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March 15 2011

22:16

Why Missouri's J-School Should Rethink Its Approach to Twitter

Do you check the official Twitter feed for the Missouri School of Journalism on a regular basis? Probably not, based on its dismal number of followers.

As of today, the official Twitter account of Mizzou's J-School had just 630 followers. That is a far cry from most other top journalism schools and a negative reflection on our own.

How does the Mizzou J-School Twitter feed compare to other journalism schools? Well, let's look at how many people follow the Twitter accounts of a randomly selected sample of top undergradate and graduate J-Schools across the country:

* Columbia University: 5,624
* Arizona State University: 4,893

* University of Southern California: 3,826

* University of North Carolina: 3,047

* Northwestern University: 2,312

* New York University: 1,988

* University of California - Berkeley: 1,107

* University of Kansas: 549

* University of Illinois - Urbana: 301

Why Twitter Matters for J-Schools

As students at the Missouri School of Journalism, we're familiar with the J-School's reputation as one of the top journalism schools in the country. For years, Mizzou has sat comfortably at the top, alongside universities such as Columbia and Northwestern. But because we are a school that prides itself on innovation in online media, why is it that our Twitter efforts are lacking?

At least we have more followers than arch-rival Kansas... but not by much. And that's important: The number of followers is the most objective way to measure the value of the content one posts on Twitter. Simply put, the Missouri School of Journalism does not have many followers because it is not posting enough valuable information.

A quick look at the Missouri Journalism School's feed reveals that its tweets are made up entirely of press releases. They're about J-School students and professors winning awards and other news that boosts the school's reputation. This information is important to include, as Twitter is a great public relations tool. At the same time, press releases can be boring, and unless one is mentioned or knows someone who's mentioned in the release, most people on Twitter won't bother to read them -- or, it turns out, follow @mojonews.

Plus, the feed has had a measly 15 tweets since the Spring 2011 semester began, so Mizzou students can hardly count on Twitter to keep up with the happenings in the J-School. Maybe that's why just a month and a half after we began publishing J-School Buzz, a blog about the Missouri School of Journalism, our Twitter account already has 931 followers, about 300 more than the journalism school's.

How Other J-Schools Are Using Twitter

Columbia Journalism School uses its Twitter feed to remind students of workshops and lectures as well as to publicize content that its students have published. It even engages in conversations with students, sometimes @ mentioning them and responding to their comments. Its Twitter presence is friendly, interesting and consistent, with about two tweets per day.

The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications has a similar approach. It also retweets students and other UNC accounts on a regular basis. One can read tweets about upcoming events, view students' work and even find links to internship and job opportunities.

USCtweet-500.jpg

The University of Southern California's Annenberg School has one of the most conversational Twitter accounts I saw, with an average of 10 tweets per day. It uses the hashtag #ascj, for Annenburg School for Communication and Journalism. Students, alumni and professors have joined in, so it's easy to communicate. They even encourage prospective students to use the #ascj hashtag to chat with current J-School students.

New York University's J-School does such a good job of filling their Twitter feed with interesting content that it took me a full five minutes of scrolling through tweets to find an actual press release.

More than just Content

Of course, the relationship between Twitter followers and the quality of content or interaction is not a direct one, as the millions who've read @charliesheen can attest.

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In the case of J-School Twitter accounts, the size of a J-School program or its location may matter.

But look at Columbia University: Its graduate program has only 400 students. By comparison, Mizzou's J-School has a combined 2,300 journalism students in its undergrad and graduate programs. Yet Columbia's Twitter feed has about nine times as many followers.

Of course, Columbia benefits from being located in America's largest city, so it's likely that it has a following in the community beyond its Morningside Heights campus. That's certainly not the case for UNC's J-School in cozy Chapel Hill, which had a population of only 54,492 people in 2007. @UNCJSchool has thousands more followers on Twitter than the University of Missouri, despite Mizzou's location in Columbia (2010 population: 108,500), a city nearly twice the size of Chapel Hill.

A Twitter Model for J-Schools

Like many other typical college students, checking my Twitter account is one of the first things I do when I sit down at my computer. And because we spend so many of our waking hours (and some of our non-waking ones) in the J-School, it's only natural to expect more communication from it.

