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JMC 194 Spring 17 students set up blogs

My JMC 194-02 students at Murray State University

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are busy setting up their blogs for the newswriting class. So far, the topics range from pop culture to indie music to art to photography. Of course, the interests are as diverse as the class.

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JMC 194 testing out their WP skills

The JMC 194-02 class at Murray State UniversityIMG_1649 is testing their fingertips with for their semester-long blogging assignment. This semester, they will each pick an area that interests them and write five posts with links and visuals.


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What if you have a party (or a #Periscope) and no one shows up?

Periscope and Meerkat are the two new darlings of the social media world. Just scroll through your tweets and undoubtedly, you’ll see a news station promoting their Periscope video of breaking news or behind-the-scenes in the newsroom.

Just in case you’ve been away from social media for a few weeks (I know, who leaves social media for a few weeks?), Meerkat and Periscope both launched weeks apart. Both allow the iPhone or iPad user to stream live video or audio with an interface to Twitter, but the technology isn’t exactly new. See UStream and LiveStream. What is new is the ease with which a user can stream live video. Simply launch the app on your phone, find something newsworthy (or maybe the random funny stuff your dog does), turn the camera on and voila, you become an instant broadcaster. These apps allow journalists (and others) to immediately stream video to the masses.

As a former journalist turned journalism educator, I’m curious when new digital storytelling tools hit the market and how they can be used in the newsroom and in the classroom. Both tools looked easy enough. Point and shoot. Even an old print newspaper purist like me (now a multimedia convert) could figure it out, and the best part, I didn’t have to learn a complicated camera. Simply hold my phone up (hold my disdain for the vertical video) and aim.

When WABE public radio reporter Jim Burress, a graduate of Murray State University where I teach, spoke to one of my classes, I asked if he minded if my students used either Periscope or Meerkat to test out live streaming. Burress had not used the app himself and expressed curiosity about how it might go. I prepared an assignment and talked up the apps with my intermediate level reporting students. My students prepared the department’s iPads, steadied them on the backs of chairs and shot live-streaming video of his news conference.

I sent a tweet to my followers, which include current and former journalists, former students, current students and journalism educators from around the country.

All of us aimed our devices and fired. The result? Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nobody joined in our live stream.

I had high expectations after following a fascinating Facebook exchange with several journalism educators involved with the Online News Association Educators group. Others had tried live-streaming guest speakers at their schools and it seemed to have worked. How could we have NO ONE watch our streams? We checked our settings. Our settings were public. So why did no one watch?

Might it now be a good time to mention that I teach in a rural area in far western Kentucky? My colleagues teach at larger schools in larger towns and media markets. The lack of Periscope love stunned both me and my students, and we discussed how oftentimes those of us in a smaller town and smaller market may not immediately find an audience on new apps because people may not yet be using them.

Fast-forward two weeks to today. Several students who were in that class had told me that they have been sharing the Periscope app with anyone who will listen to them, and they’ve been experimenting with it to see if people will watch. Of course, for now, most of the interactions have been among the journalism students.

As a heavy mist fell this afternoon, I pulled out my iPhone and started live-streaming during the annual All-Campus Sing tradition on the steps of Lovett Auditorium at Murray State University.

I wrote my headline with a hashtag #murraystate in hopes of reaching more viewers. It worked. Two people. Hey, it’s a small victory. One of the people who joined my stream said he was watching the broadcast from Manchester, England, and he enjoyed the show where student organizations sing and dance on the steps of one of our campus’ historic buildings.

Of course, then I saw that the University’s live stream on another more established live streaming service had 300 people watching at one point. Two for my poor little phone or 300? Hmm.

Will these apps catch on with local, regional, state and national media, or will this become yet another video silliness? Do we need to teach students about the apps or about the why behind the app? Do we need to wait and see or plow right in? I opted to lunge into the great unknown of live streaming apps. My students aren’t sure yet what to think, but the point is that they’re thinking and imagining how they can use live streaming tools in their stories. They’re thinking beyond either a newspaper or a broadcast model.

I believe these apps can help to level the playing field and provide a service to the audience if used correctly and wisely. Only time will tell. Until then, I’ll return you to your usual stream of grumpy cats and funny dogs.

Posted in Journalism education, Media

Back to the Newsroom

You can take the journalist out of the newsroom, but you can’t take the newsroom out of the journalist. Several years removed from a career in daily journalism, I have had days when I’ve missed the adrenaline rush of following the big story and being in the middle of everything happening in the community, but then I’ve had days when I am so relieved that I’m not running 90 mph while working on three breaking news stories and paginating a weekend section.

