For the last few weeks, my colleague Raphael and I have been organizing a series of social media workshops for our fellow journalists at the Belgian business newspapers and websites De Tijd and L’Echo. I’d like to open this up to reader suggestions, so let me tell you what we intend to cover in this course — and I hope you can give us feedback, telling us if we’ve overlooked something important or if you have ideas for how we could facilitate the whole process.

Social Media

We are organizing five workshops about social media:

1) The very basics.
The first workshop starts with what we consider to be the very basics: RSS Feeds. To familiarize journalists with this tool, we will hold hour-long sessions, of about 15 journalists each, where they can work with Google Reader.

We also say a few words about how RSS feeds apply to blogs. The principle is that of “My friends’ friends are my friends.” If a blog or a news site one trusts discusses other blogs on a regular basis or includes them in its blogroll, then there is a good chance those blogs are interesting as well. Of course, these recommended blogs will have additional recommended blogs of their own, which could very well be interesting as well. The number of worthwhile blogs grows exponentially, hence the need to organize all the feeds, for instance using Google Reader.

We explain that RSS feeds can also be used to keep track of searches in Google News or for monitoring the new bookmarks in your network at Delicious.

However, the very first thing we teach is how to use Mozilla Firefox in an efficient way — showing shortcuts, extensions, etc. In that way, we want to be sure that everybody masters some of the basics.

2) Sharing articles and links.
This is where we go into more detail on the sharing possibilities of Google Reader and of Delicious, but also Twitter as a way to exchange links and ideas. For Twitter, we’ll let our colleagues compare Twhirl, Tweetdeck and Twitterfall, with special attention to the search possibilities.

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3) Photo and video sharing.
I think that we’ll need to devote another session to “sharing,” this time focusing on pictures and videos. Most of my colleagues don’t use Flickr, for instance, and because we want to publish the pictures, we’ll need to explain the principles of Creative Commons and when you can publish someone’s photos. To integrate all these media streams, we’ll present them with the life-stream aggregator FriendFeed as a possible solution.

4) The social dimension.
One of the most important aspects of all this is learning how to navigate the social dimension, to deal with other users on the networks. In the fourth session, we’ll play around with Facebook, LinkedIn and social news websites such as Digg. Maybe we’ll have a look at virtual worlds, to see what other media do there to engage their audiences in an immersive way. We’ll see if we can start a debate about the best ways to practice crowdsourcing and meet interesting people using networks.

5) Striking out for yourself. The last session of the social media series is for those who want to launch their own blog, network or wiki. We’ll discuss the projects collectively and take the first steps to launching some. We’ll use an internal wiki to enable people to react, to suggest other tools and practices after the discussion. This wiki is organized to be ongoing as we anticipate that we’ll have repeat courses and additions, taking into account that new tools come on to the market about every day.

Audio, video, stills, animations

Most of our journalists are “writers.” They are text people. We would like to introduce them to other possibilities to bring their stories to life. To that end, we have also envisioned some voluntary courses on audio, video and animation. Not all of our reporters will choose to follow these sessions, but we think they will help those that do attend to understand some new tools.

Introduction to Flash.
We’d like to have a group of journalists who know the basics of Flash so that they can communicate with our Flash specialist on behalf of our writers. If reporters are more aware of the possibilities and challenges of Flash, it would help to bridge relations between the departments. Also, journalists could take over producing some not-too-complicated animations themselves.

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Basic Video.
We hope to involve as many journalists as possible in a course teaching video production, basic editing skills and uploading/publishing skills. They would also learn some basic stuff about what to do and not to do when shooting video, and also how to handle themselves when speaking in front of a camera. The same applies for stills: Knowledge of some simple rules would not harm anybody!

We hope our colleagues will enjoy this training, because, after all, most of us use cameras in our spare time and it would be nice to have some basic skills to take better pictures. Those skills will also help us to select pictures made by others and to filter the best videos and pictures.

The Endgame: Cross-media Storytelling

Sometime in the fall, we hope to conclude our “new media” workshops. Around that time, we’d like to invite some expert in cross-media storytelling (preferably based in Europe) to give a seminar on how to use various media to create interactive, immersive stories.

Our goal is more than just a seminar: We hope we’ll be able to produce some of those cross-media stories during the remainder of the year. I think that a lot of the previously discussed skills will be involved in such projects; working on such projects would make the exciting potential of new media tools obvious to the newsroom.

Help us train

The social media workshop runs for one month, before we move to the sessions about “sharing.” My colleagues seem to be very interested and active during the workshops, but it remains to be seen whether they will actually use the new techniques in everyday work.

It is crucial for us to demonstrate to our colleagues that the new tools should not be thought of as creating an additional burden. Instead, they can make work easier and more interesting. It is obvious that the workshops are not the place to have philosophical discussions about old and new media. What people want right now are skills and tools which help them produce better stories.

We would appreciate any insights and recommendations you might have for our training program. Feel free to point out anything you think we forgot or any aspects that you think we’ve overplayed or shortchanged in our approach.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

Photo of man with videocamera by Amancay Maahs via Flickr.

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