Online training in digital journalism: The dichotomy between academia and industry approaches

For people seeking web-based training in digital storytelling skills, they will find that online journalism courses offered by colleges are long and may have “unwanted stuffs,” and online training offered by for-profit training organizations are short, focused and more up-to-date.

When preparing for my summer project – a free, online, open digital skills training program, I conducted some web searches to find out how other institutions are doing online courses in digital or multimedia journalism.

Very few universities offer online courses in digital or multimedia journalism

In my examination of more than 500 communication and journalism programs in U.S., I didn’t find any program, at undergraduate level, that offers online program or courses in digital or multimedia journalism. The only fully online program I found is a master’s program offered by University of South Florida, called Digital Journalism & Design (DJD) and started in fall 2012. The DJD curriculum includes 12 courses:

  • Multimedia Reporting
  • Digital Media Technology
  • Photojournalism
  • Web Publishing
  • Social Media
  • Digital Media and Democracy
  • Digital Video Production
  • Digital Audio Production
  • Digital Media Ethics and Law
  • Visual Communication Design and Theory
  • Entrepreneurial Journalism
  • Final Project

Industry training is more focused and more up-to-date

Some training organizations, such as Poynter and, offer in-person as well as online training in digital skills. When we look at their training formats and topics, two characteristics become clear:

  • The courses are short. The in-person courses are usually one day or one evening; the online courses are usually one or two hours in length.
  • The topics are up-to-date. The course topics are usually subjects of latest development in the industry and journalism practices.

Check the two screen shots below for the training courses offered by Poynter and as of this writing:

Degree program courses don’t suit needs of non-degree-seeking people

Online courses offered by colleges are usually structured as a semester-long course with much more depth and details. While this meets the requirements of a degree-granting program, it may not work best for people who seek specific skills training on the web – there may be some “unneeded stuffs” in a degree program course if it were to be offered online.

When I examine syllabus for the face-to-face “Writing for the Web” class I taught before, it seems that much of the introduction, theory and lecture is not essential, if the specific task is to optimize texts for online reading. Moreover, during that course, we had very detailed discussions on how to optimize individual sentences and words for the web; however, in my own blog writings, I myself have not been paying enough attention to optimizing individual words or sentences.

That said, there still are a set of basic guidelines that I follow for almost every blog post I write, such as the ones I summarized in a blog post titled “5 tips and one special workflow for effective web writing.”

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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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