Social Gators: Tim Kaine rally offered surprise coverage during UF engagement class

I taught my first class at the University of Florida this weekend. It was a one-credit class in audience engagement, taught in a bootcamp style over one weekend.

Our last four hours together on Sunday were supposed to be about how journalists measure success — dotcom metrics, social metrics and impact measurement. But then an opportunity to do social journalism arose, and it’s just not in my nature to pass up the chance to get students into the field.

Tim Kaine held a rally directly outside the UF journalism school on Sunday afternoon, and I scrapped the last chunk of my class agenda and instead deployed the 17 students to do social coverage.

Nine students went to the rally to do social-first coverage. They told a variety of stories from the field, publishing to Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Eight students stayed in our newsroom/classroom, aggregating and curating posts from the rest of the team, searching for other community posts and fact-checking.

Lauren Rowland took the lead on a live blog on Storify. Her file was live as soon as our coverage started, and she updated continually for about two hours. Producing a live blog takes constant attention to searching and filtering. Jessica Small, Catie Flatley and Zoë Sessums spent their time finding, transcribing and funneling content into the various curations.

Carolina Lafuente took a different approach to social curation. Her Storify published after the event was over. While Lauren’s provided minute-by-minute updates, Carolina’s walked readers through just the highlights of the afternoon chronologically. Emanuel Griffin also collected highlights of the day’s social coverage, but he did it on Medium. Continue reading “Social Gators: Tim Kaine rally offered surprise coverage during UF engagement class”


Create a document to plan your social posts

UPDATED 10/5/16: Scroll down for a sample social media plan from Colorado Public Radio.

In a Poynter class I’m teaching, we’ve been talking about the need to be strategic about how we produce our social channels.

It’s not enough to react to today’s news. We need to think about the mix of content. We need to share what we know people are talking about today, not just what our newsrooms feel like producing today. We need to share certain stories at certain times.

We need to think about what we published yesterday, last week or six months ago that might have new relevance today, and come up with a system to plan ahead for those posts.

Some of us also have lots of people jumping in and out of social posting in our newsrooms. It can be tough to know who’s in charge of which stories, which hours and which days.

To manage all that, we need a document that looks further ahead than today’s news budget. I came up with a document that worked well in the newsroom of the Columbia Missourian, and I cleaned it up for public sharing.

Here is my sample social media planning doc, in case it’s useful for anyone else.

And if you have one you’d be willing to share, will you send it to me? I love peeking in on other peoples’ work systems. It gives me the same excitement as new school supplies, or pictures of home offices. Ahh, productivity.


I’m doing some work with Colorado Public Radio, and I was so impressed with the social media planning docs created by their social media manager, Leslie Smail.

Here is their template in a Google spreadsheet.

Here’s what Leslie wrote about how CPR uses the template. (I’ve seen it in play for a specific project, with multiple staff members using it to share ideas, plan and edit behind each other.)

  • The overview tab is a basic gantt chart that we use to map out the different stories we’re putting out and some high level steps and deadlines along the way. The calendar to the right of those tasks is just a visual high level view of what’s happening over the month and in what order.
  • The other tabs are for each social media channel we’re on and maps out exactly how many posts we want for the month, and the dates and times, which we’ve determined based on when we get the highest engagement rates for particular days of the week and times of day, so adjust this for your particular audience. For subsequent months, just add more rows. This planning doc shows how we planned out a particular reporting project, in which we aimed to tweet 3x a day about our coverage, post on Facebook 2-3x/week and on Instagram 2x/week. This will obviously vary for your particular project and I would encourage you to use this as a master planning doc to plan out ALL social media posts, not just for a particular project.
  • Here’s a breakdown of the different columns and how they’re used:
    • Owner: If multiple people are working with this planning doc, assign who is responsible for each post
    • Date: Pretty self explanatory. This column is formatted so that if you just type in “10/5” for example, it will auto format to say “Wed-10/5” or you can double click in the cell and a calendar will pop up if you want to change a date that way.
    • Time: We say AM, Noon, and PM as shorthand for morning, afternoon and evening, trying to give pretty equal coverage to all times of the day, or you can adjust this if you see much more engagement for a particular time of day
    • Type of content: This is a helpful way to make sure you are tracking how often you talk about different stories or are testing different strategies. Types of content could include video, questions, quotes, photo galleries, etc. This way you can sort by a particular content type and make sure you are varying the type of content you put out on social media.
    • Message: This is where you draft the actual posts. Column J tracks the character count and is also color coded from green to yellow to red to tell you the optimal post length, which you can adjust by right clicking and clicking “conditional formatting”
    • URL: Put the link to include in the post
    • Notes: We use this to remind people of particular hashtags or handles to include.
    • Image: If you want to use media that isn’t included in a link, we link to a file path on our internal server, so that we have a record of where media (videos/images) are and aren’t emailing them back and forth

Thanks for sharing the doc, Leslie! Anyone else have one to share? I’d be thrilled to keep updating this post. Reach me here.

How to analyze a brand’s social media use

If you want to be more sophisticated in your social media use, it can help to practice analyzing what other people do.

An assignment I use in one of my classes is to pick a news brand and analyze its social media activity. I’m always impressed with my students’ observations, and I thought I’d share the assignment here in case it’s useful for others. I’d love to see how other folks teach this. Drop me a line if you have an assignment you’d be willing to share.


