If it looks and acts like a cheerleader, it shouldn’t end up being a student news outlet.
At least that’s the view presented in the Center for Scholastic Journalism’s latest post, one in a series of decision-making choices about possible roles for student media. Writing a mission statement using this process is something students should consider as they approach each new year.
“So, in developing the mission and applying it through the year,” the post states, “consider putting ‘building morale’ a ways down the list of media role priorities — not because you’re going to be the voice of gloom and doom and whining, but because you want to tell as many sides as you can of your stories and not just stress the positives.”
A morale builder also should not be how your news publication’s social media comes across.
This particular role seems to be growing with the use of Twitter and Facebook to advertise the student medium and its content.
As we examine our potential roles, in “legacy” as well as “new” media, we need to discuss with our students whether the PR and news roles need to be clearly separated in any use of social media.
I worry that scholastic media is becoming more and more PR-oriented. One, I have concerns that combining the roles makes it difficult for our audiences to tell the difference between promotion and news; and, two, not clearly separating the two roles works against scholastic media when coverage of controversial or sensitive subjects are reported.
For another take on the topic, see a Poynter Making Sense of News piece published Aug. 20 (scroll down one or two posts).
To help us prepare for scholastic journalism’s new era, let’s look at the 10 roles exercise recently outlined by the Center for Scholastic Journalism. Instead of thinking of the roles in terms of print media, let’s project the roles into the future and discuss them in terms of scholastic media’s use of social media.
And, since no one has definite answers for these uses, let’s look at potential uses in terms of questions for future discussion.
• Should scholastic media be involved in branding? If we are heavily involved in branding are we, by nature of the media, becoming more interested in advertising and public relations than objective reporting?
• What is the best role in student media for social media: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google groups etc)? It is branding? Is it letting our audiences know what we do doing and what to expect? Is it reporting breaking informtion? Is it some combination? What are the plusses and minuses of each in terms of mission, role legal standards and ethics? You might take a look at the issues raised by Mike Wise, sports commentator of radio and The Washington Post when he knowingly posted false information on his Twitter site. Later, he railed at those who did not factcheck. That may be, but what is his responsibility? Today The Post suspended Wise for a month, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported Wise told his morning radio audience. Poynter covered the event, including reference to the Post’s ombudsman’s comments.
• What is your forum role for online media? Should your students moderate comments or allow them at all? Should they be limited to just students? From the CSJ blog: “Remember, if your existing letters policy says, in the first sentence, you are a forum and encourage letters (comment) but in the next sentence says you will edit for length and clarity, or moderate for this and that, are you really being “open”? Even if you add the phrase “without changing the meaning,” is that possible to do? If I wrote an 800-word letter and you cut it to 400, even if YOU don’t think you changed my meaning, I’ll bet I would think you did. And if the policy says you will edit for “good taste” or even correct mistakes, have you limited my expression?” Or, is there a developing standard that will allow the forum but still enable free expression?
• If we look to use social media for coverage, what kind of story works best? Worst? What kind of story (assuming your students have already outlined their roles using the framework provided by the CSJblog) is most crucial to the role of the medium?
• Can promotion and objective coverage realistically come from the same use of a single social media outlet (Twitter, Facebook)? Should our students mix opinion and objective reporting using the same outlet?
•It has been said that reporting on the web is probably not the place for depth and longform reporting. What evidence supports this? Can we find evidence that depth and longform flourish on the web? An excellent read from Nieman Journalism Lab suggests some dangers of thinking in terms of “quick find” terms on news searches like Google News and others.
• What is optimal length for web stories? Why? Practioners do not all agree that short (someone suggested 250 words) is better? Take a look at respectied news websites.
• In using social media, what are the roles for breaking news, verification and perspective. Are these inherently contradictory? Should we view one as more important than others? How should each come across in our teaching?
We’d love to see a discussion get started here, on JEA’s listserv, on JEA’s Digital Media site or on any other site open to all advisers.