Some journalism schools need to do a better job teaching their students about blog etiquette and copyright law before unleashing them on the blogosphere on a university server.
Over on a blog at UKjournalism.co.uk, the University of Central Lancashire journalism department’s server, someone who I can only presume is a journalism student recently copied and pasted a huge proportion of a story I wrote for Press Gazette, without providing so much as a link.
If this were some anonymous blog hosted on Blogspot, this would be par for the course, and I wouldn’t be complaining. But the blog in question is hosted by a journalism school’s server and presumably authored by someone who is in training to become a media professional. This student presumably has already had at least some training in basic media law.
I would have written this in a private e-mail, but sadly the blog in question provided no details about how to get in touch privately.
In the big scheme of things, this mild annoyance isn’t a big deal — but it’s part of a bigger problem. Guardian tech correspondent and blogger Bobbie Johnson was recently on the receiving end of some rude, ill-informed and unconstructive criticism launched by American journalism students on blogs written as part of a j-school assignment.
That encounter showed that some students fail to distinguish between blogs published in a professional capacity and the sort of semi-private stuff they do everyday on MySpace to communicate with their friends.
Journalism schools need to teach their students that blogs are internet publications like any other. They are public on the internet and can be read by anyone in the world with an internet connection. They are subject to the same media law as any other publication, including libel and fair dealing in copyright.
Moreover, blogs exist as part of the blogosphere, a global subculture with emergent informal social norms and etiquette. Journalists, journalism educators and journalism students need to understand these laws and informal norms before hitting publish.
Just providing a blog and giving insufficient guidance does journalism students no favours. [See clarification below.]
Professional journalists need to demonstrate a greater mastery of these technologies than the average blogger. If journalism students want to mess around on the ‘net, they can always do so on their own time on Blogger or MySpace.
Later: Adam Tinworth responds with a related worry:
[T]he first hurdle I have to get over with teaching journalists to blog is getting over the “online diary/rant” stereotype and getting them to see it as another publishing medium.
There are also some great journo-student bloggers out there. At UCLAN, Nigel (whose last name I don’t know) is my current favourite. He offers some snark in response to this:
The piece puts a good light on the Journalism department as it tells that three graduates from last year have successfully completed their training at the* Sun.*
I take it you’re not looking for a job at News Group then, Nigel?
Update: Andy points out in the comments that my post seems to suggest that UCLAN is not providing sufficient guidance to its blogging students, and that this is unfair.
He’s right: I can’t infer that from one individual’s action and that I therefore withdraw any suggestion that this is the case at UCLAN.
In the abstract, though, I stand by the post: Journalism students are professionals-in-training, and should publish online accordingly and expect to be held to account. UCLAN bore the brunt of this post because the student wasn’t clearly identified on the post in question. Perhaps the quick answer is to demand real-name posting on j-school blogs. Putting your real name out there has an amazing way of focusing the mind of professionalism.