Hyperlocal journalism frames Reporting & Writing

A writing class is one of the more challenging classes to teach. Do I simply talk about the expectations, show examples and then assign students exercises to allow them to practice before I grade the writing and see if they’re mastering the skills? Without a context for writing assignments, I’ve found that students (and I) have difficulty focusing. So, this semester I am trying something new.

COMM-312 Reporting & Writing, a required class for our journalism majors, has been taught at Lee for three or four years. After a year off (@JoanGarrettCTFP taught the class last spring), it’s back on my teaching workload. Basically, the class is designed to help the students develop their abilities to gather (report) a story and then tell (write) a story.

Front page of Ocoee311 on Launch Weekend

To give structure to the class this spring, I’ve adopted a hyperlocal journalism approach. Students have become the staff of Ocoee311. They are reporting, writing, producing, editing and managing the production of this website. In addition to learning how to develop their multimedia storytelling abilities, students are getting first-hand experience managing a website and its content flow.

On Friday, Feb. 11, we took the site live with stories representing three main sections (i.e., campus, community and culture). The first few weeks of the semester were spent learning the basics and developing a production work flow. Then over the past week, the 16 students (except for two who served as managing editor and copy editor) reported and wrote stories for the launch of the site.

At the end of the semester we’ll evaluate just how effective this framework was for accomplishing the course’s objectives, but my initial assessment is overwhelmingly affirmative. The enthusiasm and energy level I’ve seen from my students has been impressive.

Check out their work online at Ocoee311.com. You can also follow their work on Twitter and Facebook.

Networking and writing remain keys

Harold Burson of Burson-Marsteller offered a glimmer of hope to PR graduates in the Class of 2009, especially those who are committed to public relations.

In a blog post yesterday, Burson said that public relations and communication is more valuable today than ever before.

In a competitive job market during challenging economic times for organizations of all kinds, the aspiring PR professional must possess two qualities to make them stand out in the pool of job hunters:

  • A professional network.
  • Exceptional writing skills.

He suggested that most organizations have not cut their communication staff and budgets because “public relations has proven itself to be agile, flexible, creative and comprehensive” especially in turbulent times. Additionally he points out that organizations are seeing the impact of digital communications.

Knowledge and skills in digital communications (especially social media) can increase one’s marketability in the public relations profession.