How should journalism educators teach and study social media?

recent blog post by Vadim Lavrusik called upon journalism educators to make social media and online community engagement a stronger part of their curricula:

“[T]here are three components I think that are still largely missing from most journalism curricula today that could help in user engagement: learning the social media tools available for journalists to engage the audience, an understanding of what it means to cultivate community, and lastly a negative stigma to the use of data and analytics.”

The post elicited several favorable comments from journalism students, instructors and practitioners associated with institutions around the country, including a link to this thoughtful advice about how journalism education needs to change. Amen to all of it, I say. Journalists need to know how, when and whether to blog, twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, tag, make and use widgets, link strategically, build and use wikis, craft SEO-friendly content and understand analytics. (Just to be clear, references to Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook have more to do with the need for facility with sites that function in this way, not with fealty to those particular brands.)

However, we need to be more systematic in thinking about how we approach this subject as a matter of teaching, research and practice.  One can learn the basics of using particular blogging and social media tools in a workshop. A college-level exploration of the design, disseminating and evaluation of social media content should not only be about practices, but also about principles. Journalism curricula need to reflect upon and synthesize emerging insights from a range of disciplines that can inform social media practices and standards for communications professionals.

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Scholastic Journalism Education as a Tool for Teaching Computational Thinking

Greg Linch’s April 30, 2010 post at the Publish2 blog improves upon my May 2009 post on computational thinking in journalism by placing it in the context of the larger conversation about the skills and habits of mind that journalists now need. He also offers helpful suggestions about specific computer science concepts that journalists ought to understand. Linch lists abstraction, debugging, defining variables, and commenting code as examples of computer science concepts that parallel traditional journalism skills and functions.

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