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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.





News engagement lab launches

After many months of preparation, I’m excited to have finally launched the news engagement lab, a new course I created to help students learn and practice the concepts and techniques of news engagement.

I know. I know. “Engagement.” It’s a term that everyone seems to be talking about these days. Some refer to it as a “buzz word.” What does it even mean? For me, I view it as an important process that goes hand-in-hand with reporting, writing, editing and other journalism skills that we teach.

2015-11-05_1452Sure, the act of engagement isn’t really new. Efforts to engage audiences have been around for as long as news has. Today, though, in the digital realm, engagement takes on new meaning — and importance. News organizations have so many technological ways to engage and measure — and they desperately need to reach out to audiences in order to stay viable and relevant.

I wanted to teach students this new process through hands-on experiences. So I was fortunate enough to partner with the fine folks at NET, Nebraska’s statewide public broadcasting entity. Students in the course will be conducting audience research, creating social media content and developing engagement strategies for two NET long-range news projects.

Should be an interesting experiment! We plan to document everything we do so we can share our findings with others. And because I am using the class as the focus of a  course portfolio for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Peer Review of Teaching program, I’ll be doing a lot of documenting of and reflecting on my teaching methods as part of my inquiry. The course portfolio will be published later in the summer.

UPDATE: Link to course portfolio.

I’m always happy to share. I wouldn’t be teaching this course had it not been for the  many people passionate about engagement who have shared their expertise, research, best practices — and enthusiasm.  You can learn from them as well; their writings make up the reading list for the class, which you can find in the syllabus.






Story ideas: Start with a question

Developing great story ideas is an important skill that journalism students need to nurture and practice.

In my presentation to students attending the Nebraska High School Press Association on Oct. 22, 2013, I offer some suggestions and strategies, including ways they can mine social media for inspiration.


Story seeding: Harnessing the power of the public

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the media could leverage the expertise and interests of the public via social media long before a story is published.

What I imagine goes beyond standard crowd sourcing. I envision a strategic effort in which reporters and editors reach out to the public early on to identify sources, issues, anecdotes, etc. I hadn’t really thought much about what to call this plan, but after reading a recent social media marketing article, I now have a descriptive name for it: seeding.

Here’s how strategic seeding might work in a big project:

Finding/engaging sources

Reporters assigned to the project would develop robust RSS feeds and Twitter lists to develop better expertise on the topic and to determine valuable and credible sources. Once a valuable source is identified, reporters should start interacting with them through social media. The beauty of social media interaction is that it is transparent — so, for example, folks following the identified sources also would learn about the reporting project and join in on the conversation. 

Creating an ongoing blog

Creating a reporting blog about the project would be serve as a central place where interested people would monitor updates about the project and contribute to the conversation. I envision the public working alongside reporters as the reporters start to develop stories and angles. This blog could become a forum where reporters could toss out an idea and get helpful feedback. Essentially, through the blog, the media organization shares with the online world what it is doing and encourages involvement. The blog would be RSS-enabled so interested people could receive updates with each new post.

The blog posts should be written for the audience that the outlet is trying to engage and develop. These posts should offer new information or insights. The goal is to get this new online community talking — and to solicit its help.

Engaging the community

Publicizing the blog is important so that new sources and interests are continually brought in to the conversation. Creating a separate Twitter account to tweet out new blog posts might be helpful. It also could serve as a “news source” for the issue. For example, when a reporter reads an interesting post from a blog, she could tweet that to the account.

Other ways to get engagement on the blog:

  • Have reporters/editors comment on the blogs of others who have expertise or interest in the area. 
  • Have reporters/editors participate in Twitter and/or Facebook discussions, constantly sending out a link to the blog.
  • Mention the blog prominently on the outlet’s home page. 

If the online engagement becomes vigorous, reporters get valuable insight on the topic –- how to frame it, how to develop and pursue specific angles, how to develop stories and how to cultivate and identify sources.

This type of reporting strategy would work well for big issues, on-going stories and investigative pieces. Of course, devoting the time and energy for such an endeavor might be a hard sell in many newsrooms.

I’ll talk more about why I think this strategy would be beneficial for news organizations in a subsequent post.


Social media flood

My new “Social Media for Journalists” class is going gangbusters — so much so that I think we need to start thinking about curation.

