JRN 821: Social Media News and Information

Spring, 2016
Mondays, 12:40-3:30pm
ComArts Room 177 Instructor: Rick Wash
Office Hours: Monday 11:00-12:40, or Email me for an appointment
Website: compjourn.cas.msu.edu

Class Description

This class is both about the future of journalism and about computing technology. With a large majority of Americans using at least one, and often more than one, computing device on a daily basis, computers have fundamentally changed the way we produce and consume journalism. From speeding up the news cycle to changing the way news is delivered to publicly and globally commenting on news stories, consumers have used computing technology to change their relationship with the news. And at the same time reporters and journalists have found equally valuable uses for computers, from improved workflow to better sources to analyzing big data.

This class is about all of these changes. In this class, we will explore and discuss how technology has evolved, and how the field of journalism has (in the past) and can (in the future) use that technology to improve. In addition to examining large-scale changes in journalism, there will be a lot of discussion about ways that we can use these technologies to improve our everyday work as journalists.

Learning Goals

The main goal of this class is to be able to think about innovations in modern technologies are reshaping the field of journalism. More specifically, students will

  • Understand how a number of different technologies that are important to the field of journalism work;
  • Identify what important effects these technologies have had on the way journalism is practiced today; and
  • Be able to understand how upcoming technologies can and will shape journalism.

This course will prepare students for a lifetime of rapid technological change and the necessary adaptions for the field of journalism.

Course Structure

This class will have a weekly cycle. Each week begins at the middle of class on Monday, proceeds through independent work through the rest of the week and the weekend, and ends with a discussion in the first half of next Monday's class. Each week will have a topic, such as "crowdsourcing" or "news consumption." The structure of the week will be:

  • In the second half of class on Monday, the professor will lecture about some technology related to the weekly topic. This lecture will help everyone understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology, and provide valuable background.
  • Readings will be assigned, mostly related to the technology. Note these should be read after the lecture on the topic; they will make more sense at this point, and will expand your knowledge of the technology, or start to shape your understanding of its influence.
  • Each student will be expected to write a 300-500 word essay about the week's topic. In general, the essay should:
    • Choose an example of how the topic for the week is being used in the practice of journalism. For example, for the funding journalism week, you may pick Spot.Us or the recent NYTimes paywall. Post a comment on the weekly topic so others can choose different examples.
    • Describe the example: what is it? how does it work?
    • Form an opinion, and argue for that opinion. Why is this example interesting to journalists? Is this a positive development?
  • This essay will then be posted to the class website, due by Friday at 5pm. On Friday at 5pm, discussants will be assigned to all essays.
  • Between Friday at 5pm and the beginning of class (Monday at 5pm), you will need to read the essay you have been assigned to discuss. You will present this essay to the class, and then discuss your opinion of it. What is the example? What is the author's opinion; is it interesting? Do you think it is interesting? Why or why not?
  • During the first half of class on Monday, we will have a class discussion about the impact of these technologies on the practice of journalism. We will begin by going through all of the examples the students in the class found, and then proceed to more general discussion.

Assignments and Grading

There is 1 assignment per week, for a total of 13 assignments in this class. You get one free pass; one week you can choose to not do the essay or be a discussant. When you choose to use your free pass, please email me to let me know you are using it. That leaves 12 weekly assignments that you have to do. The grades from the weekly assignments will comprise 50% of your final grade, so work hard on these essays. Half of this grade will be the essays, and half of the grade will be your work as a discussant for your fellow students' essays.

There will be a final project -- a vision of the future of journalism -- worth 40% of your grade. For this project, you will need to write a proposal (10%), a final paper (15%) and do an in-class presentation (15%).

The final 10% will be general class participation.

All assignments will be graded on a checkmark system. A checkmark is the normal / expected grade, and roughly corresponds to a 3.5. Work that shows insight and significantly contributes to class discussions will be given a check plus (roughly a 4.0). Work below expectations will be given a check minus (roughly 3.0). Extreme cases such as assignments not turned in or a significant deviation from the instructions will be given a failing grade (0.0). Assignments are not graded on a curve; if everyone shows great insight, then everyone can receive a check plus.

This is very much a discussion class, and most of your grade is determined by how much you think about and engage with the ideas in the class. There are no right answers; you are not being graded on whether you learned the right thing. Instead, you are being graded on your work thinking about and engaging with hard, big picture concepts. Here is (roughly) the grading criteria for class participation:

Criteria for Class Participation Grade
You make original contributions that spark discussion, offering both critical and analytical comments based on thinking about the readings and the course lectures and comments from your colleagues Check Plus
You make useful comments and participate voluntarily; these comments demonstrate familiarity with the course readings and lectures, and/or react to comments from other students Check
You make limited comments, mostly only when prompted to do so, and do not initiate debate or show an understanding of the readings or the lectures Check Minus
You rarely make comments or contributions to the discussion, are occasionally absent and/or unprepared, and are disruptive to class discussions Fail

The chart below summarizes the grading in this course:

Assignment Part Percentage
Weekly Essay Essay 25%
Discussant 25%
Final Project Proposal 10%
Paper 15%
Presentation 15%
Class Participation 10%

This class is an interactive class. You will learn as much from other students as you do from the professor. And you will have the opportunity to direct the class discussion to focus on issues and topics that you are interested in. Most of what you will learn from this class will come from the interactive class discussions; please show up for all of the classes and participate actively. While I donʼt take attendance, this is a small discussion-oriented class so if you are absent you will be missed.


Expectations: I expect all students to be familiar with the documents related to this class on the class website, and to be aware of all assignments and responsibilities. This website will be constantly updated during the semester. Students are also responsible for knowing all announcements in class and over email.

Assignments: Weekly assignments can be submitted to the class website. Weekly assignments will be considered missing if not turned in by the due date (usually Friday at 5pm). Papers related to the final projects will be deducted one letter grade for each day late; in other words turn in your assignment on time. Papers can be submitted via email to the professor. Of course, if negotiated in advance, reasonable exceptions will be granted by the professor.

Academic Dishonesty: Michigan State University and the School of Journalism both have policies about academic dishonesty. Basically, make sure that everything you turn in with your name on it is your own work, and don't cheat or lie. If it feels like cheating, it probably is; if you are unsure please ask. Students caught cheating or plagiarizing will receive a 0 for the assignment and be reported to the university. Working together with other students in this class and other classes, however, is encouraged. Just make sure that everything you turn in with your name on it is original work of yours (or your group's). Be sure that all group members check over all group assignments; everyone in a group is responsible for the work of the group.

Accommodations for Disabilities: If you have a documented disability from the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities and wish to discuss academic accommodations, please contact the professor by the end of the second week of class.

Religious Holidays: You may make up course work missed to observe a major religious holiday only if you make arrangements in advance with the instructor.

Required Activity: To make up course work missed to participate in a university-sanctioned event, you must provide the instructor with adequate advance notice and written authorization from a university administrator.

Other: If something else comes up and you need special considerations, please feel free to contact me.