Every year undergraduate journalism students in their third year at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism enroll in a class called Introduction to Online Media, otherwise known as JOUR 309. The course covers the fundamentals of storytelling on the web.

This semester, JOUR 309 was separated into five sections taught by different professors with extensive experience in the journalism industry. Some of the media outlets and non-profits instructors have worked for include Investigate West, The Seattle Times, Yahoo Sports and LA Weekly, among others.

Professors assigned each student a topic and region in Los Angeles to investigate. The beats included education, immigration, crime and arts and culture.

“I loved getting to know the community I was assigned. I’ve lived in Los Angeles county my whole life and I never got to know the communities by USC,” said Gabriella Fernandez, a student in Professor Eric Orvieto’s class. “It was such a treat to go in depth to discover what lay around the USC bubble.”

Throughout the course, students learned how to further their storytelling by creating audio slideshows, editing photos and coding different elements.

“I enjoyed the class because I was never previously taught coding before,” said Hannah Wing, a junior in Professor Kim Bui’s class. “I felt accomplished when I was able to pitch a story idea, conduct interviews, and shoot photos to put together in a final project. It was really cool seeing all of the aspects of coding and my own work come together for a digital project that anyone can see!”

In addition to learning the ins and outs of digital journalism, students led discussions on news trends, diversity in the media, election coverage and emerging technologies. This part of the class is designed to inform students about the changes journalism is undergoing and how they can use their skills to impact the industry.

Every week, a student would choose a topic of discussion and present it to their class.

“I really enjoyed the student presentations where we discussed different digital media topics,” said Hannah Vicente, a student in Professor Keith Plocek’s class. “I enjoyed hearing my peer’s different perspectives."

Aside from their peers, students were able to hear from guest speakers who were invited to their classes. Professor Robert Hernandez introduced students to the basics of media law through UCI Law instructor Jack Lerner.

Lerner’s lecture touched on copyright laws, defamation on the internet and privacy rights. He also discussed the benefits and drawbacks of journalists having a strong online presence.

The class itself also covered how to create an online presence by way of helping students create their own websites and introducing them to sites like about.me, Muck Rack and flavors.me.

“It was super helpful in helping me get started with HTML coding basics and creating an impactful online presence,” said Beverly Pham, a student in Plocek’s class. “I enjoyed using web tools for journalism in a nontraditional way.”

As students were introduced to new tools and were gaining the skills necessary for digital storytelling,they also expanded on some of the skills they learned in other journalism classes.

“I think my photography skills improved significantly over the semester,” said Rachel Cohrs, a student in Professor Robert Hernandez’s class. “I pushed myself to experiment with different perspectives and became a more careful editor.”

The class culminated with final projects that encouraged students to combine their basic reporting skills with the knowledge of digital tools gained from Jour 309. Each student coded a page related to the neighborhood and topic they were assigned. Some students faced difficulties along the way, especially with the coding of elements. But were able to overcome them and see the value of the course for their future careers in journalism.

“The best thing about the online media class was learning how to do so many things I never thought I would be capable of in order to further my storytelling,” said Erika Lee, a student of Plocek’s class. “I did not know how to code a webpage or make a gif before so it's awesome that I can do that now. I know that the skills I learned in this class will equip me to become a better digital journalist in future newsrooms.”