Teaching journalism skills in the digital age

Knight supports The Poynter Institute’s NewsU to enhance journalists’ digital skills. Here Vicki Krueger, its director of Interactive Learning, highlights some of its accomplishments. Above: Ellyn Angelotti, faculty, Digital Trends and Social Media; and Howard Finberg, director of Training Partnerships, Alliances and Founding Director of Poynter News University. Photo Credit: Jim Stem.

With more than 275 training modules and users in more than 200 countries, Poynter News University has achieved a global impact that wasn’t anticipated when the e-learning site launched in 2005. NewsU has become the world’s largest e-learning site devoted to journalism skills training.

Thanks to support from Knight Foundation, Poynter was an early adopter of e-learning. NewsU has stayed at the forefront of online training as education moves into the era of Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) movement, including such projects as Coursera. NewsU, with more than 225,000 registered users is a leader in innovative e-learning.

“NewsU is an anchor for professional development in a turbulent training environment,” said Dr. Karen Brown Dunlap, president of The Poynter Institute. “It serves individuals and organizations, practicing journalists and the future of journalism by reaching educators and students. It also serves the public in ways we never imagined. It helps citizens better understand the purposes and practices of journalism and it teaches the skills of journalism to communicators globally.”

In addition to core writing, editing and reporting courses, hallmarks of Poynter’s training, NewsU has been at the forefront of teaching journalism skills in the digital age, including mobile apps, Twitter, Facebook, SEO and more. In November, NewsU will conclude a Webinar series on social media skills.

Other recent curriculum initiatives include entrepreneurship, news literacy and media leadership, including these self-directed courses:

  • Becoming an Entrepreneurial Journalist: From Idea to Implementation
  • Understanding Audiences and Their Behavior
  • Journalism Fundamentals: Craft & Values

In the coming year, NewsU will develop courses that focus on training in the state-of-the-art digital tools that newspapers need to multiply their productivity and impact. This is part of a partnership among Poynter, Knight Foundation and The American Press Institute

Partnerships with journalism organizations are essential to NewsU. To date, NewsU has worked with more than 50 training organizations to develop curriculum. International partners, including the International Center for Journalists, Internews and the European Journalism Centre, have supported the work of training in multiple languages, including Russian and Persian.

For newsrooms, independent journalists and others interested in the craft and values of journalism, NewsU has developed certificate programs. These allow individual users to demonstrate their proficiency of the journalism industry’s essential skills and best practices. Newsrooms and other organizations are using certificates as part of their in-house training programs. A new partnership with the American Copy Editors Society will lead to the development of courses in 2013 for a Poynter-ACES certificate in editing.

By leveraging the e-learning platform and technology, NewsU also has built theses resources for educators:

  • Introduction to Journalism [J101]: A 16-week online course taught in partnership with a college or university.
  • Digital course packs: A package of NewsU training courses combined with assessments for students, and an Instructor Dashboard that allows educators to monitor students’ progress.
  • Syllabus Exchange: Designed to let educators easily upload and download syllabi, assignments and other teaching materials in the fields of journalism, mass communication and electronic media.
  • Language Primer: A course that focuses on the fundamentals of grammar, punctuation and word use with practice drills and feedback. Students may take the “final exams” for each section to see how much they have learned.

The ultimate question, however, is whether the training is effective. According to recent surveys, 75 percent of those who responded said that half to all of the course content was useful, and 63 percent said that the course helped them get better at their job or class work. Seventy-two percent would recommend NewsU to a colleague or a friend, and 79 percent are likely or extremely likely to take another course.

Beyond those numbers, we still are amazed at the passion among our users.

Deborah Stever of the Deposit Courier in New York, grand prize winner of the 2012 NewsU Stories campaign, said this about the training she received: “Thanks to the instruction available at Poynter, we have raised the bar for news reporting in our small town corner of the news world and continue to be a viable outlet for information for our community.”

For more information about NewsU, go to

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