I left daily journalism four years ago, right before social and digital media took hold. We used Facebook as a diversion from work as we tended to our crops in Farmville or sloshed food in Restaurant City rather than as a tool for news gathering or news dissemination. And yes, I know it was probably against some policy to play Facebook games at work, but every so often, a person has to relieve stress while waiting on that one source that calls one minute before deadline to actually call. None of us thought Facebook could be used for serious journalism. We thought it was a passing fancy for college students and would fade just as MySpace and Friendster had earlier.

And yet, in the morning, I will return to a newsroom as part of the AEJMC/Scripps Howard Social Media Externship program.AEJMC/Scripps Howard Social Media Externship program. I was one of six college professors from across the country selected to return to newsrooms and learn how to better utilize social media as a news tool in my journalism classroom. For the next two weeks, I’ll learn from the team at the Scripps Treasure Coast NewspapersScripps Treasure Coast Newspapers about how they use social media in their reporting and dissemination plans.

Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Most definitely.

I worry that even though I wrote and reported news stories for nearly 20 years that I’ve lost the touch after a few years in the classroom. It’s one thing to get out there and get the story and another thing to tell students how to get the story. I didn’t have to worry about trying to live-tweet or post Facebook updates while covering an important school board meeting. I did try to juggle capturing video at a controversial meeting and emailing it to the online editor with the demands of reporting the story at the same time, but my students now may be asked to write a story, post Facebook or Twitter updates, live-tweet, blog and produce a video package for the online edition, all at the same time and at the same assignment.

After learning about live-tweeting and live-blogging at Poynter’s Teachapalooza last summer, I started moving my classes into the realm of social media combined with the basic reporting and writing skills. I stressed to them the need to get the stories right, get them first, and post responsibly to social media, and I stressed the need for convergence (or the marriage of print and broadcast for the online model).

Can this media professional turned professor learn how the cool kids do things with their cool tools? My iPhone 5 and iPad are charging and ready for an adventure this week.

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Trying to get students to engage with current events via technology

The first three semesters I taught the beginning newswriting class at Murray State University, I tried to get students to care about what’s happening in the world around them. The old-school professor in me thought that motivation came in the form of a weekly five-point quiz, but yet, when I gave the quiz, students scored a zero. A zero. Yes, a zero. Don’t you get points for just showing up?

It became painfully obvious that they do not know or really sometimes even care what’s going on in the world around them. Another professor and I simply gave up and asked them to list five things, just five things, going on around campus, the community or the world. Sadly, some students had trouble coming up with five things, even when we gave them hints like, “There’s a basketball game tonight” or “Tomorrow is the big all-campus Greek event.”

This semester, another professor and I decided to throw the current model away and try to engage students with technology. They’re already making videos on their own and texting/Tweeting their innermost thoughts. Why not combine the two and try something new?

We launched a current events experiment involving Fotobabble, a photo service in which the students must narrate a current event over a photo of something in the news. It forces them to search the internet for news that’s happening beyond their dorm room or their classroom. It also forces them to start thinking about the world of convergence, or how the media is melting away the borders that once defined print or broadcast. Most of all, it gets them engaged in becoming consumers of the news.
For each assignment, they must make a Fotobabble and post it into the class Blackboard system by Tuesday morning.


From Tuesday through Thursday, they also must view at least three other Fotobabbles posted inside the class Journal on Blackboard. Finally, on Thursdays, we plan to poll themin class, using, gasp, their cell phones. Although some professors might scoff at this idea, we are planning to allow them to text their answers to a poll about current events. The poll will test how well they understood the news and then lead us into a discussion about what actually made the news for that week.

Stay tuned. We hope we have some fascinating results.

Poll Everywhere

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A clean slate

The calendar says Jan. 14, 2013, but the hallways outside my office in Wilson Hall are quiet for the first day of class. Perhaps it’s the bone-numbing chill that arrived after a weekend of springlike temperatures or perhaps it’s just the fact that it’s January and everyone is reluctantly coming out of hibernation mode.

The first day of class gives professors and students a clean slate. A chance to wipe away the mistakes of last semester. A chance to start over with new ideas and new focus. A chance to try something new.

Today when I go into my JMC 294 Advanced Newswriting class, I hope to do something beyond the traditional “Hi, here’s your syllabus and let’s talk about all the business in it” routine. I’m bored and I know they’re bored. Of course, I still have to go over all the classroom rules, but to set the tone for the class that will delve into convergence and the media landscape in which we now live, I plan to have them tweet at me in class. Yes, I actually want them to, gasp, get their phones out of their backpacks (they usually are in their hands anyway) and tweet in class. Oh, the horrors, I can hear veterans professors moan. If we’re teaching students how to cope in today’s media, we have to help them get used to the multitasking that they soon will face in the scary place known as the “real world.” Thanks to the inspiration I received during a Poynter webinar from Jennifer Lee Reeves, formerly of the University of Missouri, and Herbert Lowe of Marquette University, I will ask the students to tweet three things they learned from JMC 194 (newswriting). I’ll use my #wright294 hashtag that I set up for a class project last year. At the end of the hour, I will weave their tweets into a Storify as a review tool of what they learned.

