Tag Archives: MA Online Journalism

Studying the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University (yes, this is the short version)

Two weeks ago I handed in my final project for the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University. The course took one year and was quite different from what I had expected, for various reasons – but in a positive way.  Taking this course was the best decision I could have made. I’ve probably never learnt so much in one year. Moreover, it wasn’t just an additional qualification, but lead me in a direction I wouldn’t want to miss anymore. But more about that later.

First of all here’s some details about the course and the School of Media at BCU, for everyone who’s interested in the program. There’s quite a lot to say about this intense year, I’ll try to sum some things up:

 

The course structure

The course consists of two modules each in the first two terms and a final project in the end. I started in September 2011 (starting in February is also possible, as well as distance and part time learning). In each of the two taught terms you’ve got an Online Journalism module and another course (Enterprise + Production Lab). All of those modules are very practical and based on independent study and work. If you’re expecting to sit in the lectures, listen and write an exam about that in the end, you’re wrong. The lectures are the basis and it’s up to you what you make out of it.

In each course you’re working on projects, but there’s one huge difference from what I had experienced until then: What’s most important is what you learn from working on those projects, that you explore the area, try new things out and learn through all of those experiences – failure is fine (something that was hard for me to accept in the beginning – but it made total sense).

I really liked that approach, which was implemented by every lecturer. It makes you rather try new things, as you know you won’t only be marked on the final piece, but also on the whole way on which you got there, your efforts, your approach, what you’ve learnt, how you’ve developed your skills etc. – absolutely new to me, but something that I really appreciated. 

 

The workload

When I had a first look at my schedule, I thought they must have made a mistake. Two lectures a week was not really what I had expected, I was a little bit disappointed and signed up for more lectures from other programs. Well, I dropped them all. Those two are indeed more than enough to keep you busy. An important part of this course is independent study where you build up on the stuff you’ve learnt in the lectures. 

I didn’t expect this year to be an easy going studying/holiday – mix, but it was still much more work than I would have thought. So if you’re planning to take this course, be prepared to work some extra hours – it’s all worth it though.

 

The course leader

I have to admit that I didn’t really know much about my award leader Paul Bradshaw before I came to Birmingham. It turned out that I couldn’t have had a better one.

Paul’s knowledge in this area seems to be endless, I didn’t want to miss a single lecture as each of them was highly interesting, helpful and informative, so were the resources Paul offers with the lectures.

However, Paul isn’t a only a lecturer for the one day a week you get together, he’s doing that 24/7 – that’s at least how it seems. He’s regularly forwarding emails about projects you can get involved in, upcoming events, conferences, as well as job offers etc. Paul’s also highly supportive, I always knew I could get back to him whenever I had questions or issues arised. Moreover, he’s coming up with a lot of ideas on what you could work on, try, improve etc. 

What I appreciated a lot was that Paul is really interested in the development of each student: Instead of “just” teaching, he’s giving you advice, pushing you to try new things & find the area you want to specialize in and supports you to develop your skills there. He’s giving feedback apart from assignments and is always looking out for anything that could help you regarding your professional development. This was just an amazing support that had a great influence on what I got out of this course.

 

BCU School of Media

I loved the whole atmosphere here. Everyone’s very helpful and open for questions even if you’re not on their course. I always knew that I could contact other award leaders if I had any questions that they might be able to help me with – which is not self-evident. I really appreciated that.  Diane Kemp and Caroline Officer for example helped me a lot when it came to videography questions (permissions in the UK etc.). Dave Harte gave a fab social media skills course in the first term and Annette Naudin supported me a lot with a video project I was working on for BCU.

In general I never had the feeling of me being the “tiny student” compared to the lecturers. I was rather used to the “almighty” prof, standing in front of the students, sharing his knowledge to them. Sure, the lecturers on my course also shared their knowledge, but it’s a different way of doing so,  much more a mixture of workshop and conversation.

