Journalists train for disasters — virtually

Press release: Course teaches journalists in a virtual world how to cover disasters and crises in the real world

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas collaborated with the Virtual Journalism Learning Center (VJLC) to offer a free course in Spanish on “How to Cover Natural Disasters and Crises,” earlier this month. The training session was conducted entirely in VJLC’s virtual facility in Second Life.

The training focused on helping journalists learn the basic strategies and decision-making skills needed to cover a natural disaster or crisis situation (flood, earthquake, health pandemic, etc.). Specific newsgathering, reporting and storytelling techniques were covered. Argentinean journalist Sandra Crucianelli taught the three-hour course.

Participants needed access to the Internet at the time of the training and a voice-enabled headset in order to take the course. An account with Second Life was not required. Students were provided with an account upon enrollment in the training. Those who completed the training received a certificate of participation.

Amy Schmitz Weiss

“This collaboration between the Virtual Journalism Learning Center and Knight Center is very important so that this kind of training opportunity can be available to as many journalists as possible in Latin America,” said Amy Schmitz Weiss, Ph.D., assistant professor of journalism at San Diego State University. “The virtual platform of Second Life provides an excellent opportunity for the journalists to jump in and practice their skills in a crisis situation without risk. It gives them a safe environment to hone their skills so they can be better prepared for covering a future disaster or crisis.”

The Knight Center has previously collaborated with Dr. Weiss on her research to determine best ways to train journalists in virtual world, as in the course Mathematics for Journalists, offered in 2010.

“We have been pioneers in the use of the Internet to train journalists, since we launched our distance learning program in 2003, but we have also been interested in collaborating with Dr. Weiss’ experiments on the use of virtual worlds to teach reporting techniques,” said professor Rosental Alves, Knight Center’s founder and director. “Virtual worlds, in this case Second Life, offer unique opportunities for journalism training and for education in general.”

Amy Schmitz Weiss at the the Virtual Journalism Learning Center in Second Life. (Image courtesy Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.)

Weiss founded the Virtual Journalism Learning Center  in 2009. The mission of the Center is to help journalists become better reporters so their news stories can indirectly help save lives, relief efforts can be identified quickly, and the general public can be well informed to make the best decisions during these moments of crisis or disaster.

The Center is currently funded through a generous grant of the Campanile Foundation at San Diego State University.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas was created in 2002 by Professor Rosental Alves at the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism. It has been funded with a generous donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Center also receives contributions from other donors, including the Open Society Foundations and The University of Texas at Austin. The Center’s main goal is to help journalists in Latin American and the Caribbean improve the quality of journalism in their countries.

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