Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Committing Acts of Journalism" And Other Interesting Ideas From Online Class - Journalism Skills For Engaged Citizens

Somehow I got a notice of a course called Journalism Skills For Engaged Citizens, being taught online from the Melbourne University via something called Coursera.  It's taught by two journalist/academics Drs. Denis Muller and Margaret Simons.  It costs $49 for a certificate or without it's free.  So I thought I'd see what I could learn;  Things to improve how I blog, but also to see what a worldwide internet class is like.

One of the reasons for the class, according to one of the Dr. Simons was that:
"journalism is, without a doubt, probably the fastest changing profession on the planet."  
She also caught my attention with this phrase:
"citizens, increasingly armed with mobile phones and other communication tools, are committing acts of journalism."

Week 1 has been about defining journalism and what a journalist is and a bit on good writing.  Dr. Muller highlighted some tips from one of my own favorites - Strunk and White's Elements of Style. 

We had an interesting discussion question:  Which of the following four do you consider journalists:  Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Jon Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey.

The lectures - they were broken down into four lectures of 2 to 12 minutes - surveyed some definitions and characteristics of journalists.

These were collected, as I understood it, from different sources, and they offer a blogger some things to think about.

  • "respect for truth and the public's right to information."
  • "public actually have a right to information."
  • " Journalists describe society to itself"
  • "Journalists convey information, ideas, and opinions. "
  • "a privileged role."
  • "Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, suggest, and remember."
  • "Journalists inform citizens and animate democracy."
  • "main duty is to the public,"
  • " journalists scrutinise power but also exercise power."
  • "Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover and, indeed, from their employers."
  • "being impartial or neutral was not necessarily a core principle of journalism. It was the method that was objective, not the journalist."
  • "respecting truth begins with the idea of assembling and verifying facts"

Nothing really new, but certainly worth reviewing all together now and then.

What have I learned so far?

1.  To be more persistent when things don't seem the way they should be.  The computer boxes we were supposed to put our assignment in, didn't quite fit the instructions.  It turned out there were two different boxes (only one short assignment) and I should have looked harder.  But, the assignment said no more than 30 words.  The box said no more than 140 characters.  So I had to pare my 'lead sentence' down, which made it more succinct.  But this first week it was only a practice assignment, I'm sure intended to help us figure this sort of thing out before we get the 'real' assignments.

2.  I'm going to learn some Australian.  There's a fictional town - Newstown - with its own website with lots of information that we'll be covering.  It turns out that a crèche in British and Australian is a preschool.  Allotments in a new housing development are what I'd call just 'lots.'  And they use Cr. before council members' names.

3.  I'm going to be doing some thinking about differences between traditional news stories for a newspaper and blog stories.  Some things will probably improve how I write posts.  Others I can ignore because we're doing somewhat different things.  I'm particularly thinking about a recommended structure for a news story and the lead sentence assignment we had where you're supposed to get all the key points covered.  For some posts that's probably a good idea - and I've done summaries or overviews on some long complicated posts.  But for other posts I'm ok with meandering a bit.  And I can always work on getting my prose as clean and lyrical as possible.

4.  Distance learning technology has come a long way from when I first had a student calling in to class from Kodiak in the early 80s.  Of course, I knew that.  Blackboard had already added a lot by the time I retired.  And I watched my daughter preparing for her distance class last spring.  But I haven't been on the student end.  I did keep getting lost, trying to find different parts of the course and going through the wrong doors at first.  I still haven't figured out a simple way to do a one-on-one message to another student.  We do have people from all over - Aussies of course, but also Ukrainians, a Brazilian, and people from Canada, New Zealand, a Tibetan living in Bangalore, and more.  There are supposed to be thousands of students taking the course, but only a tiny fraction have introduced themselves online.  More have participated in the discussions.

Here's a link to the course. And perhaps more importantly for many, to Coursera where you can find a lot more courses in different subjects.  I'll add more about class if there are particularly interesting ideas that come up.

There were a lot of different opinions on who was a journalist.

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