How to Use Knight’s New Book as a Choose Your Own Adventure in Journalism

    by Amy Schmitz Weiss
    November 7, 2013
    Searchlight display. Image from "Sue B" on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

    This is a cross post from the Knight Foundation, which asked the students, educators and professionals who beta tested its new digital teaching tool, “Searchlights and Sunglasses,” for their five favorite lessons. The book explores the digital transformation of journalism, and with one click turns into a classroom tool, offering 1,000 lesson plans and resources for educators. In the coming weeks, the foundation will share beta testers’ responses on its Knight Blog.


    "It’s one thing to know how to find data, how to clean and analyze it, but it’s another matter to understand the ethics of using data accurately in the journalistic context."

    Nowadays, journalism teachers use resources ranging from textbooks to online videos and techniques such as case studies and role play.  Another option for educators is a new digital book by Knight Foundation that explores journalism’s past, present and future, and offers a learning layer with lesson plans.


    Searchlights and Sunglasses” can be a great complement to any journalism educator’s toolbox (high school or college). There are several ways one can jump into the text and explore the suggested activities in the book, which are categorized by student levels.

    My first tip for journalism educators new to this digital book is to read through it first before you do anything. I ended up doing this in two different sittings: reading through the book first from start to finish over several days and then going back over it again a second time with a focus on the learning layers that are applicable to the areas I teach.

    As a digital media scholar and teacher, I live and breathe anything digital. I teach classes at San Diego State University that focus on digital – ranging in topics from multimedia storytelling techniques to mobile journalism. My favorite five lessons are from each of the five chapters related to the exercises that explore how digital technologies and the platform impact journalism.


    Here are my top five lessons and my recommendations on how to use each:

    Chapter 1: Making new forms of media:

    This learning layer allows students to explore the impact of innovations on the media. I think the Flashlight exercise of researching the life of a media innovator is a great way to help students know what it takes to be an innovator, what challenges innovators face and the outcome of the invention. As the digital media environment is driven by innovation today, I think it helps students to understand that innovation has been a constant in the industry, and that they should be prepared to think innovatively in tomorrow’s newsrooms.

    Chapter 2:  Finding case studies on the impact of social media

    This learning layer complements chapter 2 nicely. It helps to show how social media and the digital platform can be a vehicle of change for press freedom and freedom of speech, yet also can be hindered by new forms of digital censorship. The Searchlight activity provides a great example to help students put the pieces together by having them research if censorship is increasing in the world and find groups that help support Internet freedom. Through this activity, the students have a better understanding of the impact of censorship in the digital media landscape today.

    Chapter 3: Video games and education

    This learning layer activity helps students to understand how “games” can be weaved  into journalism and help with building digital media literacy skills. Often, we don’t equate games with journalism. But recent efforts by several news organizations including ProPublica with its HeartSaver newsgame show that storytelling through this approach can be achieved and serve an important public service. I think we are just at the beginning of new storytelling genres online and using the news game approach is one method. The Flashlight, Spotlight and Searchlight activities in this learning layer can be part of a weeklong exercise on the topic of how games and game theory can be used in a journalistic context.

    Chapter 4: The ethics of big data

    An important skill set for any journalist today is learning data-driven journalism techniques. I teach a class on this topic every semester. It’s one thing to know how to find data, how to clean and analyze it, but it’s another matter to understand the ethics of using data accurately in the journalistic context. This learning layer in chapter 4 helps students to understand that data cannot just be downloaded and plopped into a graph but that there are ethical implications regarding how that data is accessed, cleaned and presented to the public. This learning layer allows the students to get a chance to discuss past data journalism cases and also create their own ethics code related to data.

    Chapter 5: Online search ‘how to’ tips

    Being savvy at searching is an important skill that I teach my students every semester. In order to be a great reporter nowadays, you have to know how to conduct effective searches online. A lot of time can be wasted by not having a solid search strategy. This learning layer helps students understand what search engines are, what search means, how search results work and how to become search-savvy. The Flashlight, Spotlight, Searchlight and extra credit activities in this layer can all be part of a one- or two-week exploration allowing the students to know what it takes to search for information online as a reporter.

    Additionally, there are several other ways to use this digital book.

    You may find that you want to focus your lessons for your class by topic, such as press freedom or media diversity, depending on your curriculum. Or perhaps you may want to focus your lessons by chapter only – and do one chapter at a time. Another option can be placing the decision in your student’s hands and letting them select one or two learning layers to explore.

    The nice aspect of “Searchlights and Sunglasses” is that it’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure,” providing the opportunity for you and your students to chart your own path. So, start reading and exploring!

    knightbloglogoThis post originally appeared on the Knight Blog.

    Amy Schmitz Weiss is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University. Schmitz Weiss is a 2011 Dart Academic Fellow and has a Ph.D. in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She teaches journalism courses in basic writing and editing, multimedia, web design, data journalism, and mobile journalism. She is also the 2011-2012 Recipient of the AEJMC Bridge Grant with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that led to the creation of a mobile news app, AzteCast for the San Diego State University campus population in spring 2012. She also is a former journalist who has been involved in new media for more than a decade. She has worked in business development, marketing analysis and account management for several Chicago Internet media firms. Her research interests include online journalism, media sociology, news production, multimedia journalism, and international communication. See her website for a full list of research publications. Contact her at [email protected]

    Tagged: classroom edshift eric newton journalism education knight foundation searchlights and sunglasses

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