JOURNALIST. EDUCATOR. DIGITAL EVANGELIST.

Michelle JohnsonMichelle Johnson

M.S., Journalism, Columbia University; B.A., Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park.

Michelle Johnson is an Associate Professor of the Practice, Multimedia/Online Journalism, at Boston University, where she has taught full time since 2009. In addition to teaching, Johnson oversees the award-winning Boston University News Service, a showcase for work produced BU Journalism students. In 2014 BU News Service was named top online student news site by both the Associated Press, Massachusetts/Rhode Island, and the Society of Professional Journalists, Region I. 

BU News Service coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing was nationally recognized by the Online News Association, with awards in both student and professional categories in 2013.

Johnson was named 2013 Educator of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists. In 2012 she was the recipient of the Barry Bingham Fellowship, presented by the Association of Opinion Journalists for her work encouraging students of color to pursue journalism as a career.

Prior to teaching online journalism and multimedia at BU, she lectured in the journalism department at Emerson College as a Journalist in Residence and also spent several years there as technology manager, assisting in the renovation of the department into a multimillion dollar, cross-platform facility.

A former Boston Globe editor, Johnson was part of the team that launched the Globe’s regional web site, boston.com. Prior to moving into new media, she was an editor for the print edition of the Globe. She has extensive experience writing and editing for both print and online.

For more than 15 years, Johnson has taught numerous multimedia workshops for both professional journalists and students for a variety of organizations including the Online News Association, the American Society of News Editors, the Maynard Institute, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and UNITY, Journalists of Color Inc. Her work and teaching have taken her to newsrooms and training programs nationwide.

Johnson lives in Jamaica Plain, Mass., with her spouse, Myrna Greenfield. They were among the first same-sex couples to be married when it became legal in Massachusetts in 2004.

Photo by Victor Vaughn
(Photo by Victor Vaughn)

Teaching Philosophy: Get Out There and Do It!

As a professor of the practice, my teaching philosophy and style come down to this: Get out there and do it. (Apologies to Nike.)

I’m always on the hunt for ways to give my students practical experience using the latest tools and techniques to produce great journalism for digital platforms. I always start by reviewing the basics of journalism and how they translate to online/digital. I explain that the delivery vehicle is different, but the important tenets of journalism are the same. Accuracy, ethics and news judgment don’t go flying out of the window just because you’re working in a medium that in many ways is unconstrained.

We also discuss why it’s important to produce content that takes advantage of digital as its own medium. For instance, it’s pointless to look at the web as a repository for “repurposed” material  from “legacy” platforms. There are differences between TV news packages and web video. Lengthy print articles aren’t written with a web audience in mind. Dumping a static graphic online without making it interactive and giving users the ability to delve deeper with a few clicks doesn’t use the web to its full advantage.

DanielWWhen it comes time to practice, I get my students out of the classroom. I’ve sent them a few blocks away to Fenway Park to test out video apps. They’ve livestreamed reports from the top of a building just above the finish line at the Boston Marathon. They work as editors and producers for BU News Service. Their work gets picked up by our media partners, including CNN Newswire, boston.com and WCVB TV.

I teach my students to be flexible and not get so caught up in the technology that they lose the story. Although we learn to edit using Final Cut, I also let them use iMovie, Windows MovieMaker, Adobe Premier and other software because I want them to be able to work wherever they land. It’s not so much about teaching specific software. It’s about teaching workflow and concepts that they can transfer to whatever they have available. I’ve heard from former students that they appreciated this because their employers don’t have a budget for fancy software.

Along the same lines, I teach them to shoot and edit with mobile phones, Flipcams and DSLRs because they should be prepared for anything. Obviously the goal is to capture the best photos, video, and sound when they can. However, sometimes a cell phone camera is the best tool for the job.

I also teach my students to match the medium to the story. If you’re working cross-platform you have a number of options. Would this story be best told with text, video, audio? Knowing how to make that call is important.

