Welcome to Digital Journalism 310

Welcome to Journalism 310 – Digital Journalism for the Winter 2018 semester at Eastern Michigan University.

iphone_20150105_9938-smallIn this class, we’ll take a look at the rapidly changing world of journalism and practice the skills you will need to work as a digital journalist. I intend for the class to be heavy on practical experience, with a bit of theory and philosophy thrown in.  I am a working journalist and I plan to bring in some of my colleagues, with expertise in different areas, as guest speakers throughout the semester (I already have a couple speakers lined up). We’ll also likely visit the Free Press so you can see what a modern newsroom looks like.

All students will be required to create and maintain a blog as part of the class.  Some of the topics we will cover include writing for the web, live blogging from an event, the importance of social media, SEO (search engine optimization), writing good headlines, basic HTML, digital photography, news caption writing, use of videos in reporting, Facebook Live, the role of citizen journalists, the challenges faced by newspapers and digital media companies, and much more. Journalists by nature must be inquisitive and assertive – I expect you to ask questions and add to the discussion in class – so yes, class participation counts.

Important!!!  Make sure you check out the Syllabus and The Class pages.

One final note: Expect things to be fluid and flexible, just like a real newsroom where what you are doing can change in a heartbeat.

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Metro Times editor departs; tough times in the news industry


Steve Neavling at Motor City Muckracker reports that Valerie Vande Panne has parted ways with Metro Times, less than 9 months after being hired by new owners to transform the struggling alternative weekly.

On Jan. 8, Vande Panne tweeted:

Vande Panne, a Grand Rapids native and  former editor at High Times, told Neavling her departure was prompted by “differences in editorial vision and management style,” but wouldn’t elaborate.

Neavling says unnamed Metro Times staffers tell him morale is bad, with layoffs and a blurring of the line between editorial and advertising at the alt-weekly.  Motor City Muckracker says Metro Times has been  “running promotional features – even on the cover – without indicating they were ads.”

Like many publications, Metro Times is struggling with huge circulation and revenues drops. According to  Neavling, the weekly’s annual revenues have been sliced by more than half from an estimated $8 million in its heyday and circulation has dropped to about 50,000 from a high of about 110,000.

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The wonders of the iPhone – a reporter’s best friend

A police officer and an FAA inspector examine the wreckage of a small plane that crashed in a backyard in Pittsfield Township, critically injuring two people. Photo by Steve Pepple

Still a work in progress, but I am getting better at taking news photos with my iPhone, editing them and then uploading them from the scene. Above is a shot from a plane crash I went to on Friday in Pittsfield Township (two people were critically injured in the crash).

I am finding when I go out to a scene, i will take a few shots with my DSLR and then pull out my iPhone so I can grab something that I can immediately email back to the office for posting online. I then revert back to my DSLR, but I may also alternate between the two devices.

As I have told my students in this class, the iPhone (or just about any smart phone) has become a reporter’s new best friend. You can take photos and videos at the scene of a news story and upload them immediately, use it a tape recorder to take notes, find  your way to the scene using GPS, do quick research on the web (including looking to see what your competitors might have), Tweet about the incident,  and even type a story on it and file it. Oh yeah, you can also use it as a phone.

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Online reader habits: The long and short of it

For many years, the pervasive thinking among many news organizations has been that long-form journalism doesn’t sell well on the web – that the attention span of online readers is geared toward brief stories, summaries (i.e. aggregation) and quick hits.  Nobody on the web is going to read a 5,000-word enterprise piece on politics, business or whatever. Right?

Photo of dog at typewriter

Photo by Steve Pepple

Not so, argues Lewis DVorkin of Forbes magazine. In an article, Inside Forbes: How Long-Form Journalism Is Finding Its Digital Audience,” DVorkin contends that longer form journalism does indeed have an audience on the web.

“Today’s news consuming audience is incredibly fragmented, just like the media itself. Some readers want short-form content, others long-form and still others the short-form version of the long-form. Journalists need to meet all consumer needs,” DVorkin writes.

DVorkin — the chief product officer at Forbes Media, who describes himself as someone who likes to write about the intersection of digital journalism and social media – himself took a 180-degree turn in philosophy. He spent eight years overseeing programming at AOL (yes, it still exists), where news aggregation was the name of the game. The belief was, he says, was the USA Today style McNuggets of news is what online readers wanted and AOL had “billions of page views (including all those photo galleries) to prove it.”

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Want to be a better writer? Build your vocabulary!

Have you ever hear of the word “ubication?” What the heck does it mean?

If you followed The Word Blog regularly, you would know that it is a noun whose definition is: “relation to place; whereness.”

The Word BlogAs in: Jean has a terrible sense of ubication. She can get lost just going around the block.

OK, I admit it, you are probably never going to use this word in daily life (well, maybe if  you have the right tiles in Word with Friends), but a better vocabulary is something journalists should constantly be striving for and building upon. Knowing just the right word to use makes us better writers because it allows us to use more concise language in our writing. It also allows us to avoid embarrassing gaffes that can result in a writer being eaten alive by those ubiquitous online grammar nazis commenting on stories.

Heather, the author behind The Word Blog, regularly blogs about words and grammar. Her blog consists of several sections, including Vest-Pocket Vocabulary, in which she defines obscure words, and Lexical Vexations, in which she takes on words that sound similar but have different meanings, such as affect vs. effect.

One other area that you should be interested in as journalism students, whose papers get marked up in red pen by an old copy editor, is the section on Proofreaders’ Marks. Did you know there are universal marks used by copy editors and proofreaders? For example, a slash through a capitalized letter means it should be lowercase.

Another good way to help you build your vocabulary is by loading the Dictionary.com app on your smartphone (Android app  iPhone app) and turning on the Word of the Day notification.

Good journalist ≥ good writer ≥ wordsmith.

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In the race to be first, you end up last

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno died Sunday, not Saturday. Photo from PennLive.com

This is what happens in the constant rush and pressure to be first among the news media – one outlet jumps the gun and falsely reports something and the pack blindly follows. That’s what happened Saturday when Onward State, the Penn State student newspaper, Tweeted that legendary football coach Joe Paterno had died. Joe Paterno did die over the weekend, but not until Sunday.

The ensuing fallout cost Devon Edwards his job as the managing editor of the Onward State. It also cast an embarrassing spotlight on the journalistic practices of some news media big boys, including CBSSports, the New Jersey Star Ledger, the Huffington Post, all of which re-reported the false information, in some instances without properly attributing it to Onward State. Another black mark on journalism.

As Barney McCoy, a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,points out in his blog JournalCetera, it also violates a fundamental Journalism 101 rule – check your facts before you publish.

The moral: It’s good to be first, but you BETTER be right.

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