JO304 teaching guide – Fall 2020

JO304 Online Journalism

Peter Smith
Master Lecturer



   11:15 – 2pm




1:00-2:00pm +
12:00-1:00 pm
10 – 12:00pm



Schedule office hours:

Course Description
This is an intro class to Online Journalism. Students will use various storytelling platforms to produce stories online. We will explore how online stories differ from stories produced for “legacy” media such as newspapers and broadcast television. 

We’ll also look at how digital newsrooms use current technologies to engage in delivery of breaking news and features. Through class and online discussions, we will evaluate the effectiveness of these current technologies and methods of digital news gathering. Your best work may be submitted for publication on

Students will configure and maintain a blog to publish their work. Guest speakers who currently work on the front line of digital journalism will provide valuable insight of specialized fields.

We will use Slack as a class discussion group – I will send you all an invite.

Required reading:
NYTimes Lens Blog 

Week to Week

Week 1, September 4

Course Introduction & Overview

  • Review syllabus and course requirements.
  • Get a blog – if you do not have one for this class go to – WP links
  • Adobe Portfolio 
  • Discuss class exercises.
  • Sign up for all accounts that you may be missing and set-up blog.

Students will use Twitter and Instagram to promote their blogs.
All assignments (except newstrack) must include at least one Instagram post during completion of the assignment with #304e1

The photo can be of your subject, a scene setter from your story location, or an interesting detail to raise interest and anticipation for your story.

In general, you will post stories to your blog and tweet the short link of your blog post with the goal of driving traffic to your blog to grow your audience.

For next week:

NPR: Get a Twitter Habit
Why Instagram is This Journalist’s Favorite Tool

Recommended Reading:
The Online Journalism Handbook, Second Edition, Paul Bradshaw: 

Week 2, September 11

Mobile Reporting – smartphone shooting. editing and publishing.

  • Review framing, background, light and moment. 
  • Learn how to edit your image on your smart phone: crop, tone, correct exposure using Adobe Lightroom Web editor for your mobile device.
  • Shoot raw files if possible, review settings.
  • Discuss NewsTrack  assignment – pick an online publication follow this semester.
  • Review Wordpress 
  • download Creative Cloud
  • Building an Adobe Portfolio
  • Adobe Portfolio example

Class exercise: 
Shoot, edit and tweet feature photos of a busy location near you using a smart phone. Tweet feature/embed in blogpost. Captions required.

Due today:
Feature photo.

For next week:

  • Finish blog set-up. Get a free blog from
    Create ‘about’ page
    Create Post to add photos or video

    Add a Blog

    Getting Started

    WP Help

  • Create your Adobe Portfolio


Week 3, September 18

Video shooting, and editing with Adobe Adobe Rush
(see more Rush tutorials)
Setup and link Instagram and Twitter accounts to your blog.

Discuss captions for video: who, when, where, what’s it about and why it’s important.

Video shooting and editing workshop.
Video tips.
Practice video clips
Wordpress lab – work on populating your site with social media links, customizing your blog, embed media, use categories, tags, format and add pages.


Assignment 1
Email a pitch for next week to for a story that you can cover using only a mobile phone and the Adobe Spark Page app. (Android users, you can use the web version.) Look for a story with potential for multimedia: text, photos, video, etc. (No panel discussions or speeches unless they include interesting visuals please.)

Using the Adobe Spark Page app to layout multimedia story. It should include:

  • Text (400-600 words, max)
  • 8-10 photos (Properly shot and edited on your phone. No dark, fuzzy images, please. And vary your shots: Tight, medium, wide. See links below for tips on shooting and editing.) Please properly caption all photos. (See the tips for writing captions in this article.)
  • At least one video no longer than one minute in length shot in landscape (horizontal) mode. Please don’t shoot vertical video for this assignment. (You’ll need to upload this to Youtube for use in Spark.)
  • Be sure to include hashtag #jo304e1 in the credit of your story.

Publish your story and post a link to it on our class Slack channel.   
Note: The best assignments will be submitted to BU News Service.

Useful Links for this assignment

  1. Using photography as a tool for online journalism
  2. Guide to Taking Great Video on Your Phone
  3. Adobe Spark Page makes web design easy here’s how to use it

Homework: Prepare pitch Event Story for Spark Page

Week 4, September 25

    • Download the Adobe Spark Page app to your iPhone or iPad. If you have an Android phone open an account at We’ll be reviewing this app this week. (Note: Use your BU Adobe Creative Cloud account to sign in. It gives you some extras because it’s a paid account.)
    • If you don’t have one already, open a YouTube account.
    • Review: Adobe Spark Post Tutorial
    • Adobe Spark editing exercise


Week 5, October 2

Due today:
Spark Page assignment due –  review in class

First NewsTrack blog post: Update your blog with your initial observations about the news site you’re tracking. Your post should include at least one screenshot or other visual. Send out a tweet announcing your new blog using the hashtag #jo304. 300-400 words. (Each time you blog you should promote your post via Twitter and other social media. You will be graded on this. Also share the link on the class Slack channel.) 
Newstrack blog post and tweet/presentations: Update your blog with your latest observations and tweet about your post.