Evaluate the social media use of a news organization of your choice. It can be a small community newsroom or an international staff, niche topic or general. Please choose an organization:

  • that is present and at least a little active on social media
  • that has room for improvement, so you can make suggestions
  • for which you can find at least two staff members connected to the organization who at least sometimes post about their work
  • that will allow you to answer all the questions posed in this assignment

You will be assessed based on how well you apply the breadth of our social media discussions in class to your analysis and on the thoughtfulness of that analysis. Consider social media guidelines, strategies and styles of writing. Also address the measurement of success.

PART ONE (10 points): Identify the primary audience for and mission of that news organization (either in their words or your own estimations). Find that news organization on as many social platforms as you can and link to all their accounts. Consider AT A  MINIMUM: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. Can you find any social media strategy or policy documents or related interviews? If so, link to them or attach them.

PART TWO (20 points): Answer these questions about at least two of those accounts, on two separate platforms (for example, the org’s main presence on Pinterestand Instagram, or the org’s main sports presence on Twitter and food presence on Facebook — you pick). 

  • How frequently does the account post?
  • Analyze the posts. Approximately what is the ratio of posts that link to or push newsroom content compared to posts that are replies, retweets or other contributions to conversations? 
  • What do you know and what can you surmise about the strategy for each of those two accounts? Discuss what you can tell about the goals, and link to at least three posts on each platform that back up what you’re saying.

PART THREE (20 points): Find at least two staff members who post about the work they do connected to the organization you’re evaluating. 

  • Link to their accounts/platforms that discuss their work. 
  • How much of what they post is directly related to their work?
  • What is the nature of their work-related posts? Describe how it relates to content, whether they demonstrate personality, whether/how they reply to followers, whether they show what’s going on behind the scenes of their jobs and whether anything they post could be considered controversial. 

PART FOUR (20 points): Think about the strategies we talked about in class for writing social posts. We wrote posts designed to get as many click thrus as possible, as much engagement as possible and as much worthwhile discussion as possible. (Related post: What “works” on social media? That’s a bad question.) Please pick one existing post that includes a link back to your org’s website. Link to the original post, and rewrite it three ways. You don’t have to think all three are the right way to promote that link. But show you understand the diversity of possible strategies by writing examples. Then indicate which you think would be most effective.

PART FIVE (30 points): Write suggestions for the news organization based on what you learned. Write it as if you’re sending it to the organization’s leadership, and address both brand accounts and individual journalists’ accounts. Acknowledge what is working and make suggestions for improvement and growth. Be sure to address why further investment in improvement and growth would be worthwhile and how the newsroom could measure success (what could be measured and what the newsroom would learn from those measurement efforts). Be prepared for it to be shared, either publicly or specifically with that staff. 


Social journalism is everyone’s job

My definition of social journalism is broad. It incorporates just about anything that makes the process or product of journalism more interactive, conversational or responsive.

Phone operators, 1952 / Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Twitter is a social tool, but so is the copy machine, when deployed creatively. So is the telephone, when used for actual listening. And so is wine, now that we’re on the subject.

I’m giving a quick talk at Journalism Interactive today (without wine, sadly) about what I think social journalism means and why it’s not just the job of a social media team. (Unless you don’t want to be social. In which case, maybe you should be the Wizard of Oz.)

Journalism’s expanded, social life cycle is something I’ve written and talked a lot about. It’s basically at the heart of all the work I do.

Here are seven questions I’d love us all to talk about as we consider whether our newsrooms, our students, our journalism routines and our actual products are truly social.

  1. What does being social actually look like?
  2. Where do our ideas come from?
  3. When does a story begin and end?
  4. Who can help tell the story?
  5. Who is the journalism for?
  6. How should the journalism reach those people (you know, the ones it’s for)?
  7. How will we know if the journalism “worked”?

Basically: Focus on the audience at every stage of your process. Listen, talk and adjust, from beginning to end.

That’s being social.

Here’s where you can find out more about what I mean.

UPDATE: Here’s the talk I gave.

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.”

Marketing yourself: What’s the story of your journalism?

Journalists are great at telling stories, often right up until the point of telling their OWN story.

When it comes to getting a job, it’s vitally important to be able to craft your own narrative. Prospective employers don’t just want to know what you’ve done, where you’ve worked and what you’ve covered. They should be able to learn:

What you stand for or believe in. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? What kind of work keeps you going?

What you’re like as a person and a colleague. How would your coworkers describe you? What’s your energy level? How do you collaborate?

All of this of course is leading to …

What you would be like as an employee. What would you bring to their team, beyond the skills listed on your resume and reflected in your portfolio? A very smart editor told a newsroom full of students last year that she likes to hire for attitude, then teach for skill. (I wrote about her in this previous job-hunting post, along with similar advice to be an Tigger, not an Eeyore, which might be my all-time favorite.)

One of my favorite examples of a job hunter creating his own narrative is this use of Storify by @scottrocketship, in which I get a sense of what he does, what he’s good at and who he is.

(If you’re looking for more job-hunting links, you’ll find the highlights I used in this year’s class here.)

So, when I talk to my students about personal branding and how they sell themselves, we talk about the consistent narrative they need to make sure their online identities project. We talk about the importance of energy and personality. We talk about how a cover letter needs to be more than a description of what’s in their resumes.

And we talk about what would happen if they found themselves in an elevator with someone who had a job they were dying to get.

With that in mind, I made the students in my Participatory Journalism class make “why you should hire me” pitch videos. I think they’d say the experience was both awkward and helpful. It was totally contrived — conversations like this usually happen a bit more organically, with less you talking directly at them for 60 to 90 seconds.

But the exercise was useful, I think. It at least made them think about what they would want to highlight about themselves.

Five brave and kind students agreed to let me share their pitch videos publicly. Give them a shoutout in the comments. Even better? Leave feedback or job offers!

And away we go …