Dec. 17, 2007
University of Iowa journalism students get creative with 'Caucus on the Cob' site
Through a class project called "Caucus on the Cob," University of Iowa journalism students spent the semester developing online journalism skills and a better understanding of how the Iowa Caucuses work.
Students in the online journalism workshop created a weekly online publication at www.caucusonthecob.com, where they posted blog entries, print and broadcast stories, photos and instructional videos about the caucuses. The students spent part of the semester as editors, overseeing and offering feedback on stories and determining which stories got priority placement, and the rest of the time as reporters, pitching story ideas and developing content for the site.
"The Iowa Caucuses are a powerful and fruitful topic, perfect for our news portal," said instructor David Domingo, assistant visiting professor of journalism in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "We wanted to take advantage of this special moment we are living in with candidates visiting our state every day and give students the opportunity to cover real news events."
Each issue contained seven to nine stories, but not just run-of-the-mill coverage of stump speeches. Domingo encouraged students to think beyond daily campaign coverage and strive for alternative stories. One story focused on a Barack Obama supporter who had enough signs to make her yard "the TGIFridays of the Obama campaign." Others wrote about "provocative political products" --merchandise ranging from thong underwear to baby bibs that make fun of candidates -- and about the music played at campaign events, from John F. Kennedy's 1960 theme song, "High Hopes" by Frank Sinatra, to AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long," which was played at a Rudy Giuliani rally on campus.
"The stories were very original," Domingo said. "Some students weren't all that interested in politics, but they found ways around it and became enthusiastic about the project, coming up with interesting features like a fashion story on what can be inferred from how candidates dress."
Many stories were exploratory as students investigated how the caucuses work. One student created a narrated animated clip with stick-figure drawings illustrating the different ways Democrats and Republicans show support for candidates at the caucuses. Another story defined political slang.
The class updated the site with a content management system, as reporters and editors at a news organization would, and discussed how online journalism is an evolving field.
"While print and broadcast journalism practices are very established, online journalism is far from fixed in stone," Domingo said. "It has been around for a little over a decade, but it's still about exploring options."
All 16 people in the course were graduate or undergraduate students majoring in journalism, but their backgrounds varied. Some had a double major in political science, while others were just being introduced to the caucuses.
"The first thing I had to learn was what a caucus is because there is no such thing in Germany," said Christine Elsaesser, a senior international student in the class. "It amazes me that this really seems to be grassroot politics and that so many different people are involved and active."
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.
MEDIA CONTACTS: David Domingo, UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, 319-335-3360; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070, firstname.lastname@example.org