MSU’s New Media Drivers License: I’m certified. Are you?

Photo by KEXINO on Used under Creative Commons license.

It was with great excitement that I enrolled in the New Media Driver’s License course for the fall 2010 semester.

I wasn’t disappointed.


The full course name is “New Media Driver’s License for Public Relations & Advertising” and (in fall 2010) it is listed as ADV 492, sections 701-706. In its graduate-level version, it is listed as ADV 892, sections 701-702.

In it, students learn how to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flikr, YouTube, Digg, Technorati, etc.) for internet marketing. We learned to not only monitor but also participate in conversations about brands taking place in social media.

We also learned about SEO (search engine optimization – in other words, how to get your name/company/product to appear at the top of Google searches), news releases, blogging and Google tools such as Google Adwords and Analytics.

The course is taught by two instructors: Derek Mehraban, CEO of Ingenex Digital in Ann Arbor, and Michael Lorenc, Google Adwords manager, also of Ann Arbor. The course was created by Mehraban and Richard Cole (who oversees the course), who recently stepped down as the chairman of the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Retailing but will still be teaching at MSU.

(I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Cole back in September for a faculty profile for the MSU News website. Check out the article and video here.)

Two books were required for the course: The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott (which had to be read before the first class) and Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds (which we didn’t need until the last assignment). Both books are fantastic.

Photo by Intersection Consulting on Used under Creative Commons license.

The structure:

There were 150 students enrolled in the course. Most students were either juniors/seniors or grad students and even professionals in their 30-somethings and a professor or two.

All 150 students are taught together. We met twice – once in the beginning of the class (which started a couple weeks into the semester) and once at the end of the semester – on Saturdays in Novi at Walsh College from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m. The first meeting was a (fantastic) crash-course through internet marketing, SEO, etc. There was a brief presentation for the final meeting, but most of it was devoted to listening to the top 11 presentations in the class (the final project; more on that later).

Beyond that, assignments were turned in weekly online. We had three main assignments each week:

  1. We had to find four resources – websites or articles that discussed what we were learning – that would be useful to others, and post them to the site.
  2. We also had two discussion topics that we had to comment on for participation points.
  3. Lastly, we had a homework assignment, which was on a different topic each week. Each post had to be search engine optimized and had to include a photo or video and two hyperlinks.

Photo by Intersection Consulting on Used under Creative Commons license.

In brief, the topics were:

  • Week 1: Build class profile on the class website; write a 250-word post on the New Rules of Marketing & PR book
  • Week 2: Choose a blogging platform and set up a blog (or use an existing one) and introduce us to your blog
  • Week 3: Write about SEO and digital marketing resources and submit it to an article site, linking back to our class resources page
  • Week 4: Blogger outreach. Choose a blogger, read their posts and write about their style.
  • Week 5: Learn about the Google tools and how they can be used to increase your marketing strategy.
  • Week 6: Pick a brand and write a listening and brand monitoring strategy for them. (For this assignment, I outlined a strategy for my hometown newspaper, the Livingston County Daily Press and Argus. Check it out here.)
  • Week 7: Explore creative ways of leverage YouTube abd other video sites for your brand, product or service. Explore Valsartdiary and write a post about online video usage, the best tools/tactics/ideas to use.
  • Week 8: Build a Google AdWords Campaign for the Kellogg Center.
  • Week 9 and 10: Read Presentation Zen and create a 10-slide presentation in which you propose an internet marketing strategy for a chosen brand using all of the tools and techniques we have learned. Here’s my presentation:

(Note that, as taught in Presentation Zen, this presentation is meant to be visually appealing but is NOT meant to stand on its own. The presentation is incomplete without the presenter – myself. So you won’t be able to understand much from it… But you can still look at pictures of my turtles!)

The graduate sections (which I enrolled in as an undergraduate through the Honors College) had one additional assignment that was due a week before the final meeting. The assignment was a lot of fun – we had to write two Twitter-length (140-character) posts on “insights on how the applications or lessons each week might reveal or represent an emerging trend in social media advertising or public relations or both.” The result was 14 Twitter-length posts.

In summer 2010, the graduate assignment was a short essay.

(Note that these assignments may all be subject to change; the course is continually being developed – as it should be – to keep up with the latest trends and technology.)

My opinion:

I came into the class looking at social media from a journalism perspective, so I was both caught off-guard and also fascinated with how social media is (increasingly) being used by businesses and for the promotion of promotion of business enterprises. In a way, what I learned was the use of social media in a way that is the antithesis of what I’m taught in journalism. Social media are, more often than not, subjective – and we’re taught in journalism to be objective.

But I found a common thread to these starkly opposite approaches social media. News organizations and articles are businesses and products themselves, and have always been – and will continue to be – promoted through media, whether it’s new, old or social.

