Going online? Consider these points before you decide
by John Bowen
Scholastic journalism educators over the summer devoted a lot of time and discussion about whether print is dying and whether their programs should switch to digital first or digital only. Before advisers and students make a decision to move totally online, think about and discuss these points:
• Know why you are going online
Our mission, in part, is to provide students with an innovative, visionary experience in newsthinking and offer communities they serve with accurate, credible and verifiable information they need and want. Communicate this with your audiences and show them how and why they will gain from the move. Help them understand their roles in interacting with your news gathering and information delivery process. Be able to answer questions like these: What’s the best learning outcome for students? Where are your audiences? Which platform will have priority? Because of deadlines, print has real deadlines with real consequences if you miss them. Would a hybrid mixture of print and online meet community needs? If your target audiences are not online, what are the best ways to reach out to them and move them? You can get a myriad of information of how to use technology to move online and what to use when there, but consider this first.
• Determine whether the program has enough teach support to go online effectively
Tech support is essential. A lot can be said for student learning as staffers make decisions and decide the look and feel of their new media platforms. Hosting options vary, with a range of services and bells and whistles. Which option will allow for the most student learning and help deliver the most effective, easy-to-navigate content? Bells and whistles are nice, but alone are not enough. Does tech support include apps as well as hardware and equipment like broadcast equipment, audio recorders, and still cameras with a range of lenses? Do students have support for innovative, yet effective and accurate, content?
• Develop an action plan to educate your communities about your mission and goals and how online media can serve their needs
A potential drawback to going totally online could be that your product is largely invisible if its audiences are not aware or prepared for the move. Show your communities why they need online journalism, and then guide them to credible and accurate content by reaching out and helping them understand its value. Do more than just teasers and promo; separate your promo from your news. Through open meetings and Action Plans, demonstrate to your communities why the open forum and unfettered flow of information are important to their growth as a community. Stress the importance of community news literacy, or a term I like a lot, crap detection. Can your communities learn from journalism students how to be more fluent Citizen Journalists – and better at civic engagement? Getting word out through social media and promotion about your new program is essential, but cannot overwhelm reporting and professionalism.
• Establish your brand based on credibility and professionalism. What do you stand for?
Establish a brand based on credibility and professionalism. Journalism students need to know why they use the tools they do and how each tool best fits and shapes content. The program’s roots – no matter the platform – should be in accuracy, credibility, verification, attribution, thoroughness; ethical standards brought together in coverage that gives perspective and cohesion. Every action students take, no matter in what role, has ethical implications for your effectiveness as media.
• Train your students about what each platform can – and cannot – do
Newsthinking should be your guiding concept, and be essential to the digital mission of educating staff and audience about civic engagement and news literacy.
Will students have an opportunity to learn the plusses and minuses of each platform as they practice them? Good writing is good writing and good writing will be heard. Newsthinking should be your guiding concept. Train students to practice all reporting and storytelling tasks – textual, audio, visual reporting, data visualization, coding and web presentation. Train them to be open-minded when it comes to new technology and how to adapt their existing skills to learn new ones. Train them to use their specialty and be able to train others. Collaboration strengthens journalist and audience. Train students to be ethical in gathering as well as presenting information. Then take that training and let students show communities this is what they should expect from student media. Newsthinking should be your guiding concept, and be essential to the digital mission of educating staff and audience about civic engagement and news literacy.
• Provide your students – and communities – with a collaborative and innovative newsroom
The number of students available to gather and present information accurately and reliably will help frame your program’s image. Do you have enough student journalists to create and maintain multiple platforms effectively? A student newsrooms should be innovative, entrepreneurial and geared toward challenging students to use new skills. It should challenge communities to make sense of information those skills provide. Students, and thus their communities, should never stop evolving. Does your program have the resources and time to develop approaches both in use and classroom training? Will students be able to provide their communities with accurate, credible and verifiable information they need and what? Content is still king.
• Establish policies that apply to all platforms with strong and consistent editorial. ethical and staff guideline
Consistency is a major goal for policies and guidelines to provide a solid framework for student learning and community understanding of the free and journalistically responsible roles of student media in a democracy. Even if your students do not become commercial journalists in the future, they will have powerful skills and literacy that help shape them as potential citizen journalists. We recommend a Policy Package (soon to be released) of editorial policy, ethical manual and staff manual, identifying student media as forums for student expression they make all decisions of content.
• Consider a hybrid approach
A hybrid, or converged, approach may be the best of all worlds, allowing content to be delivered using the best platform while enabling students to practice and learn a variety of skills to use on those platforms. Part of the goal here is news literacy and part civic engagement. Report about your communities using the best platform. Mobile can do many things print cannot; print can do things mobile cannot. Think of which platform most effectively and thoroughly presents the story. Online reporting has its place. Print has its place. Web can showcase multiple platforms. Play coverage to its strengths.
Going online can also suggest certain approaches that could be the worst things students can do:
• Have the wrong goals. Likes and followers do not necessarily equal success. All your approaches need a purpose. Be sure your audience uses social media before you apply it heavily.
• Post poor work. Your audiences need to trust student journalism and know it is credible, verified and reliable. Second-guessing of your reporting would not be effective.
• Not change your posts frequently enough. Who wants to keep coming back to the same content?
• Have multiple outlets at your school developing content. Converge and collaborate are better approaches..
• Consider people or events as isolated instances. Instead, show context and perspective. Is the new rule at your school also being pushed in other local districts? Across the nation? Is this the first time for such a rule? If not, what happened previously? Help communities make sense of what you tell them. Stress verification and synthesis of information.
• Talk down to your audiences. Engage them and develop discussion so they are involved, ethically and professionally, in your coverage.
• Ignore your analytics. Analyze them and see what your audience is coming to, and then find out why.
For related lessons, see:
• Takedown demands
* Taking your student media online
• Is print dead
• 25 essential skills for student journalists
• Poynter’s Guiding Principles
• Verification Handbook
• Best Practices for Social Media verification
• ASNE 10 best practices for social media
• Takedown demands
•Online ethics guidelines for student media
• 10 reasons high school media should not abandon print
• JEA digital media guide to moving online (techie and not as much on content, legal, ethical)
* Note: Sources for some of this information include:
–Val Kibler, Virginia journalism teacher and adviser and former Dow Jones News Fund Journalism Teacher of the Year
–Sue Zake, assistant journalism professor at Kent State University and former managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal for multimedia and special projects
–Marina Hendricks, doctoral student at the University of Missouri and author of Social Media Toolbox.
–Logan Aimone, journalism educator and former executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association
–Stonybrook Dean Howard Schneider and James Klurfeld as noted in Andrew Beaujon’s Poynter.org article.
–Megan Fromm, assistant professor at Boise State University
–Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, authors of Blur and The Elements of Journalism