“Digital journalism” should be the name of choice for new journalism programs and courses

Journalism schools are creating new programs and courses that incorporate digital skills; such programs/courses come with a large variety of names. “Digital journalism” is the best name based on a three-part evaluation: popular, self-explanatory and precise.

As I wrote in a blog post surveying titles of new journalism courses, some popular names, among others, are “online journalism,” “multimedia journalism,” “digital journalism,” “multiplatform journalism,” and “convergence journalism.”

In this post, I want to use Google Trends reports and my own observations to argue that in comparison with other names, “digital journalism” is the name that best meets all three criteria.

A program/course name needs to be popular, self-explanatory and precise

When choosing name or title for a new program or new course, J-school administrators and/or instructors need to ask a few questions:

  • Is this a popular name? Are there more people searching for this name than other names?
  • Is this a self-explanatory name? Do we need to explain or “educate” potential students and their parents on what this program/course teaches?
  • Is this a precise name, that it best represents course contents and industry practices?

Based on these criteria, we can see that some names, such as “online journalism,” are popular and self-explanatory, but are not precise; some names, such as “multiplatform journalism,” are precise, but not popular, not self-explanatory.

“Online Journalism” is popular and self-explanatory, but not precise

Google Trends is a tool that “reflects what keywords people are searching for on a daily basis.” Let’s look at the volume of searches for the five above-mentioned names from 2004 to present:

digital journalism

Looking at this graph, one may jump to a conclusion to go with “online journalism,” because it is way more popular than other names, and it is also self-explanatory. However, I say no, for two reasons:

  1. Popularity of “online journalism” has been trending down. Although “online journalism” still leads all other names in terms of search volumes, it is also obvious that this term is not, and will not be, as “hot” as it used to be.
  2. “Online journalism” is not precise enough to account for what is happening in the journalism profession. “Online journalism” is closely associated with desktop web; so if a reporter shoots pictures on a smartphone, edits them into a slideshow on the phone, and shares the slideshow to mobile social media networks such as Instagram, is this “online journalism”?

“Digital journalism” best meets the three evaluation criteria

If we remove “online journalism” from the picture, then the choice is easier to make among the remaining four names – “digital journalism” is more popular than the other three names, and it is also self-explanatory and precise.

digital journalism searches 2

When we study this four-name graph, a quick decision may be to drop “multiplatform journalism” – its search volume is negligible in comparison with searches for other names. Although, for media professionals, “multiplatform journalism” is a very precise term, but most average people don’t have much clue what it means. So, why would a journalism program want to choose a name that few people search for on the web, a name many people don’t understand?

In a similar vein, I compiled a rubric to show that “digital journalism” fares better than the other names:

name rubric

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 (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), 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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6 Responses to “Digital journalism” should be the name of choice for new journalism programs and courses

  1. Good info! We are using technology to the full for our newspaper. All work done sitting at the laptop!
    Thanks! I would like to know about Digital Journalism.

  2. Steve Hill says:

    Great post. I’m surprised you consider multimedia journalism to be ‘precise’. Isn’t all journalism multimedia now?
    Some students think that multimedia journalism is multi-platform journalism (that is equal print, TV, radio and online). Other students assume multimedia = web (i.e. text, audio, video to form a multimedia web page. Quite close to ‘convergence’). At Solent we have a ‘multimedia journalism’ course, but it really is just modern journalism. Multimedia is a messy term and meaningless in this day and age.
    ‘Digital’ is certainly better than multimedia, but the opposite of digital is analog journalism.
    You are right to say that students really don’t know what ‘multi-platform’ or ‘convergence’ journalism is. Anything that needs explaining in a problem for marketing purposes.
    Although, as you say, these are very precise terms (to the point you may exclude discussion about social media etc).
    So, in short, I prefer ‘online journalism’ because this is not just the web and takes into account apps, mobile etc which use the Internet, but not the web. I guess if a course is really about online journalism just call it that. It does what it says on the tin.

    • mulinblog says:

      Thanks for the comments. You are quite right in pointing out the confusion regarding “multimedia journalism.” Indeed, as you said, it may mean “multi-platform” to some people and “multiple medium” to others – the former is relatively new, whereas the latter has been around for a while.

  3. Lal D Rai says:

    These I prefer to qualify the term journalism alternately with either ‘social’ or ‘ market ‘. irrespective of technology that it depends on for production and dissemination of news etc .The criteria for this is the communication effectiveness and media effects. Market journalism interacts with advertising business, while social media with social relationships.

  4. mluqman says:

    We journalists in Pakistan are practising digital journalism in an informal way. I believe that if we go through some digital journalism training, we could do it even in a better way.

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