Published: Feb. 4, 2013

When I was eight years old and testing out career options, I would often stage interviews with imaginary subjects. My tools were simple: a pen, a notebook, and a Fisher-Price camera. Of course, as we all know, the tools of the modern journalist are quite different, and newspapers around the country are downsizing or shutting down. Some argue that the entire field is in crisis. As social media and crowdsourced news become increasingly sophisticated, the traditional role of the journalist seems to be diminishing. Journalism schools around the country are beginning to be absorbed into other departments and students encouraged to pursue more practical majors.

However, there are many reasons to remain optimistic about the future of journalism. The Digital News Test Kitchen at CU Boulder is an organization devoted to helping young journalists adapt to the changing discipline. Steve Outing, the program director and founder of the Digital News Test Kitchen, has a long track record of studying how journalism can evolve and adapt to our digital world. "I was among the early group of journalists in the early-to-mid 1990s who recognized that the Internet was going to have a profound impact on the news business and on how we do journalism," he explained.

The Test Kitchen is aimed at encouraging students to embrace the changing atmosphere of news writing. The Test Kitchen works with students in the journalism program who want to experiment with new tools and approaches like live video streaming, interactive images, and digital news storytelling. "In the brief time I’ve been working at CU," says Outing, "I’ve seen a change in many (not all) students’ appetite for innovating in what long has been a mostly static field."

In order to find an example of this change, look no further than the student-run CU Independent. Managing editor Rob Denton was recently chosen as one of the top student journalists in the country to cover the Presidential inauguration with PBS NewsHour, an experience that he detailed on the Digital News Test Kitchen blog.

"Rob took the opportunity to not only shoot some great photographs (his specialty), but also to experiment," says Outing, "He took a GoPro camera with him, mounted it on top of his DSLR, and recorded video while shooting stills, in order to experiment with a combined video/photo narration package later." In an attempt to allow online viewers to feel engaged in the experience, Denton also used a GoPano iPhone lens to film 360-degree video in the middle of a protest. "Viewers could move around the video at will," says Outing "so the protest experience was as close as we can get at this point to 'being there.'"

In 2006, several years before the Test Kitchen was founded, The CU Independent became one of the first student newspapers in the country to go completely digital. It was a controversial decision at the time, but today it's acknowledged that the online format gives student journalists more opportunities to experiment with digital storytelling and live coverage. Last semester, CU Independent collaborated with the Test Kitchen to provide coverage of the news editor Bethany Morris' first parachute jump. Using a GoPro camera and live-streaming mobile devices, CU Independent was able to post a live video of her jump and landing.

"This was a test run for students to understand how to live-stream events with low-cost digital equipment," says Outing. "'Skills' can be a dirty word at a big research university, but in the rapidly changing field of journalism, our graduates need advanced digital media skills."

Last month, Rob Denton, announced CU Independent's commitment to "pushing the boundaries of what online journalism can be." He also revealed the new mission statement-- a statement that, perhaps, The Digital News Test Kitchen hopes all media outlets would embrace: "We are not a paper. We are an interactive media site on the forefront of journalism."

Article by: Ashley E Williams