Finally, I hope that I always pass along my enthusiasm for and love of experimentation. That means using tools that weren’t specifically developed for journalists. Twitter wasn’t created with journalism in mind, but it’s part of most reporter toolkits today. So, whenever I see something new, even if it’s still a beta, we call it up in class and talk about how we’d use it to do some journalism.

My hope is that my students will hit newsrooms looking to innovate and help to move the industry forward.

Resume/CV

Syllabi


Student Work

Advanced Online Journalism

Students in this course work in teams to produce a comprehensive multimedia project. They conceive, plan and execute this piece over the course of the semester. They learn project management, advanced shooting and editing techniques, digital storytelling methods and web production. I teach co-teach this course with a documentary filmmaker who is also a former TV news cameraman.

Projects

Food Journey: Stories of immigrant restaurant owners.

Boston’s Beer Culture

Live Action Roleplaying

Faces of Unemployment

Boston Food Trucks

Living With Alzheimer’s

Data Visualization

For this project, the students wanted to add a feature that allowed users to search a database of hundreds of locations of Boston area bakeries. They collected the data and used a tool called Caspio, which is used by major news organizations to produce similar interactive features.

Boston Baked Fresh

BU News Service

Boston Marathon and Bombings

Marathon site | Bombings and aftermath
On a day that’s normally joyous as triumphant runners cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon, two blasts took lives, injured many others, and shook the city and the nation. BU News Service covered the marathon as we always do, but when tragedy struck, we switched gears and covered the story for two long weeks alongside local, national and international media. Our work was picked up by news organizations nationwide, including WCVB-Boston, CNN, NBC and The Boston Globe’s boston.com.

Presidential Inauguration

View the site
BU News Service traveled to Washington, D.C., to cover the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. I was one of two faculty members who oversaw coverage by 12 BU journalism students working out of our DC program office.

Decision 2012

View the site
In an unprecedented collaboration that brought together nearly 100 students, faculty and staff, BU provided full team coverage of the presidential election. BU News Service launched as a full-time site on election night.
 

Campaign 2012

View the site

For large projects, multiple classes produce team coverage of major events in the Boston area. Generally I serve as online coordinator of these projects. Sometimes my classes participate as a class assignment, other times not.

In the example above, my class was assigned to cover Super Tuesday for the BU News Service Campaign 2012 multimedia web site along with several other classes. My class live blogged, wrote advance stories and produced an interactive map and a recap of the day’s events via Storify. Photojournalism students filed photos, beat reporting classes text stories and broadcast students produced a live newscast (not archived) and video packages. I’ve designed this site to take us through the campaign, staring with primary coverage, Super Tuesday, the DNC and RNC conventions and ending with the election in November.

Boston Marathon 2011

Watch this video on YouTube

Marathon 2011 coverage was produced by students in my intro multimedia course and grad students in the photojournalism program. ScribbleLive, a company that produces live blogging software, approached us with an offer to use their “white label” account to cover the marathon. This year’s coverage will include multiple classes. Stories, photos and video will be made available to WCVB-TV (our local ABC affiliate) and Patch.com. See the site.

Online News Association 2011

As co-chair of ONA’s 2011 conference, I spent two years helping to organize another successful gathering of professional journalists who work for online media. This sold-out event featured workshops, panel discussions, field trips to Google’s Boston offices and a look at the Boston Globe/boston.com’s new innovation lab.

Among my duties, I served as co-chair of the ONA Student Newsroom, a competitive program that brings some of the brightest students in journalism to the annual convention to cover it online alongside professional mentors. While the newsroom is funded by Google, funding does not cover all costs. I arranged for loans of equipment (cameras, tripods etc.) from BU, recruited faculty from local colleges to serve as mentors and arranged a field trip for the students to boston.com. One of BU’s students was chosen from a pool of 140 students to participate in the program. In the video below, I explain a little about how the program works and the student tells the story of her participation in the program.
Watch this video on YouTube

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Practice, Focus

Summary: My interests/focuses are as follows: delivering news via mobile platforms; data visualization and data journalism; entrepreneurial journalism; diversity in online journalism.

