RMIT News Corp Data Journalism Interdisciplinary Project

Innovative interdisciplinary data journalism internships with industry partner, News Corp.

 

Sonja Heydeman

Sonja Heydeman

RMIT University

Discipline

Data journalism

Model/s of WIL activity

Industry/community based projects

Description of WIL activity

This interdisciplinary WIL project pairs RMIT Graduate Diploma in Journalism and Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) students with RMIT Master of Analytics/ Master of Statistics & Operations Research students to undertake internships over an eight-week period with News Corp (15-16 days in total). Intersecting three learning pedagogies through cooperative learning, inquiry-based learning and experiential learning, the student data scientist finds the story lead, the outlier and the anomaly in the data, and then the data journalist then prosecutes the investigation. Published stories have covered fuel prices, COVID-19, local weather, insolvencies and prescription drug use.

How long has it been operating?

This partnership was initially trialled with two teams undertaking internships in 2019. News Corp and students provided overwhelmingly positive feedback and the project has continued in 2020 with four teams deployed.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

 

When News Corp expressed concern at an RMIT Industry Advisory Committee that it struggled to find employees equipped to work as data journalists, the trial was undertaken, marrying interdisciplinary and project-based learning with WIL. Given documented challenges universities can face in producing graduates with data journalism skills, this innovative project strategically uses WIL as a vehicle to address skill development and current and future industry needs.

This project brings to life pedagogies that emphasize student collaboration and an authentic experience to build content and future-ready skills. Students undertaking placement are enrolled in credited courses. The data journalism placement is a pin-up for project-based learning involving complex problem-based tasks, investigative activities, and an authentic outcome in the form of published articles with student bylines recognising contributing authors. While articles are not assessed, they provide clear evidence of a successful collaborative process and contribute towards portfolios, enhancing employability.

Preparation for team placement involves liaising with disciplines, sharing a brief provided by News Corp to recruit data science/analytic students. An EOI is called to select journalism students. Applicants from both disciplines are interviewed by the Journalism Coordinator, strategically paired, recommended and then approved by News Corp. The process is efficient with easy communication between disciplines and industry partner. During placement students are mentored by News Corp staff, particularly Peter Judd who dedicates considerable time to their development, as well as senior journalists who work with students on story development. Feedback for this project comes in the form of reflection through formal course surveys for both industry partner and students, combined with informal feedback from News Corp, the School of IT and Computer Science, the School of Media and Communication and students.

This project is innovative because it harnesses a different way to nurture technical skills that have been difficult to develop individually in journalism and data science classrooms. It is enormously significant because it provides a model that can be expanded upon and used to inform the establishment of similar collaborations. The podcasts (see below links) provide an account of stages of the project with components detailed through a PowerPoint explainer and discussion between Mr Judd and students, allowing for additional reflection. Podcasts are not assessed but are a valuable record initiated by News Corp, reinforcing the importance placed on the project. This WIL project is sustainable. It is not dependent on additional funding. This project seamlessly blends the disciplines with outcomes evidenced through feedback, articles produced and the enthusiasm of all partners. This project has the support of College Deans and won RMIT’s School of Media and Communication Dean’s Innovation Award last year.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Journalism student, Sayee Shree said it was a “priceless experience” and “life changing”, opening her eyes to a career in data journalism. Analytics student Dhivya Rajanala said she got “an in-depth knowledge on the workings of journalism”. RMIT’s partnership with News Corp has been strengthened with more ambitious project development on the horizon. Relationships between RMIT Journalism and Computer Science & IT departments have flourished. Associate Dean of Computer Science and IT, Lawrence Cavedon said these internships provided an experience “different and arguably richer than many other internship opportunities the students were offered”.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

Mixed evaluation methods have been used.

  • Journalism students and News Corp staff complete thorough post-placement surveys covering preparation, student/industry behaviour, attitude, tasks, satisfaction, etc.
  • Direct feedback was received from News Corp, individual students, and university departments.
  • News Corp articles as direct evidence of outcomes.
  • Students, led by News Corps Newsroom Operations Manager, Peter Judd have prepared podcasts (see below) outlining the experience of the first teams of 2019 and 2020.
  • Data sciences students are required to undertake specific assessments
  • Student and industry feedback has been valued and through regular, ongoing discussion the placement process continues to be refined.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

These internships have been instrumental in student development. In 2020, two former interns (one from journalism and one from analytics) secured project-based employment with News Corp’s national hyperlocal data journalism team. It is excellent to see employment conversion from both disciplines. Interns have also reported that the experience has helped them to identify or confirm career goals. For example, after participating in the News Corp internship, Master of Statistics graduate Aaron Shankar secured a project manager position with another industry partner, Saltwater Media. In this role, Aaron is championing the program by engaging Journalism and Artificial Intelligence students in a new interdisciplinary internship. Mr Judd has strongly indicated News Corp’s desire to continue placements, including on long-term deep dive projects that will give continued scope to students to extend skills.

 How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula?

This activity is supported differently by the different departments involved. As part of credited internship courses, Graduate Diploma in Journalism and Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) students are required to prepare a background brief on the host, consider how they intend to work with their partner, review the News Corp brief and consider what they hope to take away from the experience. During the placement, students work with a flexible brief and keep a daily logbook of activity. Detailed student and host feedback forms allow for formal reflection/debriefing. The Coordinator follows up with News Corp verbally to discuss each placement.

How is it informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship?

A gap was identified in the integration of data journalism in teaching modalities. The project was informed by journalism research urging educators to explore innovative ways to develop data-journalism skills (Weiss & Rivas, 2018, 12). It was clear, while ambitious, an interdisciplinary project WIL model would theoretically meet project ideals as outlined by Martinez et al. (2010) including active student engagement, multi-disciplinary knowledge-based integration, teamwork and critical thinking. The case study aligns to the theoretical framework of social constructivism and strongly reflects Bada & Olusegun’s (2015) constructionist view students are active agents in their acquisition of knowledge. It engaged the Higher Education Academy’s principles of inclusivity, empowerment, trust, challenge, community and authenticity.

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

The WIL activity has the ongoing support of the industry partner, the School of Media and Communication and the Department of Computer Science and IT. There is a commitment to continue and build on data journalism placements with News Corp. In 2020, the number of placements increased from the previous year and the goal is to keep building capacity. We plan to apply for funding to allow students to stay for a period of time in a regional area and develop stories based on data exploration.

References

Bada, S. O., & Olusegun, S. (2015) Constructivism learning theory: a paradigm for teaching and learning. Journal of Research & Method in Education, 5 (6), 66-70. http://www.iosrjournals.org/

Martinez, F., Herrero, L.C., & De Pablo, S. (2010). Project-based learning and rubrics in teaching of power supplies and photovoltaic electricity. IEEE Transactions on Education, 54(1), 87-96.  https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/5438911

Weiss, A. S., & Retis, J. (2018). ‘I Don’t Like Maths, That’s Why I am in Journalism’: Journalism Student Perceptions and Myths about Data Journalism. Asia Pacific Media Educator28(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1177/1326365X18780418

Videos