Photo by Intersection Consulting on Used under Creative Commons license.

What I found most useful were the tips on SEO for websites and blog posts, which I use every time I post on New Media Shift now – in fact, I use it in every YouTube video I post, every article comment I make and every tweet I post.

In the New Media Driver’s License course, we learned about a smattering of uses for social media in internet marketing. Each of the topics we covered could have been covered in greater depth – though given the limited length of the course, the number of students enrolled and most especially the speed at which technology and the online social sphere is changing, such depth would not have been feasible.

Given that, I would recommend this course for novices (who may or may not have a Twitter account and don’t know what a re-tweet is), beginners (who do know this but might not know much about SEO – before this course, this is where I would have considered myself), and medium competency (who understand Twitter and have a basic/solid understanding of SEO, but might not have applied this by creating their own blog/website; or by creating searchable content that may be of interest/use to others; or by reaching out to bloggers and others to promote an idea/service/product/business).

Social media gurus and advanced internet marketers may appreciate learning a few things but may hunger for greater depth; or they may be downright bored. For those individuals, I recommend looking for another course – though it may be highly difficult or impossible to find a better one – or finding time to educate yourself in your own ways.

(I’ve always been a huge advocate of autodidacticism, regardless of the topic or the depth of the instructor’s knowledge. I know that the instructors’ knowledge is greater than what they can put into the course, and I’d love to spend more time learning from them, if given the chance.)

In the end, I think that, most importantly, the New Media Drivers License course gets your feet wet  – or for some, dunks your head in a good one a couple times – but it’s up to you to dive deeper or swim out further. The course teaches social media self-empowerment; now that you have an idea of what’s out there, you can explore further on your own.

As Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I will move the world.”

The solid place to stand is this course; the tool is social media; and the internet world is yours to move.

Going out in style: A visual thank-you to JRN 203 instructor Karl Gude

I think it’s a great idea to take the time to thank the professors who taught you the most each semester. It’s a habit I picked up on after my first semester at MSU when I sent a long email thank-you to my JRN 108 professor.

After I received very positive feedback from the email (it also may be the reason I have my job as a student writer at University Relations), I figured it would be a good idea – not just from a professional or networking standpoint, but also from a feel-good standpoint.

Professors feel great knowing that they’re appreciated and that their hard work has paid off and that their teachings and advice didn’t go in one ear and out the other. And it feels great to me, being able to explain my appreciation and being the source of their happiness. (I’m a very positive person, what can I say!)

But for JRN 203 my instructor Karl Gude, there was a slight problem in the email approach. Karl has over 13,000 unread emails in his inbox.

The only surefire way to communicate with him throughout the semester has been through Twitter – sending 140-character messages to the JRN203 Twitter account.

But 140 characters wasn’t enough for an adequate thank-you. So I got creative. Some may say too creative.

I spent several days making a thank-you video (what better way to thank a “Visualizing Information” instructor?) to send to Karl in a tweet.

I had a ton of fun making it – I included many class jokes (and jokes that only my group members would understand… like my turtle obsession) and even used many of the visualization tools that Karl taught us to make the video.

It was a great way for me to practice using these tools and a great way to thank an excellent instructor.

So without further ado, here’s my visual thank-you:

MSU Journalism Classes: A Year in Review

Since the year is coming to an end and a new semester will soon begin, I figured I’d review some of the journalism classes I’ve taken so far at Michigan State University.

I’ve also been reviewing my Spring 2011 schedule and thinking about my summer plans (Work? Classes? Live at home or stay up in East Lansing?), so I figured this may be on others’ minds as well.

My JRN 108 textbook, "The Media in Your Life" by Jean Folkerts and MSU's own Stephen Lacy and Ann Larabee. Please note that not all JRN 108 courses use this book. Photo source:

JRN 108: Introduction to Mass Media (now The World of Media)

When: Fall 2009
Who: Professor Geri Zeldes
Review: I took the “old” version of JRN 108 before MSU’s J-School underwent the major curriculum change, so this class may have changed to some degree. I also took the honors section with Geri (which had about 20 students as opposed to the 240 in the regular section that year), so my experience was a bit different than most.

However, the highlight of my class – like the other JRN 108 classes – was the variety of speakers brought in to talk about their jobs and experiences in their respective industries. We had authors, radio/TV personalities (like Mario Impemba, “voice of the Tigers”), journalism advisers, journalism professors involved in new media, editor-if-chiefs from The Big Green and SpartanEdge and others come to give us advice about journalism, where it may lead us, where we may lead it, and how it may affect our lives.

