• Day 1 – Teaching online journalism

What makes the web different

When we use the web as a news medium, it is fundamentally different from anything we have known before. It is not a newspaper on a computer screen, and it is not television with text. Many people have trouble thinking of the web as something different, but if we are going to learn and use it properly, we must do so. Remember this: the audience is using it differently from any of the traditional media.

Here are some of the characteristics that made the web different.


The web can hold and present much more information than any of the traditional media.


The web accepts a variety of forms for presenting information. Essentially, there are four forms: text, images, audio and video.


The web is more permanent than any other medium. While paper, audio tape and video tape deteriorate, the servers for a website are much more stable. This characteristic leads to two other important properties: duplicability and retrieveability. Information on the web is much easier to duplicate and much easier to archive and retrieve than in other media.


The web is an immediate medium; that is, the production time — the time between when information is ready and when it can be distributed — is very short. In this sense, it is akin to broadcasting. But broadcasting can distribution only one word (radio) or one word and one picture (television) at a time. The web can distribute much more information immediately.


This is an extremely important characteristic — possibly the most important. Whereas, print and broadcast are almost totally non-interactive, the web can be extremely interactive and in many ways. We may need to discuss this characteristic further, but suffice it to say that the interactivity characteristic of the web is one of the most important characteristics when it comes to journalism.


With the development of tablets and cellphones, it is now possible to take the web just about anywhere. Journalists can distribute their information from just about any point on the globe. News consumers can receive that information in a living room, on a bus, or hiking the Appalachian Trail. All of this makes a profound different in the way journalism is produced, distributed and received.


Unlike print, the web is not a static form. It reshapes itself according to the information it has and the type of device on which it is received. The term mobile journalism is used to refer to journalism that is build and received for mobile devices, such as tablets and cellphones. In producing mobile journalism, for instance, we must shape the form of the journalism to the device on which it is distributed. This journalistic form is quite likely different from the inverted pyramid news story structure that we are using for print journalism.


One of the most powerful tools of the web is its ability to connect with other information. The journalism we produce does not — or should not — exist in isolation. To serve those to whom we distribute information, journalists must point them to other information that they feel would be useful to the consumers.


Tools of journalism

The web allows us to use the tools of journalism – and to think about them – in ways that are different from how we use them in other media.

— text

How is text different on the web?

— images

How are images (pictures) different on the web?

— audio

How is audio different on the web?

— video

How is video different on the web?


Problems and possibilities

If we are going to shift our teaching from traditional media to online media and online journalism, what should we be thinking about? Lots of things. Each of us could come up with a list. Here are a few that spring to mind:

• teaching reporting, writing, presentation and distribution together

All of our students should/must learn had to do everything. They should have a full set of tools, particularly if they are planning to pursue journalism at the collegiate level or as a career.

• information architecture

We have to explore new ways of presenting information — and think about information in different ways. The inverted pyramid news story structure is not dead, but its usefulness is limited. The bullet point and the list are alive, well, and growing . And the headline is more important than ever.

• precision communication (as opposed to “broadcasting”)

More than ever, we can know who the audience is and what they want. We are going to have to write and report for a more specific group.

• entrepreneurial journalism (as opposed to “freelancing”)

The organizations that produce journalism will probably be smaller and more focused. Our students are going to have to understand the idea that they may be on their own, or that they may be able to create their own organizations.

• acceleration (people have always wanted news; now they can get it instantly)

What we do in terms of reporting, writing, editing and distribution, we’re going to have to do faster.

• developing audience and community (aka, social media)

Think about news as conversation rather than news as product.

And for high school journalism teachers:

— For the first time, daily journalism can be practiced at the high school and classroom level. How can we take advantage of that opportunity?

— New forms of presentation

— Pre-reporting

The job of journalism

• filter

• structure

The job of the journalists remains the same: to filter and structure. Journalists must decide what information is important and interesting. They must put that information into a form that is acceptable to the audience.


The Intercollegiate Online News Network (ICONN) is an association of campus news websites, journalism educators, academic programs and professional organizations and individuals interested in advancing education in online journalism at both the collegiate and scholastic level. ICONN ties together and supports a nationwide network of campus news websites. The scholastic arm of ICONN is the Interscholastic Online News Network (ISONN).

Additional readings and links

Saving Journalism Should Begin In High Schools, Ypulse Daily Update, March 11, 2009

Tina Barseghian, Why Every Student Should Learn Journalism Skills, MediaShift, May 23, 2011


Discussion questions

Take on one of these and post a response on our forum:

1. In an online world, what’s the most important thing for a student to know?

2. Answer one of the question in the Tools of Journalism section on this page.



News site management assignments

• Make sure you can log on to your JeffersonNet site. Have you changed your password to something that you will remember? You can do that by clicking on the username in the upper right corner of your window once you have logged onto the site. That will take you to your account page. Scroll down to the bottom of the window, and you will see a couple of forms for entering a new password. Then click on the blue Update Profile button, and that’s it.

Did you know? As administrator of the site, you can go onto anyone’s account page and change the password. This is useful when one of your staff forgets his or her password. You can set up a news one for that student.


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