Category Archives: Teaching Journalism

Lincoln, Neb., becomes home on Friday

The moving truck pulls in, and we start unpacking Friday in a wonderfully remodeled home built in 1923 in Lincoln, Neb., as I prepare to start as dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Day 1 of the drive from Miami with two boxer dogs and a sleeping (drugged) cat took us to the Atlanta area and a relaxing visit with relatives who like to cook. Works for me! I always get my own gravy boat, so I’m in heaven.

Day 2 of the drive brought us to the St. Louis area, for a visit with a childhood friend. Tomorrow we hang out on the dock at her pond.

Day 3 will be on to Lincoln. The drive has been delightfully uneventful. The grass, fields, farms and woods are wonderfully lush. Now I know what the word verdant means.

I can’t wait to get started in my new gig. I feel that it’s a great way to continue the work I have been doing the past four years at Knight Foundation, particularly with the Knight News Challenge.

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Comments from Tshwane students about blogging

 

Some of my students

Some of my students

Reading the comments below that various students e-mailed me, you’ll easily see why this teaching gig has been so much fun and so rewarding.

 

The comments are from students at the Pretoria West and Soshanguve campuses of Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa.

  • Blogging has allowed me to go where I never thought I’d go. That is because I am now able to share my ideas with other people outside of South Africa and know how they feel about my ideas. Thank you.
  • I found a tool which I can use to write my thoughts and communicate with the entire world.
  • We had a lot of fun, I have fallen in love with my Blog(www.scepticalmatshatr.blogspot.com) already. Siyabonga (Zulu), Re a leboga (Tswana), Ha Khensa (tsonga), Dankie (Afrikaans) –all meaning Thank you — at least now you know how to say thank you in four South African languages.
  • Teaching us how to create our own blogs was awesome and I will use it until the end of time.
  • Your contribution made a difference.

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Facebook in South Africa

My students’ Internet skills range from those who are not quite sure what’s happening when they create a link from their blogs to another web page, to those who are looking for audio and video to add to their blogs and who have their own Facebook pages.

Almost all of the students use a mobile social networking site called Mixit. I was at a party last week where a young man didn’t know anyone there, but heard about the party through Mixit and an SMS.

I was more than a little surprised two days ago when having lunch at Skukuza Camp in the middle of Kruger National (Wildlife) Park, to overhear a group of thirty-somethings next to me talking about how Facebook has made it easier to steal the identities of those people who fill out detailed profiles. They are giving a little too much information to those who want to use it for illegal purposes.

Then, when driving out of the park and listening to a South African rock station, the DJ announced that he was going to read from a Facebook page he likes. It was a list of “You know you’re South African if …”

(Even after just a few weeks here, I could understand some of the jokes, particularly those dealing with driving. Like, “You know you’re South African if you run a red robot (stoplight) and three cars follow you.” Or, “You know you’re South African if you’re driving 120 kph on the highway, and you’re the slowest one.”)

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Teaching blogging

Students at the Pretoria campus work on their assignments.

Students at the Pretoria campus work on their assignments.

First day of classes at Pretoria campus.

First day of classes at Pretoria campus.

More photos of my students on the Pretoria campus

I’ve been having a fun teaching students here to create blogs using Blogger.com and create web pages using Adobe GoLive.

It’s such a pleasure to see their smiles when they realize that what they have just done is on the web. A week before I got here, they went to Cape Town to cover parliament. So their next assignment from me is to write their parliament coverage on their blog.

I’m particularly pleased because at the beginning of the class, many of them told me they don’t read blogs, they think blogs are junk and irresponsible, and they want to do serious journalism.

That’s when I told them the story of NOLA.com, the web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. They all had heard about how Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans. I told them that the only way they knew about New Orleans after Katrina was because of blogs.

The Times-Picayune offices, presses and computers were flooded. Their reporters and editors were dispersed. The only way they could publish was via the blogs that their owners (Newhouse) had recently installed. The blogs were hosted elsewhere. Their servers weren’t flooded. Much of what we know about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Orleans is because of the tool called a blog.

I think I made it clear to the students that a blog is just another tool they should have in their toolbox.

Once they saw that they could be serious journalists and use blogs, they let loose and had a great time.

