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Inside Google’s London headquarters Image David Dunkley Gyimah

The critical praise could not have been anymore effusive. Ten weeks earlier, eleven students began a run on Online, a module that underplays its name. Today, they were at Google headquarters pitching their sites to a Matt @mattcooke_uk from the Google News lab team.

Well done. Another good presentation. I like the style, the personal style. You almost tell a story when you start and that’s how you do an engagement pitch.

Matt wasn’t pulling any punches. He sees a fair amount of presentations and pitches. ‘I would have wanted to know more about your team’ he added.

Everyone agreed, given the rich mix of the group (Europeans, Egyptian, Chinese, Ghanaian, and South African ) and what each member brought to the project.

The Online module emerged from a simple and personal principle. Online gave me the fillip towards a secondary career, even earning me a Knight Batten Award and invites to talk around the world. The Judges said

This interactive magazine foreshadows the future with its use of hip new story forms and highly video-centric Web tools.”
-2005 Batten Advisory Board Judges

In the absence of employment from media houses, from pitching ideas such as ‘Intelligence and diversity’ and no commissioning editor taking a bite, entrepreneurial knowledge cum skills, some chutzpah and the odd death march can change fortunes.

The online is not just about coding — a theme that has captured our politicians and policy makers at the moment. In essence it merges the skills of techno-thinkers, code grease elbowers, design and system conceptualists, storytellers, art and deja vu moments for those remembering morpheus urging Neo, “Again!”. The drone of critique after critique can be testing.

To that end, some time is spent in the first semester prepping the unsuspecting for rabbit holes and the death march that awaits them. This 20 secs video features Amie (Class of 2015) arriving at lectures late having been up all night in the Library.

Can you imagine the phrase ‘death march’ in any prospectus? Yet it is a real term used in the online world (See Edward Yourdon’s Death March by Yourdon Press.) The lack of sleep for 2–3 days is enough to put anyone off. However it’s an experience that many rarely forget, as I haven’t from my Dotcom days in 2001.

Many former students, such as Avinash are now friends, taking their knowledge and work ethic into creating some extraordinary programmes. This isn’t about how long you can stay up, but developing a mind set and feeding the brain ( one of the largest organs for consuming carbs) to stay on course.

Avinash launched an online news magazine in India when he left the course, and worked for a government minister. Last year he launched Talk India an audacious pioneering programme, starting of with a two-day conference in Jaipur which brought together the best talent in India in digital, online, print and television.

Some students swear they’ll never go near another line of code only to hear that in six months they’re heading up online ventures. We’ve had former students nominated for Emmys using transferable skills two years after graduating and finalists such as Ed in national competitions whilst completing his MA…

…a couple of students have made it into cutting edge companies like BBC News Lab and the pièce de résistance two onliners, Doug and Steffy — both now leaders in their online fields getting married in Germany. They met on the online course and they cussed at the amount if work, but now Steffy manages the global brand of a well known company. She’s still under thirty. I was thrilled to be invited.

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Stef and Doug, who worked closely as competitirs in Online getting married

The set up for the module is 12 contacts days spread over 12 weeks in between a raft of other tightly scheduled modules. The first two weeks and some are coding HTML 5/ CSS 3. Then it’s one new variable after another like working the brief et al mapped out below as points 1–12.

In week six it’s soft launch and a week later hard launch, with two weeks of debugging and finessing the site within SEO, social and presentations. The last three weeks is individual creativity.

In recent years we’ve been grateful to experts whom the onliners have pitched to at ITN, a senior executive at the BBC World Service and digital producers at Channel 4 News.

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Onliners at BBC World Service in 2015 and Channel 4 News in 2014. Image David Dunkley Gyimah

Each year we move the goalposts in line with trends or anticipating behaviours. This year the emphasis was on mobile-first responsive designs using media queries and break points for iPad and mobile versions. This was a significant and welcome factor for Matt, given the rise in websites accessed on mobile devices.

How their sites can be scaled, knowledge of their target audience and the business of how the sites could make money were part of the pitch, which drew further positive comments. Worth noting, according to Matt, which is often overlooked is how social media strategies are different in geographical regions. The aforementioned can be found in their briefs and independent websites which will be posted in coming weeks.

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MA Onliners at Google HQ London. Image David Dunkley Gyimah
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Katy Scott, whose work earned her a distinction in her final project, has since gone on to join CNN, alongside an alumni from 7 years back Monica Sarkar.

The next feat is to takes one story and produce it as a documentary incorporating cinematic and radio knowledge. In previous years sites like the two below have demonstrated the enduring quality of this approach. We’ll be upping the anti here towards richer immersive media utilising more artistic practices, which challenge story form precepts.

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Final Project

For instance, this burgeoning field, commonly referred to as i-Docs has its antecedents in spatial cinema, avant garde art, animation and database journalism, drawn from amongst others Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media. Two pieces of personal and collaborative work were directly inspired by the book.

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Today though was all about the next gen. We rounded off with a group photo of the two teams and Matt. Photo taken by Steve Hill who lectures with me on the course. Thanks too to former student Le Hei who visited and lent her skills.

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Image Steve Hill

Recommendation from the BBC’s James Montgomery below

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Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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