I won’t make broad statements that journalism schools are failing in some way when it comes to incorporating social media into their curriculum.
I know that many are making great strides to marry the two. Plus I’ve been out of journalism school for a few years, and around the time I left is when social media was really starting to kick off, so I don’t have first-hand knowledge of what is and is not happening.
So instead, I want to share three social media skills that I believe should be part of any journalism school’s curriculum, if it isn’t already.
1. Content (scheduling) Is King. As part of a basic reporting class, reporters or photographers should have to maintain a “Fan Page” and Twitter account for themselves. They will share links to their articles, or videos or post photos.
One of the toughest things about maintaining a social media profile is also the most effortless: Updating the profile. Make a plan for what to post, and when, and stick to it, whenever possible. By having to maintain a Fan Page for their work, they will get an understanding of the demands of daily content updating and curation that many journalists are encountering today in their day-to-day work.
2. Twitter Is a Story Machine. Last year I spent a week giving guest lectures to journalism classes at my alma mater, Central Michigan University. The topic of how social media can be useful for journalists came up a lot.
I told them that Twitter is exactly what they want it to be. As a reporter, if you have a particular beat, you should spend a day or two deep-diving Twitter. Find people who might be connected to your beat in some way.
You can “follow” them, or if you want to be less obvious about it, create a private Twitter List, and add them to it. You get all of their updates, without it being public to anyone that you’re seeing what they’re tweeting about. However by “following” someone, and being followed-back, you get the added bonus of being able to Direct Message them. This is a great tool for getting background on a story, if you needed to.
3. Live Tweeting/Facebooking Events Is a Skill. Not everyone sees the value in “live Tweeting/Facebooking” events or breaking news. Some see it as a lot of unverified information. In some cases it is. But I believe that we’re trending towards a more wide acceptance of the medium for reporting live events.
That being said, it’s not an easy thing to do. It requires an ability to distinguish interesting quotes and pieces of information, from the more banal and boring. In journalism school, students could be taught how to do this.
If they’re assigned beats, tell them that in addition to producing an article on the meeting or news item, they also must live Tweet or Facebook the event as it happens. They would need to have a Twitter or Facebook account made just for the class. Afterward, the professor could take a class period and go over the good and bad examples.
When you’re the only person on the scene of a breaking news story, or the only person at the meeting, often that means you’re the only source of information available at that time. Being able to dive in and start posting quality information and news items is a great skill to have.
These are my Top 3, but there are a lot more that could be taught. In a few years I can see social media being a critical element of any journalism school’s curriculum.
Today many schools are still experimenting and, in some cases, “waiting out” social media to see if it eventually collapses in on itself. I can’t blame them for wanting to do that. I just hope they get past it sooner rather than later. Otherwise they risk being left behind as journalism — and journalism education — continues to evolve.