From idea to distribution: Teaching an expanded life cycle for a community story

This is a version of a talk I gave this morning at the Green Shoots in Journalism Education event at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Appropriately, a lot of what we teach in journalism school is about the craft of gathering information and telling stories.

But too often missing is a discussion of who it’s all for.

  • Who wants it?
  • Who is it helping?
  • Who will seek it out?
  • Who will pay for it?
  • Who gets to decide what “good journalism” is?

If we want a future full of relevant, well-funded journalism, we have to be teaching students to ask those questions.

We can’t work in a vacuum, publish, then pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next story. We need a plan to:

  • aggressively reflect a community’s priorities and voices
  • identify the audience for what we do
  • invest in bringing audience and content together
  • track what works so we can continually experiment and improve

My Participatory Journalism class makes up my staff at the Columbia Missourian newspaper. And our task as the paper’s community outreach team is to ask and answer those questions on behalf of our product and our newsroom. We work to infuse audience-focused philosophies into our newsroom’s processes and products.

What I’d love to see is a journalism curriculum that infuses this focus on audience into all our classes. I’d like there to be no need for a Participatory Journalism class or a community outreach team. We all need to focus on making journalism that the audience wants and finding the audience for the journalism we think is important.

Here’s an example of what that looked like for a package of stories that my newsroom published a couple of weeks ago. Click through the slides, or watch me explain them during an 8-minute presentation.

Related posts:

This concept from The Guardian still motivates me to think broadly about the life cycle of a story.

Here are questions I think journalists should be asking for more audience-focused reporting.


Want to take a class in making the news more social? Here’s what you need to know.

This post is intended primarily to provide info to students interested in taking J4700/7700, Participatory Journalism.

NOTE: I will be teaching (via Skype) the classroom portion of this class for spring 2016. The Missourian is hiring a new director of community outreach, so we don’t know yet who the team’s newsroom boss will be.  

This class is about social news — about how journalism organizations can listen as well as talk, and how to invite interaction rather than just provide information. We think it’s important for people to see themselves in the journalism and easily find ways to get involved with it. It’s key to staying relevant as news providers.

Luckily, the Columbia Missourian agrees. And as part of this class, you’d be joining the staff of the Missourian, on the community outreach team.

Our team is constantly evolving. It’s a giant experiment. “Because we did it that way last time” is hardly ever a reason for doing it that way again. We’re continually assessing the effectiveness of what we’re doing, tossing out ideas that aren’t working and inventing new strategies to try (something journalists need to know how to do).

Warning: As part of the team, you’d be assessed on how well you participate in and extend the experiment, not on how well you follow directions. If that sounds horrifying — if you prefer to stick with clear, comfortable instructions — this is not the class for you.

Continue reading “Want to take a class in making the news more social? Here’s what you need to know.”

Q: What “works” on social media? A: That’s a bad question

** Where you see asterisks, I’ve elaborated since the original publication.

I’ve had meetings with several students lately who want to work professionally in or do in-depth research on social media, and I was reminded of dozens of chats I’ve had with professional journalists.

The journalists (student or professional) had this in common: They have a firm grasp of tools and enjoy using them, but they haven’t thought through deeply enough some key questions.

Please, let’s build a social strategy around these questions:

1. Why am I doing this?

What’s the purpose behind the post, prompt, invitation or link? To drive visits to your website? To invite connection between journalists and users? To find sources? To promote brand awareness? To get a window into users’ values or opinions? The answer of course differs between brands or newsrooms. And it should most certainly differ between posts. What do you hope to achieve with each post, and are you mixing it up?

Continue reading “Q: What “works” on social media? A: That’s a bad question”

Journalistic transparency in a red-state-blue-state world

What should we as journalists share about ourselves? When does our disclosure enhance our credibility? When does our transparency lead to a deeper connection with our audience?

In my Participatory Journalism class last week, we muddled our way through those questions. And the questions came up again in the Columbia Missourian newsroom on election night. (That is, after all, how we teach here: We look at principles in the classroom, and reinforce them on the job.)

