Reinventing the News: The Journalism of the Web

Syllabus and Online Reading List

JRNL 5340

Fall 2013
Tuesdays and Fridays, 8 to 9:40 a.m.

Skip to the week-by-week schedule.

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 and Thursdays from 2 to 3 p.m., Thursdays from 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 do journalism of a sort.

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 are no required textbooks for this course. We will consult a number of free, online resources for the skills-based components of this class. Especially useful is Mindy McAdams’ “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency” (pdf), and I have included several chapters in your reading. We will also read materials that I assign — some of which are already listed on the syllabus, some of which will be posted as the semester progresses — in order to discuss the cultural, technological and financial challenges that journalism faces.

Every journalist needs to read a major metropolitan daily newspaper. Two of the best — The New York Times and The Guardian — also are doing some pretty innovative things with their websites. 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.

There are many excellent websites and blogs devoted to the future of journalism, and some of them are listed on this site. Of all of them, the one essential site is the Nieman Journalism Lab. I expect you to read everything on it and to be prepared to talk about it in class. Especially important is “This Week in Review,” which is posted every Friday.

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 Digg Reader. Don’t worry if you’re not technically adept. We’ll talk about it in class and show you how to do it.

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.

Here is a list of cameras and their compatibility with Apple iMovie ’11, 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. Even though the camera is a few years old, I find that it takes better picture than my iPhone 4.

If you are willing to spend more, the talk of the point-and-shoot camera world right now is the Sony RX100. It sells for $650, and you can learn more about it by reading David Pogue’s review in the New York Times. If you are serious about photography but do not wish to become a professional photographer, you might want to give it some consideration.

A stable camera makes for much better video. I strongly recommend a portable tripod. The one I have for my point-and-shoot Canon cost less than $20. There are various models of inexpensive tripods for iPhones that I urge you to check out now, in the weeks before we begin shooting video.

I’m very happy with iMovie ’11. 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, Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Express (or Pro), you may bring it to class and use that instead.

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. I will always begin classes on time, usually with a brief in-the-news topic.

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.

  • Sept. 23: Twitter coverage (5 percent of your total grade)
  • Oct. 7: Photo story (5 percent of your total grade)
  • Oct. 25: First-half blog assessment (20 percent)
  • Oct. 25: News video (5 percent)
  • Oct. 31: Final project topic
  • Nov. 5: Google map (5 percent)
  • Nov. 18: Data visualization (5 percent)
  • Nov. 26: Final project story and photos (your final project, including story, photos, video and several smaller tasks, will count for 25 percent of your grade)
  • Dec. 4: Second-half blog assessment (20 percent)
  • Dec. 6: Final project video
  • Class participation, including a presentation (10 percent)
  • Finals week: Revision and completion of final project

Course evaluations

The College of Arts, Media and Design has asked that the following language be included in each syllabus:

CAMD considers student feedback essential and requires all students to complete TRACE evaluations at the end of the semester. You will be asked to provide a screen shot to your instructor that reflects your participation. Note that you can, anonymously, opt out of completing the survey and still obtain the screen shot that satisfies the TRACE requirement.

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: Sept. 6

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

Week 2: Sept. 10 and 13

Fine-tuning your blogs.

Week 3: Sept. 17 and 20

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, Sept. 23, at 9 a.m.

Week 4: Sept. 24 and 27

Photography as a social-networking tool: Shooting and editing a slide show and posting it to your blog.

Over the weekend, please spend some time practicing your photography. Be prepared to come to class on Tuesday, Oct. 1, with five photos that you have taken. Make them people-oriented — people playing frisbee, running, walking their dogs, eating, whatever. I want us to be able to edit them in class, so be sure you can move your photos from your camera to a computer. We will spend some time on editing and talking about how to make them better.

Week 5: Oct. 1 and 4

Photography, continued.

Your photo assignment will be due on Monday, Oct. 7, at 9 a.m. We will critique them in class on Tuesday.

Week 6: Oct. 8 and 11

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

Week 7: Oct. 15 and 18

Web video, continued. We will go over the basics of editing with iMovie ’11 in class. There is also an excellent but expensive book called “iMovie ’11 and iDVD: The Missing Manual,” by David Pogue and Aaron Miller. If you don’t mind spending the money, I recommend it pretty highly. Here are some other resources:

Week 8: Oct. 22 and 25

Web video, continued. My aim is for everyone’s videos to be complete and uploaded to YouTube by the end of class on Tuesday, Oct. 22, and posted to your blogs no later than the end of Friday, Oct. 25.

  • “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, Oct. 25, at midnight.

Week 9: Oct. 29 and Nov. 1

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 Thursday, Oct. 31, at 9 a.m.

Your Google map assignment will be due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, Nov. 5. We will complete the assignment in class.

Week 10: Nov. 5 and 8

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

Week 11: Nov. 12 and 15

Data visualization: Helping our audience understand public information. Empowering our audience to help us understand public information.

  • Introduction, “The Data Journalism Handbook,” edited by Jonathan Gray, Liliana Bounegru and Lucy Chambers. Please read the five brief chapters listed under the Introduction: “What Is Data Journalism?,” “Why Journalists Should Use Data,” “Why Is Data Journalism Important?,” “Some Favorite Examples” and “Data Journalism in Perspective.”

Your data visualization assignment will be due on Monday, Nov. 18, at 9 a.m.

Week 12: Nov. 19 and 22

Topic to come. Recognizing that some of you may have had trouble with your data viz assignment, I expect we’ll do some clean-up work in class. We’ll talk about progress on final projects as well.

Week 13: Nov. 26

Create your own job: The journalist as entrepreneur.

Your final project will be due on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at midnight.

Week 14: Dec. 3

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 Wednesday, Dec. 4

The video for your final project will be due on Friday, Dec. 6, at midnight.

Finals week

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