Activities, assignments and assessment/Journalism students and Wikinews

David Blackall's prerecorded presentation for AAAOpenConf2013

David Blackall overviews a project that asked journalism students at the University of Wollongong to write Wikinews stories. Copy of this video, and an audio version, at

Throughout the teaching sessions of 2011 & 2013, journalism students at the University of Wollongong were assigned tasks of researching & writing Wikinews stories. They were assessed with a system of rolling marks, each submission earning small increments of marks. The final grade determined at the last moment, giving them the best chances for publication, a difficult process, which is immediately awarded with a High Distinction. This process was summed up in our joint paper:

I use my Facebook Timeline to share news from The Week, The Real News Network (TRNN) & Russia Today - news that is otherwise not seen in the mainstream English news. Students access my public posts & thus see new angles & opportunities for otherwise untold stories. I also stimulate thought by way of my own work: films, papers & journalism.

This increases student thinking outside of the main frame, thus increasing their chances in publication across areas where stories are un-reported, or under-reported.

Wikinews must be fresh, it must have two independently verifiable sources & must adhere to strict guidelines, while being reviewed by Wikinews editors.

Such rigorous fact checking in Wikinews, rarely occurs in MSNS, with the exception of publications like The Economist.

The technique employed here is basically achieved by being as provocative as possible, supplying as much alternative, independent, confirmed & unreported news as possible, then asking students to write Wikinews with fresh angles.

This Spring I will run the subject: Newsroom Practice. The purpose of this subject is to enable students to work in a daily newsroom environment, initiating, researching and writing a range of news and feature stories. Students will be expected to produce publishable work under deadline pressure. The work will also be expected to meet the required ethical and legal standards. High quality work will be published.

The subject involves students, as both writers & editors, working within the virtual newsroom of Wikinews.

This will hopefully develop editing skills commensurate with Wikinews Reviewer Standards, thus creating a sustainable on-flow of reviewers for the news site.

So, how does one use the latest techniques in conducting citizen journalism to teach students in this time of dysfunctional mainstream news services?

  • Use open source network platforms.
  • Use social media, encourage crowd-sourcing.
  • Maintain a critical & provocative position.
  • Engender skepticism & citizen duty to expose.
  • Highlight government malpractice: GMOs, lies & propaganda, citizen surveillance (NSA), corruption, manufacturing consent for triggering war, breaching human rights conventions, etc.
  • Stay ethical & legal - Wikinews has these covered.

Key to success is having social capital. Wikinews has in itself, some social capital. Anyone can write a top story & a small crowd (reviewers) will gather around your story to copy edit, review & publish. To crowd source investigative work, one way is to use Wikinews as a leg up into developing your own social capital, by networking, lobbying and communicating with individuals within, to draw them to your cause.

This of course takes time, & you need a good eye for controversy and leaks; meanwhile your work must be of excellent quality in the process.

Take the famous blogger Anthony Watts for example. Now-days, with significant social capital, he can call on what he has established to achieve very large citizen research projects. Jo Nova is another fine example. Go to where the reliable crowds are (Wikinews, Wikipedia, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and email lists)

I ask students to carefully make a name for themselves (perhaps with a pseudonym) & develop critical skills, by doing good quality independent work, by carefully networking with the right people along the way to write human rights context stories. Trust & networks are key to success.

Design projects appropriate to the size of your trust network, and do this based on a 10% rule. If your network is 20 people, you can rely on 2 to help you. If its 200, you may have 20. The 10% rule assuming you've done steps 1 and 2 well. If not, apply a 1% rule (which is what most of us can achieve, myself included).

There is no remote corner of the Internet not dependent on protocols, Laura DeNardis insists. But governments now use it as a surveillance tool. Protocol Politic. The Globalization of Internet Governance. Laura DeNardis. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England

"The Internet is approaching a critical point. The world is running out of Internet addresses. A tacit assumption of the twenty-first century is that sustained Internet growth will accompany the contemporary forces of economic and technological globalization. The ongoing global spread of culture and ideas on the Internet is expected to promote economic opportunity, human flourishing, and the ongoing decentralization of innovation and information production. This possibility is not preordained. It requires the ongoing availability of a technology commons in which the resources necessary for exchanging knowledge are openly and abundantly available."

Examples of student work edit

For this next Spring 2013 subject I will encourage those students who have something published, in collegiality, to improve the submissions of others. This is newsroom collegiality on the road to Wikinews sustainability, while in assisting others, there is the potential for reviewers to be developed as they apply, improve and reinforce what they learn in publishing.

Rather than read the full difference between submission and publication, if you look casually at the pair side-by-side, all you see is 'sharper' presentation. The student writer did an excellent job from the start. If students don't do this, they rarely get published.

Edits like this one are eventually going to be automated. But, ones like this are examples of errors the author could read over a million times and never see. And, this is the sort of eye for detail which changes the picture as painted.

  • White House releases Benghazi emails - This is such a well written, well chosen, story; the original post such a great choice in story angle, the reviewers did much of the work from there