Next Gen J-School

Mizzou Takes Mobile-First Training Approach

Over the last couple of years, the University of Missouri’s journalism school has upped efforts to wrap a mobile, or digital, first approach into the curriculum. “We are going at it hard because we think it’s an emerging model,” says Judd Slivka, an assistant professor of convergence journalism. “It’s causing us to rethink how we do things.” Diana Marszalek explains how it works.  
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Taylor Beck landed a pretty sweet gig as a producer for WAVE, the NBC affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky, even before graduating from the University of Missouri’s journalism school in May.

Beck had multiple jobs offers, but says she chose working at WAVE because its newsroom thinks mobile first, just like her alma mater taught her to do. “I didn’t want to work at a place that put digital on the backburner. That’s a recipe for disaster,” Beck says.

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That is exactly what the folks at Mizzou, as the school is more affectionately known, are hoping to hear more of, as over the last couple of years they upped their effort to wrap a mobile, or digital, first approach into their curriculum.

“We are going at it hard because we think it’s an emerging model,” says Judd Slivka, an assistant professor of convergence journalism. “It’s causing us to rethink how we do things.”

Although Missouri faculty started incorporating using mobile devices for newsgathering, as well as creating content for the platform, into their courses and labs at least five years ago, adopting the approach has really gained steam in the last year or so, says Lynda Kraxberger, the school’s associate dean for undergraduate studies and chair of convergence journalism faculty. 

During that time, the school launched its first course devoted to using a specific mobile device – the iPad – exclusively for newsgathering and production content delivery, from beginning to end.

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Slivka, who teaches that course, says the idea was born when he scrapped the DSLR and video cameras he used to use in teaching multimedia production in favor of iPads, on which students produce everything from broadcast-quality news stories and video packages to slide slows and voiceovers.

Beyond the basics of doing so, Slivka teaches students to perfect and embellish their productions using particular apps, so the content is compelling. Favorites include Filmic Pro for videography; Pinnacle Studio for video editing; ThingLink for interactive graphics, Snapseed for photo editing and Type A for adding context to Tweets.

Slivka says selecting the best apps – and learning to maximize them – to some degree has been a process of trial and error, as the journalism school is forging new ground here.

“It’s not that we’re making it up as we go along, but the field is so new and there are so few models that we’re in a constant cycle of discovery and testing to see how it works,” says Slivka, who has tested “well over 350 apps to see how they work for getting news back in a fast and engaging way.” Most of them don’t make the cut, he says.

The school’s news outlets, which are essentially working labs, have also implemented mobile or digital first (different professors prefer different terms) approaches to newsgathering and distribution.

Take, for instance, the way things now work at KOMU, the school-owned NBC affiliate.

Annie Hammock, an assistant professor as well as KOMU’s interactive director, says adopting a digital-first approach in her newsroom means two things: teaching students to use their mobile devices, primarily smartphones, as primary tools for both newsgathering and distribution and creating a news cycle under which digital content, whether it’s for the Web or mobile, is produced before all else.

Students get it, Hammock says, adding that KOMU staffers now start shooting pictures and tweeting using their iPhones as soon as they arrive at the news scene.

When someone first tweeted that a kidnapping suspect was caught after a big manhunt last month, the students sprang into action as well, she says. They confirmed and posted the story on Facebook within five minutes of learning about it.

Hammock says getting the news on a digital platform was especially important with a story like this one because it was too big to keep under wraps until the next broadcast – but not big enough to warrant breaking into regular programming.

“It’s about not getting beaten digitally,” Hammock says. “That’s a new way of thinking.”

The university’s print media is changing its ways as well, Kraxberger says.

The Columbia Missourian, which dates to 1908, today is a digital newspaper as much as a print one, putting all copy on its online or mobile editions

first, faculty say. Vox magazine, a weekly student-run lifestyle and entertainment publication, produces an iPad edition.

There is no formal mandate or policy driving the initiative, which is growing as more instructors embrace the philosophy behind it, Kraxberger says.

“It’s happening organically,” she says, explaining that the change in approach “is happening in specific classes at the same time the idea is steeping through the Missouri method in newsrooms.”

But it does reflect Missouri’s commitment to identifying early on changes in the industry – this one spans broadcast and print media – and to prepare students to work in it, Kraxberger says.

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