J215: Intro to Multimedia Fall 2019

Instructor: Jeremy Rue, continuing lecturer
Room: Upper Newsroom Room 106
Time: Thursdays 9:00 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Course Description

This is an elective class open to first-year students at the Graduate School of Journalism who wish to learn skills for digital reporting and production. This course will cover a wide variety of topics, including data acquisition and interrogation, public records requests, visual design and theory, motion graphics lessons, and basic web coding. This is an introductory course; no prior knowledge of technical concepts is required.

Learning Outcomes

Among the topics covered include:

  • Public records — Students will learn how to request local, state, and federal records using different versions of the Public Records Act. Students will learn about available datasets on a wide variety of topics;
  • Data journalism — The class will cover spreadsheet software for sorting, cleaning and summarizing data. Students will learn about pitfalls when working with data, and understand how to corroborate information in their reporting using data;
  • Graphic design — There will be lessons on graphical composition, color theory, and the gestalt principles of design (contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity). These lessons will be applicable to everything from designing websites, resumes, or presenting visual media that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but communicates information effectively;
  • Digital security — Students will learn about operational security (OPSEC) for journalism. Students will learn how to model threats, compartment their information, and learn tools like encryption for protecting their information;
  • Social Media Verification — The class will cover how to conduct forensic analysis on the metadata of images, video, PDFs and other media. The goal is to prove authenticity by looking for key markers left in the data of media. Such techniques aid reporting in innumerable ways;
  • Motion graphics/After Effects — There will be several class sessions devoted to building motion graphic 'explainer videos,' which use animated graphics for simplifying arcane concepts to the general public;
  • Mapping — Students will learn how to build simple locater maps that provide geographic context to stories. In addition, these lessons will include a wide variety of tools for building different types of maps that visualize data;
  • Build websites with code (HTML/CSS) — Students will learn how to build personal portfolio websites for showcasing their work to prospective employers;

Guest speakers: More importantly, this course will include guest speakers from industry professionals to discuss important topics afflicting the news industry. The class will delve into the intellectual and ethical discussions taking place at a time of prodigious change and reflection by the industry. Students will learn to think critically to evaluate how digital tools are reshaping journalism practice, and consider how to best wield innovations in light of emerging challenges.

Course Outcomes

There are two goals with this course: The first is to equip students with skills that are highly sought in the journalism industry. Data skills, public record requests, and other research tools taught in this class are among the basic toolkit of reporters these days. They will also set a foundation for students wishing to pursue roles in investigative journalism, digital production, web development, or graphic design.

The second goal is to provide students with a literacy in language of coding to better understand the media ecosystem, and to think critically about how these tools reshape the industry, and reflect about their implications on society and democracy.


This course requires the purchase of one books and recommends several others. Some assignments will be drawn from the required text.

    Required Reading:
  • Cohen, Sarah Numbers in the Newsroom (Approx $15) ISBN 978-0976603719


Assignments are listed in the course schedule, and include the following three types of assignments.

  • Homework assignments
  • In-class assignments
  • Explainer video

Grading Policy

Grades for this course will be divided into the following criteria. All grading, attendance, and assignments will be done through bCourses.

Class participation/Homework Assignments/Quizzes20%
Explainer video60%

Class Schedule

Aug 29
Introduction — This session will teach students how to sort, clean, and summarize data using spreadsheet software.
Homework: Complete assignment on data interrogation using pivot tables.
Sep 5
Requesting Records Session 1 — Learn the basics of making Public Records Requests (PRA) for local, state, and federal agencies.
Homework: Find an interesting PRA request on the Oakland database, and write a short memo detailing what you learned.
Homework: Assignment from chapter 1-6 in Number in the Newsroom.
Sep 12
Requesting Records Session 2 (Guest Speaker) — A FOIA expert will visit class and discuss examples in dealing with FOIA, repeals, and litigation. The session will cover feedback on previous week's homework, and viability for stories.
Homework: Create a FOIA request using all of the components discussed in class.
Sep 19
Social Media Verification — We will go through a lesson on verifying social media content by doing a forensic analysis of the metadata, and looking for key markers in the media that give indication to weather it's authentic. Members of the Human Rights Center may stop by to assist.
Homework: Take the photos given in class, and in groups determine when and where they were taken.
Sep 26
Cleaning Data — We will use a mixure of tools, including Open Refine, for cleaning and analyzing data. Session will include tools for extracting data from PDFs, and basic numeracy pitfalls.
Homework: Take example dataset, normalize it, find outliers, then summarize into a short story.
Oct 3
Visual Design — This lesson will include a lecture on visual design principles: contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity. It will cover the design process from soup-to-nuts, and techniques for effective visual communication.
Homework: Take the resume example given in class, and redesign it using the gestalt principles of design.
Oct 10
Building Websites 1 — This lesson will be an introduction to coding your own portfolio website.
Homework: Submit the basic website you made in class, but with your content.
Complete the practice quiz.