These speakers came about once a week. The rest of the class was spent discussing issues from the textbook, which covered the history of journalism to present-day issues. We wrote several essays throughout the year on these topics – but we didn’t write a single article in the class. Our final project was to create video (in our groups of three) about some aspect of media. (My group interviewed students and campus experts about stereotypes in the media.)

The class wasn’t hard and the textbook (which was thankfully very current; it had just been revised that year) wasn’t very thrilling. JRN 108 is a very introductory class that I could have done without. If it hadn’t been a requirement for the journalism degree, I would have skipped it. (Note: Being in the Honors College allows me to skip prerequisites… unless they’re requirements.)

I did value highly the speakers who came into our class, particularly those who gave us insight into where the field of journalism is going. This insight and advice was worth much more than the textbook and essays.

My JRN 200 journalism textbook, "Reporting for the Media" by John Bender. Please note that not all JRN 200 classes use this book. Photo source:

JRN 200: News Writing and Reporting I (now Gathering and Writing News)

When: Spring 2010
Who: Instructor Chris Andrews
Review: Again, I took the class before the J-School’s curriculum revamp, so the class may be different now.

Students consider this the first level of hell of the journalism classes. It’s the class that’s meant to make or break you as a journalist, to “weed out” the students who don’t truly want to be journalists or aren’t cut out for it.

I loved the class.

You learn to actually write well. You’re finally writing actual articles and you learn AP style. Your grammar is graded – harshly. Your writing style is whacked into shape. I loved getting articles back and seeing them all marked up. (And mine were excellent articles, too. I was among the top in my class, I think.)

My friends call me the “editor,” so in high school no one could ever find any edits to make on what “the editor wrote,” so I was pleased that in JRN 200 I found an instructor who could actually edit my writing. I loved it, and my writing and sentence structure improved immensely. Besides these nitty-gritty basics, the most important lesson I took away from this class was that networking is incredibly important for journalists. In fact, both my JRN 108 and JRN 200 instructors helped me get my current (and fantastic!) job as a student writer for MSU’s University Relations department.

As an aside, I would like to note that the students in my class who said that JRN 200 was killing their desire to pursue journalism – they stuck with it.

JRN 203: Visualizing Information

When: Fall 2010
Who: Instructor Karl Gude
Review: Well… This class was pretty crazy.

This was the first semester that the class had gone from about 40 students to 160 students (and in Spring 2011, it’s increasing to 225!) – and it showed.

It was a bit crazy sometimes because of reasons that include:

  1. Karl is crazy (but we love him… and his stories… and his advice… and the wild things he has us do just because he can.)
  2. There are no prerequisites for the class and it is now a requirement for the journalism degree, so there’s a flood of people from range of skill levels in the class. Some of them hadn’t taken any journalism classes yet.
  3. The technology we used was sometimes unreliable. We used wikispaces for our class website, and we could all edit the pages to post our assignments. Since much of the technology was new to the students, they would sometimes delete others’ projects from the page in the process of posting their own. The various visualization websites we used also had errors or sometimes went down completely, which was a mess.

Despite these problems, JRN 203 was an incredibly valuable class. Here are a few of the reasons:

  1. Karl had the most thorough explanation of how to use Twitter that I have ever heard. Everyone was required to get a Twitter account, and the only way we could communicate with Karl – who apparently has 13,000 unread emails – was by tweeting to the @JRN203 class account or to #JRN203. I set up a stream in Hootsuite to monitor what was being said to the JRN203 account or about the class, which was fun, and I loved responding to my classmates and even getting some of my posts RT’ed by Karl himself.
  2. Even though some of the visualization tools that Karl showed us had issues and we didn’t use any one tool very extensively, it was great to get a taste of the smattering of tools out there. And I loved that they were all free, and thus totally usable outside the class. Karl even showed us a website where he compiled an organized list of free visualization tools of various types: I have the site bookmarked and I even showed it to my JRN 300 instructor – who forwarded it to the whole class – when we were working on our final multimedia projects.
  3. It was fun and stress-free. Maybe a bit more disorganized and lax than it should have been – but students learn best when they’re not terrified out of their minds.

(UPDATE: Go here to see my post about why it’s a good idea to thank professors for teaching you – and to see my awesome visual thank-you to Karl Gude!)

Overall, this class was a great way to learn about new media and social media and to get my feet wet in visualizing information. It’s definitely making me consider more visualization/design/infographics classes in the future. I hear that Karl’s JRN 338 class, which is significantly smaller, is much better than JRN 203. I hope to find myself in that class during my time at MSU.

My JRN 300 journalism textbook, "News Reporting and Writing" by The Missouri Group. Again, please note that not all JRN 300 classes use this book. Photo credit:

JRN 300: Writing and Reporting News

When: Fall 2010
Who: Instructor Fara Warner
Review: This class is known as the second level of journalism hell. But again, I came out a much better writer because of it.

