How to teach multimedia journalism? An analysis of 30 syllabi

The common components in a typical multimedia journalism course are blog, video, audio, audio slideshow, social media, photography, data visualization, and web writing. This is what I found in a study of 30 syllabi of multimedia journalism courses.

How I collected the 30 syllabi in this study

Extensive web searches were conducted to locate syllabi in multimedia journalism education. The keywords used include “digital journalism,” “multimedia journalism,” “multiplatform journalism,” “online journalism,” “digital storytelling,” “multimedia storytelling,” “across platform,” etc.; the word “syllabus” was added to each keyword phrase.

A total of 65 syllabi were retrieved as a result of the initial keyword searches; these are all courses taught at a higher education institution in U.S. I then carefully read each syllabus to decide if it has clearly identifiable topics, course objectives or assignments – these are indicators of what is being taught in that course. The data set was thus narrowed down to 30 syllabi.

Common components and topics in the 30 syllabi

In a previous post analyzing the map of multimedia journalism programs, I said that multimedia journalism courses come in a large variety of course titles. Interestingly, upon a closer look of the components and topics in the 30 syllabi, there seems to be a fairly consistent pattern how multimedia journalism is being taught in the classroom.

I’m listing out the common components, in descending order of the frequency with which they appear in the syllabi.

  • Blog: this seems to be a universal component in all 30 syllabi, and WordPress is the top choice. The two typical uses of a blog are (a) students blog about a topic of their choice, or (b) students post their assignments (audio, video, photo, etc).
  • Video: usually, this is not about vigorous television news production; it is more about shooting interviews and b-rolls, then editing the footage into a video story. The editing software is usually Final Cut Pro; other software programs include Adobe Premiere, iMovie, Movie Maker.
  • Audio: record sound and interview using digital audio recorder, and edit an audio piece using Audacity.
  • Audio slideshow: put together a slideshow of photos with narration and/or music, the common tool is Soundslides.
  • Social media: use of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr, LinkedIn, blog, etc. Such social media tools are mostly used at the “introductory” level: for instance, students set up Twitter accounts and get to know how it works: following instructor, following each other, following a journalist, etc. Only one or two courses specifically touch upon how social media can be used as reporting tools: finding source and topic, engaging audience, content curation (Storify), etc.
  • Photography: shooting photos and editing using Photoshop; some instructors include sessions on guidelines for taking good photos; in general, photojournalism is not being emphasized.
  • Data visualization: this includes infographics, interactive Google maps, timeline
  • Writing for the web: as text is a typical part of a multimedia story package, some instructors emphasize the unique guidelines on writing for the web.
  • Web design: use Dreamweaver to create web pages; basic knowledge of HTML, CSS, content management system, and, in a few courses, Javascript.
  • Flash: create a Flash-based multimedia project
  • Web analytics: Search Engine Optimization

Additional observations and thoughts

It should be noted that the list above provides a composite picture of the components in the 30 syllabi – no one course contains all the components on the list. Some programs have several multimedia journalism courses; for instance, the journalism program at Rowan University has Online Journalism I and Online Journalism II. That said, if I need to nail down the truly most common components that appear in almost every syllabus, they are blog, video and audio.

Some miscellaneous components include mobile news gathering (on smartphone), live video/audio streaming, geo-tagging, cloud (dropbox), etc. Some instructors require students practice sharing photos online (Flickr, Pinterest) or on mobile devices (Instagram). Some instructors require student put together a web portfolio showing their works, or use social media and other web tools to create a personalized web “brand” or presence.

An interesting observation is that some instructors don’t have much clue how to teach a multimedia journalism course, which is obvious in some of the 35 syllabi that I excluded from this study. Some instructors structure the course with heavy lecture components, focusing on the history, impact and discussion of Internet and social media, with a lot of reading assignments; whereas some other instructors may spend a lot of time honing students’ writing skills. One instructor even includes a section on DVD creation.

Another observation is that there’s not much “journalism” in a multimedia journalism course. Only one or two instructors include in their syllabi basic journalistic know-how such as news values, news interview, news writing and reporting, photojournalism, etc.

This seems to substantiate my comments in a previous post that a “fully integrated” multimedia journalism program should, among other requirements, require all students to take two courses: news reporting and writing, and multimedia journalism. For instance, the journalism program at the University of Denver (check out their degree requirements) designates these two courses as core courses for journalism majors, and “news writing and reporting” is a prerequisite for multimedia journalism.

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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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