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Journalism class starts online news site

<artment’s “Truth vs. Power: A Journey into Journalism” course exposes students to the logistics of journalism as they learn how to communicate a story to and about their community.

The course is taught by Visiting Professor Doug McGill from Rochester, MN, who previously taught at the University of St. Thomas for six years and has reported for publications including The New York Times. He perceives the course as an opportunity to train what he describes as “a new generation of citizen journalists,” which he defines as people who report the news but do not necessarily have the professional credentials.

“The whole way that society gets the information it needs to be a functioning democracy is changing, and so is the idea of who is a journalist,” McGill said. “I wanted to do a class that engaged those questions.”

Last fall, McGill taught a similar journalism course which focused on the increasing role of video journalism. The end product was five YouTube videos, one podcast, and an eager professor who hoped to pilot the course again with a different approach that would teach the fundamentals of journalism and allow students to genuinely experience the role of a journalist.

“Being a journalist in this society is having a particular mindset and a way of relating to your surroundings and to your community,” McGill said of what he hopes students will learn. “This year, I wanted to think of the classroom as a newsroom.”

Hye Mi Ahn ’13 reiterates the importance of a classroom setting that allows students to think like journalists: “We function like a real newsroom, where we begin class by discussing hot topics of the Northfield and Carleton communities and bounce story ideas off each other. I’ve been so surprised because the veneer of Northfield is so calm and quiet, but there are many things going on that students, as well as some residents, aren’t aware of.”

McGill stresses that the central purpose of the course centralizes around teaching standard writing journalism style, which appeals to students like Ahn, whose drive to learn how to write like a journalist propelled her to enroll in the course.

“I believe that so many of the best practices of journalism that have developed over the years are captured in the writing style themselves,” McGill said. “It’s all about the writing— how to write a good story and telling readers why they should care.”

Students pursue their own leads and story ideas, which Leaf Elhai ’13 views as one of the more challenging tasks at hand. “It’s hard finding news and knowing what is newsworthy, and that is definitely something that’s hard to teach in the classroom, but I’m learning by just getting out and doing it,” she said. She praised McGill’s “hands-off style of teaching,” adding that, “It’s very much all on your own and what you’re interested in or what you find in the community.”

Students write a story every week for their individual blogs accessed only by their classmates and McGill. McGill then selects stories to publish on, a blog that edits and maintain after its implementation by Academic Technologist Fiona MacNeil.

“I think that an online blog provides an opportunity to engage a broader audience than a printed broadsheet,” MacNeil said, whose role at Carleton is to help professors integrate technology within their courses. “The most important aspect of the online blogging platform is the linking of Pressville to other local news sources, offering a new, fresh perspective to the mix.”

Pressville has already attracted the attention of two hyperlocal news websites: and An RSS feed allows local news sites to link Pressville’s recently posted headlines to their own sites. “It’s great to set up a live, public website with RSS feeds going off of local news sites, because it creates publicity for the articles that we’re writing and holds us to higher standards,” Ahn explained, adding that since Pressville’s debut one week ago, the articles have garnered impressive feedback and comments from community members, which is at the heart of what the students try to accomplish.

“When students write stories and receive comments, they start to really feel empowered, and they should,” McGill said. “That’s the essence of this course, and that’s the essence of citizen journalism.”

McGill said he is hopeful for the future of the blog after the course ends: “We’ll see how it goes; this is the first time we’ve done Pressville and the first time we’ve taught the class this year like this, but I’d love it if it went on in some form.”

MacNeil concludes: “There are many things that we want to accomplish with Pressville, in addition to high-quality writing, the site will feature photographic images. Watch this space…”

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