Away day thoughts

Posted on June 19th, 2015 by Bernie Russell

One of the things we’ll be looking at on our away day (June 25) is breaking up the current structure for our production modules, which is too tightly demarcated, and no longer reflects industry practice (if it ever did).

We have looked at this before, but we’ve only tinkered with it. This new exercise is to be much more fundamental, and may even mean a course revalidation. Given this, I think we should take one step further back, and fix the fundamental structure for the whole course.

The questions:

  • Should we re-examine the notion of core modules?
  • Do we need to break down the barrier between theory and practice teaching?
  • Can we deliver a fully digital-first production program?

Core and peripheral modules
Because we run joint programs and elective modules, we identify some modules as core modules. By implication, the other modules are therefore in the periphery. Paradoxically, these peripheral modules are the production modules—the very ones that attract students, and that attract the most investment. Joint honors students don’t do these modules, and a lot of them find this frustrating.

They have a point—they can graduate with few digital or production skills, which makes no sense for any graduate with journalism in their degree title. Any new structure must fix this.

Theory and practice
Our promotional material says: “Lincoln students examine journalism in its historical and theoretical contexts, exploring essential ethical and legal considerations. They put theory into practice, producing news content across print, online, radio and television platforms.”

I’m sure this is generally true in the sense that the contextual modules provide reference points for students’ production work. But could the connection be closer? For example, I teach the history of the internet on my level two online module. Other production modules probably do something similar. How does this connect with our other history modules?

The production modules also look at ethical issues. Again, I’m not sure how this connects with our ethics teaching. But it should.

The fix?
There is an interesting model in our MA portfolio. Students on specialist courses work within the online and print components of the Journalism MA’s Specialist Reporting module to produce material for their own modules.

We could try a similar approach with the BA theory modules, which would help with the joint programs.

We could also look at team-teaching in the production modules (which usually involves just production tutors) to include the ‘theory’ tutors, which would help integrate theory and practice.

Digital first
This should be the core of the program. We have a general commitment to a digital-first strategy (first mooted in 2012), but it hasn’t really moved since then. By contrast, the Guardian launched a five-year plan in 2011 to move “beyond the newspaper” to an 80/20 digital/print split.

The Daily Telegraph (the first British newspaper on the web) announced plans in 2014 for a new editorial structure designed to use “digital content as the backbone of each printed edition” of the newspaper.

Said to be an acceleration of Telegraph Media Group editor-in-chief Jason Seiken’s “vision to transform the organisation’s print-focused mindset into a digitally led approach”, the new structure will have five main elements:

  • One integrated print/digital newsroom.
  • Two shifts worked each day, one from 6am and one ending at midnight.
  • Three speeds to work at, from fast for breaking news to slower for a feature.
  • Four key skills for each journalist: social, video, analytics and search engine optimisation.
  • Five deliverable ideas required from each desk each day: including one video, one shareable and one interactive.

That could be a template for our production modules. We’d need to add to the skills, of course, and widen the approach. But it seems like a good place to start.

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