I recently presented at a panel discussion in Washington on the future of new media, pegged on the Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism’s most recent State of the Media report. The annual snapshot of the health of the industry has been fairly bleak for many years. However, one bright light continues to be digital, despite the uncertainty about where the revenue will come from to support it.

In a special report on mobile devices attached to this year’s survey, the PEJ notes that not only are more people accessing news on mobile devices, they’re accessing it more frequently and in deeper ways than they do on desktop and laptop computers.

The report offers lots of support for the theory that the future is mobile, and it defines 2011 as the true start of the mobile age. Tablet and smartphone ownership are up and many Americans own more than one mobile device. The upside is that this is also driving up news consumption.

As someone who’s immersed in the online side, I’m paying close attention to this assessment. There was a lot in this report that intersects with my interests as a professor of the practice.

For many years I’ve been an evangelist for taking tools meant for other purposes and using them to commit acts of journalism. Much of the innovation online has been spurred by non-media companies such as Google and Twitter. That needs to change. The news industry as a whole needs to innovate in order to save itself, and the journalism schools should be a supportive partner in that effort.

Going forward I would like to focus on creating partnerships with newsrooms, tech companies and experts in the fields of computer science and multi-platform storytelling to create tools that facilitate the production and delivery of news to mobile devices. I would like to seek out opportunities for my students to be immersed in the development of these tools so that they enter the industry as leaders who can spur the kinds of innovation it will take to transform the industry.

Beyond mobile, my interests include:

  1. Data visualization and database journalism. Data viz, in particular, is a hot area that’s just starting to move out of its infancy. I am currently ramping up my teaching in this area and looking to colleagues who do investigative reporting for ideas and ways to collaborate with my students to produce data journalism.
  2. Entrepreneurial journalism. If innovation is to happen in the industry, our students need to be better prepared for the new economic realities. They need to understand how to conceive, produce and fund great journalism. Developing an entrepreneurial journalism course has been on my “todo list” for some time. If given the opportunity, I’d like to study best practices for teaching entrepreneurial journalism with an eye toward developing a course that takes it to a new level.
  3. Diversity. ASNE’s most recent figures once again showed a decline in the numbers of journalists of color. I recently guest blogged about a concern of mine that students of color are not engaging with coursework that covers multi-platform news. Following the publication of the blog post, I began collaborating with a group of journalism profs of color who teach online/multimedia journalism. We plan to meet soon to discuss this issue and to pursue funding to support research on this topic.

Outside Projects, Service

For more than 20 years I have served as a volunteer for the student projects at the ethnic and minority journalism association annual conferences. These competitive programs select journalism students from across the US, Canada and Puerto Rico to work alongside professional journalists as they cover the convention. Below is a sampling of our work from past projects:

National Association of Black JournalistsNational Association of Hispanic Journalists UNITYOnline News Association

Honors/Awards

I was honored to be named NABJ’s Educator of the Year, 2013

I’ll be serving as chair of the Online News Association’s Student Newsroom supervising a team of journalism students, educators and professionals as we cover ONA 13 in Atlanta. I will also be the project leader, online, for the National Association of Black Journalists student project in Atlanta this summer.


 

Decision 2012 Web Site

I’m currently the coordinator for Boston University News Service. Among the big stories we’ve covered this past year: The presidential election and inauguration and the Boston Marathon and bombings. For more, see this page.


I attended the Online News Association’s 2012 convention in San Francisco. As co-chair of the Student Newsroom I helped to produce coverage of ONA12. Here are my takeaways from the conference for journalism educators:


On my way back to Boston from ONA, I stopped in Orlando to accept an award from the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Michelle Johnson accepts the Barry Bingham Sr. Award for encouraging students of color to enter journalism in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 22, 2012.

Michelle Johnson accepts the Barry Bingham Sr. Award for encouraging students of color to enter journalism in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 22, 2012.


