Online Journalism

(COMM J 3755 / 48J:174)

Fall term: Aug. 26 - Dec. 9

Class meets: Mondays, 5:30 - 8:20 p.m.

Classroom: University of Northern Iowa / 212 Lang Hall

Final exam: Dec. 16, 5 - 6:50 p.m.

Instructor:  Chris Essig

Office: 338 Lang Hall

Office Hours: By appointment

Telephone:  (319) 610-6544

Mailbox:  326 Lang Hall


Personal blog:

Class blog:


UNI Catalog Description

Writing and developing online journalism, including web pages with audio slide shows, interactive timelines, motion graphics, video, and podcasts.

Prerequisite(s): COMM J 2755 (48J:071) or consent of instructor.


Course Description

The world of online journalism is constantly changing. From producing podcasts to designing complex data visualizations, journalists can tell their stories in creative ways thanks to modern technology. And fortunately for young journalists, mastering these technologies can put them ahead of the pack and help them make a real impact in a professional newsroom.


This course will focus on helping students develop the skills they will need to succeed in today’s news environment. It will largely be a hands-on class; students will meet in a computer lab once a week and work on projects with the help of the instructor and their peers. The course will focus on doing rather than talking.


Because online journalism includes so many areas, we will be covering a lot material in a short of amount of time. If you feel overwhelming or lost, please don’t hesitate to tell the instructor. We want to cover a lot of material in this class. But we also want the knowledge of these skills to stick with you.



The first part of the course will focus on tools students can use to tell multimedia stories. Namely, we will be collecting and editing video and audio. We will then have sessions on data journalism, working with spreadsheets and making simple maps and graphics with data.


The second half of the course will be devoted to website development. The students will spend several weeks learning the basics of HTML and CSS to help them create simple websites for their stories.


Final project

These skills will help students finish their final group project. Students will be split into groups of four, with each group responsible of telling a story about UNI and/or Cedar Falls. Students have free range to pick a topic beyond that but each topic has to be approved by the instructor.


Each project must include three elements: A print story, a multimedia supplement and a data supplement. The print story will need to be based on data. For instance, crime trends or poverty in Cedar Falls would be great story ideas with lots of data to back them up. The multimedia supplement can be either a video or podcast to go with the story. The data supplement should be a creative way to show the data behind the story, whether it is a map, a graph or a table.


Groups can earn extra credit by including an extra multimedia or data element to their project.



The Multimedia Journalist - Storytelling for Today's Media Landscape, George-Palilonis, 2012 | Oxford University Press | Paper; 288 pp | ISBN-10: 0199764522 | ISBN- 13: 9780199764525


* There will be additional handouts and readings.



For a more detailed schedule, visit:






Aug. 26

Introduction to online journalism


Sept. 2



Sept. 9

Multimedia journalism: Collecting audio


Sept. 16

Audio editing


Sept. 23

Multimedia journalism: Collecting video


Sept. 30

Video editing


Oct. 7

Introduction to data journalism / spreadsheets


Oct. 14- 21

Making maps and graphics


Oct. 28

Introduction to CMSs / Website development: HTML


Nov. 4

HTML part 2


Nov. 11

HTML part 3


Nov. 18

Website development: CSS


Nov. 25



Dec. 2

CSS part 2


Dec. 9

CSS part 3


Dec. 16

Final presentations

* Note: This schedule is subject to change.



Students will be required to complete weekly homework assignments. Assignments are listed on the class schedule and will be due at the time of the next class period. Assignments submitted after 5:30 p.m. on the day of the class will be considered late.


A list of assignments and their due dates are as follows:

Sept. 9: Short questionnaire on online journalism and this course (10 points)

Sept. 23: Tell a story about UNI: 60 - 90 second podcast (30 points)

Oct. 7: Tell a story about something outside of UNI: 60-90 second video (30 points)

Oct. 14: Give ten examples of stories you've found in news publications and how they could be improved with data (10 points)

Oct. 14: Pick a topic (employment, poverty, race), and find Census data on it for each county in Iowa (10 points)

Oct. 28: Create a heat map with county Census data (30 points)

Oct. 28: Final project deadline – Topic, multimedia and data ideas approved the instructor (10 points)

Nov. 4: Codecademy - Introduction to HTML (20 points)

Nov. 11: Codecademy - HTML Structure: Using Lists (20 points)

Nov. 18: Codecademy - HTML Structure: Tables, Divs and Spans (20 points)

Nov. 18: Final project deadline – Rough draft (10 points)

Dec. 2: Codecademy - Introduction to CSS (20 points)

Dec. 9: Codecademy - CSS Classes and IDs (20 points)

Dec. 16: Codecademy - CSS Element Positioning (20 points)

Dec. 16: Final project (100 points)


* Note: This schedule is subject to change.



