It’s the ultimate win-win: Journalism students need clips to land internships and jobs; news organizations need stories to fill their print and online publications. How can journalism educators help broker both those needs? One way is to set up a student-operated news service — and thanks to blogging software, that’s easier than ever.
Most Web logs, as blogs are formally known, fall in the category of personal diaries or running commentary by people with far too much time on their hands. But blogs are being used by serious news folk, too: to publish micro news on the fly (as Greg Reeves of The Kansas City Star does with Crime Scene KC); to shed light on newsroom decision-making and happenings (as John Robinson of the Greensboro News & Record does with The Editor’s Log); to engage readers in a conversation (as The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., does with its Parents’ Council Blog); and to give residents a voice (as The Houston Chronicle does by letting “citizen journalists” create blogs about politics, hobbies, technology, religion and other subjects, including a vegetarian blog called Meatless in Houston). Some journalism classes already use blogs or template-driven Web sites to publish full-text stories and other work. In Virginia — where the state motto is “Never a year without an election!” — my media ethics students publish a blog that analyzes political news coverage, advertising and public relations strategy, for example.
Using a class blog as a news service is a bit different: For one thing, students are trying to pitch stories to editors, not engage readers in a conversation. A blog makes a solid platform for a news service for three reasons:
Blogging software makes it easy to post text, as well as photos and multimedia. Students can take responsibility for their own postings. With intuitive blogware, the learning curve is a small bump on the information superhighway.
Once you’ve created a blog, it is automatically published as RSS, a special flavor of hypertext markup language, the coding scheme of the Web. RSS stands for, among other things, Really Simple Syndication — and catch that last word: It is the tool for your students to become syndicated writers. Many people use an RSS reader. The reader can be built into a Web browser (such as Mozilla Firefox), or it can be a Web-page application (such as Bloglines.com). An RSS reader compiles headlines from whatever blogs you have chosen. As a result, you don’t have to type in a blog’s address and go to a particular Web page to read the postings; instead, RSS pushes the content to subscribers. This means that editors subscribing to your class’ blog will automatically see the items your students post.
Blogs make it easy for people to contact the author. An editor can click a link to comment on a student’s story summary; the feedback might be a note expressing interest in seeing and possibly running the full story. The student will automatically receive the feedback as e-mail.
Jeff South is an associate professor in the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.