Monday, December 20, 2010

Digital journalism center takes hold in Guadalajara with new leadership

Una versión en español se encuentra aquí.

On a Saturday in December, the 15th class to pass through the Digital Journalism Center in Guadalajara, Mexico, had its recognition ceremony. It was also my last day directing the program begun in 2008 by the University of Guadalajara and International Center for Journalists.

Participants in the last class came from Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and various parts of Mexico. 
Each participant in the Public Service Journalism course had spent five weeks studying online.  The best were invited to Guadalajara to begin work on a final project. For example:

  • Elizabeth Estevez, agricultural reporter for El Diario in Bolivia, is planning a multimedia report on the shortage of wheat production in her country.
  • Luis Daniel Palmillas, a radio and print reporter in Rio Bravo, Mexico, on the U.S. border, is working on a website that would allow citizens to lodge complaints about city services, track the response and hold officials accountable.
  • Carlos Andrés Valencia Masso, who lost his father in the armed conflict in Colombia, has plans to expand his web-based reporting on movements of peaceful resistance to violence.
In Guadalajara the participants received hands-on technical training in use of video, audio, mapping, marketing and other techniques of online publishing. I was impressed with their commitment to serving their communities.

Journalists from 22 countries participated

Over two years, the Center, a project of the Knight International Journalism Fellowship program, offered 15 online training courses in Spanish to some 430 journalists from 22 countries as well as in-person technical training to 279 of the best performers.

My job was to get the Center started and turn it over to the University, which is now in the process of selecting a successor. For 2011, the five courses on the calendar include "Writing for the Web," "New Financial Models for Journalism" and "Digital Tools for Public Service Journalism."

Innovative course: entrepreneurial journalism

The Financial Models course mentioned above is really about entrepreneurial journalism. I taught journalists how to run a publishing business online. They had to propose a media project, create a marketing plan, business plan and then a prototype.

They learned concepts that are foreign to journalists who work in traditional media, such as sales, branding, customers and profits.

The course attracted a lot of attention. I gave it three times online and was invited to give a seminar version of two or three days in Chile, Colombia, Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico.

Webmaster Luis Fernando Gonzalez Fernandez and administrator Norma Lilia Cerda Martinez, both employees of the University, are keeping things running until the new director is announced.

My wife, Cindy, and I headed back to the States for the holidays and prepared for the next chapter in our wandering life, which will probably continue somewhere in Latin America.

Designing courses for professionals

When I arrived in Guadalajara, the University already had an established distance-learning program but there were no online courses in journalism.  I worked with Carmen Coronado, one of the University´s experts in designing courses for virtual platforms, to prepare courses for the Center.  She helped me understand how to create engaging activities and lead discussions in the online environment.

Experienced professionals need a different kind of learning environment than college students.  We made every participant´s work visible to every other participant, and they had to comment on each other´s work.  This kind of feedback from peers was at least as important to participants as my comments.

In all, I designed six courses in Spanish for the Center and taught them online. I  invited experts in digital technologies to teach the in-person courses.

In the process of participating in the course forums, I learned a lot of colloquial Spanish.  Each country has its own version of newsroom slang. But journalists are pretty much the same anywhere in the world: irreverent, smart, funny, committed and passionate about their work. I love hanging out with them, even when it´s just online.

Sustainability: Online master´s degree in digital journalism

Manuel Moreno Castañeda, rector of distance learning at the University of Guadalajara, urged me to create an academic team in the second year of the program to assure sustainability.

We invited professors to participate in the courses, and a team of a half-dozen academics also helped design a master´s degree in digital journalism.  This master´s, which has a heavy emphasis on participants creating their own digital media, will be one of the few online programs in digital journalism in the Spanish-speaking world. (Descriptions of the proposed courses are here.)

Safe practices for journalists covering violence

Mexico has become one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism because of the linked interests of druglords and corrupt public officials.  Reporters and media outlets that reveal corruption put themselves at risk.

As a response, the Digital Journalism Center, with grants totaling $55,000 from the U.S. Embassy, created an online course on "Safe practices for journalists" for 95 Mexican journalists and then held three in-person seminars.

Jorge Luis Sierra (left), an editor with decades of experience covering border issues, designed the course. Another Mexican journalist, Darío Dávila (second from left), who reports for several international publications, gave the course online.

Both of them participated in the in-person training attended by journalists like Claudia Beltrán, reporter for the daily Noroeste (next to me at the recognition ceremony).

Participants in the courses created all the content for a website that contains tactics and strategies that journalists can use to reduce the risks of the profession while still providing useful information to their communities. They also created another website with current information about the risks journalists face.

After hearing the stories from course participants about the daily threats and dangers they confront, I was particularly gratified that we were able to offer them some help. 

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