This was another down-and-dirty article-writing course, but much more hard-core than JRN 200. Whereas many of my JRN 200 articles were feature-y and I often interviewed my friends rather than strangers – and almost always students and never adults – I think I used friends as sources only in one of my JRN 300 articles.

We were told that this class would be “run like a newsroom.” While this wasn’t quite true (JRN 400: “Spartan Online Newsroom,” on the other hand, is – as I hear), there was a huge emphasis on journalism ethics.

The class was divided into groups that were assigned to cover hard news stories in Lansing-area communities. There were groups covering Mason; Meridian; Lansing; Okemos; Ingham County; etc. My group of four covered East Lansing and we created and maintained a website where we posted all of our stories.

I covered how MSU football games affected the work and budget of the East Lansing Police Department; how the economy was affecting the budget and services offered at the East Lansing Public Library; 2010 election polls; a profile of an MSU professor and East Lansing community member running for re-election to the E.L. school board; and my final/multimedia project, a look at the ordinances East Lansing is considering to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

The huge emphasis on ethics was a bit intimidating, and at some points I felt like a “dirty” journalist who had “gone to the dark side” because I work at MSU’s public relations department. A lot of ethical issues in new media were brought up, such as StatSheet (a computer that writes articles about sports statistics – which could replace the need for actual journalists), whether news anchors on FOX and MSNBC (such as Keith Olbermann, who had recently been suspended for making political contributions) were really journalists, granting anonymity to sources, how to deal with city officials who brush off student journalists, and when it’s okay – if ever – to lie about being a journalist to get a story.

I’m glad I was forced to interview so many local officials. It made me a lot more comfortable with interviewing non-students – a habit we all needed to break – and I learned a lot about how East Lansing works and how MSU and East Lansing work together. In fact, I know much more about East Lansing than I do about my hometown – where I spent the first 19 years of my life. The more people I interviewed at MSU and in East Lansing, the more I fell in love with the community.

But there’s one thing to be said: many of us agreed that man-on-the-street interviews are awful. Students and non-student residents are terrified of being approached by students/journalists. We confuse them. Many didn’t want their names printed and didn’t understand where their words would be posted. East Lansing is a strange community in that many of its “residents” aren’t permanent – they’re just students who live off-campus – or they’re people who come through the area but don’t actually live in the East Lansing or even the Greater-Lansing areas. Some of these people said they didn’t know anything about East Lansing. (One woman even told me she “didn’t care.”)

We were taught that even failures to find sources for a story could be stories in themselves – such as a story about the demographics of East Lansing and how such a large sample of the population is so transient, and how the permanent residents deal with and work with MSU students.

Fara taught us that journalism is not always glorious and not always fascinating. She taught us that it is our job to make what may seem “boring” relevant to our communities and to tell them why banal issues like property taxes, millage rates and the Headlee Amendment are important and how they can lead to important consequences such as a community’s fire station being shut down. Through my reporting, hearing about the experiences of my peers and Fara’s guidance, I learned how important journalism is to informing citizens about the “boring” but vital issues in their communities.

JRN 300 was my toughest class this semester, and I am very proud of the work I did to earn myself a 4.0 in her class.

My fantastic JRN 336 book, "The Newspaper Designer's Handbook" by Tim Harrower. Photo source:

JRN 336: Designing for Print and Online

When: Fall 2010
Who: Instructor Jeremy Steele
Review: I took this class because I wanted to diversify my journalism skills beyond writing and reporting. I wanted to learn how to lay out newspaper pages and web pages using InDesign.

I gained a solid grasp on using InDesign – which I wish I had taken the opportunity to learn on my high school newspaper – mostly to make hard newspaper layouts and feature pages, which allow for a bit more creative freedom. While most design principles are applicable to web page design (with special consideration to the different media, of course), I wish there had been a stronger emphasis on web page design. The only non-print design project we did was a design for an iPad or iPhone app.

The principles of design are absolutely fascinating and are outlined in an easy-to-read, highly-visual book “The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook” that I didn’t have time to read during the semester but am reading now during semester break.

Thus, most of my learning came from Jeremy’s instruction and his criticisms of our designs. Many of these critiques came after we were graded on our projects, so we couldn’t do anything to improve them, and I wish we had received more help while we were working on the projects in class. (A lot of class time is set aside to work on our projects. The class is two hours and 50 minutes, twice a week.) While the process of instruction could have been better, I learned a ton of valuable information about design, not just for newspapers/magazines/news sites, but general design principles that could be applicable to things as simple as flyers.

