valuable before you dive into video and visual considerations.

      Looking forward to hearing more about these types of all-encompassing workshops. Great job!

    • Mobile is a crucial aspect of social media and journalism. It would seem worth while to integrate mobile tools and capabilities as part of your workshop. It could be handled as an individual topic or one that spans across all of your existing topics (most of the social media tools you mention have a mobile component to them – twitter, flickr, etc.)

      Various mobile tools are available, ranging from SMS to more robust smartphone apps that allow journalists to publish in realtime. This is extremely powerful considering the pace and mobility required by journalism.

    • @Kim interesting point, mobile journalism. In our newsroom the journalists who write mainly for our site and wire service use sms (they have rather elementary mobiles) and laptops with 3G usb modems. The journalists working mainly for the print newspaper often have less experience with these tools.
      Tricky aspects which could require training are editing and uploading video on location and live blogging on location.
      Do you see other topics which should be covered in the workshop regarding mobile?

    • Will theses workshop be shared on the web?
      I would like to find ways of profit with what I published on my blog… ways of advertising with out having to knock on doors, or…
      Thanks a lot, I think this post is very useful.

    • @Martha We are considering sharing it on the Web. I’ll have to discuss it with my management.

      Something else now: I just had the workshop about sharing, one of the topics was Twitter. It was difficult to convince journalists to use Twitter, for two reasons:

      1) twitter for professional use is still very much tech-oriented. There seems to be less value for journalists specializing in for instance local social news outside the English speaking world.

      2) the second reason is even more important. I have the feeling Twitter is interesting for the ideas which are shared. For instance, I have been tweeting a blogpost by Fred Wilson on “hacking education”. A lot of ideas there about how our educational system was developed in the industrial age, while the educational needs in an information tech society are different. The problem: journalists are very focused on fact finding and hard news, less so on new ideas, seeing big trends, and finding facts in function of the trends.
      This I think is a very fundamental reason why Twitter, as an idea-generating machine, is a hard sell when confronted with traditional journalists.

    • I would skip RSS – why does it matter? – and instead start with teaching them how to search for information and people in social media

    • @Ted I agree that looking for info and people in social media is essential.
      What I mean by “RSS” is in fact primarily using services such as GoogleReader in order to keep an overview.

    • I really like Filtrbox for aggregating the very best of the content in a particular subject. Its the next step up from Google alerts, which really has an odd algo.

      For instance, when I was searching for “New York construction accidents” via google alerts I would get baseball scores.

      I can plug in “green construction” or “base of the pyramid” or another niche search into Filtrbox and get fantastic results.

    • Relly music is a good subject.
      I like music very much.And i like to learn musical instrument and hear music.

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