How to design a capstone project for digital journalism majors

A capstone project for digital journalism majors can take the form of a multiplatform investigative story, coupled with a content strategy which involves using digital tools for topic research, data collection and content promotion.

A capstone project is a multifaceted assignment that serves as a culminating academic and intellectual experience for students. For a semester-long project, a digital journalism student, along with his or her instructor, can consider following this 4-step guideline:

Step 1: Topic research

Student proposes one or more topics for instructor approval. The proposed topics should be newsworthy or noteworthy; in other words, there should be demonstrated interest in this topic. To that end, student needs to conduct keyword researches and cite web metrics data to support the proposed topic(s).

For this step, student needs to demonstrate (a) understanding of news values and (b) expertise in using Google keyword tools such as Keyword Planner and Google Trends.

Step 2: Multiplatform content production

With an approved topic, student produces a variety of contents: article, video, audio slideshow, photo gallery, data visualization, interactive map.

For this step, students needs to demonstrate expertise in:

  • news reporting and writing
  • audio and video production
  • photography and photo editing
  • audio slideshow production
  • use of digital tools such as Tableau (data visualization) and Google Maps (interactive map)

If the curriculum includes required courses in web programming, student may also need to demonstrate expertise in javascript/jQuery and/or other programming languages.

Step 3: Content presentation

Once created, the contents need to be optimized for web and digital delivery. Student needs to format the texts for easy online reading, implement search engine optimization, upload contents to appropriate web venues, create a blog, and pool all the pieces into a digital story package.

For this step, student needs to demonstrate expertise in:

  • writing for the web: how to format texts that facilitate online reading
  • search engine optimization (SEO): how to identify a group of keywords that help search engines find the contents; how to strategically embed keywords in texts; how to write meta texts
  • digital delivery: how to set up and tweak WordPress; how to upload contents to online services such as YouTube, Dropbox, Flickr, Soundcloud, etc.

Step 4: Content promotion

Student needs to prepare a detailed plan for how to promote his or her story; with instructor approval, student carries out some elements in the plan and documents the results. The promotion plan may include social media promotion, building back linking, engaging social media influencers, online press release, etc.

For this step, student needs to demonstrate expertise in:

  • social media marketing: it is not about how to set up a Twitter account or Facebook page, it is the strategy behind such social media accounts
  • using web metrics tools: student needs to set up a Google Analytics account and incorporate relevant traffic reports in content promotion
  • public relation: how to write and distribute a press release

If you are a digital journalism instructor or student, I’d like to hear your comments on how to improve this capstone project.

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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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