• Day 9 – Your students in an online future


Is there a future for online journalism? While the economic models are not settled yet, we are certain that online journalism is The Future. Why?

  • Our society cannot exist without a free flow of information; economics as well as politics depends on that.
  • People want and need information.
  • What people want and need, they will pay for.
  • People who produce goods and services want an efficient way to advertise their products.
  • People who know how to gather information information and put it into a form that people can use (journalists!) will be in demand; they will be paid for what they do.

These are some simple truths about the way our society works. The web had done nothing to change them. In fact, the web probably enhances them.

Our students may, in fact, understand this better than we do. Those of us older than 30 or so can look back at the way things were — the time when we had newspapers and television as our major information media. We barely knew what a cellphone was, and we certainly didn’t depend on it to wake us up and tell us what the weather is (services that people pay for). Our students do not depend on newspapers for news; nor are they nearly as dependent on television as we are. They still like magazines, but print is giving way to the tablet.

Our students are just as addicted to information as we are — or as any generation has been. They spend many hours on Facebook learning what their friends like and don’t like. Amid the trivia and gossip there is news. It’s part of the conversation.

Has anything really changed? Is this any different previous generations? The gadgets are different, but the tendencies are the same.

So, what does all this mean for the students in our journalism classes? What do they need to survive in an online future?


Knowledge of basic journalism skills

For the most part, journalism teachers should be teaching most of what they have always taught:

— reporting
Students need to know how to find information efficiently. They need to understand what sources are credible and reliable.

— writing
Writing and reporting go hand in had as essential skills. Writing must be accurate, clear, precise and efficient. It must be tailed to the medium in which it appears and to the audience and what it needs and wants.

— presenting and distribution
Students should understand, always, that they are working for a medium and an audience. Understanding the technical demands of the medium and the psychological demands of the audience is key to their success.

— ethics
Students should understand the accepted practices of journalism. At the heart of those practices is the concept of honesty.

— law
Embedded within students must be a deep understanding of the importance of the free flow of information. Some people in our society want to impede that flow. Others do not. Our students should be on the right side of this argument.

— history

Samuel F. B. Morse

To know that the telegraph was invented in the 1840s by Samuel F. B. Morse is one. To understand that the telegraph brought revolutionary changes to society and to the thinking of individuals is another. The telegraph was the Internet of its day. History teaches us that no matter what is happening today, it is probably part of a pattern and springs from something similar that happened years or decades or centuries ago.


You can’t emphasize this enough.

Next week is not acceptable. Later today is a little slow. Right now, in the next 15 minutes is a bit more like it. Our students will have to gain the confidence to write well and write quickly. That will take lots of practice and lots of coaching. A good news website gives them an excellent opportunity.

The ability to understand the “why” of things, to break things apart and understand the inner workings, to remember, to put disparate things together — all of that comes under the ability to analyze. And analysis is the first cousin to creativity.

Yes, students certainly need to have technical skills. But better yet is a technical understanding. They need to have the technical skills to do what is required today. They should have the technical understanding to be able to carry on when the technical stuff changes.


Entrepreneurial journalism

Our models have been training students to get job with organizations (newspapers, magazines, television stations, etc.)

A new model in the world of online journalism is training students to see the opportunities that the online environment offers to create their own jobs. There are plenty of “bloggers” (call them what you will) who are making a living — a very nice living — reporting and writing. For instance:

A student starts to write (in a blog) about a specific topic. She reports and writes well. That is, she presents original information that no one else has.

People who are interested in her topic begin to notice, pay attention and follow her.

The student starts to post items on Facebook, Twitter and forums that specialize in her topic. She responds to others who are writing about the topic. She links to others in her blog. Other interest blogs link to her.

As her audience grows, she puts Google ads on her blog. She even contacts advertisers interested in her blog to see if they want to advertise.

Editors of magazines interested in her topic ask her to write articles for them. One editor even asks her to contribute a regular column to the magazine’s website — understanding that she has gained a following and that her audience will visit the magazine’s website.

As the student’s expertise in the topic grows and her audience audience grows with it, she writes a short book on one aspect of her topic. She uses a dozen different outlets to market and distribute her book (such as Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Blurb, etc.). The folks who have followed her as she has been developing her topic buy the book. The book leads to more attention from magazines.

Along the way, she does press releases, speaking engagements, television interviews about her topic . . .

Anything wrong with this scenario?


Additional readings and links

J.A. Konrath, Time Investment, January 26, 2011. In it, the novelist says:

. . . . When I include Smashwords, Createspace, and Barnes and Noble, my income for January will be about $42,000.

Last January, I made $2,295 on Kindle, and I was amazed I could actually pay my mortgage on books NY rejected.

“Amazed” is no longer strong enough a word.

In just 12 months, I’ve seen a 2000% increase in income. And ebooks are still only 11% of the book market. . . .



Find out what PBS is saying about the shift from traditional to digital journalism and what it means for journalists.




Discussion questions

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

1. What opportunities have the online environment created for students?

2. React to the scenario outlined in the Entrepreneurial Journalism section of this reading. Is this realistic?


Teaching tip

What I am most interested in? Ask your students what topic interests them the most. Suggest music, politics, sports, fashion, comic books or something of that nature. Then ask, specifically, what are you interested about that topic? Why does that interest you? Who else is interested in that? Where are those people? What are the major publications about that topic. Give the students 15 minutes to write about that topic and why it interests them.


News site management assignments

If you have a JeffersonNet site and want to see the Google Analytics for it, you will need to provide a Gmail address to the JeffersonNet administrators. They can then set you up to see the analytics for your site. There you can find out a wealth of information about how many people are visiting your site and what they are looking at.


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