JUSNews is a student run online publication focussing on local journalism. The students at the University of Sheffield learn real-world skills about the changing landscape of news and media. For the past year their site has been built on Newscoop technology, providing a digital platform to run their news site. I spoke with Hadrian Cawthorne, IT Manager at the Department of Journalism Studies about how the students benefit from the experience.
What is your position at the University of Sheffield? What is your background? And how are you involved in JUSNews.net?
I'm IT Manager in the Department of Journalism Studies at the University. So, I manage the IT and media resources for the department, including setting up web servers and websites for students to use. My area of expertise is in web building and multimedia creation and I'm involved in teaching this.
How did you discover Newscoop and why did you decide to use it as the platform for JUSNews.net?
I discovered Newscoop by chance. We had been using Wordpress for a few years and were getting frustrated by its lack of editorial tools and workflow. I remembered a CMS called Campsite from when I was doing my initial research into CMSs, and the fact that the install process was too technical for me at the time - I wondered if it had been developed further since. I researched it and found that it had been, and was now Newscoop. Just from looking at the Sourcefabric website, I knew Newscoop was the one! It had all the right editorial tools.
Where did the background initiative come from to get this project started?
The JUSNews.net project involves postgraduate (MA) students on the 1 year MA Web, Broadcast, Print (newspaper) and Magazine courses.
The project actually started in 2007 when the department felt the need for a more converged approach to teaching practical journalism, mirroring what was happening in the industry. For example, how print journalists work on websites and produce videos. We centred this around students on all MA courses learning how to produce audio, video and audio slideshows and working on a website. We've developed year-on-year to what we have now.
Back in 2007, I evaluated lots of open source CMSs for news websites and decided to use Joomla! At the end of that academic year, we found that this wasn't good for a news website and over the years we have used Drupal, Wordpress and for the last year or so Newscoop.
Who is responsible for running the online newspaper?
The website is largely run by our students with their course leaders (all ex-journalists) acting as editors. They work on it on Mondays from February to May and then we have a full week of production. "Production Week", which usually coincides with either local or parliamentary elections.
What stories do the students cover and how involved are they in shaping the content for the publication?
The stories are usually local, focusing on Sheffield but also including other towns within our county of South Yorkshire. The students are given roles each week (e.g Editor, Sub editor, Picture editor, Social Media editor, Reporters) and from that they are responsible for gathering the stories, writing, choosing pictures and editorialising the homepage. They're also encouraged to work cross media whenever possible.
Week by week we have the MA Web students looking after the website, while the Broadcast students produce TV and radio bulletins. Print and magazine students from time to time join in and contribute to the website.
In "Production week" the students typically produce on the website, hourly radio bulletins over 4 days, 8 TV bulletins (2 a day), 2-3 newspapers and a magazine. We have a web first policy so all students are expected to contribute to the website.
As far as "mobile" goes, we encourage students to experiment, but it's quite difficult because sometimes the students lack the right devices, or the apps and services are just so varied it's difficult to agree on a system. We use Twitter a lot to get updates and pictures from journalists in the field and many of the students are using their own smartphones to take pictures, record video and audio. It's definitely something we need to build on as a journalistic tool, especially as every year we see students with better smartphones than we have!
How has the project helped students learn about journalism? What sorts of jobs are they planning to apply for after training at University of Sheffield?
I think the project helps the students enormously. They gain broad and valuable skills in many areas which are sought after in the UK industry - from working on a website, writing for the web, choosing images, producing video and multimedia. But above all they gain an insight into what it's like to work in a real newsroom with breaking stories, deadlines and to work as part of a multi disciplined team.
Most of our past MA students get jobs in journalism. To quote our website:
"Graduates from our applied MA courses have secured jobs in newsrooms around the UK and abroad, in newspapers, radio and television, and on magazines and websites. Our broadcast journalists have gone on to work for Sky News, BBC World Service, BBC World, Guardian Online, the Times, BBC local radio, independent radio, ITV Yorkshire, ITV Borders, the ITV News Trainee Scheme, BBC Watchdog, Russia Today, and Hunan TV in China, among others."
What are some key issues teachers of journalism are focussed on currently?
One aspect I focus on is technology and how it relates to journalistic skills. I always try to get students to embrace and use technology, emphasising the point that there are no right or wrong tools to use, they are just ways to help you be a journalist. The tools might change, but the underlying skills, for example researching, analysing and sorting remains the same.
Do you feel Newscoop is a platform that works well for educational purposes and if so why?
Newscoop works well for us in the educational environment as it focusses on the team as well as the structure of the website: Students using the system can be given roles (and these can be rotated by us). They can see issues/sections/articles - it seems to give them a sense of knowing what they are doing and how that fits in with the site.