As community engagement becomes ever more important in news, a new program at Louisiana State University is challenging 15 students to find ways to connect with the people and issues around them.
The Social Media News Challenge, funded by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to the Manship School of Mass Communication, started with eight projects launched in October. Topics covered in the projects range from police accountability to cheap entertainment.
The project with perhaps the biggest potential for success or failure (and learning from either) is an effort by Wilborn P. Nobles III, Aryanna Prasad and Elbis Bolton to develop an app for people to use in documenting acts of police misconduct or exemplary conduct that they witness.
As I explained to the students in launching them on their work, the project will present challenges of technology and verification. But even if they succeed on those levels, they will face significant challenges simply in promotion, scale and distribution. Most of us don’t witness notable police behavior very often, so the students will need to get thousands of people to download the app (and practice it, so they can use it quickly when they suddenly witness abuse or heroism by a police officer).
Manship School Dean Jerry Ceppos, who selected the grant recipients, and I agreed that these difficult questions are exactly what we need to be addressing in the Social Media News Challenge. We want students experimenting and adjusting and reporting as they learn from their successes and setbacks.
Grants address social issues
Two grants will address important social issues on campus:
- Call It Out LSU, a project by Logan Anderson and Sydney Blanchard, will invite students to report incidents of sexism, racism, homophobia or other bigotry they encounter on campus.
- Closet Stories, a project by Cody Sibley, will provide a YouTube channel for telling the stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
As with the police accountability app, both projects will present interesting questions:
- Do accusers and/or offenders need to be identified in Call It Out LSU?
- Should the project move beyond calling out the incidents of bigotry to advocating any type of response?
- How should either project address the hostile comments they are nearly certain to generate?
Sports, election, entertainment projects
Andrew Abad and Robyn Stiles are working on a project that promoted voter turnout through use of a #TigersVote hashtag on Twitter during the week before the Nov. 4 Louisiana Senate election and continues in the run-up to a Dec. 6 runoff election. They will analyze data on student turnout and on use of the hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Taylor Curet, Rachel Richlinski and Morgan Beard are experimenting with different ways to curate the social media conversation around LSU sports.
In all of the projects, we will encourage experimentation and share stories of what the students learn and achieve. We will solicit applications for more grants in the spring semester and next year. EdShift will cover their experimentation along the way.