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Science journalism conference

Wednesday, the students at the Tshwane and the Soshanguve campuses of Tshwane University of Technology met on the downtown Arcadia campus for a daylong conference on science journalism. Pedro Diederichs, head of the journalism department, organized the conference as part of his expansion of the journalism department. His next hire will be a chair in science reporting.

There were excellent talks on AIDS reporting, the ethics of science reporting and great case studies in investigative science journalism.

The students (freshmen and sophomores) were very involved and asked questions that showed they were paying attention to the speakers. There was a lot of back and forth between the students and the speakers, but the comment that riled the students was from Elsabe Brits, a science reporter for Die Burger, in Cape Town. She was encouraging students to test claims about scientific advances against reason and logic. She said, for instance, there are about 1.7 million species of creatures on the Earth. How big do you think Noah’s Ark would have to be to carry two of each of those species? It would be a lot bigger than what is stated in the Bible. It’s impossible. It couldn’t have happened in that way, she said.

That’s when I learned how deeply religious many people are in South Africa. Quite a few students started arguing with that comment. The discussion extended to intelligent design, which the speakers trashed as pure rubbish and one student in particular adamantly defended.

At this conference, I was invited to lecture to grad students at the University of Pretoria next week.

My time here is passing too fast, and I’m having such fun.

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How one publisher is using SMS to unite his community

One community newspaper publisher is creating a new revenue stream by using SMS to unite and organize its audience. We’d call it crowd sourcing in the U.S.

The small community does not want a high voltage electric or microwave tower to be constructed in its midst. The company that wants to build the tower is required to post a legal notice describing the project and announcing the pubic comment period. But the announcement can be small, obscure and in publications most of the people in the area don’t read. So the newspaper, in conjunction with the mobile phone provider, organized an SMS database hosted by the newspaper of everyone who wants to  the SMS, so the newspaper and the mobile phone provider split any revenue. The comunity now has a group of people doing the research that couldn’t be done by a small newspaper: every day combing through every publication in the area looking for the hidden notice of the public comment period. Communities here have learned the hard way that well-hidden notices of public comment periods have been followed by projects that the community didn’t have a chance to oppose.

The newspaper advertises the SMS number and its purpose; readers send one SMS message to that number and then are logged into the database. The paper also uses the print ad for the SMS service as an opportunity to promote its in-depth coverage of that issue in the newspaper.

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South Africa’s professional journalism training

South Africa has tried to address a problem that U.S. journalists continually fret about: journalism training. Here, all industry groups are required by law to set aside 1% of their payroll for ongoing training. Then, if a newspaper, for instance, sends someone to a professionally recognized training course, that paper gets a credit against the amount they already have paid. If they don’t send people to training, their 1% levy in essence will be used by those organizations that do send people to be trained further. Training courses also are offered by professional journalism associations.

This sounds like a smart system to me, but I’m told it doesn’t work well in practice because the group that receives the funds from the 1% set-aside, is banking it more than spending it. And there are arguments over whether the money should be used to reimburse papers for hiring interns or for short courses taught by journalism professors or for courses taught by consultants or professional training organizations?

Sadly, there is lot of money available for ongoing training that is not being used. I’m told the banking the insurance industry groups here make much better use of their training money.

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My students at Soshanguve campus

Students at the Soshanguve campus of Tshwane University of Technology help one another in the digital media lab.

Students at the Soshanguve campus of Tshwane University of Technology help one another in the digital media lab.

Working on their blogs

Working on their blogs

More Photos

During this first week of teaching at Tshwane University of Technology, I met students at the main Pretoria campus and at a township campus about a 40-minute drive from the Pretoria campus. The campuses are wildly different. The main campus is huge and fantastically landscaped with a lot of private study nooks with chairs, benches and tables. The campus in the township of Soshanguve is very small and limited. The students in the township campus generally come from lower socioeconomic levels than the students at the Pretoria campus. Both groups of students, however, are the most polite and among the most attentive that I ever have encountered. The students’ cell phone activities, particularly transactions like banking, usually go beyond what we typically use a mobile phone for in the U.S. Their Internet connections, however, are much fewer and less powerful than what we have in the States. SMS is THE means of digital communication here. Typical questions from students at both campuses concerned how to maintain journalism’s ethics and principles in a world of citizen contributions. We discussed whether journalism’s principles and ethics are holding the profession back in the world of the Internet. We discussed how many journalists are being true to themselves, but in doing so are losing their audience. I told the students that their ideas can have maximum impact now, because new organizations realize they need new ideas and new models. They looked at me like I had been smoking something. But they kept smiling.

