Reinventing the News

The Journalism of the Web

Syllabus and Online Reading List

JRNL 5340
Spring 2012
Tuesdays, 11:45 a.m. to 1:25 p.m., and Thursdays, 2:50 to 4:30 p.m.

Dan Kennedy
139 Holmes Hall
Office phone: (617) 373-5187
Cell phone: (978) 314-4721 (call any time)
Email: da {dot} kennedy {at} neu {dot} edu
Class website:
Office hours: Tuesdays, 2 to 3 p.m.; Thursdays, 5 to 6 p.m.; Fridays, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.; and by appointment

A course subtitled “The Journalism of the Web” is, in a sense, a course about all of journalism. Newspapers increasingly are mere adjuncts to their websites. Television and radio stations have repurposed much of their content for the Web. Moreover, media that appear to be quite different in the analogue world — that is, newspapers, magazines, television and radio — are very much alike in the digital world, as news organizations of all kinds increasingly combine text, photographs, video and audio. It’s all zeroes and ones.

But there is far more to Web-based journalism than digital convergence. The Web makes possible new forms of reporting and new ways to connect with the public through such technologies as online chats, staff-written blogs and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. It has also given rise to new competition, both from established media that are now available well beyond their home bases to new types of media that would have been inconceivable before the rise of the Web. Moreover, the Web, and especially easy-to-use blogging software, enables anyone to be a journalist, which has sparked what is often called the “citizen journalism” movement.

In this course we will explore how Internet-based technologies are changing journalism and redefining how journalists do their jobs. We will learn how to use tools such as blogging, digital photography, video, mapping, video and social networking not only to communicate more effectively with our audience, but to communicate with and learn from our audience as well. Citizen-media pioneer Dan Gillmor has called our readers (and viewers and listeners) the “former audience,” meaning that technology has empowered them not to be passive consumers of news and information, but to take part in the conversation. Journalists must be prepared to take part in that conversation as well.

This course will consist of some lecturing, a lot of Web and multimedia demonstrations, extensive classroom discussions, readings, in-class workshops and guest speakers. I’m aiming for a field trip or two as well. By the end of the semester, you will be familiar with the concepts and trends that are revolutionizing the way we think about journalism. This is a time of great pessimism about traditional forms of journalism such as newspapers, magazines and television. I hope you will all become forward-looking optimists over the next few months.

Required reading

There is one required textbook for this course, and it’s free and available online. Called “Journalism 2.0: How to Survive and Thrive,” it was written by Mark Briggs and published in 2007 by J-Lab: The institute for Interactive Journalism and the Knight Citizen News Network. This is a free book published in both HTML and PDF under a Creative Commons license. It is an excellent introduction to how to be a digital journalist in the 21st century. You may download it and read it on your computer, or you may print it out. As you might expect, a book about digital journalism written in 2007 is getting a bit long in the tooth. In fact, Briggs also wrote a follow-up called “Journalism Next,” which is not free. “Journalism 2.0” still covers the basics well. We will supplement it with a series of blog posts on multimedia journalism by Mindy McAdams called the “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency” as well as class materials.

Every journalist needs to read a major metropolitan daily newspaper. Two of the best — the New York Times and the Washington Post — also are doing some pretty innovative things with their Web sites. You need to become familiar with both of these sites. You should already be reading the Boston Globe. The Globe’s free website,, is something you need to be familiar with as well.

Another important ongoing reading assignment in this class is “This Week in Review,” posted every Friday at the Nieman Journalism Lab. The Nieman Lab is already listed in our blogroll. Make sure you read “This Week in Review” and be prepared to talk about it in class the following Tuesday.

Our class blog will be our principal forum for in-class communications about additional readings, assignments, guest speakers and the like. You’ll need to check it every day. Once you have started your own blog, it will be listed here. If you’re not already doing so, you should subscribe to all your favorite sites with an RSS aggregator such as Google Reader. Don’t worry if you’re not technically adept. We’ll talk about it in class and show you how to do it.

Our online reading list is laid out week by week at the end of this syllabus. I will supplement these readings on a regular basis to accommodate guest speakers and major news developments. You’ll find a few of the more important online-news sites listed in the blogroll.

