Upstarts - and proud of it

Upstarts - and proud of it

Dr Zion, centre, and Dr Scanlon, rear, with Tom Cowie and Honours students Kelly Theobald.

They may be a bunch of upstarts, but the world is taking notice.

Many of today’s top journalists and editors cut their teeth on university newspapers like Rabelais, Farrago and Lot’s Wife which, through a combination of wit and notoriety, became household names during the 1970s.

A year ago, La Trobe University’s Journal-ism team pioneered an innovative online publication to give today’s journalism students a similar chance to shine in the competitive and diverse world of 21st century media.

Called upstart ( the web magazine is the idea of documentary film maker and journalist Lawrie Zion, and writer and commentator, Chris Scanlon. Both teach in La Trobe media and journalism courses.

Dr Zion, journalism course co-ordinator and editor-in-chief of upstart, says the world’s media landscape is changing rapidly.

Students need to demonstrate they can work across a wide range of media by the time they graduate. Upstart allows them to do this from their first year.

Global coverage

Upstart – which also features work from other universities and emerging journalists – has already built up a strong following, attracting attention internationally as well as in domestic mainstream media. The site has received more than 100,000 hits, and has more than 1,000 followers on Twitter, where details of each article are posted.

An upstart article in May sought nominations for ‘100 articles every journalist should read’. The quest received media coverage as far afield as the UK, in the online publication, which focused on the fact that upstart was using ‘crowdsourcing’ to help produce its list of articles.

The ‘100 articles list’, says Dr Zion, is a joint project between upstart and students from La Trobe’s new one-year coursework Master of Global Communications degree. Students from seven countries are undertaking the course this year.

‘So what should journalists read about journalism?’ upstart asks. ‘Should we be influenced by musings about the relationship between blogging and journalism, or by some timeless advice from George Orwell?’

Dr Zion says submissions reflect the international nature of much of today’s journalism and the process can be followed on Twitter.

They range from works by murdered Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge and Karl Marx to a feature on nature journalism from Time magazine. And the list will not only be text-based, reflecting the need for journalists to work across many media platforms, says Dr Zion.

Job hunt

Another ‘upstart’ attracting attention is final year student and former site editor, Tom Cowie. He used it to launch a social media campaign to help him find work when he graduates.

Stories about his blog, ‘Tom wants a Job’ have featured in The Australian newspaper and on ABC radio’s popular Jon Faine morning program.

One of his early upstart pieces, on Gen Y, was picked up by On Line Opinion, Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate, where contributors range from Tony Abbott to Tariq Ali. He has also been published on Crikey, The Punch, and the Fairfax’s National Times.

In June he landed a reporting job with Crikey.

Citizen journalism

The link between upstart and Twitter is expected to increase during the upcoming election campaign through an innovative experiment in citizen journalism developed by Dr Chris Scanlon.

Called Oz Election: A Nation Tweeting to Itself, he’s developed a new section of the upstart site that combines Twitter and Google Maps to plot ‘tweets’ on a map of Australia.

‘The aim,’ Dr Scanlon says, ‘is to track the political pulse of the nation in real-time by enabling the public to report on the campaign using Twitter, part of a research project to see how citizen journalism affects elections.’

However, as Dr Zion points out in a recent La Trobe podcast Teaching Emerging Journalists, underpinning all these high-profile and experimental ventures in social media and citizen journalism are core attributes of good journalism that don’t change.

‘You still need to teach people to think critically, to find the right kind of information, to develop working relationships with contacts (and in this age of increasing spin) to be able to identify when there’s more to a story than they’re being told,’ he says.