We talked in class, of course, about the View from Nowhere. We talked about where we’re all coming from, and what perspectives we bring to the choices we make as journalists. We all have biases that we bring to story selection, to the framing of stories, to the questions we ask, to the decisions we make about word choice.

We talked about this modern, American notion that we should all step outside ourselves to do Proper Journalism — a notion that doesn’t always hold up if you work in a small town where everyone knows all about you, or if you work elsewhere on the globe, where partisan journalism is expected and preferred. I got to rant about the word objectivity, and how being separate from what we cover doesn’t always lead to journalism that’s reflective of its intended audience.

It feels safe to say that nowhere is the “o” word more invoked than in the case of Journalists vs. U.S. Politics. We don’t share our opinions or ideologies publicly. We don’t admit we have them. Heck, sometimes we don’t even vote.

Here’s the thing: This drives me crazy, and I’d love to see it change. But politics doesn’t feel like the right area for us to experiment with transparency, especially at a community newspaper.

Continue reading “Journalistic transparency in a red-state-blue-state world”

Want to take Participatory Journalism? Here’s what you need to know.

Note: This has been updated for folks interested in the class for Summer or Fall 2013.

“Engagement” is a buzz word in journalism these days. But what does it really mean? And how does it get incorporated into daily news?

In J4700/7700, Participatory Journalism, students become part of the community outreach team at the Columbia Missourian. They all get experience with social media, analytics, identifying audience, being ambassadors for the newsroom, crowdsourcing and comment moderation. They learn how to make the news more social and conversational, how to ask questions people want to answer, and how inviting participation with the news is a key step in staying relevant as news providers.

I started to gather some of what we’ve been doing with the #CoMoSnow in February, but I ‘ve been too busy doing the journalism to explain what we’ve done so far. Here’s a column that our boss, Tom Warhover, wrote about some of it.

Sound like stuff you’d like to have on your resume and in your portfolio of work? Here’s what you should know before asking for a consent number.

Here’s a link to this semester’s syllabus, which is in a google doc because it’s always a work in progress.
Here’s a link to a diagram I made of what we cover.
Here’s a dated but still maybe useful blog post about what the team did in its first semester, Fall 2011.

The fact that a blog post from a year ago is dated should tell you something about how our team works. It’s constantly evolving. It’s a giant experiment. “Because we did it that way last time” is pretty much never a reason for doing it that way again. We’re constantly assessing the effectiveness of what we’re doing, tossing out ideas that aren’t working and inventing new strategies to try (something journalists need to know how to do).

Continue reading “Want to take Participatory Journalism? Here’s what you need to know.”

#lifelessons. Or, how to make yourself popular in the newsroom.

  1. I’m giving a quick beginning-of-the-semester lesson in
    professionalism with my class tomorrow — one that I hope will help my
    team ingratiate themselves to the rest of the newsroom. Some of my students have a lot of experience in office or newsroom settings, and some do not. Some have worked in my newsroom before, and some have not.

    I want to
    emphasize that how they conduct themselves — in the newsroom and out —
    plays a huge role in their perceived credibility, their working
    relationships and their ability to collaborate.

    After all, you can’t get anything done in a newsroom by yourself. If you want to work solo, find a new profession.

    So, here we go.

  2. mayerjoy
    I’m all about the life lessons today. “When you stop in someone’s office, it’s a good idea to first introduce yourself.”
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 10:23:01
  3. mayerjoy
    More #lifelessons: Before you launch into a five-minute story, ask to see if the person you’re addressing has time to talk.
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 10:23:44
  4. I got some useful advice from my friends on the Interwebs today.

