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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Best way to learn online journalism? Start a blog

I’ve been working on this post for a couple of days, but I keep getting interrupted. In fact, I was about halfway finished Friday when one of the bright master’s students in my Online Journalism class popped into my office. He had a pressing question about his future, not just in the class, but in the industry. He wondered what skills he needed to have coming out of Ohio’s master’s program so he could get a job – any job – in journalism.
Well, I hemmed, and I hawed. I made the obligatory plug for my class (“Well, you’re learning a lot of them in online journalism, of course. Ha ha ha!”), and even encouraged him to maybe take a Flash class from Vis Comm. But frankly, I think my answer stunk.

It’s a huge question I’ve been wrestling with as I’ve tried to design my classes, and I know it’s something the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism is mulling as it revamps its curriculum in advance of the switch to semesters in 2012. I study the Web enough to know the journalism industry is unclear on the skill set as well. That’s most evident when you look at job postings which discuss everything from video to advanced Web design to content management systems.

But the best advice I recently received and I need to share with this student comes from Chip Mahaney, director of digital content, for The E.W. Scripps Company. In a speech to students in J231A News Writing (another class I teach) Mahaney said one of the best ways to make your resume stand out in this digital age is to make sure there’s digital content on it. This could be as simple as starting and maintaining a blog, he said. Scripps has posted a podcast of his entire speech, and you can find the remarks I’m referring to about three quarters of the way through. (The question that leads to it is “What do you think is the more important skill set?”)

I like this advice because, first, it’s something I can teach. My Flash skills are definitely lacking, and my knowledge of PHP and MySQL is purely academic.

Second, and more importantly, simple advice such as this helps us preserve the mission of journalism. I think it’s premature to think we have to train every journalism candidate to program sites while shooting video and recording audio. In fact, it smacks of desperation to me both within academia and the industry. Even though money’s tight, we can’t ask one journalist to do it all if we expect a quality product.

What we can reasonably expect is journalists who can translate the solid writing and journalistic skills to a number of platforms. And if we do our jobs as educators to ensure they have a strong background in reporting facts, writing clearly and concisely and providing information that helps their audience make decisions, all they’ll need is an introduction to CMS, HTML and how to embed videos and audio. I can’t think of a better place to learn that than struggling through adding a template to a WordPress, Tumblr or BlogSpot blog. There are so many other benefits to regular blogging as well that I think blogging should be a fundamental class every journalism major – whether their focus is in writing, reporting, advertising or PR – takes. Maybe I’m being self serving because that’s what I teach, but I cannot ignore the direction the news media is taking, and it’s heading to the Blogosphere.

3 Responses to “Best way to learn online journalism? Start a blog”

  1. Kevin #

    Another good post. Since I’m really mostly in the IT world now, my perspective is similar, but different. Tech is changing so fast, I’d rather hire someone with aptitude than experience. I think that’s similar to the journalism field. If you can prove you can learn new stuff, communicate effectively, and have a clue, your foot will be in the door better than someone who doesn’t.

    October 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm
  2. Hans #

    Amen Kevin! Thanks for adding your IT perspective. I might share that with my student.

    October 19, 2009 at 3:44 pm
  3. Bob #

    With me just starting out a blog in prep for my own class, it was really helpful to read your thoughts, Hans. I’m struggling through myself, even with some passable HTML background, and I’m trying to keep copious notes – on problems, on things I’ve learned (tomorrow’s post is on hotlinking and me being ignorant about it), and on how things have progressed. My hope is I can have a rough roadmap for when the students inevitably run into similar problems. I’ll be grabbing that Mahaney lecture as well. Thanks for the resource!

    November 3, 2009 at 11:00 am

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