Oct 17
Building Websites 2 — This lesson is part two to building your own portfolio website.
Homework: Work on your completed portfolio website.
Homework: Complete the practice quiz.
Oct 24
Introduction to Mapping 1 — These next two classes will cover mapping techniques using Google Earth and DataWrapper. We will go over general rules about making maps, and how to avoid pitfalls. Includes a lesson on making a locator map in Photoshop.
Homework: Follow the locator map tutorial and submit the completed map.
Oct 31
Introduction to Mapping 2 — This class will cover more advanced techniques of reprojecting shapefile data using online tools, and uploading them to various website tools for displaying geographical information.
Nov 7
Making Explainer Videos in After Effects Part I (Koci) — This is part one of three classes where Asst. Prof. Koci Hernandez will go through the process of making explainer videos, a modern format for expository reporting that is optimzed for mobile viewing.
Nov 14
Making Explainer Videos in After Effects Part II (Koci) — This is part two of three where Asst. Prof. Koci Hernandez will go through the process of making explainer videos.
Nov 21
Making Explainer Videos in After Effects Part III (Koci) — This is the final class where Asst. Prof. Koci Hernandez will go through the process of making explainer videos.
Nov 28
Thanksgiving Break (NO CLASS) — No class this week
Homework: Turn in explainer video after the break.
Dec 5
Digital Security for Journalists — This class will cover operational security measures (OPSEC) for protecting both your data, and your sources. We'll cover threat modeling, compartmentation, and setup a number of tools for encrypting your files. We'll cover common scenarios like border crossings.
Dec 12
Problems with Digital Journalism — We will have a guest speaker lead a discussion about the challenges of trust in online journalism. We'll talk about innovations in AI, deepfakes, user generated content, and other issues. Come prepared with questions.

Attendance Policy

Students get one free unexcused absence without affecting their grade. Additional unexcused absences will affect the grading score.

Unexcused absences include sleeping in, prioritizing life event (like attending a wedding, pre-purchased tickets to an expensive concert, etc.), helping a roomate find a lost pet, even tending to a school related activity, like an interview, for another class. Any other reason that doesn't fall within the excused absence category — it is considered unexcused and it's your responsibility to catch up on the missed material.

Note: Please do not notify the instructor of an unexcused absence.

Excused absences, which do not affect grades, only include legitimate reasons as defined by the California Education Code (CEC). Among others, they include accommodation of religious activities, accommodation for disability, pregnancy and parenting, approved CEC situations like funeral services or jury duty, and due to illness with approved note from the UHS or other medical professional.

Regardless if the absence is excused, it is the student's responsibility to make up missed material. See instructor during office hours for questions regarding any missed assignments. Students should see the instructor if they miss more than three classes—excused or not—to determine the best course of action for being successful in the course.

Classroom Decorum Policy

Students must turn off the ringers on their cell phones before class begins. Students may not check e-mail, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or other websites during the lecture portions of the class.

Instructor Contact/Office Hours

Jeremy Rue, Continuing Lecturer
Office Hours: Wednesday, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism

Students will abide by the Student Code of Conduct http://students.berkeley.edu/uga/conduct.asp. There is a zero-tolerance policy for work that is submitted without proper attribution and that constitutes plagiarism. If students are unsure about the expectations regarding the Student Code of Conduct, please seek advice from the instructors.

Unit Counts

Note that a 2 unit class meets two hours a week and expects 4 hours of outside work. A 3 unit class meets three hours a week and expects 6 hours of outside work. This class may have variable units depending on the semester.