College News Mobs: 10 Tips for Staging a Successful Student Journalist Swarm

The Orange County Register‘s planned “news mob” coverage of this evening’s opening day Major League Baseball game between the Angels and Royals is earning quite a bit of buzz, including a pair of write-ups from Jim Romenesko.

Building on heavy advance coverage, more than 100 Register staffers (including roughly 70 reporters) “will descend on Angels Stadium” later today, providing a nonstop torrent of stories that makes the standard definition of comprehensive seem obsolete.

The paper’s Angels editor Keith Sharon: “I like flash mobs, I like cash mobs, and what I’ve been telling people is this is an overwhelming choreographed allocation of news resources.  I want everybody who sees our website, our print product, our iPad product, our mobile device product to think: ‘They thought of everything.  I mean everything.'”

A news mob can be a powerful tool within the college journalism ranks– for a campus publication, an intro or advanced journalism or media class or even an independent group of j-students who join forces nationwide.

Based on the rundown provided by Sharon and related reports, there appear to be 10 keys for student journalists to keep in mind when conceiving and carrying out a successful news mob of their own.

10 Keys to Staging a Successful News Mob

1) Advance Check.  The Register’s Opening Day mob is a result of seemingly immense forethought, sophisticated coordination, and months of lead-time.  In this spirit, approach your news mob with a true blueprint.  Select a point-person.  Hold planning meetings.  Elicit ideas and feedback.  And when the mob is at last dispersed, ensure everyone’s in the loop and armed with the right equipment, on-site and online access, and news pegs.  One caveat: On the day of the event, be ready for– and embrace– the unexpected.

Separately, provide uber-amounts of preview coverage to complement and build anticipation for your planned real-time and next-day reports.  Come up with a title, tagline, and logo to brand all related content, on the web and in print.

2) Immense Audience Interaction.  Let your readers join the mob!  Encourage them to submit photos, videos, first-person blog posts, story ideas, and oodles of hashtagged tweets.  One facet of the Register‘s mob has involved readers “sending in photos of themselves in Angels gear and writing about their love for their favorite team.”

3) Cross-Section & Multi-Platform Coverage.  Ensure your content scope covers as many areas as possible– from news and commentary to sports and A&E.  I’ll dub it the HuffPo test.  Among the categories currently included within Huffington Post’s ever-expanding universe: business, politics, tech, comedy, healthy living, religion, crime, women, gay voices, Latino voices, and weird news.  Have mob stories planned for most of those categories and a few others?  You’re set. :)

As Sharon recently reminded his fellow Register staffers in a memo about their Angels coverage, the paper has “received collaboration from sports, cities, music, television, movies, The Fast Food Maven, In Your Face, graphics, Freedom Interactive, social media, the iPad, mobile, Lansner on Real Estate, Handling Hard Times, Small Business, OC Moms, travel, art, The Morning Read, technology, theater, trending (and if I left you out … you probably helped too).”

Separately, utilize students working in all editorial areas, including photography, video, and social media.  Consider related advertising opportunities.  Even reach out to competitors if a collaboration of some sort might be mutually beneficial.

4) Other Perspectives.  Mob mentality is the tendency for people in a crowd to suddenly all start thinking alike.  Don’t let your news mob suffer from it.  Avoid being so laser-focused on the event that you lose sight of its larger context or opposing views.  For example, as part of the Angels mob coverage, the Register has featured the perspectives of locals who are NOT fans of the team.  In this vein, be sure to spotlight people who could care less about the event you’re covering or find it a nuisance.  Similarly, if there is controversy lurking around the event or the individuals participating in it, start digging.

In addition, don’t forget NEXT DAY coverage, a rundown of what goes on immediately after– and maybe even long after– an event wraps.  (One of my favorite related stories is a piece written by a former student of mine that focused on what happens to the party beads tossed around during an event like Mardi Gras after the parties are over.)  And separately, look back.  Complement the massive coverage of what is happening in the moment at the event with historical glimpses of the whole shebang.

5) Reward Risk.  From a Nieman Lab report on the Angels coverage: “Reporters are being encouraged to find stories that aren’t regularly on their beats, to take stylistic risks that normally wouldn’t fly, and generally to get outside of their comfort zones.  The message Sharon says he emphasized most: ‘Break out of what you normally do, and it’s okay to try something that you didn’t think you could before.’  There will be stadium food reviews, photos from the best sports bars, and an analysis of the song that plays during the seventh-inning stretch.”

6) Publish with Purpose.  Be a smart mob.  Ensure there is a point to every story, multimedia component, and interactive element.  Don’t report for the sake of reporting or simply to fill column inches or web space.  As Wilmington’s Star-News staffer Michael Voorheis contends, “It’s one thing to think of everything.  Quite another to sift through it and find what’s relevant.”

7) Think Real Time.  Along with preview pieces and post-event write-ups, present real-time videos, photos, podcasts, blog posts, Facebook status updates, and tweets.  Ensure the website you set up comes across as the fully-functioning, organized, and polished place to be for related coverage of the event you’re mobbing.

8) Self-Promotion.  Simply put, publicize your work!  Engage readers well before the start date.  Hold a related logo contest.  Lay dibs on a hashtag early.  Don’t shy from running a few reports on the build-up and execution of the mob itself, along with the news it’s covering.  Two reasons for the self-promotion: 1) It spreads the word and hopefully ups your audience.  2) It ensures people at the event being mobbed and those checking out your related coverage understand what the heck’s going on.  (“Why are 70 reporters at this game?!  “Why is the entire website given over to Angels stories??”)

9) Be Choosy.  Picking the right event is paramount for this particular endeavor.  More on this aspect in a follow-up post…

10) Have Fun.  It’s a mob, not a war.  This should be an adrenaline rush for the participants, a nice change-of-pace, not a slog.  For student publication editors planning a news mob, be sure not to bill it as an additional assignment atop everyone’s already-bursting workload.  Instead, integrate the conceptual planning, preview coverage, real-time work, and post-event wrap-ups into the existing workflow.

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