Required equipment

There is only one piece of equipment that I require you to have available for this course: a digital still and video camera (with audio) that you can use to upload photos and videos to your blog. I don’t recommend your cellphone camera unless you’ve tested it and found that it delivers good results. (If you have a reasonably new iPhone or Android, you’ll probably be OK.) Although this is not a photojournalism course, part of your grade will be based on the quality of your photos and videos.

The Flip camera delivers good results, although they’re not nearly as ubiquitous as they were a couple of years ago. If you are planning to do your editing on one of the Macs in our Mac lab, you should stay away from the Flip Mino, which requires conversion software that we cannot install. Just to make things confusing, the Flip Mino HD should be fine. (Here is a list of cameras and their compatibility with Apple iMovie ’09, which you will be using to edit your video unless you bring your own laptop and choose to use something else.) If you are able to spend a bit more (in the $300 to $400 range), you should be able to buy a point-and-shoot camera that will serve you in very good stead. I have a small Canon camera that I have used for still photos and videos from Almaty, Kazakhstan, to Batavia, N.Y.

I’m very happy with iMovie ’09. It is an incredibly simple piece of software, and you should be editing good-quality news videos in no time. However, I am not requiring that you use it. If you already have a laptop and you use something you prefer, such as Windows Movie Maker or Final Cut Express (or Pro), you may bring it to class and use that instead. Note, too, that Apple recently released iMovie ’11, which you’ll find on new Mac laptops and which will migrate to our Mac lab at some point. It is very similar to iMovie ’09 but has some additional features.

School of Journalism attendance policy

The School of Journalism requires that you attend at least 80 percent of all scheduled class meetings. If you miss 20 percent or more of scheduled classes, we will have to discuss what steps you need to take in order to pass the course. Every absence will have some effect on my assessment of your class participation, which will be factored into your final grade. Chronic tardiness may result in my marking you down for additional absences. Reinventing the News is an intensive, seminar-style course heavily dependent on everyone’s active engagement. If you’re not there, you can’t engage.

This class meets only twice a week. Please make on-time attendance a priority.

University statement regarding academic honesty

Northeastern University is committed to the principles of intellectual honesty and integrity. All members of the Northeastern community are expected to maintain complete honesty in all academic work, presenting only that which is their own work in tests and all other assignments. If you have any questions regarding proper attribution of the work of others, please contact me prior to submitting the work for evaluation. A personal note: The two capital offenses of journalism are fabrication and plagiarism. Commit either of these and you can expect to receive an “F” for the course, with possible referral to OSCCR. My presumption is that you are honest. But as Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”

Special accommodations

If you have physical, psychiatric or learning disabilities that may require accommodations for this course, please meet with me after class or during conference hours to discuss what adaptations might be helpful to you. The Disability Resource Center, 20 Dodge Hall (x2675), can provide you with information and assistance. The university requires that you provide documentation of your disability to the DRC.

Assignments, deadlines and grades

Your most important ongoing assignment this semester will be your blog, which will count for 40 percent of your grade. You will be expected to post twice a week (more is encouraged), with posts consisting of approximately 300 to 350 words. Some of the topics will be assigned, but you’ll be on your own for many of them. You will be asked to develop a beat, which could be anything from Northeastern sports to the wide world of gossip sites.

You will also post many of your other assignments to your blog.

Here are your assignments for this semester and when they will be due. Your class-participation grade will include, among other things, a presentation you will make at some point during the semester on a digital media project that you find interesting. Your blog is an ongoing assignment, and I will regularly ask you to post items that you come up with and that I assign.

  • Jan. 30: Twitter coverage (5 percent of your total grade)
  • Feb. 6: Storify project (5 percent of your total grade)
  • Feb. 14: Photo story (5 percent of your total grade)
  • March 2: First-half blog assessment (20 percent)
  • March 2: News video (5 percent)
  • March 20: Final project topic
  • March 20: Google map (5 percent)
  • April 2: NewsTrust (5 percent)
  • April 13: Final project (25 percent)
  • April 17: Second-half blog assessment (20 percent)
  • April 20: Final project video
  • Class participation, including a presentation (5 percent)
  • Finals week: Revision and completion of final project

Semester schedule and online reading

There are a lot of moving parts in this class. When we have an opportunity to hear from a guest speaker or go on a field trip, we are going to take advantage of that. Thus, please treat this schedule and reading list as a rough guide. In particular, additional reading will be assigned so that you’ll have background on guests from whom we’ll be hearing. Our reading and class discussions will be geared toward two goals: technical proficiency; and, equally important, a sense of where journalism may be headed at a cultural moment of great uncertainty.