Week 6, October 9 

Lecture/Demo/Class Exercise
Using Adobe Rush
How to shoot and mic a visual sequence (workshop)
Audio recording basics using an audio recorder,  Zoom H5 Setup or a recording app on your smart phone.
Adjusting audio input level, mic placement
Adobe Rush Video Workshop  

Workshop: Shoot and edit a short sequence
White Balance + Camera video settings
1080px24fps, use 1/50 for shutter speed
Shoot b-roll, learn to create sequence
180 degree rule

Shoot a short video story. Include a scene setter, action, reaction and a sequence of a process that is visual. Use lower thirds. Mic audio for high quality ‘nat’ sound. Partnering is okay. Include b-roll sequence.
post 60 second video + 125 words to blog

Week 7, October 16

Review (one-minute video) visual story
Assign Twitter Story
Tweet three photos and three video clips of current new story. Use three of your own tweets and three from your classmates to produce a story trending story on your blog (six tweets total, three photo, three video) + 250 word story to accompany it.

For next week: prepare final story pitch.


How to stand out online as a student digital journalist
An Editor’s Guide to Creating an Online Portfolio

Week 8, October 23

Discuss Person-On-The-Street Topic – it’s presidential election season!
Lecture/demo/exercise – How to shoot and mic ‘person on the street.’ 
Review Twitter Story progress.

Week 9, October 30

Twitter story due – review in class
Pitch final project

Week 10, November 6

Person-on-the-street story – class edit. Due next week.

Review Progress on Person-on-the-street video due + 250 words. Work with your partner to capture high quality video and audio interviews.  Share files, produce your own story.

Week 11, November 13

Person-on-the-street story due today.
Review final assignment – any digital story using two media.
For next week:
NewsTrack 2 is due next week.

Week 12, November 20

Due today:
NewsTrack 2
Rough draft of final assignment due end of class, 90 seconds + 250 word story
(-5 points off rough draft if not completed)

 No class November 27 – Happy Thanksgiving!

Week 13, December 4

Finish final draft of final assignment and upload
Review Blog + final


Isabel Contreras

Paige Mautner

Taylor Donnelly

Mollie Hersh

Toni Baraga.

Carolyn Mooney.

Megan Gregoire.

Ryan Ramlogan.

Eleanor Dash.

Matthew Meusel.

Nica Lasater

Janu Pangeni

Gabriela Lopez.

Zoe Allen

Hannah Edelman

Assignment Description

Assignment 1, Spark Page,   (20 points)

Cover using only a mobile phone and the Adobe Spark Page app. (Android users, you can use the web version.) Look for a story with potential for multimedia: text, photos, video, etc. (No panel discussions or speeches unless they include interesting visuals please.)

Using the Adobe Spark Page app (iPhone) or your Android phone and the web version, cover the story that you pitched. It should include:

  • Text (400-600 words, max)
  • 8-10 photos (Properly shot and edited on your phone. No dark, fuzzy images, please. And vary your shots: Tight, medium, wide. See links below for tips on shooting and editing.) Please properly caption all photos. (See the tips for writing captions in this article.)
  • At least one video no longer than one minute in length shot in landscape (horizontal) mode. Please don’t shoot vertical video for this assignment. (You’ll need to upload this to Youtube for use in Spark.)
  • Be sure to include hashtag #jo304 in the credit of your story.

Publish your story and post a link to it on our class Slack channel.

Video Story  (10 points) 

Shoot a short visual story, include a scene setter, action, reaction and a four-clip sequence of a visual process. Capture high quality ‘nat’ sound to play with clips. Edited piece should be about 60 seconds and be accompanied by caption of 125 words. This could work well as a profile of a parking-meter cop, a waitress, a printer, a barista, or of Head-of-the-Charles Regatta. Team or solo okay.

NewsTrack assignment (20 points for parts 1+2) 

You will choose a news website that you will monitor throughout the semester. You will blog analysis and commentary about work that appears on the site. What insights of your analysis can help you to improve your blog?

