Published on Webdiary - Founded and Inspired by Margo Kingston (/cms)

Media Students & Webdiary?

By Fiona Martin
Created 29/07/2008 - 08:25

Dear Webdiarists,

Not so long ago Jay Rosen, the US citizen journalism guru, spoke to the MEAA's Future of Journalism [1] conference in Sydney about the great migration journalists would have to make to the online world if they wanted to remain relevant to users of their work. I'm one of those immigrants - and I have a proposition for you.

At the start of the year I was asked to write an Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at Sydney University. The Media department [2]thought I'd be up for the job because despite being a long-time broadcaster (community radio and ABC) and print journo (briefly), I'd been teaching convergent journalism at Southern Cross University for 4 years, experimenting with convergent publishing [3]. I'd also been doing a PhD on the ABC's transition to web publishing.*

I went to consult with a range of industry stakeholders - online editors, convergent journalists and producers, managers and trainers - and realised that there's little consensus about how people should learn online journalism skills, or what they should learn. Then I thought about how I learned about the internet back in the early 1990s: through joining communities and networks, user groups and email lists, asking questions, talking tech, and trying out stuff. Apart from being flamed, crashing my computer and working all night to unreasonable deadlines it's been a thoroughly wonderful process.

Which brings me to my proposition. Margo and I have been talking since the Byron Writer's festival [4] last year about getting students involved in Webdiary - in writing, commenting and site building/maintenance. But as I said to her, this can only happen if the Webdiary community is willing to embrace it. I know the word student conjures different images for people, not all of them complimentary.

Masters students are different. They're focused on developing effective professional skills. They have life experience. Often they can spell. And while they would be writing here for assessment, they will also be expected to become part of Webdiary - to correspond with you, to help out, to debate where to and how to. To think deeply about what's going on in our political and social life and how it might be imagined differently.

They could post stories by themselves, as individual Webdiarists, but I'd like them to have a different experience of online publishing - to experience together what it means to have an ongoing conversation with "the public" and how this might change journalists' work, their aims and their attitudes. To understand what it means to design for community and to be accountable for your reporting and publishing decisions. This is what Margo's been on about for years and I think it's critical that it become part of journalism education.

At the least I'd expect them to register to comment, to post news stories and news commentaries of a high standard and to offer comment on other people's stories. They'd also be expected to critically analyse how the community works and, where they have time, to take on tasks that the management team thinks they're up to.

I expect you'll want to ask questions of me and them about this - so fire away. They don't start class until late July and wouldn't be posting until late August, so I can only contact them by email, but I will direct them to this post and suggest they keep tabs on what you want to say. I hope this will be the start of a long-term, productive and exciting relationship - and I also hope that out of it will come some interesting research on participatory and deliberative democracy. But that's another, more personal story - one step at a time.


Fiona Martin

* And I've been rowing my tinny back and forth over the digital divide since the early nineties when I hooked up with geekgirl Rosie Cross [5] to make programs for Radio National's "Coming Out Show" about women online, and made sound works with cyberfeminists VNS Matrix. [6] But that was pre-web. Another world.

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