The cover of my four-page magazine design for my JRN 336 final project. My creation was a fictional magazine published monthly by Pet Provisions (a Howell and Brighton pet store) that would feature a different type of animal in the store. This particular issue was about red-eared slider turtles. Awww! Click the image to see the whole project.

In addition to our series of projects (front page; inside page; feature page; iPad/iPhone app; tabloid cover/related inside page/two-page spread), a couple design-on-a-deadline in-class “exams,” and a few pop quizzes, we also had “rip-off” assignments in which we had to bring examples of design that caught our interest to show the class. These included flyers we found in the Comm Arts building hallway, the State News and Vogue magazine; I even used a Cheerios box and a Quaker Chewy bar wrapper.

The class was a bit tough (though not stressful; there are just so many “rules” to design, and some of them go on a case-by-case basis and it can sometimes be subjective) and the critique process could have been better, but overall I’m very happy that I have a solid beginning understanding of design (and typography! I love typography!) and I hope to build upon that.

How do you include social media profiles on your journalism résumé – and do it professionally?

For those from Michigan State University who read this blog (which are most of you), I’m sure you’re aware that MSU’s J-School scholarship applications are out. I received the email about it Nov. 8 and the deadline is Nov. 22 at 5 p.m.

One of the required components of the application is a résumé.

I’m sure most of you have made one before. (If you haven’t, go here.) Maybe you’ve picked up something like MSU’s annual Career Passport publication or you’ve gone to some résumé writing workshops and had yours critiqued.


Michigan State University's 2010-2011 Career Passport. Photo by Erica Shekell.

Maybe you’ve done all of those things, but you haven’t been applied for a new job, internship or scholarship in several months, so you need to update your résumé.

I’ve never gone to a workshop or had mine critiqued (definitely considering it), but I did model my résumé after the Career Passport examples, and though I haven’t updated my paper résumé in a while, I do keep my LinkedIn résumé updated.

But now these scholarships are out and I’m also on the hunt for some summer jobs and internships (nudge nudge), so I need to update mine.

But how do I list my social media profiles on my résumé – while keeping my résumé professional and tailored to my field in journalism?

I started by putting the links at the top of my resume, right under my name, address, cell phone number and email. But it didn’t look right; it looked like I was, well, making a list of social media profiles.


A screen shot of my résumé (a work in progress) with a rather awkwardly-placed list of my social media profiles. (My addresses and phone numbers have been deleted for privacy.)

I felt that a generic résumé workshop wouldn’t help me here (especially if they don’t know much about social media or about how to go about social media on a journalism résumé more specifically) – and I could be completely wrong in this, hence my interest in checking it out anyway – but regardless, I turned to tweeting, Facebook posting and Googling for some answers.

My best success was Google (after I figured out what to search for – it took a few tries) when I finally settled for a broader search for “should I put my Twitter on my resume?” and “should I put social media on my resume?” has a great suggestion – create a new section on your résumé titled “Microblogging on Twitter @YourTwitterNameHere.” Under it, Rich Damatteo (the author of the post), said to include bullets points or a paragraph explaining how you’ve used it to your advantage.

Bam! So simple. So genius.

A caveat, though – don’t include your Twitter or other social media profiles if you post things about that great kegger last week.

Fortunately, I have very little of a life beyond class, work, interviewing and homework, so I don’t go to keggers – nor would I go anyway, because I’m not 21 – nor would I post about it on my social media profiles if I did – so for me, there’s no worries there.

I also found some great advice on the subject in LinkedIn Answers. Sahar Andrade (second comment) and Octavio Ballesta (two-thirds down) have some great suggestions for improving your LinkedIn profile while you’re at it, like adding links to your other social media profiles on LinkedIn, using key words in your descriptions and titles, and sharing your expertise in LinkedIn Answers.

I also found a site with advice for a social media job (not a journalism job with social media included on the résumé, but a purely social media job), which has a unique take on it, as well as some very good pointers that are useful for all jobs (such as tips about what to put in your contact information: “If you’re on college break… don’t give me your college address.  Don’t give me your current work email address.  Don’t look for a new job while at work, it’s disrespectful to your employer” and a reminder that even though an employer – on in this case, a scholarship judge – may be looking for someone with social media experience, it is sometimes only because they’ve been told that they need it but don’t actually understand it themselves. Keep that in mind, and don’t get too technical.)

The site also includes an example of a résumé for a social media job:


While I think this résumé is lacking in the professionalism required of most jobs, it’s approach is great for some social media jobs. (Which inherently have some informality to them – it’s all about behind human and talking with people!) Personally, I would have changed the spacing, typefaces, font sizes, boxes, shading and order of the items in the résumé (thank you, JRN 336 “Designing for Print and Online!”) – but the creativity is refreshing, particularly because résumés can get pretty boring.

