NOTE: This was a paper I wrote for J7700 Participatory Journalism that was supposed to discuss concepts concerning “the sharing of digital journalism.” In the class, this type of paper is called a “Thought Paper.” I’m sharing it here because I want to be transparent about my evolution of thought concerning my work in this master’s degree program and as a high school journalism adviser.
Reaching Readers Where They Are:
Using Social Media in a Scholastic Journalism Program
I’m a failure. I have failed to adequately teach my journalism students to utilize social media effectively in the sharing of their work and engagement of our readers, and social media is where we are most likely to connect with our target audience. In today’s media landscape, engagement is key (Bastell, 2015).
Social media has transformed “how people receive and share news and information” (Ludtke, 2009, p. 4). Anyone with an Internet-connected device can produce and disseminate news and information (Fiedler, 2008). Therefore, journalists must create bonds with readers to keep them engaged with the content they are producing. Gone are the days of a oneway lecture because news as a conversation is now a part of the public discourse (Ludtke, 2009). People want to feel like they are part of the process (Bastell, 2015). If they don’t, they will go somewhere else. My journalism staff, which consists of a yearbook staff and a magazine staff, has a Twitter account, an Instagram account, and a Facebook page. The opportunities to engage our readers are there, but we fail to do so in a meaningful way, which is expressed as listening to and conversing with our readers (Bastell, 2015). Whenever a story is posted to our website, it is automatically tweeted out, and our Twitter account is tied to our Facebook page so tweets automatically appear in the feed. Likewise, the same process happens when we post to Instagram. These practices make our posts read robotically and lose the human element of what social media should be (Lichterman, 2014). We are just shoveling content at our readers without asking them what they are thinking or feeling.
Where did we go wrong? We didn’t start our social media accounts with a plan. We should have a clear purpose for the accounts, we should have policies in place for the students to rely on when deciding who to use the accounts, and, most importantly, we should use the accounts consistently (Manfull, 2015). Furthermore, when we do get some sort of engagement even in the form of a comment, retweet or tag, we don’t pay attention to it. We should track the engagement so we can analyze how best to connect with our readers (Rasgorshek, 2013). We have failed at all levels.
All is not lost, though. There is still time to make a course correction by essentially hitting the reset button. The first step is to identify where our efforts should be focused. We need to reach out to our readers and find out where they are online in order to make informed decisions to “cultivate participatory practices among users” (Almgren & Olsson, 2016, p. 80). As an example, our Facebook page generally gets reaction from adults who have students in our school. Parents are our readers too, but they are not the target. This could lead us to continue with our daisy-chained method of posting to the account and worry more about other platforms. To find this information, a survey could be done. Perhaps it is a simple Google Form emailed out to the student body, or it could a sampling of students by asking them what their preferred social media platform is as they walk the halls during passing period.
Once we have a clear picture of where our readers are hanging out online, we can go to step two, which is developing goals. We need to determine what purposes our social media presence will serve. This could be to promote our products, gain sources, or report news, to name a few possibilities (Bastell, 2015; Manfull, 2015). Using information gained from our survey of users, we can target different platforms for different uses. One way this could look is having the yearbook staff primarily use the Instagram account since both the yearbook and Instagram focus on visuals. The magazine staff could use the Twitter account more because the goal of the magazine is to report news and tell stories. Both Twitter and Instagram posts still could be automatically posted to Facebook to maintain that readership.
At this point, we would have a reason to use the targeted social media platforms. The third step is implementation. We have to use the accounts on a regular basis, allowing for different accounts to be use on different schedules (Manfull, 2015). Instagram might only be updated a couple times per day, but Twitter might need to be updated multiple times per day. Based upon the purpose of each account, we need to determine a target number of updates per day. Then we need to make a schedule and assign reporters to run the accounts each day.
We can’t be posting just for the sake of posting, though, so we need to take the advice of Manfull (2015) and develop policies and guides for how social media should be used by the staff. Students need to know what makes a good post that aligns with the goals of the accounts. Also, students need to be made aware of ethical issues with social media postings. They must understand that “credibility is earned on the Web” (Ludtke, 2009, p. 4). To earn such trust, Ward (2014) suggests we have to go beyond simply sharing information and strive for more thoughtful posts. This means, at times, there might be fewer or more posts than the schedule calls for, which is fine as long as we are connecting with and providing a service to the readers.
With a social media plan in place, my staff can step into this century and be effective journalists. We will be able to reach our readers where they are instead of expecting them to find their way to us. We will build relationships and be able to find stories and sources we might otherwise miss. Our publications will become important contributors to the public discourse of the school, and I might be able to get through a day without feeling like such a failure because I will know I have taken steps to teach my students an important skill for their futures as journalists.
Almgren, S. M., & Olsson, T. (2016). Commenting, Sharing and Tweeting News. NORDICOM Review, 37(2), 67-81. doi:10.1515/nor-2016-0018
Batsell, J. (2015). Engaged journalism: connecting with digitally empowered news audiences. New York: Columbia University Press.
Fiedler, T. (2008). Bloggers Push Past the Old Media’s Gatekeepers. Nieman Reports, 62(2), 38-42.
Lichterman, J. (2014, May 29). Who’s behind that tweet? Here’s how 7 news orgs manage their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Nieman Lab. Retrieved January 29, 2017, from http://www.niemanlab.org/2014/05/whos-behind-that-tweet-heres-how-7-news-orgs-manage-their-twitter-and-facebook-accounts/
Ludtke, M. (2009). Let’s Talk: Journalism and Social Media. Nieman Reports, 63(3), 4.
Manfull, A. (2015, August 24). 5 Things Your Staff Should Be Doing If You Have A Social Media Presence. JEA Digital Media. Retrieved February 02, 2017, from http://www.jeadigitalmedia.org/2015/08/24/5-things-your-staff-should-be-doing-if-you-have-a-social-media-presence/.
Rasgorshek, M. (2013, October 23). How Website Statistics Changed Our Programs. JEA Digital Media. Retrieved February 02, 2017, from http://www.jeadigitalmedia.org/2013/10/23/how-website-statistics-changed-our-programs/.
Ward, S. A. (2014). Creating a Sixth Estate: A Critique of All Media. Media, 16(1), 31-32.