Start with some background and history about the site you are tracking:

When was it launched?
Which company owns the site?
Who is its primary audience?
What’s their reputation like?
Other topics you can explore:

  • The sites design. Is it clean? Cluttered? Is it easy to tell what the big story is? How does the design match the sites mission and philosophy? Check out the navigation, that is, the ease with which you can get around the site and find whats on it
  • How well do they integrate multimedia and other features designed to attract and engage their audience? 
  • What’s their social media presence like? (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc)
  • How often do they push out updates? 
  • Go beyond the homepage.  How does the site present information on secondary levels? Is the look and feel consistent?
  • How does their coverage compare to similar sites?
  • What does the site look like on mobile? Do they have a dedicated app or just web?
  • What do you like? What do you not like? Why??? Show us content and functionality.

Twitter Story (10 points) 
Find a topic to cover. Tweet three photos and three videos. Use #jo304e1, #story name.  When you blog your story, use three of your tweets and three from classmates. You can coordinate with your partner to make sure you have six tweets that work with your story. You can also use any other tweet from the class. Intersperse the tweets within your text story of 250 words. This story is solo produced, but you can coordinate with your partner.

Person-on-the-street story, (10 points) 
Combine five video street interviews with a 250 word story on a single topic. This is a team project. High quality audio will be captured by the interviewer and the videographer will frame and capture the video. Video can be captured with an iPhone or with a DSLR.  The high quality audio will be synced to the video in Premiere by creating a multi-cam clip. Intersperse video in word story and post to your blog.

Final Project (20 points) 
This is a team project. You must use three video sequences for this story, and use an opening and closing clip. Add an audio interview to play over part of the b-roll sequences and use ‘nat’ sound liberally, +250 words. Deduction of 5 points if rough draft deadline is missed.

Blog and participation ( 10 points) 
Branding, well formatted, good navigation, bio and picture. All assignments posted on your blog, appropriate use of tags and categories, accurate navigation. Pictures posted on Instagram for all assignments.

Course Objectives:
Students will study key industry trends, technologies and multimedia reporting techniques in order to gain an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the web and other digital platforms as a journalistic medium. With this knowledge as a foundation, students will learn to produce content specifically for digital platforms.

Learning Objectives
Upon completion of this course you will know how to:

  • Write specifically for social media.
  • Think “digital first” and produce content for multiple platforms on deadline.
  • Use social media tools to build a following and brand yourself as a multimedia journalist.
  • Produce basic multimedia stories incorporating elements such as slideshows, audio, maps, data visualizations and video.
  • Work solo or in a team environment to produce digital content.
  • Curate the torrent of information online to add context to stories.
  • Understand the differences between producing for the web and other digital platforms versus traditional mediums.

Read daily
Links to other assigned reading and examples for discussion will be posted on online.

Required Supplies

  • Two SD cards, 16GB, Class 10 or higher for use in a camera and audio recorder. (Buy the largest capacity that your wallet can withstand.)
  • External hard drive formatted for Mac. 
  • Tip: Put your name and contact info somewhere on your equipment so that you can be reunited in the event that you leave it in a classroom or elsewhere.

Required Accounts

You will need to set-up some of these accounts accounts on the following sites/services:

  • Gmail
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Vimeo
  • wordpress blog
  • Class slack group
  • Adobe Spark
  • Adobe Portfolio
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Adobe Premiere Rush
    Note: We’ll be adding more throughout the semester.

Equipment Checkout
We have an equipment depot located in the basement of the building (B-17) where you can check out cameras, audio recorders, tripods and other equipment. You can reserve equipment online at Make sure that you have your student ID with you when you pick up gear.

Laptop and external HD:
Before you arrive to class, be sure to have a laptop that meets COM’s recommended specifications. This link also has a guide to help you choose an external hard drive. Make sure that your external hard drive is formatted to either Mac or Windows depending on your laptop type. Mac external hard drives should be formatted to ‘journaled.’

Adobe Creative Cloud:
You will need to download Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Lightroom for this course.  You can download them once you sign up for Adobe Creative Cloud using your Kerberos username and password. This must be completed at least two days before the first class meeting.

Check out gear for class:

You will need access to the following computer applications:

  • Text Edit
  • Adobe Lightroom (or other image editing application)
  • Premiere Pro (or other video editor)
  • iMovie

We will also use a number of free or very low-cost web-based options for producing multimedia. Details to come.

General Grading Policy

A  – Excellent work that met or exceeded the requirements. Writing reflects solid research, interviewing, accuracy, attribution, conforms to AP style; multimedia elements (video, photos, audio, interactive) are sharp, focused, clear, appropriately selected, properly captioned, tagged, credited and functional. Could run as is, or with very minor edits.

B  – Good work with a few errors. May contain minor problem with focus, spelling/grammar, style, balance, organization; several multimedia elements are subpar (out of focus, poor sound quality, etc.) or exhibit one or two technical glitches. Could run with some editing.

