Holiday website highlights journalism students’ gifts

Students in Brian Ekdale's journalism class discuss one component of the holiday website they created

Students in Brian Ekdale's journalism class discuss one component of the holiday website they created. Photo by Tim Schoon.

Whether you’re interested in learning about the history of “Jingle Bells” or how to stay fit during the holiday season, a University of Iowa journalism class is hoping to have your answer during this holiday season.

The 17 students in this fall’s Online Journalism course created a holiday-themed website, Iowa Holidays ( as a capstone project. The collaborative site was designed by the class to provide holiday information for Corridor area residents.

The course is an upper-level class in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Taught by assistant professor of journalism Brian Ekdale, it is designed for students to acquire the multimedia skills that are a necessity in today’s job market.

During the last four weeks of the semester, each student created a multimedia package for the site composed of writing, live blogging, audio, audio slide shows, video, or interactive data visualization.

Ekdale says that these skills are growing increasingly important for students preparing for full-time careers.

“Employers in the journalism and communications industries aren’t looking for people who are simply good text reporters,” Ekdale says. “They’re looking for people who can also take a video camera to get some footage while they’re also live blogging and tweeting. You’re expected to have a wide variety of skills.

Iowa Holidays
Check out the various Iowa Holidays online venues:




“The focus of the course really isn’t on depth in any of these areas, but I want to give them a breadth of skills to show to future employers.”

Students chose the holiday theme for the site because it allowed for a broad array of topics to be covered in a variety of ways.

“We found that a holiday site could incorporate everything we wanted to cover—local entertainment, traditions, how-tos, sports—while staying focused on a common theme,” says Nick Kappel, a senior journalism major from Waterloo.

Stephanie Nelson, a senior journalism and political science major from Belvidere, Ill., served as the managing editor for the website.

“Our goal was to create a site that offered something to everyone in the Corridor area,” Nelson says.

Students contributed pieces on a number of topics, including home decorating ideas, holiday fashion, even a how-to video on gift-wrapping.

“I don’t know how to wrap presents that well,” Kappel says. “I have a friend who is a really efficient gift wrapper so we put together a how-to video for people who might need some tips.”

Kappel and Laurie Lehman, a senior journalism major from Iowa City, were on the publicity team (the class broke into six teams to tackle the project). It was the duo’s job to spread the word about the site, including creating Twitter (!/IowaHolidays) and Facebook ( accounts.

Lehman, who says she’s not completely sure what she’d like to do when she graduates, found that this hands-on project taught her valuable skills she’ll be able to point to when talking to potential employers.

And Nelson says she gained a really solid understanding of online journalism. “The hands-on experience is invaluable in today’s journalistic world. Every journalism student should take an online journalism class like this.”

Ekdale says he’s proud of the students and what they’ve accomplished over the semester.

“I’ve really been able to step back and let them make this their own,” he says. “There is value in learning how to work together and figure out the collaborative nature of online work while providing a service to the community.”

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