Engaging diverse communities

Students in the capstone course I’m teaching this semester hopefully will come away with some valuable experience engaging diverse communities — and possibly some ideas to share. I’m excited to see what they develop as they ponder ways to reach their unique audiences.

As I discussed with them during the first class, the course affords them a fascinating laboratory to explore and understand — in a meaningful and practical way — the many methods journalists can use to engage the communities they serve. And in this case, the communities are diverse — refugees from a variety of countries. Lincoln has a long tradition as a federally recognized refugee resettlement community.

home_pageThe course, called Mosaic (Journalism 446), is one of two required capstones for journalism majors in our college. The capstones are designed to help students demonstrate all they have learned during their four years in the major through the creation of a creative or scholarly product. In Mosaic, that creative product are the stories students publish stories to the website  and the site’s social media channels – Twitter and Facebook.

Mosaic was created in 2010 after receiving start-up funds from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Its purpose: create news and information for and about Lincoln’s growing refugee population. In those six years, Mosaic has attracted a small following — on its website and social channels.

A big goal for the class: Increase the audience and reach of Mosaic by establishing a set of engagement benchmarks with metrics; then experiment with a variety of engagement techniques to reach those benchmarks.

Students have a small “engagement” budget so they can participate in real life critical thinking and decision making. This budget allows them to create and implement their ideas to benefit a real audience. And they also will determine and analyze the effectiveness of their efforts.

Some possible examples of what they might propose: printing particular stories to distribute at refugee centers to get better distribution and create awareness of the website; organizing a public forum in which refugees could discuss their news needs and community issues; or Facebook and Twitter ad purchases to boost social media engagement.

In today’s news environment, audience engagement is critical. In addition to grooming future journalists to be more knowledgeable about engagement practices, the course could serve as a case study for news outlets interested in reaching diverse audiences. As the nation continues to diversify, there is great interest in how news organizations can better serve diverse communities as well as developing future journalists to have the expertise and experience in reaching them.

Hopefully, students in Mosaic not only will be better journalists when the course is done but can go out into the world with a greater understanding of engagement.

Here’s the syllabus we’re using. Stay tuned for more as the semester progresses.




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