Ideally, I’d like to have some sort of pretty, visually-pleasing, but clean and professional letterhead for my résumé – something with a large but simple font on some sort of very light shaded background with a thin rule underneath it to separate it from the “meat” of my résumé. You can’t go wrong with keeping it basic, and some employers will throw out anything that looks too frilly, fluffy or showy, so it’s a very, very thin line I’m balancing (pun intended) – but it would be great if I could create something to make my résumé stand out even just in the slightest.

I might wait to work on a letterhead when I have more time, and keep my title simple for these scholarships at least. I have more pressing issues on this résumé, anyway – like figuring out how to do right-aligned tab stops in Pages for my dates.



P.S. – A few journalism résumés that I like:

Social media for newspapers: A listening and brand monitoring strategy for the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus

Photo credit: Strategic Social Media 

The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, which is the primary newspaper that serves Livingston County (and is my hometown newspaper!), has limited social media presence.

The social media profiles that it operates include:

Even though these profiles exist, they are not being put to optimal use.

Photo credit:

For one, the Facebook profile violates Facebook’s Terms of Service – businesses are not permitted to have personal profiles, though they are permitted to have pages (which the LCP does have). The profile should be used to invite LCP’s “friends” to the LCP page and then be immediately deleted.

The company has put its Facebook page to fairly good use – it is used to post descriptions and links to many of the stories posted on the website. Many of these posts include questions to fans/readers as they pertain to the articles. The company also posts notices like tornado watches or asks users to post or email photos of storm damage.

Only a few people “like” the posts and the posts tend to get only 0-2 comments; typically, they get no comments.

Photo credit: Base One Group

There is no dialogue on the Facebook page; when the LCP poses questions, they are posed blindly as if to a faceless audience. There is no evidence (that I can see) of the LCP responding to users’ comments or answering questions (and because of this, no questions are asked of the LCP in return).

I understand that social media can be a tricky arena for newspapers – they’re supposed to be objective, and they don’t exist to “win” people over to buy a product or give a positive review of a product. I understand that the social media strategies between regular businesses and newspaper publications differ in some ways.

However, it would benefit the LCP tremendously if it were to show its audience that it IS listening to their views and comments. All it has to do is respond back.

Right now, its audience can see in an instant that it’s still propagating the one-to-many broadcast model of mass communication. The LCP is not utilizing the unique property of social media that differentiates it between old media like print newspaper, TV and radio. The value of social media are that they give others the ability to talk back with businesses, brands and similar entities.

Why should the LCP – as a newspaper whose main purpose is to provide information, not kowtow to others’ egos – care about responding to its audience?

Sources, of course!

Photo credit: Blogopreneur

People know a lot. People like to talk. That’s not new. People also like to talk online – a lot. That’s a given. But the thing is, many newspapers, the LCP included, may not be doing enough to take advantage of the overwhelming amount of information and sources that exist online.

The LCP just needs to filter them.

Monitor their conversations for what they’re interested in, what events are happening in the community that (so far) have been unreported, and use social media to look for sources in their audience or ask them if they know any sources on a particular issue or event. And don’t just wait for them to come find you to give you a tip – for God’s sake, just ask them!

Regularly ask them about what news is happening in the community and what they’re wondering about and want answers to. Ask about their lives, their neighbors, schools, places of worship. Ask them who is doing amazing things in the community – the LCP could find great people to profile this way.

I did notice the the LCP’s Facebook profile (the one that is violating Facebook’s TOS) has been used (inconsistently) to send out requests for sources. This is a great start! Now they just need to do this on the proper Facebook page – and do it more often.

Once their audience realizes that the LCP is actually listening to what they say, people will trust the LCP more as a news source and as someone that will pick up on their news tips – and they’ll come to the LCP for these things more often.

Photo credit: Triple Point

In addition to monitoring its audience on its “own” turf, the LCP needs to monitor them on other turfs.

In HootSuite, the LCP should set up several streams to monitor news in the community. The streams should include the search terms:

  • livingstondaily, Livingston Daily, Livingston Press
  • Howell, Brighton, Hartland, Hamburg, Hell, Pinckney, Fowlerville, Cohoctah, Unadilla, Deerfield, Marion, Tyrone, etc. [the cities and townships in the county]

(NOTE: Some streams, such as Howell and Brighton, will be very difficult to monitor, as “Howell” is a common city name and last name and “Brighton” is also a large city in the U.K. The LCP might do well to search for more specific phrases, such as “Howell Highlanders, “Howell High School,” “Howell Schools,” “Howell, MI” and “Brighton Bulldogs,” etc.)

