Photo journalism student Jan Ferrer (photo by Eric Lawson)

Photo journalism student Jan Ferrer (photo by Eric Lawson)

Life isn’t perfect, and neither is the power supply at SFSU. About 20 minutes into my first class at state on “Intro to Online Journalism,” the lights — and computers — went dark. Still the brightness of my students (you saw that coming) made up for the temporary outage.

To test/assess their abilities, I didn’t waste any time with their first in-class assignment: pair off, spend 5 minutes each interviewing one another about their passion and plans for journalism, and then post a mini profile online … in 20 minutes. I gave them no tips, no suggestions, no real guidance on how to do this. I was purposely vague. I told them they’d get points for creativity.

Despite hearing some deep sighs during those 20 minutes, the class, for the most part, delivered.

Although I haven’t closely reviewed all the assignments, several caught my eye for their creativity or execution. Like the classroom’s electrical system, none were perfect, but they did (wait for it) illuminate in my mind the potential of these aspiring journalists.

Here are links to a few; bear in mind they had all of 25 minutes to do this.

By Jan Ferrer (told in 140 characters, more or less)

By Jenn Hernandez

By Eric Lawson

Of course, the really big assignment is the hyper local blog on SFSU we’re attempting this semester. For homework, students will be reading the following articles (and if you have suggestions for other articles on hyper local, please e-mail me or let me know in the comments).

Fast Company: Can anyone tap $100 billion potential of hyper local?

New York Times: Hyper local deliver news without newspapers

Buzz Machine: Newbiznews – hyperlocal

New York Times: A latte with journalism on the side

NYT blog: Wash Post ends hyper local experiment

Also as part of the homework, students need to analyze actual hyper local sites, including this one out of UC Berkeley’s grad school for journalism:


Separately, here is a link to the class syllabus:



It’s one of those headlines that elicits an inner “uh-oh.”

Salon today posted a commentary headlined “Let’s be honest about J-school.” I thought it was going to be a piece that basically took the stance that journalism school wasn’t worth it, especially given the turmoil going on now.

Instead, it took an even approach on the pros and cons of journalism school, undergrad vs. grad, which schools are the best, and other learning options.

Still, the overriding message was that many schools have out-of-date programs, which in turn don’t prepare students for these turbulent and increasingly digital times.

Of course, the piece resonates with me because I’m in the middle of preparing for my first semester of teaching online journalism at SFSU (in addition to doing my job as tech editor at The Chronicle). And the question that keeps me up at night is: How can I make my students battle ready? It’s pretty ugly out there (did you happen to see the photo of the cake in my earlier post?)

My favorite bit from the piece was this:

Do not under any pretext attend journalism school — undergrad or graduate — with the mission of working for a large metro or some other established, old-media publication. While you may be able to get a job at one of those, don’t count on it. Not for a second.

If you had a chance today, would you attend j school? And would your goal be to work for a large metro or some other established pub?

Hold the outrage -- inside joke. Plus, "John" left voluntarily.

A farewell cake from earlier this year (and hold the outrage -- the cake writing is an inside joke. Plus, this editor volunteered for the buyout).

About a week ago, I had the depressing task of collecting company property (laptop, cell, card key) from a reporter of mine — one of four veteran journalists leaving that day as part of the newsroom’s downsizing.

I know I’m not alone in wishing to never see another farewell cake again (in fact, this last group of departees requested there be no cake, no newsroom sendoff, nothing). But there’s no telling what the future holds, although amid all the doom and gloom, there have been some positive signs of hiring (or indications of hiring to come), and one report that forecast a 2.4 percent rebound in revenues for newspapers next year. (Of course, most forecasts didn’t see the economy falling to pieces, but track record aside, we’ll gladly grasp onto any thread of hope at this point.)

So, assuming you would teach journalism (and I’ve heard from some who’ve said they wouldn’t for one reason or another), how would you approach the class? Dump the textbooks and make the students read Mashable, MediaShift and BuzzMachine? Require everyone to have an iPhone 3GS, the most versatile device for online journalism? Or do away with the terms “journalism,” “media” and “news” altogether, as Wired’s Chris Anderson suggests, because, you know, they sound so old fartish compared to tweets, apps and fwops (OK, I made up the last word, or, I thought I did until I found 2 definitions for it on Urban Dictionary, one of which is almost appropriate).

So what say you? Anyone dare to offer up their ideas for teaching journalism for the digital age? All ideas, even from non-journalists, are welcome …

So if you were teaching an online journalism class, and you could require each student to spend roughly $150 to buy a device for capturing some form of multimedia, what device would you have them buy? A small video camera (such as the Flip)? An audio recorder (like the Zoom H2)? A digital point-and-shoot? Something else? For context, the class I’m teaching will cover the basics of multimedia (audio, video, slideshows, interactives), so whatever the students buy will be put to use, but I’m just wondering if there are other considerations. $150, even for working journalists, is nothing to sneeze at. Please place your vote below, and/or use comments to explain your reasoning.

Hello world!

Welcome to The Mouse Is Mightier Than the Sword, a blog focused on my adventures in teaching new media to the next generation of aspiring journalists. This fall will be my first attempt at teaching online journalism at San Francisco State University. This blog will chronicle the goings-on of my class, including my successes, failures and everything inbetween.

If you’re a student of online journalism (technically or figuratively speaking), or an educator in the same boat as me, I hope you’ll find this site useful.

Note: Since class doesn’t begin until the end of August, the posts you’ll see here will focus primarily on my progress in devising (mostly from the ground up) my 16-week, nearly 3-hour-long class.