Last summer I once again served as coordinator of the online student project at the National Association of Black Journalists conference in New Orleans. We selected a top-notch group of students from colleges and universities across the nation to provide daily news coverage of NABJ 2012. They produced the NABJ Monitor newspaper, NABJ TV and nabjconvention.org.

 

 


Served as production manager for the UNITY 2012 student project. UNITY, a coalition of minority journalism professionals, met in Las Vegas in August, 2012.

Social Media

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Expertise

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Recommendations

“Michelle possesses an unusual ability to blend experimentation and serious journalism with a practical, get-it-done attitude that’s inspiring.”
— Jane McDonnell, Executive Director, Online News Association

I have known Michelle Johnson for almost 20 years.  She is a consummate journalist, editor and teacher. Her column on “Personal Technology” which appeared in the Boston Globe was one of the most widely read and talked about columns on technology issues in my workplace. It was always timely and presented technical information in a clear and accessible manner. Many people miss her voice on this topic. In the years that I have known Michelle I have been most impressed by her commitment and dedication to working with students in journalism. Her work with African American and Latino/Latina students is truly exemplary. I’ve seen her work with these students and what is most apparent is her enthusiasm and the innovative exercises she created that allow the students to develop the skills of a working journalist. I know of no one else who has made the kind of commitment Michelle has made to working with students and who has done it so well.
— Evelynn M. Hammonds, Dean of Harvard College, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies

Michelle Johnson could rest on her career as the pioneering editor of Boston.com, but she has distinguished herself in several ways since moving into teaching. As opposed to many academics in new media, she really has taken the time to master and stay updated with the technical details of various skills needed for multimedia journalism. Her workshop approach is practical and useful. She spends her ”free” time often at conferences helping young journalists master these skills as well, starting and running student web sites for NABJ and NAHJ, among others. In that matter, she is developing the diverse voices and skills to reflect on nation’s changing face and interests — and to keep media relevant to a mass audience. She really cares about her students, as several who have worked at boston.com can attest.
— David Beard, Sitewide Engagement Editor, Washington Post

Michelle Johnson is one of those rare individuals who has made a significant difference in the journalism industry without looking for the recognition. Her commitment to diversity, to student journalists and to her colleagues is inspirational. Not to mention that she is one of the pioneer journalists who recognized the power of the Web and technology early on. We became good friends and partners in crime nearly 10 years when we co-organized NAHJ’s student online project. I had the pleasure of seeing her work with the students, mentoring them in the fundamentals of journalism as well as empowering them to be proud of the Web as it fought for its place among the other media. She’s had an incredible influence on me. She’s a wonderful person and great friend.
— Robert Hernandez, Assistant Professor of the Practice, USC Annenberg

Michelle Johnson isn’t just one of the mentors for NABJ’s annual summer convention news projects for college journalists. She is THE online mentor. From scratch, she created an online teaching and training program as part of the NABJ student projects, which operate at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention each summer.  For years the organization operated TV, radio and newspaper projects to give college journalists hands-on experience in covering breaking news and writing profiles of members. But when the digital revolution came, there was only one member out of 4,000 to whom NABJ could turn to create the convention news web site that is now a staple of the four-day convention. And that was Michelle, whose patience and expertise combined to make the online program almost as popular as the daily newspaper distributed to convention go-ers.  Few people teach better. Few people work harder. And her training wasn’t limited to students. She became the spirit guide of dozens of journalists dragged kicking and screaming into the New Age.
— Rochelle Riley, Columnist, Detroit Free Press

Michelle Johnson is a consummate professional with a strong background in both journalism and technology. For several years, I edited her personal technology column in the Boston Globe. Her ideas were always cutting edge, her execution flawless, and she was a pleasure to work with. And virtually alone among the columnists I’ve dealt with over the years, Michelle always filed on time.
— Robert Weisman, Business Writer, The Boston Globe