I want to visit @mojonews and find links to students' work, reminders about club meetings, and announcements of speakers and films being shown in the J-School. These are the kind of tweets we feel obliged to send out at J-School Buzz because @mojonews does not. I want to see links to relevant news stories and other content that students would find helpful and interesting. The Mizzou J-School should be using social media not just as a mouthpiece for its own achievements, but also as a learning tool for students.

Suzette Heiman, director of planning and communications for the Missouri School of Journalism, maintains the J-School's Twitter account. Heiman says the account is used primarily as a publicity tool. And while including more information on Twitter is a good idea, it's more complicated than it sounds.

"It's a matter of how it's going to be monitored, and having proper organization," said Heiman.

Currently, J-School students receive relevant news and information via email. Heiman says for the foreseeable future, that system will remain in place.

How do you think the University of Missouri School of Journalism can better use its social media? Let us (and the J-School) know in the comments below, or better yet, tell them yourselves on Twitter.

*****

Jennifer Paull is a senior at the University of Missouri, majoring in convergence journalism and minoring in psychology. She is also the social media editor for J-School Buzz. While journalism is her first love, after graduation she plans to pursue her masters degree in school counseling.

jschoolbuzz logo.jpg

A version of this story originally appeared in JSchoolBuzz.com, a site dedicated to reporting the latest news and analysis about the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Founded in October 2010, J-School Buzz is produced by current J-Schoolers. You can follow JSB on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

October 25 2010

14:00

Building a university sandbox for news orgs: UNC’s new digital newsroom nearing Nov. 1 launch

A journalism school launching an outward-facing online news outlet is nothing new these days, as more schools are creating in-house laboratories for students to learn online skills. Next Monday, though, there will be a new and interesting entrant to the field: The University of North Carolina’s Reese Felts Digital News Project is launching a news site Nov. 1 that will cover the campus and region with a 21-student staff. What makes the project different is its secondary purpose: It wants to be an R&D lab for the news industry, using its students as testing grounds for new ideas while sharing the results with the rest of us. Essentially, the students are taking requests.

Monty Cook, the project’s executive producer who had been senior vice president and editor of The Baltimore Sun and baltimoresun.com, describes a dual imperative to both give students needed skills while pushing the industry forward. The editorial focus will be on long-form journalism, particularly investigative journalism in many formats, including documentary videos and data visualization. To create and present that content, the students will be cooperating with outside companies that need a sandbox. There’s space set aside so that a browser plug-in, news application, or emerging social media platform could test a product on the site for 30 to 60 days, using the staff in a trial run.

“We’re not here to make anyone money,” Cook said. “But if we can help provide greater understanding not only for ourselves and our students but for the companies that are working hard to make the transition, then we should do that.”

That industry-aiding focus means openness. Cook said they will open-source the WordPress theme they built for the site’s back end, and iPhone and Android apps will also be available. And unlike news organizations that play stingy with their internal metrics, Cook said they will be willing to share the site’s Omniture numbers. That could come in handy as the students experiment with alternate forms of storytelling or reporting, as those lessons would be shared through a research component of the site. Cook said students will be reflecting on their successes and failures, while other UNC faculty members will contribute their thoughts and research. Some news organizations have already asked if Reese Felts students could eventually train their journalists.

As with any startup, the initial version will lack many of the features Cook visualizes down the road. The staff — 19 undergraduates and two graduate students, all paid a stipend, plus freelancers and volunteers — still needs to learn some of the skills they’ll need to produce ambitious content, Cook said. And as of now, don’t expect any revolutionary business ideas. The site will not have advertising, and is paid for by a major gift from late UNC alumnus Reese Felts.

The largest news organizations can afford their own R&D efforts and can try fresh ideas on their own. But a radio station without the resources to build a mobile app could watch as the students fine-tune theirs, or a mid-sized newspaper can observe what Cook says are exciting ideas on how to moderate discussions. The key, Cook said, is that the program is considered an audience research lab first, news organization second. And, incidentally, the students will get to learn some new skills, too. “We’re looking to do experimental digital news, and that means getting them to think differently about their approach to both newsgathering and news dissemination,” Cook said.

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