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Journalism education in South Africa

Pedro Diederichs heads the Journalism Department at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa

Pedro Diederichs heads the Journalism Department at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa

Photos of Tshwane University of Technology Pretoria campus

Journalism training takes two forms in South Africa — at a general university or at a technical university. The model for the technical training is Tshwane University of Technology, where I am teaching in Pretoria. The general plan is that students study only journalism for four years, and for two of those years they are getting hands-on work experience at a news organization.

During years one and two, students take journalism classes on campus. In year three, they have a year-long internship, with a supervisor at the work site and a faculty supervisor. Also during the year three internship, students must find a community organization that needs help publishing an internal publication, and they must accomplish this task. For instance, they might start a newsletter for a church or an environmental club.
In year four, they are considered to be trained well enough to be working as a full-time journalist, which they do. Then on periodic Saturdays they come to campus for lectures on topics like politics. They also study newsroom culture and are taught how to fit in and survive it.

The selection process is rigorous at a technical university, so the students who are admitted, are there because they really want to be journalists and because the university believes they already have had a broad education. Their student colleagues include engineers, medical students and landscape architects

At the general universities, journalistic training is more as it is in the United States, with about two-thirds to three quarters of the classes constituting a basic liberal arts background, including courses in communications threory, and the rest being in journalism.

The technical university plan seems to better address concerns of U.S. news organizations and journalism professors, that there is not enough time to teach all the basics, have the students become proficient in those skills and then also teach the multimedia skills required in digital journalism. The flip side is that as the world becomes more complex and interconnected, students also need basic knowlege of economics, history, geography and literature, as well as second-, or even third-, language skills.

The movement here is to somehow try to combine the plans at the two different university systems into one program for journalism training. And I’m told it won’t be easy.

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Journalism education in South Africa

Journalism training takes two forms in South Africa — at a general university or at a technical university. The model for the technical training is Tshwane University of Technology, where I am teaching in Pretoria. The general plan is that students study only journalism for four years, and for two of those years they are getting hands-on work experience at a news organization.

During years one and two, students take journalism classes on campus. In year three, they have a year-long internship, with a supervisor at the work site and a faculty supervisor. Also during the year-three internship, the student must find a community organization that needs help publishing an internal publication, and they must accomplish this task. For instance, they might start a newsletter for a church or an environmental club. In year four, they are considered to be trained well enough to be working as a full-time journalist, which they do. On periodic Saturdays they come to campus for lectures on topics like politics. They also study newsroom culture and are taught how to fit in and survive it.

The selection process is rigorous at a technical university, so the students who are admitted are there because they really want to be journalists and because the university believes they already have had a broad education.

At the general universities, journalistic training is more as it is in the United States, with about two-thirds to three quarters of the classes constituting a basic liberal arts background, including courses in communication theory. The remaining courses are journalism.

The technical university plan seems to better address concerns of U.S. news organizations and journalism professors that there is not enough time to teach all the basics, have the students become proficient in those basics, and then also teach multimedia skills required in digital journalism. The flip side is that as the world becomes more complex and interconnected, students also need basic knowlege of economics, history, geography and literature, as well as second-, or even third-, language skills.

The movement here is to somehow try to combine the plans at the two different universities into one program for journalism training. And I’m told it won’t be easy.

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Driving on the “right” side of the road

Everyone here tells me it’s about time I learned to drive on the “right” side of the road, by which they mean the “correct” side, by which they mean the “left” side.

It was bad enough to have to think about always staying on the left side when making turns, but that was complicated by the fact that I was driving a small Toyota truck with a manual transmission in rush-hour traffic. I haven’t driven a stick in about seven years. That part went OK, but it was complicated by having to sit on the right side of the truck and shift with my left had. Every time I tried to put on my blinkers, I turned on the windshield wipers because of the reverse placement on the wheel shaft. And, likewise, every time I tried to signal a turn, I aways turned on the opposite blinker because of everything being reversed. When I got home I was exhausted.

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