Wednesday, April 01, 2009

MA in podcasts and Facebook - what’s the problem?

News reported in The Telegraph that Birmingham City University is to offer a one year Masters in Social Media is likely to produce polarised responses.

You can see it now. From the traditional guardians of journalism practice, a splutter and harumph in their morning Earl Grey, accompanied by a curled lip “MA in Podcasts and Facebook!”

Journalism isn’t what is used to be. And if you recall [Newsnight's] Jeremy Paxman’s salvo on media courses some moons ago, it most certainly isn’t what is used to be. But could Birmingham be onto a thing or two?

One of its most popular academics Paul Bradshaw has certainly proved there is currency to be gained from examining journalism in this mash-up culture.

And it’s obvious from anyone who understands the dynamics of launching and validating a university course there would have been a fair few meetings and thought put to creating the course.

So what’s behind this? For the answer I’d have to get in touch with Jon Hickman, the course convener, according to the Telegraph [an email is on its way]; I have already emailed Paul Bradshaw to find out more.

Broader Issues
But lets look at some broader issues.

There’s no denying Twitter and indeed Facebook have proved useful, if not must-have social accessories for the digital native.

Only a couple of days ago, videojournalism expert Michael Rosenblum proved its worth by advertising for a presenter for a new show only to be inundated within hours.

And during the Mumbai terrorism attacks Twitter became the ticker wire service.

Most students you can almost assume already have a Facebook account, even if they don’t have a blog, and as for twitter, Facebook’s new interface is all but a Twitter in name.

Critics might argue that beyond the common use of @,# and Rt in Tweet speak where’s the beef?

Friends Reunited
Perhaps that while you might have 500 friends and above on Facebook would you know how to mash it with google map? Do you care? Or how would you muster a tweet swarm?

Last month in Miami, Wemedia, a gathering of innovating web 2.0 plus folks they did just that coming second in Twitter’s rankings, much to the delight of organisers.

Whilst sheer finger power might do posting endlessly to your Twit, behind many of the social apps lies an increasingly sophisticated use which requires some understanding of APIs [Application Programme Interfaces] and code.

That much journalism educators have come to know from watching Adrian Holovaty weave his code magic on his Million dollar Knight Foundation funded Everyblock, though I doubt from the telegraph’s article [ still need to speak to Jon Hickman] Birmingham’s going down that road.

Wider journalism debate
The wider debate is whether Journalism should be indulging itself in deconstructing software apps and media?

Until recently a related subject caught steam in the US with academics pondering whether online journalism students needed to learn HTML or how much action scripting they needed to know for devising multimedia reports.

JD Lassica a popular blogger, advocate and pioneering social networker was of the opinion the field should be leveled so those practicing journalism spent less time on the back end and more on the front working the stories.

To an extent that’s almost the case as a raft of blog templates,free Java scripts and templates are now freely available on the web.

Yet somewhere in the mix of new journalism or weburnalism to this generation, gaining an understanding of what new apps can be kneaded together, whilst still retaining the core values of journalism, is becoming a prerequesite.

Question is where does it stop and finish? There are some home truths that if you’re adept at social software, understand your SEO talk and visit your Blog/Twit/Facebook regularly you’re likely to build up a following.

Yes it may even not be journalism per se, but good story telling pulling in an audience. See my boyfriend is a twat that has won a fair few blog awards.

But I take sides with Birmingham’s intent, for in some way as you can see from the work of our students from the International Masters (1), (2), (3) and Masters programme,(1) our journalism department is attempting to inform our students about social networking apps and how they can be used in conjunction with journalism to forge networks.

Birmingham City’s message, reported in The Telegraph, however hints at something lost in translation; that journalism has become a techno ecosystem, which I don’t believe it has.

I imagine a fair number of academics, journalists, social bloggers, entrepreneurs will be watching Birmingham closely.

Postscript: Just before posting this I went on to Paul Bradshaw’s site to discover his own post on their soon-to-be-launched course. After reading it, frankly I was inclined to rewrite the above piece. Paul links through to the MA Social Media programme which says:

This MA programme will explore the techniques of social media, consider the development and direction of social media as a creative industry, and will contribute new research and knowledge to the field.

The course appears to be broader than the Telegraph’s reportage.

Now I am categorically not implying any wrong doing; I’m not to know, but I thought as a way of illustrating to my students about the need to consult widely and contact the subjects when quoting from a reported piece, leaving the post as it is turns it into an example of zoo writing: a piece about a piece illustrating what can happen following up a story.

David Dunkley Gyimah lectures in Online journalism and is one of the Directors of the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC), which provides accreditation and guidelines for University and College courses in Broadcast Journalism. The opinions expressed here are his own.