Archive for the ‘ideas’ Category


Newspaper Mystery Game

October 13, 2019

I have been giving a lot of thought recently to a project that has been pinging around in my head off and on for the last four years. I call it the Newspaper Mystery Game.

The idea is to build a program that helps college newspaper publications engage readers with their social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, InstraGram, SnapChat, etc.) by solving a campus-based mystery. Each of the media sites, along with the print publication if one exists, would be used to direct readers to clues for solving the mystery. It would be up to the publications to promote the game to their readers, though I would probably also provide schools with publicity suggestions. I hope to localize the mystery by engaging augmented reality using campus landmarks. The storyline would be constructed such that there could be multiple outcomes to the mystery based on clue sets that would vary from campus to campus.

I would hope to make the game free to community college (and possibly other campus) publications, though I would have to find some way to offset costs for creating and maintaining the game on servers. I’ve already got a few ideas on that, including exporting the game to small community commercial newspapers if it works as hoped.

Thoughts lately are illustrated in this mind map about all the logistics that need to be worked out even before the storyline is constructed. (I love mind maps, as they represent the way I think.)

There is a lot in this project that I know can be done, but as yet I have not learned how to do. If someone reading this post is interested and would like to partner up, either as part of a think tank or to contribute skills that can help it along I’d be interested in hearing from you. (

It may take me a while to a while on my own to develop the skillsets to bring the project to fruition, if ever.


Badges, we need badges

September 30, 2019



Many of today’s students –certainly not all– come to school with the mindset of “what is the minimum I have to do to pass this course.” I understand why, they have busy social lives and probably a full schedule, some even have part-time jobs that eat into their day. But school should not be a chore, it should be an opportunity to learn as much as you can.

Students would rise in the ranks from Intern, to Cub Reporter, to Byline Reporter, to Columnist, to Editor, to Publisher by earning points.

How do we motivate students to do that? Well, there are a lot of experiments going on, such as flipped classrooms, but they do not really address the question of motivation. I’ve long advocated the concept of gamification of teaching. That is not to say education should be a game, but we can use game elements to help motivate students.

In fact, one mass media survey course assignment I use when teaching is a group exercise where, as part of the assignment, the team of students develops a game to demonstrate what they have learned.

And even before I even knew the word gamification I created a game-like simulation to help teach news gathering and news writing skills (see CITYCOUNCIL). That project, first created in HyperCard for the Mac in 1989, has since been ported to a website. It takes students through the notes of “last night’s” city council meeting. Students can also call and interview sources for a story that they are to write. The story can follow one of up to 12 story lines, or be more complex and cover all the main actions from the meeting. (I used it as a major assignment that used  a multi-element lead where the student combined similar actions by theme; it was based on a city council meeting I actually covered while working for a newspaper.) While a bit dated, it is still used by journalism classes and political science classes for free.

The project dominating the creative half of my brain these days is a newspaper mystery game designed to promote the social media sites of student publications. I’ll write about it later.

Another idea I have thought about for a long time is to create an in-house gamification tool to motivate student publication students to do more than the minimum. It would take an idea from online games that is gaining popularity in STEM programs: competency badges.

It is also an idea I was first introduced to in my short stint in the Boy Scouts of American as a kid.

If I were to actually create the badge system for student publications I would probably develop at least four families of badges: one for writing and editing, one for photography, one for design, and one for multimedia development.

The badge system could be tied into grading for thew course, or be a separate entity within the course.

Much like the concept of levels in a digital game, badges allow users to get more powerful the more badges they earn for the experiences they have in the game. In Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs, the idea is being developed to have students earn competency badges they can carry with them to the work world. An automotive repair student might earn, for instance, a badge in carburetor rebuilding by demonstrating the minimum level of skills in a course. By earning the badge, which verifies the student’s skill, an employer does not have to rely on a glorified resumé or exaggerated interview.

The same could be done in a beginning news writing course where the student could earn badges in interviewing, lead writing, AP Style, etc. My current idea is to create a badge system for student publication sites to encourage students to do more than just the minimum amount of work.