C  – Average work. Failed to meet some of the requirements of the assignment. Shows lack of news judgment, accuracy, balance, etc., technical errors, subpar multimedia elements, poor selection of interactive elements. Could only run with significant editing or a complete overhaul.

D  – Below average work that shows little or no understanding of the requirements of the assignment, numerous grammatical, style errors, major factual errors and failure to use assigned technology and tools properly.

F (0-55) – Failure to turn in by deadline or significantly flawed work.

Percentage-based Grade Scale

A: 93-100

B+: 87-89.99

C+: 77-79.99

D: 60-69.99

F: 0-59.99

A-: 90-92.99

B: 83-86.99

C: 73- 76.99


B-: 80-82.99

C-: 70-72.99


GPA conversion























Course Policies:

Please restrict unrelated internet browsing, e-mailing, texting or other unassigned online activity to the break we’ll have most weeks.

When we have guest speakers, please, no loud typing. Tweet, yes, but be discreet about it so as not to distract our guests and the rest of the class.

Spelling, style and grammar count! When you submit an assignment points will be deducted for spelling, grammatical and AP style errors.

Professionalism: You will be called on to critique the work of your classmates and occasionally discuss ethical issues. There may be times when you disagree with another student’s comments. You will be expected to deal honestly, but professionally, with your classmates and the instructor of this course.

In addition to the assigned reading, you should read and watch “traditional” news in order to be able to discuss and analyze differences between the mediums.

Late Assignments

Deadlines are a key concept in journalism. If you miss a deadline in the real world you might lose your job. Get used to filing assignments on time. Unexcused late assignments will not be accepted in this class.


We will occasionally hear from speakers who work in online media. Because they are busy professionals whose schedules change constantly I have not listed specific dates and times for their appearances (well, most of them). I will announce speakers close to their scheduled date of arrival.

BU policy on recording in classes

Please note that classroom proceedings for this course might be recorded for purposes including, but not limited to, student illness, religious holidays, disability accommodations, or student course review. Note also that recording devices are prohibited in the classroom except with the instructor’s permission.

Grades are based on quality, content, and punctuality of work submitted.  Late assignments lose one grade (A to B) for each week they are late. Assignments that are not turned in receive zero credit. The final grade is an average of all grades received during the semester.  Assignments are DUE at the end of class.

How to Get an A in This Course

  • Be here each week, on time, ready to engage.
  • Complete all reading and assignments on time.
  • Exceed expectations!
  • Participate in class and online discussions. Stay up to date about issues and news related to online journalism and share that knowledge. Rock Twitter, your Newstrack blog and our class Facebook page with your observations.
  • You get extra credit for: Being enthusiastic, inquisitive, and open to learning new things.
  • Think ahead. Anticipate upcoming requirements such as BU News Service assignments and the final project. Structure your time to do your best work.


Boston University is committed to fostering a safe, productive learning environment. Title IX and our school policy prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, which regards sexual misconduct – including harassment, domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. We understand that sexual violence can undermine students’ academic success and we encourage students who have experienced some form of sexual misconduct to talk to someone about their experience, so they can get the support they need. Confidential support and academic advocacy resources can be found with the Center for Sexual Assault Response & Prevention (SARP) at

                *Note: your department may have additional language they would require or recommend you include; please follow those instructions when appropriate.


BU has strict guidelines on classroom behavior and practices when it comes to treatment of students and guests on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability, genetic information, military service, national origin, or due to marital, parental, or veteran status. Discrimination for any of these reasons is prohibited. Please refer to the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Policy for more details.

                *Note: your department may have additional language they would require or recommend you include; please follow those instructions when appropriate.

At your discretion, please alert me to anything related to preferred pronouns, preferred name or nickname, or any extenuating circumstances or trigger warnings (personal, medical, etc.) that might impact your classroom experience. I want to make sure you have the most positive experience in the classroom as possible.


If you are a student with a disability or believe you might have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact the Office of Disability and Access Services (DAS) at 617-353-3658 to coordinate any reasonable accommodation requests. DAS is located at 25 Buick Street, on the third floor.


All student-athletes should be provided with a sheet from Student-Athlete Support Services regarding absences throughout the semester. These sheets should be handed in as soon as possible to avoid potential conflicts and so arrangements can be made to provide for missed lecture notes, classwork, or discussion.

*Please note, this may not be as relevant due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but can be included for totality’s sake

-Due to the majority of classes being offered in the Learn from Anywhere format, students should expect that each class session will be recorded. It is important to note that recordings on Zoom may capture the chat during the class, including private chats. If you have questions or concerns regarding recording of this class, please see your instructor.


All BU students are bound by the Academic Conduct Code. Please review to ensure you are acting responsibly and ethically in regard to your academics. There may be changes here due to the nature of the pandemic, so please read everything very carefully.