It should also follow:

  • @Michigannews, @MLive, @Freep, @LSJNews, etc.
  • @DownTownHowell, @LivingstonTalk, @CityofHowell, @HowellRecAuth, @HowellLibrary, @HowellChamber, @AHARHowell, @LivCountySports, etc.

Those on the last list should not only be followed, but should also be entered as search terms in streams so the LCP will not only see what these entities are saying, but also what is being said by others about these entities.

The LCP should also set up Google Alerts for some of its cities and townships so that news about these communities from other media outlets, forums, etc. may be found.

It would also be a great idea to choose (and promote) the use of a specific hashtag for those who live in the county. For example, something like: #livingstonlife, #inlivingston, #livingstonMI, #lovelivingston, etc. – or even just #livingstondaily.

The idea is to promote something that will be widely-used in the community, like the successful #lovelansing hashtag for Lansing, Mich. If the hashtag is promoted well enough, it will make it much easier for the LCP to monitor its audience.

Erica Shekell is a journalism student at Michigan State University where she is currently enrolled in the New Media Driver’s License course. Follow her on Twitter or read her blog, New Media Shift.

Save your high school newspaper!

Howell High School's Main Four Newspaper

Howell High School's Main Four newspaper's nameplate, 2008-2009.

I was born and raised in Howell, Mich. I was in the advanced newspaper class my senior year, the class in which we produced the Main Four, Howell High School’s student newspaper. It was an eight-to-12-page monthly print publication funded entirely by the ads that students sold to local businesses. The Main Four was run mainly by the section editors and editor-in-chief under the supervision of the teacher.

The paper also operated under a policy of prior review and restraint – it had to be submitted to an administrator before it could go to print. As a result, there were a few instances of censorship of some of the articles in the paper, which created an air of cynicism and culture of self-censorship in the newsroom. I felt strongly then and still feel strongly that, legally, the Main Four should not be censored in this manner (if you examine the Tinker v. Des Moines and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court cases and apply how the Main Four functions in practice and not in policy) – but that’s another story.

Student free speech

An excellent diagram by the Student Press Law Center that illustrates what level of control a student newspaper should come under by the school.

The point is that the Main Four staff didn’t completely love the school administration and the Main Four wasn’t the administrators’ favorite pet either. To clarify, they by no means hated it (to my knowledge) and have never actively tried to shut it down – but I’m sure that it was a small thorn in their sides.

Anyway, even in my year (2008-2009) there was talk of the Main Four ceasing to be a print publication and instead being published solely online. Since the Main Four never had an online presence besides a PDF version of each edition that was posted – usually a few months late – on an obscure page on the school website, this would be a radical change for the paper.

I’m excited to say that as of this school year, the Main Four has gone digital.

Through the grapevine, I heard that there were some issues finding a teacher for the newspaper class this year. The current teacher wanted to hand it to someone else (likely because the newspaper was putting a lot of stress on her), but since the other candidates had no journalism experience, the class went back to her supervision.

She’s been circulating Facebook messages to Main Four alumni to get them to write letters about how the Main Four influenced where they are now. Upon further inquiry, she explained that she wanted the paper to be better considered for staffing and scheduling next year and that she knows that the alumni are doing great things and she wanted the administration to know that.

So here’s my challenge to you: write to your old newspaper teacher (or find the old one) and write to the administrators and school board in support of your high school newspaper. Let them know why newspapers are still important and why reading from a textbook can never replace first-hand journalism experience.

Here’s my letter:

Letter in support of Howell High School’s Main Four newspaper

By Erica Shekell, Howell High School class of 2009
Oct. 26, 2010


Journalism is not dying. Newspapers are dying. It is the medium – the form but not the content – that is changing. The need for journalism has never been greater; people are still hungry for information and they still need someone to help sort, verify and put into context the barrage of information that exists in the world.

It is an incredibly exciting time to be going into the field of journalism, where newspapers will live on in a “leaner and meaner” form, where people find their news and journalists will find original sources through social media, and where journalists can share their stories in more than just text, but video, audio video, interactive information graphics and more.

More tools for journalism are being created every day, and journalism students need to have a solid foundation in writing and reporting skills and ethics. But they also need to to taught how to use these new tools to produce content for a variety of media.

How the Main Four has impacted me

My name is Erica Shekell and I am a 2009 Howell High School graduate. I am a second-year journalism student with junior status at Michigan State University and a member of the Honors College.

I joined the Main Four my senior year by chance – it was spring of my junior year and students had just started scheduling classes for the next year. I ran into Ms. Haskins in the hallway after school, and she asked if I was going to sign up for the class. I’d forgotten that the class existed; journalistic writing hadn’t been on my radar, because I was more into creative fiction and poetry.