I’m always on the lookout for something new to try. If you have any ideas of how to make the first day of class more enjoyable for both students and professor, please leave a comment.

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JMC 597 blogs

When I assigned my JMC 597 students to write 10 blog entries earlier this semester, I knew I would have several hours of good reading (and grading). Student Ed Marlowe, on the last day of class, made a great suggestion of posting a link to the blogs so all the students would read them. Plus, Ed’s comment spurred this professor to dust off her forgotten blog. I hope my students will take a few minutes and read their peers’ blogs, and I hope that their blogs will not collect quite as much dust as mine has in the past year. Enjoy reading and keep writing!

Here are links to the JMC 597 blogs for Fall 2012:

Posted in Media

Blog 3.0

My headline might not be all that original, but after starting and stopping blogging twice, I hope the 3.0 adventure might be the one that sticks. I require my journalism students at Murray State University to blog in all their classes, but yet, the professor has a blog and hasn’t updated it in more than a year. Something about life happening. Buying a house. Selling a house. Moving into a new house. Moving offices. Starting my son in a new school in a new town. Oh yeah, then there’s that thing called teaching 4.5 journalism skills classes.

My JMC 597 students complained the first time I asked them to start a blog and write entries as an assignment. JMC 597 is known in the catalog as Advanced Reporting and is the capstone of the curriculum; however, the students more commonly refer to it as the “tombstone” because of heavy workload. However, by the end of the semester, they were happily blogging about issues in public affairs reporting. One student suggested that I make a blog roll of their blogs so everyone could read entries. I think it’s a great idea, and one that will help to transform this class from strictly a classroom lecture three times a week into an ongoing online conversation. I’m drawing inspiration from Jen Lee Reeves, formerly of the University of Missouri, and Herb Lowe of Marquette University. I met both of them through a Poynter NewsU webinar about how to use social media in the classroom. Both have developed Twitter hashtags for their classes. I’m leaning toward that tool, but with the varying levels of my students, I’m not sure that it would work as a classroom communication tool. Plus, my largest class is only 15 students, and my smallest class is five.

Nonetheless, I will develop a blog roll of my students’ blogs so they can read what their peers wrote.

Over the winter break, I plan to use this blog as an extension of my JMC classes. I’ll load materials and links from my students, and I hope they will continue to keep up with their peers long after trade their journalism textbooks for reporter notebooks (or smartphones). I’ll also share class projects and insight/analysis of topics in journalism and journalism education. I hope this adventure in blogging for the third time will turn into a blogging habit.

Posted in Media

Readers need educating, too

When I worked as a full-time newspaper reporter, I came to believe that readers truly did not understand the nature of the business, and in some cases, they didn’t care, either. They didn’t understand that reporters are supposed to remain unbiased in their news writing, nor did they understand that reporters must report the information that they uncover. I had several instances where people asked me to withhold information or simply pretend that I had not heard a particular comment uttered in open session of a meeting. Or they asked me if  I would allow them to read the story before publication.

I thought of this again after two instances involving high school or college athletics. In the case of the high school athlete, readers apparently called the reporters and questioned them about their allegiance to a particular school. Pretty petty griping, if you ask me. Readers should understand that the reporter does not have a personal stake in the story, and it shouldn’t matter where the reporter attended high school. The reporter simply is reporting the information he or she uncovered through police records and interviews. The stories were fair and presented comments from the police and the school. Furthermore, neither reporter attended either one of the schools in question, so no one should have made allegations of bias.

In the second case, a college newspaper reporter was denied access to athletes after he asked two students if they were walk-ons to the basketball team and if so, could he interview them. He unknowingly, or some might debate knowingly, violated an unwritten rule that reporters must clear all communication with athletes through the athletic office. A firestorm erupted online with readers commenting on blogs and Facebook posts. Some readers understand that the reporter simply was trying to do his job and get information, while others are calling the reporter names for even trying to get an interview. Several of the blog commenters said that the student journalist was wrong in his actions and the student newspaper should not be crying First Amendment rights and freedom of the press.

In an age with social media and multiple outlets for cable and online news, have we become a society that does not understand the basic principles of journalism? What can we do to teach media consumers about how we do our jobs and how to use our products?