If I were to actually create the badge system for student publications I would probably develop at least four families of badges: one for writing and editing, one for photography, one for design, and one for multimedia development. Of course, there could be multiple families in any of these four areas. For instance, in writing and editing, you could develop sub families for news, sports, opinion, and features/arts/entertainment. In multimedia you could split design, audio/podcasting, and video/vodcasting.

Rather than competencies by tests or demonstrated skill, I think the motivation would come from getting students to trying more and more. For each story the student could earn points by completing a story that goes into print, goes online, is promoted through social media, re-shared, and for online views or Twitter reposting. I’d also look at other elements of a story for added points: Is there an illustration/photo with the story? Did the reporter actually interview someone for the story or merely aggregate news from other media sources (reward actually interviewing multiple sources)? Were there even any sources at all? Maybe true headline writing could be factored in –so many headlines today are merely descriptions and not true headlines.

The badge system could be tied into grading for thew course, or be a separate entity within the course.

Students would rise in the ranks from Intern, to Cub Reporter, to Byline Reporter, to Columnist, to Editor, to Publisher by earning points. Make the jump from Intern to Cub Reporter easier than from Columnist to Editor. The more stories they do, and the more skills they display in those stories, the higher they climb. By creating an in-house game, you encourage students to do more. As a colleague of mine once pointed out to me, quantity does not mean quality, but quantity leads to opportunity, and opportunity can lead to quality. Reward the students for displaying admirable journalistic qualities.

A lot of student publications today use WordPress as a backbone for the online site. That makes it logical to start such an idea by creating a WordPress plug-in. And since organizations like School Newspapers Online  host a lot of student newspapers, it would be a logical organization to develop such a tool.

The plugin would need to scan the site and somehow scan the story (say, for sources), or allow an instructor or editor to enter a value. It would probably also have to scan other media sites, which could be self-indentified in the site setup to do as much automated calculating as possible, and then develop reports and award badges at predefined stages. Some manual input might need to be available for print versions of a story or design. A visual badge of the student’s current level could be displayed by the story’s or photo’s byline.


Monitoring college student publication sites

September 24, 2019

I am perhaps as my happiest in life when I am a man of ideas. As a teacher I had many ideas for livening up my teaching –such as CITYCOUNCIL and my as yet unfulfilled Newspaper Mystery game.

A lot of those ideas started off small, with the intent of meeting a need in my classroom. But I often then realized that if they worked for me, they might work for others. So I have been bold in putting my ideas out there for anyone who wants to benefit from them, or even copy them and adjust them for their own classroom circumstances.

I also felt as an instructor that I wanted to learn from others’ ideas as well. During my 40-plus years of teaching community college journalism I made it a point to visit other programs and breaking out of the silo of my own program. Of the 113 California community colleges, about 55-65 have active journalism programs at any give time. And of those, I think I managed to visit nearly 40 newsrooms at one time or another. Early on I tried to pick up at least one idea from something I saw there.

And I have often felt that my students could learn from other students. That is why I started about five years ago monitoring the online student publications from other California community college programs. And eventually I started looking at the Facebook sites and Twitter feeds of those publications and then Instagram sites. And then I started looking at online student publications of selected California universities.

I would have added SnapChat sites to the list, but there is a special problem with doing that that I will outline below.

I both wanted to learn what other staffs were doing so that I could give my own students ideas for stories and wanted to see how the output of my own students compared to that of other programs.

By collecting story ideas and numbers of posts I could add a new dimension to my teaching. For instance, if my students wrote a boring version of, say, a student government meeting I was able to point them to innovative versions from another school. And if they posted 10 stories a week to their publication website when other programs of similar size were posting twice that, I could motivate them to try harder. In my weekly publication critiques I shared those numbers with students. (And I am pleased to say, that my students often fared well when compared to others. Hint to other instructors: I often found a way to include good numbers in my regular program reviews, even though they weren’t asked for.)

Numbers were a big part of my critiques. Numbers of stories, numbers of sources, percentage of news vs. opinion stories do not in and of themselves do not add up to quality, but as my colleague Walter Hammerwold once pointed out, high numbers add up to opportunities, and opportunities can lead to quality. My PDF critiques eventually included a By The Numbers breakdown for every issue. Besides, reporters need to learn to pay more attention to numbers — ever hear of data driven decisions?