Joining the Main Four was one of the best decisions I ever made in high school. (The other best decision I made was to take six AP classes during my time at Howell. This helped me become salutatorian of the HHS class of 2009 and also allowed me to enter MSU in the fall as a sophomore with 29 credits.)

The experience I gained at the Main Four was invaluable. One can’t learn to be a great reporter by learning from a book (though a few of my professors have tried this method).  One can only learn to do great journalism by:

  • Interacting with people
  • Asking questions
  • Dealing with difficult sources – those who are very shy and aren’t very descriptive and need to be coaxed to reveal more; those who are very outgoing and quickly get off topic and need to be directed back to the question; those whose loved one has just died and require a greater sensitivity; those who try to control and micro-manage what one will write about them; or those who would rather not talk to a journalist or student journalist
  • Running into situations that bring up ethical questions (“my source wants to be anonymous – should I use them as a source?” or “my source told me this, but they want me to write this instead” or “my source wants me to Photoshop their acne to make them look better… is that OK?”)
  • Having an experienced adviser who can guide them through these situations.

And then when it’s all said and done – one can only learn to do great journalism by sitting down to write a story, sifting through the wealth of gathered information to find only the most vital facts, and then explaining the context of those facts in clear, direct language that others can understand.

Students will produce their best work when they know it will be seen by more than just their journalism adviser, but by their peers, teachers, parents and community. When students have a publication (whether it’s a newspaper or an online publication, as is the trend) in which to put their work, it increases their sensitivity to their audience, which has always been important in journalism and is increasingly so because of the proliferation of hyperlocal/niche journalism and the trend toward community journalism.

(As large newspapers are folding, the publications that persist are pulling their resources from small, local communities and can only afford to cover large national issues. As a result, many publications are springing up to fill these vacuums and are finding success in providing information about a community that the community’s citizens can only find in there and nowhere else. This is why young journalists must become even more sensitive to the specific needs of a community than they have needed to be in the past.)

And in journalism, a 4.0 or a grade of 100% isn’t (in the scheme of things) as important as a portfolio with great clips. It is very hard to quantify good-quality writing. And for student journalists trying to get their foot in the door to their very first college publication,  the articles they wrote in high school are often all they have to show in a portfolio.

In fact, I used a couple of the articles I produced at the Main Four when I applied last May for my current job as a student writer for the University Relations department at Michigan State University, where I produce videos and articles that are published on the website.

My experiences at the Main Four are what gave me the desire and the skills necessary to pursue a career in the field of journalism. I can’t describe how influential the Main Four class was to my continuing success, both educationally and professionally, at Michigan State University.

So – what did your high school newspaper do for you?

Journalism students must navigate the new media shift alone – because no one else will show us how

New Media Shift is for students like myself who want to learn more about new media, multimedia and social media – but have found that there aren’t many people who can teach it to them.

My name is Erica Shekell and I’ve been told that I’m going into a dying field.

But I don’t believe it.

I’m a second-year journalism student at Michigan State University. Like many universities, Michigan State University recently approved a massive revamp of its journalism curriculum (March 2010). The changes are meant to reflect the rapidly changing nature of journalism with a greater focus on online journalism and other new media. The new curriculum debuted in Fall 2010.

I’m ecstatic about these changes – but I wish they had come sooner. I’m almost halfway through my journalism education. Had I been two years older, I would have missed these changes completely – and I would have been the last of the old generation of journalists, expected to know more because I am young, but just as lost as the older journalists still clinging to their glory days with their 35 years of service at a daily newspaper.

And had I been two years younger, I would have been completely immersed in the new media.

Many young students like myself are finding that they are riding the edge between old and new media. Professors tell us, “It’s all going online. You need to know how to do video. You need to know how to take photos and do design and maintain a blog and have a Twitter account.” And we say, “We’re ready. Show us.” But then there’s no answer.

We’re frustrated when we find that there are only a handful of professors who can teach us these things, and even fewer classes devoted to these things we’re supposed to know. The curriculums are catching up fast; but in the few years it takes for such changes to take root, we will have already graduated. Given the circumstances, it is up to us to absorb as much information about the future as we can.

That’s what my blog is all about. New Media Shift is for students like myself who want to learn more about new media, multimedia and social media – but have found that there aren’t many people who can teach it to them.

My blog is a great place to start because I’m just as much in the learning process as everyone else. At New Media Shift, I plan to blog about Twitter, video-editing, search engine optimization, journalism ethics, flash drives and Flip video camcorders, typography and web page design, and the classes I find at MSU that will actually teach you a thing or two about new media.

But I don’t want to be left standing high up on my soap box – I want to find others who are learning just like I am, and I want to learn things from them as well. So write a comment on my blog, follow me on Twitter, send me a useful video link, tell me about an awesome website you found, or just send me a message to say hello!