Apart from that, the way you communicate here was just a whole new level for me – after some time it became normal, but at the start I couldn’t believe that students and lecturers were communicating on Twitter – with course own hashtags or the possibility to ask questions (Dave Harte truly is the word record holder in replying tweets). Moreover you can keep track on what lecturers and fellow students are up to. Twitter is an essential tool in the department and I loved that. That’s one  of the things other unis could learn from (as well as the above mentioned focus on the student’s development)

 

Birmingham

I didn’t have a very good impressions of Birmingham before I came here, the images I saw on the internet weren’t really promising. However, what ever you see or hear: Explore it yourself and you’ll see that Birmingham is a really cool place. I really like the city, especially the coffee shops and the area around the canals.

Moreover Birmingham offers so many possibilities linked to the course. There’s a huge hyperlocal blogging as well as social media scene and a lot of interesting meetings are taking place there, like the monthly Birmingham Social Media Café.

 

The UK

For everyone from abroad: It’s in general great to study online journalism in the UK. In my opinion the media scene is much more developed in this area than in other countries, amongst them Germany.

 

And finally my very personal review (the short version):

I expected to learn how to work online as a journalist, I saw it as an additional qualification that would enhance my skills in a changing media landscape, which I found very interesting. However, I would have never imagined that I would learn so much on this course, neither did I think that my professional development would be influenced that much by it. When I started this course I had just finished my VJ-trainee at a TV station. I already loved the internet and spend quite some time with it, however didn’t have a clue about online journalism, I didn’t even know much about Twitter ( I remember when Paul sent me a dm on Twitter and ask me why I kept my tweets private. I had no idea what he was talking about…)

One year later, Twitter and other tools are a normal part of my daily routine, I’m excited about all the possibilities given in working as a journalist online (not only regarding video) and I couldn’t imagine to go back to where I was before I started the course. It wasn’t just an additional qualification. If I compare my skills, interests and ambitions before I took the course, there’s a huge difference – the course has clearly changed my whole professional development and I’m even more in love with this job than I’ve already been before.

There’s so much more to say about this course, but one thing I’ve learnt is that people are not really willing to read long texts online… So I’d better stop and if anyone should ever want to know more details, please get in touch.

Just a final statement:  

Without hesitating I can say that I would take this course again and can recommend it to anyone. If you want know how to work online as a journalist, this is in my opinion the course to choose.

 

And here are some tips for new students on the course: 

 

Don’t plan to become an expert on everything.

There’s so much stuff you are learning on this MA, but don’t expect to get out and be able to rock every single discipline. That’s just not possible. Think about which area interests you most and you want to specialize and work in later. Surely don’t ignore the other areas, but don’t plan to become a community managing data journalism expert, who’s creating online videos including fab motion graphics and knows all about SEO.

 

Network!

One of the main lessons I’ve learnt on this course: To value the power of networking. Get in touch with people, go to events, chat about your projects and keep in touch, e.g. via Twitter. You’ll see how import and helpful a network is for projects, jobs etc. – and also help you to learn more about each certain area of interest.

 

Blog!

Set up a blog and publish posts about your work, research and area of interest. Get in touch with others in the field, interview them or/and try to get some conversations going on your blog.

 

Be curious, ask questions and try new stuff.

Don’t just sit and listen, ask questions if you want to know more or something’s not clear. Explore the field, put as much time in your own professional development as you can and also:

 

Don’t be afraid to fail.

It’s more important to learn from experience than to produce a fab piece. If you’re already great at producing podcasts, it doesn’t make sense to do exactly this because you hope to get a good mark from it (you probably won’t as this is not all that counts). You’re doing that course because you want to learn more, so try new stuff, build up on your skills and don’t stop because you are afraid to fail. This will get you much further than sticking to things you already know or just going the safe ways.

 

Make the most out of this course!

 

 

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Communities of Practice – Critical Evaluation

This post is the critical evaluation for my first assignment in the module “Multimedia”, which is part of my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University.

I mainly focussed on the research of online video journalism.

Online video

As I have a background in TV journalism, I especially wanted to explore the difference of online video, as well as to do more research about producing journalistic videos itself. I’ve learned a lot through this research and I will now definitely approach videos differently than I would have done or did before. I’ve already reflected my learning outcomes in earlier blogposts (Storytelling & Online/TV) and I already implemented some of them in a short video I shot for the Birmingham Mail (see later paragraph).