  5. robweir
    @mayerjoy another #lifelesson: “you busy?” should be a request for information, not a hello.
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 10:36:45
  6. robweir
    @mayerjoy i mean, seriously: “Hi, you busy? [sits down] Here’s my large and complex problem.”
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 10:49:35
  7. This one from a former student is practical. Feel free to be a squeaky wheel if you think your editor, or a colleague, has forgotten to follow up on something. But don’t squeak at an annoying decibel. (Rachel has experience squeaking at me, and she does it professionally.)
  8. rschallom
    @mayerjoy Send friendly reminder emails–things get lost. Key word: friendly.
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 11:11:56
  9. BE PLEASANT. Eye contact. Smile. (Crazy suggestions from Shaina.)
  10. ShainaRC
    @mayerjoy Learn how to give a proper greeting: eye contact, smile, firm handshake, clear pronunciation of name #lifelessons
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 10:53:09
  11. This next one is huge, especially in a newsroom with 250 people every semester. Don’t assume people know who you are.
  12. rclnudson
    @mayerjoy I just moved to edit for a new group and half the people stop by, ask where their story is and never say who the are or what story
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 14:35:00
  13. And Megan offers this total classic.
  14. meganeruyle
    @mayerjoy always ask, “how can I help?” when you’re at lose ends at work. Or at home, sometimes. #lifelessons
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 15:37:33
  15. A word to the wise, and the perfect closing, from a member of last semester’s community outreach team:
  16. WieseHannah
    @mayerjoy If you use a leaf blower to clean your cabin at camp, you’ll set off the smoke detector.
    Wed, Aug 29 2012 11:24:09


What would you add? Comment here, or tweet to @mayerjoy with the hashtag #lifelessons.

From research to real life: New community outreach team builds on RJI engagement work

This was first published on the RJI blog.

I spent last year at RJI studying audience engagement — reading, talking, interviewing, writing, more reading — and ended that year motivated to put what I’d learned into practice.

Luckily, the job I came back to was in a newsroom built on experimentation, with colleagues willing to go along on the engagement ride.

In August, we kicked off the Missourian’s community outreach team, made up of students in a class I teach called Participatory Journalism. (The class has existed for years and was developed by Clyde Bentley, also an RJI fellow.) This year, the focus of the class broadened to include more ways the relationship between journalists and their communities are changing.

The underlying principle lies in a diagram created by Meg Pickard at The Guardian, which crystallized my goals.

The team’s tasks are diverse. We started out with some specific goals, succeeded at some, failed at a few and adapted others. We made up a lot as we went along, and a spirit of experimentation and assessment guided us.

I want to share some highlights from our first four months, and I’d welcome your ideas, feedback and questions.

Continue reading “From research to real life: New community outreach team builds on RJI engagement work”

What it takes to succeed on my team (hint: it’s mostly initiative + attitude)

I’m prepping my Participatory Journalism syllabus for the spring semester and adding some descriptions of how I grade.

In my class, as with many others at Mizzou, the students are graded largely on their work in the newsroom of the Columbia Missourian. I’m their professor in the classroom, and I’m also their boss on the community outreach team. So while they’ll have some typical classroom assignments, the biggest column in the gradebook is for their newsroom performance and their portfolio of work.

Because of that, I like to include a narrative description of the grade ranges, so students can know what to shoot for and so I have something to point to when grading. Here’s the one I’m working on for this semester.

newsroom success:

The underlying philosophy if this class is experimentation, invention and enterprise. If you show up in the newsroom for each shift waiting for instructions, and do only what you’re specifically asked to do, you’ll get a C, for average performance. Here’s how I would describe what I’m looking for in the newsroom, and how that generally translates into grades (recognizing that no one fits every criteria for every grade range, of course). This applies specifically to the 60 percent of your grade that is based on newsroom performance.

Continue reading “What it takes to succeed on my team (hint: it’s mostly initiative + attitude)”

Outreach team serves democracy, along with Taylor Swift fans

First published at the Missourian’s Transition blog.

On a Monday a few weeks ago, the Missourian’s community outreach team delivered a product that contributed to civic empowerment and democratic conversation. On the next Wednesday, I spent my day on a task that made me wholly uncomfortable.

All in all, not a bad week.

First I’ll discuss the pride. Then the discomfort.

Continue reading “Outreach team serves democracy, along with Taylor Swift fans”