Benefits of using Twitter from Day One in a news writing class

By MARK PEARSON

Almost 30 years ago my first colleague in journalism education – the late Charles Stuart – summarised the curriculum of a journalism degree.

“In the first year you teach them how to write an intro (lead),” he said.

“In year two you teach them how to write the body of the story.

“And in their final year you revise the intro.”

While Charles’ advice was delivered tongue in cheek, he certainly hit upon one of the greatest challenges facing students of basic news reporting – how to sum up the key elements of a story in an interesting way in just a few words.

I recalled that conversation as I set the in-class exercises for my Introduction to Journalism tutorials this week and turned to Twitter to help out.

Twitter has its pluses and minuses as a social medium, but there is no doubting its value as a platform for clear and concise expression.

Its 140 character format equates to 20-22 words and thus it lends itself to an exercise where students can try their hand at a basic news lead.

Our 300 first year students were prepped on the basics in their lecture and briefed on the importance of Twitter in modern day journalism as a means of communication with colleagues and sources, finding useful news angles, and in accessing contacts and basic information when a news event unfolds.

We decided the course code #1508HUM made a suitable class hashtag and assigned students to live tweet the lecture to reinforce its value.

As an example of an effective use of Twitter in journalism I showed them the Twitter feed from ABC PM presenter Mark Colvin’s to the 85,000 followers of his @Colvinius handle and explained that it was a badge of honour for Twitter users if Colvinius ever retweeted your tweets.

One of my live tweeters approached me in the lecture break to show me his dialogue with @Colvinius during my class.

Quite a coup. Clearly Jake gets it. (BTW, thanks @Colvinius).

Students who did not have Twitter accounts signed up for them prior to the tute and we started the session with an exercise requiring students to interview a classmate and introduce them to the group by spelling their name very clearly and stating an interesting fact about them.

We then talked about news values and what might make news for a campus community.

We embarked on our Twitter news hunt, wandering the campus in search of stories using our five normal senses plus the students’ evolving “news sense”.

Some of the stories came from noticeboards, although I explained a journalist would call to verify any information found there.

Others were based on interesting happenings around the campus during our 20 minute walk, including a cheerleader squad practice, an interview with a student events officer, and an array of photos and interviews from the student clubs sign-on stalls.

The exercise has the following benefits:

  • It teaches students the art of summing up a story in just a few words in an era when the attention span of news audiences is just a few seconds.
  • It introduces them to one use of social media in modern journalism.
  • It allows students to experiment with multi-media reportage if they attach photos, sound or vision.
  • It allows debate over the news value of campus-based stories.
  • And it does all of this within the comfort of a hashtag that allows them to experience publishing their first news story that technically all the world can see while in reality very few people other than their peers and tutors will actually view it.

You can see some highlights below, or even visit the #1508HUM hashtag if you are really interested.

I’d certainly recommend such an exercise to colleagues not already doing something similar in their first news writing classes.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Benefits of using Twitter from Day One in a news writing class

  1. Some great ideas here (as always) @JournLaw, I may have to pinch some for @BondJourn and @Rob_Layton 😉

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