Blogging should be required of all journalism students to develop in-depth beat knowledge

Blogging is the best way for journalism students to develop in-depth knowledge in a particular area. Blogging should be structured as a required component of journalism curriculum. Students can try this content strategy for their blogs – anchor project and related posts.

A marketable skill set of journalism students needs to include journalism training, digital skills and in-depth subject (beat) knowledge. In comparison with news and digital trainings, beat knowledge is much harder to come by, yet highly desired by media employers. If done right, a blog can best demonstrate a student’s beat expertise to potential employers.

Employers seek beat knowledge and blogging skills when hiring

In an interview about CNN’s hiring practice, the managing editor of CNN’s digital operations says coding and multimedia skills are becoming more common among new hires, but that specialized knowledge is getting hard to find. The managing editor said, “the resumes that show specialized interest and experience in a beat or topic are increasingly rare and precious — health, foreign affairs, science, education, religion, to name a few.”

Some journalism programs have had such requirements in their curricula. For instance, the journalism program at University of Texas at Austin requires students to choose from traditional beat reporting courses in areas such as cops, courts, city hall, schools and state government.

In comparison with topic-based courses, blogging can give students more – knowledge,  exposure and the blogging skill itself. In a twitter conversation with me (@mututemple), Chicago Sun-Times managing editor Craig Newman (@craignewman) shared his expectations for a new hire, and blogging is one of the desired skills:

Content strategy: Anchor project and related posts

To get started, a student can choose a subject or topic that is of interest to him or her, build some “anchor projects,” and write a series of related posts. This approach has proved functional in growing my blog ( and, more importantly, my “beat knowledge” of digital journalism.

In February 2012, I had the idea to blog about digital journalism – how to teach and how to learn. The “anchor project” I chose is a database of digital journalism degree programs in United States, in the form of an interactive Google map.

While compiling this database, I started writing a series of articles analyzing these programs and digital journalism education in general. My writing soon branched out to include data journalism, mobile news reporting, audio slideshow production, etc.

Below is the anchor project (an interactive map), as well as the series of related blog posts:

View Digital or Multimedia Journalism Degree Programs (with dedicated courses in digital journalism) in U.S. in a larger map

A year later, the results are encouraging. As I said in “About this blog,” the anchor project page of digital journalism programs in U.S and other key posts routinely rank high in various Google searches. The standalone Google map has also received about 8,000 views. Monthly traffic to this blog grew from single-digit to more than 4,000 page views, and is still trending up as of this writing.

The real benefit of blogging, however, goes far beyond traffic numbers. Blogging has made me a confident digital journalism instructor and a useful resource to other people – I have developed, and will continue to develop, a good knowledge in the area of digital journalism education and various digital practices.

Blogging should be structured into journalism curriculum

Blogging should go beyond a one-off assignment in a writing or production course to become a structured (required) component of a journalism curriculum.

Similar to a student declaring major after two years in college, a journalism student should be asked to choose a blog subject after one or two semesters of study. It can be structured as a one-credit seminar that students need to take every semester starting in their junior year.

Many journalism programs have dedicated faculty members supervising student internship, which is usually a required course. In a similar vein, a dedicated faculty member can advise student blogging: helping with choosing topics/projects, monitoring progress, providing tech support, coaching for SEO and web writing, etc.

One obstacle to having a blogging component in curriculum could be that the supervising faculty member needs to know how to blog and how to grow a blog. It’s a challenging job being a journalism instructor these days – such digital skills are usually new and not part of the existing skill set of many faculty members.

Related posts:

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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