CMM Special Series: What Do Student Journalists Want to Learn More About Journalism? (Part 14)

During his recent efforts to help plan programming for the fall 2015 ACP/CMA National College Media Convention — the world’s largest annual gathering of student journalists and their advisers and profs — David Simpson wanted to hear more from the students themselves. Specifically, he was curious: In these changing times, what do potential student attendees want to get most from a journalism conference experience? So Simpson, a revered veteran journalist and director of student media at Georgia Southern University, reached out to me with his student-first query. I in turn reached out to the summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellows — an elite crew of current and recent student journalists.

For this CMM special series, 14 Fellows offer their perspectives, ideas and advice centered on a single question: What topic, tech tool, news beat, skill-set or current event would you love to learn more about, lead a session on or help debate during a journalism convention? Their answers run the gamut — touching on everything from science journalism and Snapchat to sexual assault coverage and workflow management.

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What Do Student Journalists Want to Learn More About Journalism?
Part 14: ‘College Media for the Online Audience’

By Alicia Keene, Texas Tech University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I think it would be interesting to hold a session called “College Media for the Online Audience.”  While rapidly receiving growing interest, digital native news outlets are still pretty rare, especially within college media. Most college outlets I have come across are print-based with an online component. And most digital-native student news outlets still act like daily newspapers.

Both are out of touch with how many students consume news. With so much info and entertainment flooding the Internet, student readers are glued to their phones and have a ton of media options to choose from. College media need to cater to both those facts. Our content should not be about quantity. It should be about quality. Who cares if your reporters wrote 20 stories for that day’s paper if most students are only going to read the few that interest them — if they read any at all.

I am not saying, “Do away with your papers.” I am saying that some outlets, especially those with smaller or dwindling budgets, may want to reconsider how and what they deliver. For example, I would personally rather have my reporters spend time focused on a single interesting story that will garner more attention and impact than flood the Internet with a greater quantity of stories that are of lesser quality and will attract fewer views.

It’s all about getting a leg up on how college media can target the online audience.

At The Hub@TTU, I always tell my staff to ask themselves, “If I saw a post about this story on Facebook, would I read it?” If the answer is no, then there is probably something better they could cover. We try to balance stories of interest and stories the audience needs to know about.

We have found one good way to pull in new readers is through easy, entertaining articles — the type that still get clicks well beyond their publication dates. One example: “Lazy Eating in Lubbock,” a breakdown of which places in town deliver food fast and conveniently. Another example: “14 Signs You Go To Texas Tech,” a BuzzFeed-style post. These features regularly attract new readers who have not heard of us before. However, they do not create loyalty.

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We have found a good way to grow loyalty is by covering stories our readers care about, providing the human element and telling them what they don’t already know. That’s what our reporters focus on. Our eyes are always peeled for enterprise or investigative stories. For example, I put together a story about the inside of a dorm that has been abandoned since the early 1990s and a separate story about the “mysterious” underground tunnels at Texas Tech — they both still get consistent views because Tech students and alumni seem to find them as interesting as I did when reporting on them.

When producing content for an online audience, the way you write your stories has just as much of an impact as the stories themselves. At the Hub, while we try to abide by AP style, we also know that some stories are better told in a conversational, explanatory manner — as if you are telling the information to a friend. We got this idea after reading news sources such as theSkimm and Vox. While I have seen flaws in both outlets, their approach is smart overall. People don’t have a lot of time to waste, so make it easy for them to understand or skim for what they want to know. In addition, always aim to answer the questions: Why is this relevant to the reader? And why is this important for the reader to know? One example of how we’ve tried to do that: “6 Things To Know About The Midterm Election.

Sometimes stories are just too big to be told well in only one article. Until recently, Texas was in a major drought, and it was causing problems in our area. Instead of writing a generic story about the drought, we decided to make a full microsite devoted to it. Microsites are handy for these type of bigger, more involved stories, and they can give your staffers a chance to not only tell a story better but also give the reader more visualization.

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Of course visualizations are not strictly for microsites. They are pretty essential to online articles in general. Readers need something other than words to look at. Visuals can be useful tools to help readers understand stories better. For example, we used various multimedia approaches to give readers an understanding of what it is like to be blind at Texas Tech — including a video seeing campus from a blind student’s perspective.

Let’s talk about these sorts of efforts, and many others like them, at a special convention session about targeting online audiences.

Alicia Keene is a graduate student at Texas Tech University, pursuing a dual master’s in mass communications and business. She is graduate executive director of The Hub@TTU. She is also a summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow.

Check out other parts of this CMM special series

Part 1: ‘The Interesting Important & the Important Interesting’ by Danielle Klein, University of Toronto

Part 2: ‘Best Practices, Pros, Cons & Even Some Mistakes’ by Emma Discher, Tulane University

Part 3: ‘Fresh Ideas & Fresh Blood’ by Sami Edge, University of Oregon

Part 4: ‘The Way We Edit & Upload Stories’ by Ali Swenson

Part 5: ‘So You Want to Make a Tabloid Newspaper?’ by Claire Dodson, University of Tennessee

Part 6: ‘An Independent Student Newspaper?’ by Kyle Walker, University of Tulsa

Part 7: ‘How to Present Data in the Most Compelling Way’ by Nizia Alam, University of Texas at Tyler

Part 8: ‘Student Media Consumption Habits’ by Matt Lemas, University of Southern California

Part 9: ‘How Can a Student Make It Different?’ by Nicole Brown, New York University

Part 10: ‘A Closer Look at Periscope’ by Angela Christaldi, Saint Joseph’s University

Part 11: ‘The Role of the Opinion Section’ by Griffin Guinta, University of Tampa

Part 12: ‘Before Any Journalism Even Gets Done’ by Sean Feverston, Otterbein University

Part 13: ‘Videos for Social Media’ by Alex Bitter, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

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