Budding Journalists Use Twitter, Blogs to Open Doors

    by Alfred Hermida
    February 10, 2009
    Dawn Paley quizzes a local candidate standing last year's federal elections in Canada

    One of my students landed her first A1 story on Monday. Amanda Ash’s story on auditions for the sequel to the teen vampire blockbuster “Twilight” was splashed across the front page of the Vancouver Sun. But she first alerted me, and her 130 other followers on Twitter, to the tears and tantrums at the event on Sunday evening when it was published on the Sun’s website.

    Amanda is among a handful of journalism students at the j-school at the University of British Columbia who have taken Twitter as part of their journalist’s toolkit. Her tweets mix the personal and the professional, discussing whom she is interviewing or asking where to watch the Grammy awards ceremony online. Another student, Dawn Paley, who contributes to a grassroots news co-operative, recently joined the micro-blogging service. In her Twitter stream, she shares her experiences as part of a media co-op and highlights alternative stories missing in the mainstream media. They are taking part in the world of social media.

    Twitter is just one example of the new social media avenues available to student journalists to build up a profile while they are preparing to enter the profession. When I did my journalism degree at City University in London 20 years ago, I would send out my CV and cuttings to prospective employees and hope to get noticed. Today’s students should be building up their professional persona online through social media, creating a digital identity as an ambitious, engaged and curious reporter.


    Selling social media to students

    Social media platforms such as Twitter enable budding reporters to be part of a more open journalistic culture. Traditionally, the work of journalism has been hidden behind the walls of the newsroom. Through social media, journalists can be more open about their work, offering insights into the process of news, and connect with audiences in a way that simply wasn’t possible a generation ago.

    Yet as other journalism profs have discovered, some students hesitate to adopt the tools of social media. Paul Bradshaw uses Twitter in his online journalism module at Birmingham City University and gets his students to set up accounts, but still admits that it’s often a struggle to demonstrate the usefulness of Twitter. This is more than just about Twitter. Andy Dickinson who teaches at the University of Central Lancashire summed it up in one of his New Year resolutions:

    I’m convinced that if you are journalist who isn’t curious about the web then you may find yourself seriously limited as the industry shifts or worse still, not being a journalist for very long.

    In social media, a budding journalist has an incredible platform to demonstrate their talents and engage with others in a way that just wasn’t possible when I was in journalism school. At the very least, students should have a website that contains everything they produce, better still if they have a blog which invites comments and discussions.


    Your blog as your business card

    Quite a few students are doing this now. Brent Wittmeier, Jesse Kline and Rosemary Keevil-Fairburn are just three who run comprehensive sites where they blog and showcase their professional and academic work.

    Amanda Ash
    Amanda Ash discusses her work as a budding journalist on Twitter

    They were smart and snatched up their names as web addresses. This is one of the first things I asked new students to do at the start of the term in September. It usually sets off a flurry of activity in the classroom as they race online to see if someone else has already grabbed this important chunk of online real estate.

    It seems like an obvious point, but I am surprised by how few students realize the importance of establishing your digital identity, starting with your domain name, at a time when the website is the business card of the 21st century.

    Running a blog has additional benefits. Not only does writing on a regular schedule make you smarter, it also shows spirit and attitude and a thirst for learning and sharing. Just about every news editor I talked to now expects a journalism student to have blogged.

    Understandably, some students may be wary about exposing their writing while they are still learning the profession. But a blog can show how their writing and ideas have improved over time, providing a living example of the evolution of a student’s skills. And it almost goes without saying that it is a way to show passion and knowledge about a particular topic, such as Sarah Berman’s blog on music, art and culture in Canada’s poorest zip code.

    Blogging can also help open doors. One enterprising student turned a class blog assignment into a gig blogging for Canada’s newsweekly magazine, Macleans.ca. Josh DeHaas pitched his class blog idea on the cost of a university education to the Maclean’s On Campus editor and was taken on as a student blogger. It’s a wonderful opportunity for DeHaas, who hopes to join Macleans when he graduates. It also means that he can add his voice as a student to the debate in Canada over how to pay for a university education.

    Being active online, sharing experiences and engaging with audiences is fundamental for students looking to enter journalism. It is even more important at a time when journalism students are uneasy about their job prospects. Budding journalists have always had to work hard to get themselves established. But the emergence of social media, through platforms such as Twitter, has added a new dimension to this, one that the reporters of tomorrow cannot afford to ignore.

    Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and journalism educator. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

    Tagged: journalism school social media twitter university of british columbia
    • We here at NPR’s Intern Edition (@InternEdition) couldn’t agree more. We are 25 young radio and multimedia producers who are sharing our project on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for this piece.
      We now have more young journalists to share ideas with. On Twitter, @InternEdition updates on everything from story research, media thinkers we follow, tools we’re using and it also has helped to link us up with who we hope are future employers.

      We also have the benefit of watching NPR’s staff employ Twitter to follow-up on stories, Tweet live from events and file short messages from the road. It’s the kind of work we hope to do in the future.

      David Klatt
      Executive Producer

    • Thanks for the comment, David. It sounds like a smart way to engage with Twitter and open up the journalistic process at NPR. Good luck with the project.

    • Great stuff Alf and thanks for the mention.

      A lot of my students have picked up on twitter. What percentage that is out of the near 200 of our students who I, or my colleagues, have shown it to I’m not sure. Less than I would like but those who have engaged have loved it.

      Still, articles like this are great for me to keep prodding the students with evidence that if you aren’t online then you are missing out.

    • I think it’s fantastic these students are taking the time to build their personal brand online before they graduate. At TrendHunter.com, we’re searching for writers like these, who have the desire to build an online portfolio but do not necessarily have the support from their professors and school curriculum to do so.

