Archive for the ‘Online Elsewhere’ Category

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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 issuu.com. 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.

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