Free Online Journalism Classes Begin To Gain Ground

    by Andria Krewson
    June 28, 2010
    Jan Philipp Schmidt, co-founder of Peer 2 Peer University

    i-59e41f7d887bee107a310677b0f93a1e-news21 small.jpg

    Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

    P2PU...demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning."

    The CEO of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, is currently teaching a free online journalism class through Peer 2 Peer University, an online community of “open study groups for short university-level courses.” The online class syncs with a graduate-level class Ito teaches at Keio University in Japan, and features a UStream presentation and IRC chat once a week.

    Joi Ito

    IRC chat? Yes, the class glues together tools like UStream and IRC, and the platform, which was built on a Drupal base, continues to evolve. P2PU’s organizers make it clear they know the tools aren’t perfect, so they’re using feedback from participants to refine things as they go.

    I joined the class at the last minute. The New York Times had written about P2PU in April, as well as other open learning communities outside of traditional institutions. I stumbled across the article while searching the word “edupunks.”

    A Proposal

    The concept of providing coaching outside of traditional educational institutions has fascinated me for close to a year. I’m focused on how professional journalists can share their knowledge with new creators of online content, be they “citizen journalists,” neighborhood activists or seasoned newspaper people working on building online skills.


    In the fall, I submitted a Knight News Challenge proposal for an online class, 260 Open, with face-to-face components. Students would have been required to produce coverage of civic events, and experienced journalists would have edited their work closely. The concept was designed to not only spread civic knowledge, media literacy and strong journalism skills, but also to increase the amount of news coverage in particular communities.


    I proposed that the class use Moodle, an open source learning management system that has been adopted for institutional use in many places, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College. (In the end, I didn’t receive a News Challenge grant.)

    Then, in May, I pitched the concept at the news entrepreneur boot camp held at the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. One strength of that pitch was that many others at the boot camp are building news organizations with educational components to broaden the capacity of communities to help cover their own news.

    What I needed, though, was a proven business model with customers who can pay.

    Certainly, many large media companies are seeking help from their respective communities in covering the news, and the need exists to improve skills in communities that have lost local news coverage. But finding actual paying customers willing to support classes for the public good is a tough nut to crack. As large companies rush to create content to wrap around new online local ads for small businesses, though, perhaps the business model will become clearer.


    In contrast, P2PU isn’t focusing on the business model at the moment. Instead, organizers are building a community, refining tools and experimenting. That’s inspiring.

    P2PU co-founder Jan Philipp Schmidt explains the concept of the online school:

    In fact, Mozilla teamed up with Hacks & Hackers in a collaboration launched at Knight’s recent Future of News and Civic Media conference to use P2PU to allow programmers to teach journalists and journalists to teach programmers. Mozilla and P2PU are also launching the School of Webcraft, with a call for course proposals by July 18.

    P2PU’s current journalism class has shown me that perhaps it’s possible to just start, with imperfect tools, even before funding or business models are clear.

    In Charlotte, where I’m based, media folks have demonstrated a commitment to peer coaching and support with some journo/bloggers meetups. We just started holding them, with little regard to organizational structure. David Cohn of Spot.Us showed up via Skype for one meeting.

    P2PU shows that possibilities exist. It demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning, as students in Japan go to class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and I listen and watch at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, at the same time. It’s quite a time shifter, right out of “Harry Potter.”

    What’s Next

    What I’d like to see next: Take the concept to local communities, with tools that individuals can use to easily create independent, civic journalism courses. Those classes could be augmented with local meetups to strengthen ties and build strong networks. Local journalists familiar with the civic and social nuances of particular communities would add unmatched value.

    Perhaps there’s a business model in there somewhere. But, more importantly, the concept provides more tools for journalists to share knowledge and perhaps help sustain themselves as teachers and coaches, while broadening the capacity for communities to tell their own stories.

    Maybe we can make it so. What do you think?

    Andria Krewson is editor for two community sections of the McClatchy-owned Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, N.C. She is @underoak on Twitter.

    i-59e41f7d887bee107a310677b0f93a1e-news21 small.jpg

    Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

    Tagged: knight foundation learning mozilla online education p2pu training
    • Cool, it’s great to see all these free online resources out there. I just wrote a post a few weeks ago about another journalism school with free online classes: http://candicevallantin.squarespace.com/blog/2010/6/8/free-journalism-education.html

      It’s called News University and it’s part of Poynter Online (www.newsu.org). I definitely recommend it.

    • Hi Andria – Thanks for the nice article (and gentle words about our ongoing tech improvement). P2PU is a platform for experimentation. If you want to make journalism courses available to more people and combine the online part with offline meetings – we’d love to be involved. Especially the tie in between online and offline is something that a few people in the P2PU community are interested in exploring.

    • Come to think of it, my first journalism education was almost free and “online.” While on line at the local magazine shop buying the Sunday papers, I spotted a book (“Watch Your Language”) by Theodore Bernstein of the Times for $2, right after someone invited me to be copyeditor of the school paper. Whatever gets you started gets you started.

    • I think that anything that will get you started and allow you to follow your dream of journalism is a good thing.

    • Thanks, all, for the comments, and sorry for the delay in getting back here.

      The P2PU class has been great. One assignment in particular was challenging and illuminating: Post three times a day. I didn’t quite make it, but consistent practice seems to be a key factor in learning anything.

    • I urge anyone interested in free business journalism training to check out the offerings from the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at BusinessJournalism.org. We offer both free Webinars and regional workshops.

    • How can so many journalism startups continue without a business model? Is everyone expected to work for free? Are the programmers working for free? Are the professionals all donating their time? Forever?

      As a lover of journalism who supports myself from the advertising side, isn’t it obvious who your advertisers and sponsors would be for this program? I can name ten off the top of my head who will kill to be in front of an audience seeking higher learning.

      The newspaper world is dying because their online revenue models do not support the process of running their business. And with all the study on revenue models the big idea is a “paywall”. And all that paywall will do is drive news readers to other free sites to get what is easily available and supported by advertising.

      Someone has to start thinking about the money and business side of these websites in order to support all these great ideas. Otherwise, they will soon be dust in the wind.

    • Janet,
      You’re welcome to list those 10 sponsors right here. :)

      I think one complicating factor:
      For every 10 possible funders, there are 10 startups.

      Things are still shaking out, being designed, being coded. The interesting part is that many are trying to gather community *before* their products are finished.

      And I suspect that’s key for any “school”: It needs a decent community of teachers and learners. Some of the smarter groups are going deep to question the whole top down model of learning.

      A link to a presentation with screenshots of some of the new alternatives is here:

      I’ll keep updating that.

    • Funtush

      Media is the booming sector for today’s world. So lot of new generation students are interested to the journalism courses provided by some premier institutes in India.

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