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Reinventing the news and the future of digital-age journalism

Dan Kennedy

University Photography

By Angel Feliciano, Journalism Major

Assistant Professor Dan Kennedy is instrumental in developing the School of Journalism’s digital journalism focus. Professor Kennedy joined the faculty of the School of Journalism in 2004. The classes he teaches most frequently are Journalism 2, Law of the Press and Reinventing the News, a course he designed. In his classes, Kennedy emphasizes good reporting, blogging, social media and multimedia.

Professor Kennedy came to the School of Journalism from The Boston Phoenix, where he held the position of media columnist. He is the author of “Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter’s Eyes” (Rodale, 2003) a book about raising a daughter with dwarfism that also explores the science, culture and history of dwarfism. His new book, “The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age,” is about the New Haven Independent and other community news sites. The book, published by University of Massachusetts Press, will be available in May.

Aside from teaching journalism at Northeastern, Professor Kennedy is a panelist on “Beat the Press,” a weekly half-hour program on WGBH-TV (Channel 2). The award-winning program takes a critical look at some of the week’s big stories and how the media covered them. His blog, Media Nation (www.dankennedy.net), is a nationally recognized site for news media criticism. He also contributes to the Huffington Post, the Nieman Journalism Lab and other publications and websites.

Q. What skills do students need to acquire before entering the job market?

A. It’s important that students know there’s a lot more out there than their friendly community newspaper. In today’s competitive news market, it’s not enough for students to know how to interview people, report and write good stories. Although those skills are essential, every student also needs to understand how to use technology and learn not to be afraid of it. Whether they are working for traditional newspapers or digital media operations, students will need to know how to use blogs and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Q. You designed a course called Reinventing the News. What can students expect if they take this class?

A. Reinventing the News is one of my favorite classes. Students are required to create a blog on a beat of their choosing. We use tools such as Twitter and Storify to cover and curate the news, and we learn how to put together photo stories and videos with tools such as smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras. Once a semester, we do a Google map assignment. It’s generally a review of some kind. For example, one semester everyone went out and wrote a review of a pizza shop in the Back Bay. We all tried to get the same information — prices, hours, some pictures — and then students would then post that on their blogs. Afterwards we put together a Google map in which students plotted their restaurant on the map, wrote a couple of words about it and then linked to their longer review. You end up having a big map with a lot of markers on it, and each marker takes you to a review written by a different student. Every semester, our Google map gets picked up by The Boston Globe’s Your Town local news sites.

Q.  What do you believe is the benefit of a journalism education at Northeastern?

A.  I think that co-op is a huge advantage for our students. Students leave here with actual experience in traditional newspapers, broadcast news organizations, online news and public relations. Our faculty know that many of our students are going into journalism or public relations jobs, and we need to help them prepare as much as possible.  But at the same time, many students are not going to go into journalism or public relations. If we can impart the skills, values and ethics of journalism — knowing how to research, knowing how to interview people, knowing how to pull information together and make sense of it so that other people can understand it — students who major in journalism will get a valuable education even if they go into a completely different field. I know a lot of our students have gone into law, education or business — all professions where communication is essential.

Q.  Where do you think journalism is heading in the next few years?

A.  I believe that it is an exciting time for journalism. It’s a great opportunity today to be 18, 20 years old, just starting out and being able to participate in this new world of technology-driven journalism. No one really knows what the future of journalism is going to look like, but our current generation will be the one that determines where news is headed.