Michelle is more than a “Jill of all trades.” She is an expert in communications and technology; a patient, steady hand as an editor and manager; a sensitive, grounded journalist aware of the interests and needs of a diverse, contemporary community; and a woman who gives her full attention and commitment to her work with young people and seasoned veterans alike. I’ve had the pleasure of working with on a half-dozen student projects and programs in the past decade, and I’d gladly commit to more, knowing she’s there.
— Chuck Small, Raleigh, NC, National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association

Michelle Johnson has overseen the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ (NAHJ) Latino Reporter Digital online news project since 1997. Her dedication and hard work in helping to mold that next generation of journalists who have gone beyond the “cutting edge” in storytelling has been invaluable in the development of Latino student journalists who have gone on to join the professional ranks. NAHJ’s Latino Reporter Digital project is held at our annual convention for one week during the month of June. This project has broken news and, under Michelle’s leadership, has found unique and captivating ways to encourage students to tell stories.

Several of Michelle’s past student mentees have gone on to become successful professional journalists. Among them are:

  • Icess Fernandez, education reporter, Shreveport Times of Shreveport, La.
  • Blanca Torres, reporter, San Francisco Business Times
  • Cristina Silva, reporter, The Boston Globe

There are scores of other Latino journalists who have had the opportunity to learn under Michelle’s tutelage. Her professionalism, dedication to quality journalism, and impeccable sense of ethics have played major roles in creating a solid foundation for journalists who come from diverse backgrounds to take that first step on the path to successful careers as storytellers.
— Kevin Olivas, Parity Project Director, National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ)

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What Students Say

We really appreciated how much your class emphasized the importance of Web 2.0, social media, and multimedia in contemporary journalism – it was definitely one of the most relevant classes we’ve taken during our time at COM. Your positive outlook about the future of journalism meant a lot to us.
—  Nina Mashurova, Boston University, Journalism,  ’11 

Prof. Johnson knows interactivity better than any journalist I know. She’s a talented teacher and gives students lots of one-on-one instruction during class and during her office hours. Web skills are what we young reporters need most to make ourselves marketable and I’m really glad to have Michelle teaching me.
— Sam Clarke, Emerson College, Print and Multimedia Journalism, ’09

Michelle Johnson’s biggest strength was her ability to embed the lessons she taught. While she was an excellent teacher in the classroom because she was able to make the material ridiculously accessible and easy to digest, providing a lot of practical skills that have served me well in the field, it was her “get out there and do it” attitude that made it all stick. When I had her class, we were all first-semester students with very little experience. Most professors would have played it safe, but Michelle didn’t. She assigned each of us to cover the 2006 Massachusetts governor’s race, encouraging us to get interviews with the candidates, cover the election, run our own polls and our own news feed. This enabled practical application of the skills she taught us, and a chance to develop and hone them in a meaningful and memorable way. Of all the professors I had at Emerson College, I learned the most from Michelle Johnson.
— Bart Brooks, NJ.com, Emerson College Master’s Degree, ‘07

Michelle is an engaging teacher who blends historical context with contemporary examples to show trends and explain how and why things are the way they are now. I’ve been under her instruction for two classes in my time at Emerson. In both classes, Michelle demonstrated a command of the material she was teaching and showed enthusiasm for the subject. She also brought in guest speakers when appropriate to provide outside expertise and insight from their own experiences. Michelle is a great teacher because she actively stays informed about events, trends, and technology, especially as it relates to news reporting.
— Lynette Cornell, Emerson College, ‘09

My former students work for a variety of news organizations and non-profits around the world.
Here’s a sampling:

  • Boston Globe
  • boston.com
  • NBC News, Rock Center
  • NY Times Magazine
  • Mashable.com
  • Politico.com
  • NJ.com
  • ESPN.com
  • World Wildlife Fund
  • AP Broadcast
  • Washington Post
  • Aspen Institute
  • Daily Meal
  • WLNE-TV, Rhode Island
  • Patch.com