I’ve also explored the combination of video with maps, tweets etc. via Mozilla’s “Popcorn Maker”, a tool I will definitely explore further, as I think it offers great possibilities for video journalism, as you can add additional value to your video.

Blogging about (online) video journalism was a great thing to start. Most of the posts were published on this new website, which I started on February 29th. At the time of writing I’ve got 834 views, which is quite a lot for me and a number that I didn’t expect. Neither did I expect that amount of comments (22), as well as people I’m referencing to comment on my posts (Michael Rosenblum, Adam Westbrook). Their and the comments of others are very helpful for my learning progress, no matter if it’s tips, disagreement, opinions or an discussion coming up, like in this post. This was very interesting for me and I hope to get more of that feedback in future posts.

Audio

I recorded a podcast about the importance of audio in video: I knew that the audio had to be of good quality and that it’s in general a quite important part of a video. But I didn’t take it as much into consideration as I should have done. After being sent out by my lecturer to shoot videos, but focus on the audio, and by reading some accordant statements online, I realised that I didn’t pay enough attention to the sound. I will do now.

Recording this podcast showed me that I need to be more structured in future ones. I repeated myself too many times and I guess that made it not very comfortable to follow. However, I liked the possibility on Soundcloud to include written comments in the track. I used this function to include links – e.g. when I talked about a video, I placed the comment at the same timecode, so no one had to write down the link or grab it somewhere else, but could simply click on it. I think that’s a nice combination of media and I would definitely use that again. You could link to accordant tweets, maps you created, other audio pieces etc.

Audio Slideshows

I’ve never done an audio slideshow before and I will actually shoot/record my first one today. However, I realised that this is a really great way to tell a story and that I definitely want to learn how to produce them. I did some research and recorded an interview to get to know more about it and I’m excited to produce my very first audio slideshow. Apart from that, I’m sure that this experience will also help me in terms of videography. Both audio slideshows and videos need good images and audio. Producing audio slideshows will hopefully help me improve my photography and therefore also influence my videography skills. And focussing on audio to an extend as you do in audio slideshows will help me improve the way I’m working with audio in video.

Photography

I’m also trying to improve my photography skills, first of all because it’s fun, but also because I think it can then improve my videography skills at the same time. Moreover I’m more and more looking into technical aspects and terms, which I haven’t done before. I try to get to know my own camera better and experiment as much as possible (all of this both in photography and videography), however I need to put much more time into this.

This week was the first time for me to shoot with a tele lens that I rented for a concert. This was a very good practise and made me once more realise that I will need to upgrade my kit, as my standard lens is limiting me too much, both in photography and videography. Moreover I’m more and more bent on the certain details of the picture. I’m nearly constantly paying attention to composition, light, colour etc., whatever and wherever I take pictures. When I did that at the concert, I probably deleted 25 pictures, although you could see the artist – but I still didn’t like the result because of composition, colour, focus or the like. However, I’m still in the early stages of photography and need to read more tutorials, practise more and look at the work of other photographers.

Work experience at the Birmingham Mail

This March I’m spending two days a week at the Birmingham Mail for an internship in their multimedia team. It’s the first time for me to work for the online edition of a newspaper. I’ve also never worked as a VJ for an online medium. So that’s definitely an interesting experience. The Birmingham Mail works with one video journalist, who produces pieces for their website. The videos are mostly not longer than about two minutes. Paul Bradley, who’s in charge of the multimedia team at the Birmingham Mail, told me that their audience would prefer shorter videos. Moreover they should be in the style of a news show, it’s not about storytelling, it’s about telling the main facts, but also about the video adding a value to the text it mostly comes with.

I’m not only shooting videos at the Birmingham Mail, but also getting some experience in community management. We’ll try to engage the audience to send in their own videos and pictures as well as getting as much general feedback as possible with the videos we post on Facebook or the website. My first task for this was to shoot some vox pops with people pointing out why their mum is the best one (because of the mother’s day coming up on Sunday). The aim was not only to have a nice video, but also to motivate others to send in their statements on video or to post it in the comments. 

