Jane Singer | University of Iowa & University of Central Lancashire
This class is primarily devoted to creating journalistic Web sites. But along the way, we take a lot of time to examine, discuss and think about what online news sites – particularly those produced by mainstream media organizations but also including blogs, wikis and other "digital native" formats – are doing well and not so well.
Starting in about the sixth week of the semester, students begin regularly visiting one large site of their choice – one for which they ultimately would like to work. As they learn in class about online page design, story structure, navigation, multimedia and interactive attributes, and other elements of digital journalism, they look at "their" site and think about how it is handling these demands. Every so often, I review their notes and, if necessary, make suggestions about other things they might pay attention to.
During the last week of the semester, students make appointments for mock job interviews with the editor of their selected site, a role I have a great deal of fun playing. (I always fantasized about what it would be like to be Jann Wenner!) To prepare for this interview, they must craft a cover letter describing what they have observed about the site in the context of what they know about good online journalism. They then come to my office for a half-hour interview in which they have an opportunity to articulate these ideas and to expand on them in response to my in-character questions.
I like this assignment for a variety of reasons. One, it encourages the students to see how media companies are applying the same principles and ideas they are learning about (and learning how to apply themselves) in class. Two, it gives them experience in an interview situation – many dress up, and sometimes they are actually nervous, even though at that point, we have been working closely together for 15 weeks in the classroom! And three, it gives them an idea of what it takes to be a successful job candidate: Success requires doing your homework about the company you want to work for and thinking seriously about how to cogently present your own skills as a good fit for a potential employer.
This is a very low-tech assignment that takes no particular effort to set up and is fun to do, as well as valuable in several ways. The fall 2006 version of the assignment is on the following page. Enjoy!