Mizzou Students Offer Advice to News Organizations

Last week I got to step back into the classroom for the first time in almost a year to teach Principles of American Journalism for my friend Hans Ibold, who is off doing some interesting work on international media in Krzygstan.  Principles is an intro- level required course for freshman and sophomore students at Mizzou.  Each section has about 250 students, and I taught this course myself last spring and had a blast. One of its required texts is what I consider to be the Bible of journalism, aka Elements, written by my former bosses at the Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel.  Students also get a basic introduction to media economics, media law, and ethics.

One of Hans’ assignments for the students was to read the State of the Media report and to act as a consultants to news organizations, coming up with a few recommendations so that these companies can best position themselves for the future.  Here’s what they came up with in class, and I invite comments or additions to this list (or let me know if I haven’t gotten it quite right, for those of you who were in class). I thought it was interesting to get the perspective of some of the coveted younger demographic on whose watch journalism will likely succeed or fail.

  • Stop degrading the quality of the product through layoffs (an excellent recommendation, though sadly, at many places the fat lady… if she hasn’t already started singing…she’s a hummin backstage on this one – a phrase I think I’m borrowing from Dan Rather.)
  • Use alternative story forms – lists, Q&As, etc.
  • Simplify and de-clutter your Websites, and use large, strong visuals to draw people in.
  • Banner or “Billboard-style” ads don’t work — advertising that works online draws you in and then gives you options as to how you want to further interact with the information.
  • Consider making newspapers FREE.  I asked for a show of hands as to how many people would be more likely to read a newspaper if it was free , and nearly everyone in the room raised their hands. A friend of mine is working on a dissertation on this very subject, and I hope to share the results of that when she is finished.
  • Local, local, local — a couple of students noted that their parents, friends and relatives remain committed to the small newspapers that bring them news of soccer games, high school sports and the like.
  • Offer personalization options.  This idea has generally proven unworkable as many news organizations found people didn’t take them up on the opportunity to personalize their pages, beyond possibly the local forecast.  Could it have more traction among a younger set more accustomed to having such options available online?
  • Beware of elitism.  Don’t assume that people know all of the background leading up to the story.  (Could do this by better use of links.)
  • Games and other opportunities for interactivity are big in other areas online and should be adopted by news sites.
  • Use market research to better understand what people are looking for online.

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