Like other journalism professors, I attempt in my courses to replicate the feeling of working in a newsroom. Such an approach is particularly important in my Mobile and Social Media Journalism course at Ithaca College, given that the majority of students are seniors about to hit the job market. At this point, they should be ready to report in a newsroom and I should be giving them the foundations to do “real” reporting.

That’s where this reporting assignment based on a major news event comes into play. 

Objective: Cover It Live

Cover one “big” news event in real-time across multiple platforms (website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) with an entire class. Students must create content tailored to each platform and file it ASAP. This is also a great drill to get them in the habit of finding a story when they arrive at the scene. The element of surprise!

I can’t stress enough the importance of creating a public platform on which students can publish their work. This make the process “real” and allows them to add to their portfolio of work. My class manages the Ithaca Week website and its associated social media accounts.

What We Chose

I select at least one local news event each semester that can be covered by a team of reporters. Sometimes we luck out with big stories — such as midterm elections or our college’s celebration of its 125th anniversary which included the inauguration of our new president. Other times, I choose smaller events that still give students the experience of reporting under deadline pressure for multiple platforms. For example, this past semester students covered Education Technology Day held on campus.

Here’s a breakdown of our midterm elections coverage: 

  • Preview stories, including a voter guide, posted to the Ithaca Week website and then shared to social. We create a graphic that can be used to promote/brand our coverage.
  • On Election Day, our team of 20 reporters visited polling places throughout Tompkins County, New York.
  • Meantime, a team of editors managed our coverage from back in the newsroom.
  • During the day, students published short multimedia stories to a live blog
  • The reporters also provided coverage across Ithaca Week’s Facebook [with a focus on FB Lives with poll workers and voters], Instagram and Twitter
  • Wrap-up stories for website and social.
Google Doc to Organize Coverage

A Google doc was our centralized spot to coordinate coverage. Each student selected either a reporting or editing shift. All contact info was located in this document and reporters noted which polling stations they planned to visit.

In this document, I included details about the assignment. Our focus was on the people at the polling stations — the human stories of “democracy in action.”

What’s Expected of Students? 
  • Reporters: Each reporter contributed two multi-media posts to the Ithaca Week live blog (about 250-300 words with visuals). In addition, they tweeted from their own accounts. Finally, we had reporters rotate doing FB Lives and Instagram takeovers from the Ithaca Week branded accounts.
  • Editors: The editors were back in the newsroom monitoring all of our coverage on the Ithaca Week platforms. They copyedited the live blog, retweeted content that our reporters posted from their own accounts, and used reporters’ content to create new posts from the Ithaca Week accounts. This included social media graphics and “readable” text videos.
Sample Stories
  • Students are given iPad Minis for the semester. Many find it easier to use their own iPhone for this assignment, given that our iPads are wi-fi only. 
  • We provide each student with a mobile journalism kit that includes: two Rode mics (lav and natsound), iOgrapher case, and lenses.
Don’t Forget to Debrief & Discuss Analytics

What worked? What didn’t? Get feedback from students about the reporting process and the organization of the assignment. I spend a decent amount of time talking about workflow. Conduct an in-class critique of their reporting. Finally, have the social media editors lead a discussion about the analytics for each platform. (At this point in the semester, I’ve already introduced students to the basics of website, Twitter, and Facebook analytics). 

What type of content received the most engagement on social? Students are often surprised at how much engagement FB Live videos receive. From where did the traffic to the live blog come? Discuss direct hits vs. social referrals.


Teaching LIVE Storytelling Across Mobile and Social Platforms

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