Week 1: Jan. 10 and 12

Introduction and setting up your blogs: What will the future of news look like?

Week 2: Jan. 17 and 19

Fine-tuning your blogs.

Week 3: Jan. 24 and 26

Social networking as a reporter’s tool: How journalists can use Twitter to enhance their reporting and break news.

Your Twitter assignment will be due on Monday, Jan. 30, at 9 a.m.

Week 4: Jan. 31 and Feb. 2

Using Storify to make sense of social media.

Your Storify assignment will be due on Monday, Feb. 6, at 9 a.m.

Week 5: Feb. 7 and 9

Photography as a social-networking tool: Shooting and editing a slide show and posting it on Flickr.

Your photo assignment will be due at Monday, Feb. 13, at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 14, before class.

Week 6: Feb. 14 and 16

Shooting, editing and sharing Web video: Doing it is simple, but doing it well is hard.

  • “Journalism 2.0,” Chapter 9 and Chapter 10
  • “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency,” Part 12Part 13 and Part 14
  • Nicholas Kristof’s page at Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning op-ed columnist for the New York Times, is a leading multimedia journalist. No, he doesn’t do it all by himself. But when you look over his page, you will see that he not only writes columns, but he also maintains a blog, produces video journalism and interacts with his audience.

Week 7: Feb. 21 and 23

Web video, continued. We will go over the basics of editing with iMovie ’09 in class. There is also an excellent but expensive book called “iMovie ’09 and iDVD: The Missing Manual,” by David Pogue and Aaron Miller. If you don’t mind spending the money, I recommend it pretty highly.

Also, Mindy McAdams, one of my favorite multimedia instructors, has posted an excellent two-part guide called “Basic iMovie ’09 Tutorial” and “More iMovie ’09 Tips.” Both are PDF files. They are short enough to print out — you may want to do that and bring them to class.

This online guide to iMovie ’09 is quite good as well. It’s very detailed and seems to cover just about everything.

Week 8: Feb. 28 and March 1

Web video, continued. My aim is for everyone’s videos to be complete and uploaded to YouTube by the end of class on Thursday, March 1, and posted to your blogs no later than the end of Friday, March 2, before we all leave for spring break.

  • “Old Ethics and New Media,” by Dan Kennedy. Media Nation, July 8-15, 2008. Please read them from the bottom up, (I) through (VI). And with the first one, especially, be sure to read the comments.

Please note that the last blog post that I will consider for your mid-term assessment must be up by Friday, March 2, at midnight.

Spring break: March 5-9

Week 9: March 13 and 15

Points of entry: Using maps to present the news visually — and to let the readers choose their own starting place.

You must write a blog post outlining what your final project will be by Tuesday, March 20.

Your Google map assignment will be due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, March 20. We will complete the assignment in class.

Week 10: March 20 and 22

Crowdsourcing: Where professional and citizen journalists intersect. Plus, comments and the care and feeding of your community.

Week 11: March 27 and 29

Tapping into the local — and global — conversations: How journalists can participate, curate and aggregate “the former audience.”

Your NewsTrust assignment will be due on Monday, April 2, at 9 a.m.

Week 12: April 3 and 5

Working on our final projects. Field trip TBA.

Week 13: April 10 and 12

Create your own job: The journalist as entrepreneur.

Your final project will be due on Friday, April 14, at midnight.

Week 14: April 17

Wrap-up. At this point you will have received an email on the status of your final project and what steps you should take to revise and improve it.

The last blog post that can be included in your assessment must be posted by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17.

The video for your final project will be due on Friday, April 20, at midnight.

Finals week

Revisions of your final project, including plotting it on a Google map.