And once more I realised how different online is from TV. Of course, a video like that could have also been broadcasted in a television program. But that would have been it. Sent and gone. If someone would call the TV station and tell them: “Oh, I saw that video and I wanted to say: I love my Mum, too!” – no one would be interested in it. In the case of putting it online, that’s exactly what you want (apart from offering a nice video for your audience). It’s not done with publishing it. Especially online you want and hopefully get feedback. Maybe also negative comments on the video you produced. Maybe someone tells you that you got something wrong. Or has got more information. And that’s a great achievement and one of the advantages of online journalism.

Although it were “just” vox pops, I also changed a few things in my approach. Normally I would have told the people not to look into the camera (see my earlier post) – this time I told them to do so. Which was a good decision. I’m still not sure if it works in every case (I have to try it for different statements or watch videos where they did the same). But it worked great for the vox pops: a bunch of people explaining why there mum is the best – why shouldn’t they look at those guys they tell it to?

I also wrote in an earlier post that I was aware of the fact that the first picture needs to be a good one and I also mentioned the 10-seconds-rule. The very first statement I shot for the vox pops was the best one – but I wanted to put it at the end, in order for the video to finish with a very nice and funny statement, that the audience may keep in mind. I often did that earlier, I guess: I didn’t want to use my best pictures at the beginning – a good one, of course, but keeping the best ones rather for the middle or even the end. Which is rubbish. I surely would have to re-edit a lot of reports I’ve produced.

Thinking about what I’ve learned I realised that I need to put that great statement right at the beginning. I still think that it’s important to have a nice ending and a nice mixture. But when I watched the edited video I was sure that this was the best place for that statement to be. It was the funniest and nicest one and will hopefully grab the viewer’s attention and get him to go on watching the video.

Forums, groups, pages, comments

I searched for forums, Facebook groups/pages, mailing lists etc. However, I focussed on the things that were posted to learn more about this area. I didn’t comment as much as I wanted to, as the topics were often advanced and I couldn’t really help out with tips. In terms of posting feedback on stories I was also quite reserved as I thought that most of the people that posted them probably got more experience than me. Still, searching for those forums, pages and groups made me start dealing with those communities of practise – something that I haven’t done before. Now I’m planning to upload future work pieces on pages like findingtheframe to get some feedback. Moreover I will go on watching the work of others to learn from it, join forums or groups to be updated about news in my field and try to make new contacts. I will also take the chance to ask questions in groups, forums and on blogs, of which I’m following quite a few. I enlarged the amount of people in that area that I’m following on TwitterI’m also following the “Carnival of Journalism”, a group of journalists blogging about a certain topic every month (everyone posts his contribution on his blog, one is doing a round-up of them). I published one post about “What’s the role of online video in the newsroom of the future?”. Unfortunately since then there hasn’t been a topic for which I would have had enough experience to contribute, but following the group posts is a great resource to learn.

Getting in touch with those communities of practice also confirmed me to go on shooting with my DSLR and maybe even stick to that in the future, as I found out that quite a lot of VJs are working with them, and there are a few very interesting websites that deal with that topic (e.g. Dan Chung’s blog)

I surely can say that I’ve never looked into the subject (speaking of video journalism in general) that deeply, intensive and continuously as I do now.

Proposal for assignment 2

For my second assignment, I want to – surprise – shoot a video, which will be published online and tell the story of Ian, a Big Issue seller in Birmingham. As Ian has already been selling the magazine for some time, I’d also like to include someone who just started and someone who ended this job due to getting another one, getting a step further.

It is aimed to highlight how the Big Issue helps people, how others react to them, what they can achieve etc., all of this with a personal approach, by telling a personal story instead of speaking about numbers or statistics.

I also want to include maps, moreover I will start teaching myself to work with Apple’s Motion and try to implement my skills in this video, as well as everything I’ve learned regarding online video journalism.

More details regarding this project will be worked out over the next few weeks.

Please also see

http://www.delicious.com/franzibaehrle/research          

for my research

http://www.delicious.com/franzibaehrle/produced      

for produced pieces

http://tinyurl.com/franzisreader           

for websites I’m following via Google Reader

http://www.delicious.com/franzibaehrle/blogged            

for all of my blog posts

http://www.delicious.com/franzibaehrle/comment    

for the comments I’ve posted
http://www.delicious.com/franzibaehrle/groups     

for the groups/forums etc. I’ve joined


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