      I’m hoping journalism schools in the U.S. follow suit and start getting serious about integrating online media.

      Marissa (@brassfield)
      Editor, TrendHunter.com

    • Craig Kanalley

      Good article. I’m in the journalism grad program at DePaul University and it is really embracing new media and social media.

      Last month I twittered in D.C. at Barack Obama’s Inauguration as part of an independent study. Later this month I’ll be live twittering a press conference here in Chicago for class.

      And less than two weeks ago, I founded http://www.breakingtweets.com. The university is helping me find contributors. I owe a lot to the program; I’ve always been into social media (Facebook, blogging, YouTube) but it’s encouraged me to use it in new and interesting ways I would have never thought of previously.

    • Re. Craig: It’s http://www.breakingtweets.com/ (without the dot at the end).

      If you take into account that the majority of social media services offer a free account it should be a must to be part of the the whole SM buzz.

      Being a part of the SM, even if only listening, will automatically provide more insight how all that SM stuff works.

      Btw, the twitter clone http://identi.ca is based on the OpenSource software Laconica (Yes, from Canada) which makes it possible to set up an own twitter clone. Every user can a) connect to other Laconica users on other servers and b) every user can crosppost his messages via twitter bridge to twitter.

      Connect: Google me :-)

    • Bill Poindexter

      Thank you for a piece that really, truly shows and tells what journalism is supposed to be about: news and information.
      This is a newsy and informative article for young journalists, but I learned much as well. Where it helps me just as much as the kids is that I’m a 30-year veteran of newspapers who was laid off three years ago.
      Kids, read Alfred’s story closely and take note.
      Thanks again.

    • LL

      Must be I am old fashioned before my time.

      I really do not care about youthful outbursts of the obvious.

      Like certain types of movies and books it suits well to the hormone ridden simplicity of that age.

      Pouring out your guts is not journalism.

      There is place for opinions in opinion sections, those should be based in facts not aspirations and self promotion.

      Else than that, journalism is about reporting and analysis of events that affects more people than oneself.

      I dread the age when instead of news only people’s intellectual emptiness would fill the pages- print or web.

      I would also guess that it is a sure way of killing the news production.The self absorbed are also cheap, in production and in outlays.

    • Anna Rodrigues

      I changed my subject outline this semester to include a lesson on Twitter and I opened a Twitter account for the online news site my students produce. So far it is being used to announce new stories on the website but I will find more applications for the account in the future.

      Re: other SM – I really wanted to introduce some sort of social networking in the classroom but didn’t want to do it with Facebook. The solution was to create one. I am currently having designed an online social network called Global Student Journalists that will be part of the Journalism program at Durham College.

    • Sarah A.

      I really appreciate this post. I am a junior broadcast journalism major in Oklahoma, and I am looking into starting a blog because of the reasons you have discussed in this entry.

      However, being an undergraduate student, I have no idea what I could blog about. I don’t write articles about international news like the other student bloggers mentioned in this entry. What do you suggest I write about?

      I would really appreciate your help. :)

    • I think its a great idea for student to start embracing Social Media and start early with Brand Building to get ahead in the business world. Great article.

    • Chicago media outlets, independent and mainstream, are making the most out of Twitter. Its being used as a wire copy source, marketing device and reporter’s notepad.

    • I am a Journalism Grad Student at DePaul and we are focusing on learning all about Twitter and Facebook. It truly is a necessity to know how these social media sites work. We have a classroom blog that we post comments regarding Chicago news stories. It is refreshing to learn how to blog through this medium.

    • Twitter is quickly becoming an essential aspect of online journalism. As a journalism student, it’s easy to see that the Internet is the future of reporting and twitter is a quick and dirty way of reporting. A blog from my classmate Craig, who actually commented on this article a few days ago, about a bomb threat at our University’s library today – http://newsnow.ning.com/profiles/blogs/tweeting-a-bomb-threat-at

      The twitters broke the story before the mainstream media.

    • I think that in the new age of online media, it is beneficial for journalists to be aware of what people are saying online. That should be considered news and not looked down upon by those who have been writing for many decades. At the same time, people that post online should govern themselves through certain ethics as well. Basically, using sourcing for readers to understand what they are referencing in their blogs.
      With that said, I am currently taking a graduate course studying the online media and how it works. Each student has a blog linked to an online forum created by the professor. We are even learning how to use Twitter as a tool to report news. I am interested in seeing what the future holds for journalism and the online media market.

    • Sarah Newcomb

      I think that this is a great example of how to put yourself out there and follow where the people are based on using communication websites to display your journalistic efforts. I am, although still too young for college and pursueing my dream just yet, starting to write on twitter as well so that I can be heard in the world for myself. I aspire to be a journalist and tell the public the news and information that they want to hear with my own personal voice and twist added to everything I saw. I have always been the reader but one day, I will hold the pen.

    • Thanks for all your comments. As this piece on TechCrunch explains, journalism is entering the era of the personal, rather than the institution:

    • Great post and shows the power of Twitter. Journalism is one great use case but others exist too. Like using twitter as a personalized and responsive information agent. Like the APP developed by TrialX that helps you find clinical trialsthat match your condition all by simply sending a tweet @trialx

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    • Music! o ya.I think every one like to hear,like to sing and………etc.

    • Another way journalists who want a way to publish their news to a greater audience is to publish it under Creative Commons, this means that their news can be copied by people but is always attributed to them, a great idea. I’ve seen one site which uses this, Dailymoot, I think its still quite young though.

    • Another way journalists who want a way to publish their news to a greater audience is to publish it under Creative Commons, this means that their news can be copied by people but is always attributed to them, a great idea. I have seen one site which uses this, Dailymoot, I think its still quite young though.

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