Monitoring other sites also gave me a unique understanding of what is/was going on in student journalism across the state. For instance, as I write this post I know things like

  • The Santa Barbara and Peralta Community College districts are going through budget crises right now (other districts may be going through them, but few student publications are covering them);
  • IT: Chapter “ is the most reviewed movie currently and nobody seems to like it;
  • Few community college publications tweet stories, at least through their official sites, and when they do it is often to give blow-by-blow of football games and board of trustee meetings; and
  • El Camino College’s Union covers campus crime like no other publication in the state.

I monitor the sites daily because, like e-mail, the list of stories can back up quickly if you don’t stay on top of it. I see headlines for upwards of 100 stories a day from student publication sites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and Instagram sites.

I wish I could explain how I choose student stories to share –I am asked from time to time. I haven’t figured it out yet. It is a more of a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing.

I can do this because of RSS feeds automatically developed by those sites. I have gone through several RSS readers over the years to do this and move on when something is updated or not updated that causes them to fail. I’m currently running all the feeds through LuckNews on my Mac Notebook. I am exploring different readers for my iPad as I do more and more work on it.

In addition to monitoring the sites, I choose a few stories every day to repost on my Online Elsewhere Facebook page that anyone interested is encourage to follow. (I know students are migrating away from Facebook, but they should stay for this page.) And this school year I have started an Online Elsewhere email newsletter where I share links to stories about journalism education, links to three-to-five student stories, and links to new additions of complete issues of the print publications on I currently share it mostly with other community college instructors, but will be glad to share it with others if you contact me.

I’ve also started monitoring some other sites, such as the California Community College Athletic Association for news about college sports that students might like to have access to, the Student Press Law Center website and the Journalists Resource website for stories that can help community college journalism programs.

Because of RSS, I can do all of that by checking in for five minutes or less three or four times a day. Other journalism education stories come to me through e-mail from Google search alerts. (And tips from other instructors.)

I no longer collect post numbers. It is a bit more tedious and requires a regular schedule for checking in. (That was particularly challenging when I spent a month cruising the Adriatic sea and was several time zones away.) I had to collect the numbers and pop them into an elaborate Excel spreadsheet that I created. Besides, I don’t know if having numbers actually mattered to anyone but me so I could include them in my critiques.

I don’t include the popular SnapChat sites mostly because I haven’t figured out how to RSS the sites and if stories disappear quickly my information would be out of date almost instantly.

I’d like to run more news about community college journalism programs if other instructors (or student editors) will stare what is going on with their programs. (Notice the theme of sharing?)

I wish I could explain how I choose student stories to share –I am asked from time to time. I haven’t figured it out yet. It is a more of a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing.

I know that:

  • Campus stories are more likely to be shared than off-campus stories where no one on the publication actually interviewed anyone (happens too often; I used to count sources in stories for my students — see the By the Numbers sheets).
  • Transportation stories of all kinds attract my attention.
  • …As do crime stories and campus governance stories.
  • …And new angles on student homelessness; everyone has a food bank by now and some schools have clothes closets.
  • Everyone has college fairs, transfer fairs, and job fairs these days and all the stories sound the same
  • Everyone is doing Guided Pathways, but I don’t see much unique in coverage.
  • I rarely run sports stories about games from any sport (they all sound the same after a while), but may choose unique features.
  • While I notice movie reviews, I rarely run them other than to point out trends.
  • Breaking news can be big, but when everyone is covering, say, the climate week strike, only the first few stories to get posted are likely to be chosen.
  • Opinion stories have to cover an interesting angle to get my attention.

Finding RSS feeds is relatively simple. Not all web services provide it to their clients, but if they do I can start with a simple URL and plug it into my reader to see if it can and a feed to capture. For services like Facebook I use the online program Fetch to find the feed. Facebook is funny; it depends on whether site was set up as a page or a group and if the name has been changed at some point. I just isn’t possible to get feeds from some sites.

It would be interesting to have access to reader engagement information for all of the sites I cover, but that would require individual permission from each site and would work only if the schools have set analytic collection. And then I would have to determine which analytics are most important.