Credit: ULAB Communications Office. University of ​Liberal Arts Bangladesh campus (above)

Bangladeshi journalism students have been learning to work with accessible digital tools they can actually use once they graduate.

Instead of pushing premium products like many journalism courses do, the department of media studies and journalism at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) has built a major online journalism course, as part of its digital journalism concentration, centred around free or freemium-model tools.

Students learn how to use tools like Canva, Revue, Tweetdeck, Podbean, Audacity, some Google products, and more for their assignments.

This course is led by mobile journalism specialist Abdul Kabil Khan - more widely known as Jamil Khan - who is also the assistant professor at the department of media studies and journalism at ULAB.

The idea is to introduce students to the standard tools needed to work in digital-first newsrooms that are mushrooming out in the country, such as Bangladeshi digital-first news outlet BD News 24 or the international broadcaster Al Jazeera. But the tools are also good and affordable for independent or freelance work.

"In Bangladesh, the industry has rapidly changed over the last few years as technology is constantly transforming," says Khan.

"The students need to know how to customise their content not only for websites but also for social media."

During the pandemic, the teaching took place online but students also benefited from masterclasses with active journalists and virtual conferences.

While Facebook is the first port of call for most Bangladeshis, budding journalists are encouraged to venture on Twitter and Tweetdeck that are more widely used by the journalism community worldwide. Other tools include Google Meet to set up virtual interviews, platform Podbean to host podcasts, and WordPress to create articles and embed shows.

Data journalism is not widely used in the country but some outlets train their younger journalists in this area. Fortunately, simple and free tools like Canva allow reporters to create Al Jazeera- style "creatives" to visualise stories, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This topic also lends itself to other mediums, such as a Revue newsletter compiled by Shuvashish Dip.

"It was a burning issue at the time, and I wanted to collect every opinion I could see on social media: what my friends think, what media people think, how media persons think about this," he says, adding that he knew little about newsletters initially, but now it is something he will consider in his future work.

"It's one of the next big things, even though it’s not always practised in media houses, it could be something valuable in Bangladesh."

Another key item in the news agenda this year marked Bangladesh's 50 years of independence on 26 March. The university took this opportunity to teach students about live blogging. Even during lockdown, students followed the media coverage and documented how online news outlets were covering the event.

On a WordPress document, they produced short text summaries and embedded open-source tweets. News outlets are using these same techniques to cover serious events too, and it is a core skill for the future.

"When some massive event happens, news organisations are constantly updating their websites as a live blog, we have seen this globally for example, in the Boston Marathon bombings or London underground bombings," says Khan. "Students need to know how they can curate this content."

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Clarification: This story was updated on 23 June to specify that Jamil Khan leads the major online journalism course at ULAB.

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