Rather than exploring the history of journalism and challenges to existing models of news production, this class will consider the news as an engineering challenge. How do we discover what events are taking place in different parts of the world? How do we explain the importance of these events to readers or viewers? What can readers of a story do to respond to events? We'll explore the systems journalists and others have used to report and share the news, but we'll focus on developing our own tools and methods to address these challenges.
The first nine weeks of class feature weekly assignments. Completing each assignment requires authoring a news story. That story can be textual, graphical, audio, video, interactive or any combination of these methods. At least one story must be long-form text (800-1500 words); at least one story must use a medium other than text. Creating new tools or methods to solve these weekly reporting challenges is encouraged, but not mandatory. It is mandatory for the final assignment: based on the previous week's assignments, or based on an interesting unsolved reporting problem, you will be designing and testing a novel reporting tool or technique. You must report a story using this tool/technique, and at least one classmate must report using your tool as well (reciprocity is expected and encouraged.)
Classes are structured as follows:
- 80 minutes of discussion, focused on the assigned reading
- 10 minute break
- 80 minutes discussion/critique of previous week's assignment
- 10 minute discussion of upcoming assignment
Grades are calculated as follows:
- 25% class participation
- 50% performance on weekly assignments
- 25% final project
Weekly assignments are designed to be completed within the week or fortnight they were assigned. Extensions will be granted only in the case of illness, unavoidable travel and alien abduction (pics or it didn't happen.) Text-based assignments should be between 800-1500 words. At least one assignment must be completed in a primarily non-text format. This could include an audio or audiovisual story (aim for 5 minute pieces), a photo essay, a simulation or game. At least one assignment must be completed using text or hypertext as the primary medium. Final projects must be presented to the whole class, explaining the novelty and utility of the tools or techniques, along with the stories reported using the tools. You are strongly encouraged, though not required, to share your reporting on a personal blog, class blog or through any number of syndication and sharing methods.
Assignment, due February 15:
Maintain a media diary, tracking all media you encounter in the course of a week, where it originated, whether it was news or entertainment media. Present your diary, preferably in a way that offers summary and analysis of patterns you've discovered from keeping it.
Reading for February 15:
Assignment, due February 22: The four hour challenge - Pick a story, preferably a local event, and produce a story, start to finish, within four contiguous hours. That includes the event: a lecture starting at 7pm equals a story filed by 11pm at the latest. Major props for doing this assignment in a non-text based medium.
Reading for February 22:
Clay Shirky's 2009 Shorenstein Center lecture
Stories on Bell, CA including:
Assignment, due February 29:
You will be randomly assigned another student in the class. Your job is to thoroughly research your subject in preparation for a maximum 30 minute interview. Your research and interview will be the basis for a profile of the subject. Interview assignments are non-reciprocal.
Reading for February 29:
Assignment, due March 14:Choose a text that makes truth claims - a political speech, a position paper from an advocacy group, a corporate press release - and write a story that evaluates truth claims contained within and the rhetorical techniques employed. (Potter's analysis of propaganda techniques may be helpful here.)
Reading for March 7, 14:
Assignment, due March 21: The data story - Use publicly available data to report a story. This could include analysis of a city budget, lobbying information, or building permit data. Collecting your own data set via crowd sourcing is perfectly valid, but we'll be brainstorming promising data sets before taking on the assignment.
Reading for March 21:
Assignment, due April 4: The explainer - pick a brief article from a newspaper, blog or other source that serves as an update in the arc of a longer story (Airstrikes continue in Pakistan; Fed raises interest rates.). Write a companion story that provides essential background information that makes the previous story understandable to a very broad audience (I.e., non-expert, international). Remember, hypertext is your friend.
Reading for April 4:
Assignment, due April 11:
Reporting as curation - tell a story you can't report on in person by curating online sources: twitter feeds, blog posts, Flickr photos, YouTube videos. The bulk of the story should be "actualities" - the words of people affected by the situation, not your analysis.
Reading for April 11:
Assignment, due April 18:
Near and far - report a story that has both local and global aspects. This could be a local story that exemplifies a larger trend (a foreclosure in Cambridge that helps explain a national mortgage crisis) or a local connection to a global story (reactions from the local Russian community to election protests in Moscow.) One way of creating a local connection is to connect an issue to concrete actions a reader can undertake.
Reading for April 18:
Assignment, due May 2:
Present the design for your final project, your reporting tool, system or technique.
Reading for May 2:
Assignment, due May 9: Continuing work on the final project
Reading for May 9:
"Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable", Clay Shirky more TBD
Assignment for May 16: Continuing work on the final project
reading for May 16:
"Audience Atomization Overcome: Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press", Jay Rosen
"The Structure of Foreign News", Johan Galtung and Mari Ruge
Assignment for May 23: Complete and prepare to present your tool, and two pieces of reporting (yours, and someone else's) using the new tool.
No reading for May 23
Questions? Please contact ethanz AT mit DOT edu