As part of their participation in the class, each of the 19 are supposed to tweet three times a week. The idea is to share helpful news and information about journalism and social media. And share they have! But in the process, I feel like we’re sharing too much, perhaps. Many a good topic and idea rushes by with little context or attention. We obviously discuss some of the topics in class, but we also have to talk about the course readings. So we need to figure out a way to maximize all the good information they are discovering.

Trying to make sense of the relentless flow of information has been a recurring theme in our class discussions, so I think I might just toss out the curation idea and see what happens. While I have some ideas about how they may go about organizing and curating the Twitter discussions, I want them to really think about how to do this — and come up with some suggestions on their own.

Stay tuned. I think this will be an interesting experiment.

In the meantime, if you want to see what they are sharing, follow this hashtag: #j491. It’s a cornucopia of all things social media. And I’ve been doing a little curating myself on Storify, where I have been archiving the discussions weekly.


[View the story “#j491 archive, Jan. 15-Jan. 22” on Storify]

Finding story ideas

If you’re one of the Nebraska High School Press Association students who attended my Oct. 17 session on “Finding Story Ideas,” you’ll find the links I mentioned and my presentation here.

I wanted to compliment you all on a fabulous session and great discussion. I was impressed with thoughts and ideas. Keep up the good work!

The handwriting on the wall

I’ve been fascinated lately with the debate about whether schools should continue the teaching of handwriting.

The latest tidbit I read discussed the mental benefits of writing in cursive versus typing.

It’s an interesting issue on its own — but I’ve been trying to ferret out the repercussions for journalists, should most schools go the way of Indiana and ditch it.

First off — and most important — is note-taking, which seems to be a lost art for many journalism students anyway. I was once interviewed by a journalism student who barely put pen to notebook, yet produced a story full of facts and direct quotes. As you might expect, most of the facts were wrong and the quotes inaccurate. So I tell my students copious note-taking — and developing a unique short-hand style — is imperative if they want to be a good reporter.

During an interview, it’s less intrusive to be taking notes on a skinny reporter’s notebook than a clunky laptop. And it’s easier and quicker to take notes using cursive rather than printing individual letters.

And then there’s the aspect of deciphering handwriting. If you don’t learn cursive, you won’t be able to read it either — as the article in the link discusses. So how will we be able to expect reporters to translate old hand-written letters or documents?

I hate to sound like a Luddite, but this is one case where the old way shouldn’t be forsaken.

Oh, to be a journalism student again!

Around the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, we have a habit of saying “I wish I was a student again.” That’s because we think there are so many amazing learning opportunities for students these days. Whether it’s a class that focuses on doing journalism abroad or one that develops a journalism app. So many cool options.
Here’s another example of a class I’d love to take: Communications Technologies, taught by Henry Jenkins at USC. The reading list alone is priceless. Maybe it will show up on iTunes some day?

Reporting session for Nebraska High School Press Association students

After presenting a session on reporting this morning at the Nebraska High School Press Association, I came away with some positive vibes. First, the sheer numbers were impressive. It was standing-room-only in the Union auditorium — more than 500 students signed up — and my session was packed, as well.

These days, with all the negative press about the press, it’s heartening to witness students who are interested — and enthusiastic about journalism.  The students in my session were eager and engaged; they asked great questions and offered great comments.

We talked about how setting up RSS feeds can help reporters develop good story ideas. In the case of high school publications, I suggested a couple of sites students should include in their feeds (see “Brushing up on the Basics” PowerPoint presentation in the “Workshop and Presentation” tab at the top). While not many of the students had used RSS readers before, most seemed willing to give it a shot.  (Students: be sure to check out a short tutorial on RSS I uploaded that is based on my presentation. It also is in the section on workshops and presentations.)

All in all, it was invigorating to be surrounded by enthusiastic and intelligent  high school students. The future looks brighter.

Copy editors: An endangered species

The troubling trend of decreased quality control at newspapers and Web sites continues. Copy editors remain in the cross hairs of newspaper management — and the layoffs are most likely to continue. Unfortunately, copy editors have long be seen as expendable and their work behind the scenes unappreciated.

As Craig Silverman notes in CJR, asking reporters to use spell check ain’t gonna cut it. (Be sure to click on his “beef panties” example.)

The issue is another great example of how newspapers need to be creative in solving their problems. And it’s another great example of how journalism schools need to nurture students to be innovative in their thinking.