The final course grade is on a standard 100-point scale:

A = 90 – 100

B = 80 – 89

C = 70 – 79

D = 60 – 69

F = 59 or below



Students will be required to check out audio and video equipment to use in the classroom. Audio recorders are available at 326 Lang Hall. The office closes at 5 p.m. so students will need to make sure to check them out before class starts. We are tentatively scheduled to cover audio on Sept. 9 and 16.


Tripods are also available for check out at 326 Lang Hall for students who wish to use them.


Video cameras are available at the Electronic Media office on the ground floor of Lang Hall.  Students must first fill out a liability agreement, which will be provided on the first day of class, and return it to the professor before checking out equipment from the Electronic Media office. Cameras must be picked up after 1 p.m. and returned before 12 p.m. the following day. A student ID will be required for check out. We are tentatively scheduled to cover video on Sept. 23 and 30.



Still cameras are also available at the Electronic Media office for students who wish to use them.


Late assignments

All assignments will be due at the beginning of the class. Late assignments will be accepted with a dock of 5 points for each day they are late.



As noted earlier, we will be moving at a rapid pace during this class. The class also only meets once a week. As a result, it is imperative that students attend every class session. The instructor will have limited time outside of the class to meet with students who miss a class so catching up on the material will largely be up to the students.


All planned absences that are related to UNI's educational programs must be arranged in writing at least one week ahead of time. Otherwise, each class you miss, you will reduce your course grade by 3%. Absences due to emergencies must be proven.


Attendance Policy

As noted in the UNI Catalog, “Students are expected to attend class, and the responsibility for attending class rests with the student. Students are expected to learn and observe the attendance rules established by each instructor for each course. Instructors will help students to make up work whenever the student has to be absent for good cause; this matter lies between the instructor and student. Whenever possible, a student should notify the instructor in advance of circumstances which prevent class attendance.” (  Attendance will be recorded for this course, and all unexcused absences will figure into the final grade.


Academic Misconduct

Plagiarism, cheating, improperly sourced work, and other academic misconduct will not be tolerated.  The UNI Catalog is clear on this: “Students at the University of Northern Iowa are required to observe the commonly-accepted standards of academic honesty and integrity. Except in those instances in which the instructor of the class specifically authorizes group work, no work that is not solely the student’s is to be submitted to a professor in the form of an examination paper, a term paper, class project, research project, or thesis project. Cheating of any kind on examinations and/or plagiarism of papers or projects is strictly prohibited.


Also unacceptable are the purchase of papers from commercial sources, using a single paper to meet the requirement of more than one class (except in instances authorized and considered appropriate by the professors of the two classes), and submission of a term paper or project completed by any individual other than the student submitting the work. Students are cautioned that plagiarism is defined as the process of stealing or passing off as one's own the ideas or words of another, or presenting as one's own an idea or product which is derived from an existing source.”


See the UNI Catalog for full details:


Disability Services

Please address any special needs or special accommodations with me at the beginning of the semester or as soon as you become aware of your needs. Those seeking accommodations based on disabilities should obtain a Student Academic Accommodation Request (SAAR) form from Student Disability Services (SDS) (phone 319-273-2677, for deaf or hard of hearing, use Relay 711). SDS is located on the top floor of the Student Health Center, Room 103.


Writing Center

The Writing Center offers one-on-one writing feedback for all UNI undergraduate and graduate students. Certified Writing Coaches work with students to help them successfully manage all phases of the writing process, from getting started, to citing and documenting, to editing and proofreading. Schedule appointments at 008 ITTC or 319-273-2361.


The Writing Center also offers GRE Essay and PPST Writing preparation workshops, and the Online Writing Guide at