One of the most difficult skills for journalism instructors to teach is the ability to develop creative and engaging story ideas. (I have several theories about why students are lacking in this area, but that’s for another post.)
To help them develop better ideas, I suggest they explore how technology can make the task easier. One of my first lessons focuses on how they can strategically set up an RSS feeder to “feed” them ideas. I use Google Reader for the in-class demonstration, but I encourage them to experiment with other feeders until they find one they like.
Because the online news class I teach “covers” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the city of Lincoln, Neb., I suggest they fill their readers with feeds from local news outlets, local blogs and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including its calendars. I also suggest Al Tompkin’s column on Poytner —“Al’s Morning Meeting” — because it’s awesome and is an excellent example of how to study current events and apply them to local coverage. And, despite their disdain, I suggest they include local Twitter feeds — #LNK and #UNL.
I’ve found many of my students roll their eyes when Twitter is mentioned, but I’m adamant about helping them see the potential of Twitter in news gathering and crowd sourcing. So the RSS exercise also opens their eyes to Twitter’s possibilities.
In our online news classes, we also require students to write story pitches to help them focus their ideas. After a particularly feeble pitch session in a class last year, I decided to monitor the news feed and pull ideas as an example. In less than 45 minutes, I found five viable and interesting story ideas — and all of them came from the Twitter feeds. Here are the five examples (in some cases, I included the actual tweet, which is italicized):
- A local group has started a food bank for pets because of the recession. For those in need who are in #LNK – A pet food bank – more info on our blog.
- How local moms are using the iPhone: TechCrunch Study Reveals More Details About The iPhone Mom http://bit.ly/47QLqL by @leenarao
- UNL’s Love Library is tweeting a lot these days — and some of its tweets are very clever and quite interesting. Do library officials think they reaching people? Why use Twitter? Who is doing the tweeting? Any other city agencies or campus agencies using Twitter? http://twitter.com/UNL_Lib or (City Library also is using.)
- Lincoln entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas in a competition. This is happening tonight — Oct. 1. Is it on your calendar, Lincoln? Pitch Session this Thursday at Turbine Flats (http://bit.ly/3NalCz), details here: http://bit.ly/Kysqb #LNK
- Sheldon Museum of Art offers a college night for students. The first is next Monday. Do any attend? Why should they attend? Are students as cultured as they should be?
I shared those ideas in a “story idea cache” I created on Blackboard — and I think the students were impressed by what I found in a short time. During the semester, I continued to periodically troll the feed and post new ideas in the class story cache, thereby modeling to them how to find a nugget of information and mold it into a valid and interesting story idea.