Boots on the Ground: Students as Local News Sources

Can’t believe a whole month has passed and it is once again time for another blazing round of blogging with the Carnival of Journalism. This time, our fearless leader David Cohn has asked us what steps we, as individuals, could do to increase the number of news sources in our communities.

I think those of us who teach at universities are especially well-positioned to add to the diversity and quantity of local news sources, and indeed, my colleagues and I are trying to do just that right now.  What else do we have but willing and able students who need to master reporting, writing, and multimedia skills not by listening to lectures, but by actually DOING journalism? Yes, our students are still, by definition, learning how to practice journalism and may not be quite up to par with the pros (though I’ve seen a few that could give some pros a run for their money), but they have faculty members who have years of newsroom experience to serve as their editors and guides. [Sorry the image here isn’t edited properly – burning the midnight oil here and running out of steam to fix.]

Probably the most impressive effort to increase local news sources at the  University of Memphis is just launching now. My colleague Dr. Lurene Kelley and our new multimedia capstone class are taking on the hyperlocal reporting challenge by providing extensive online coverage of one community: Cooper Young in Midtown Memphis. Their site just launched this very week, and they hope to not only give these senior-level students a culminating experience that brings all of their writing, reporting, photojournalism, video and web production skills  together, but also to offer this neighborhood the kind of extensive coverage not available from the major metro media. Because this is a new course, enrollment is small, but will grow in subsequent semesters, and Kelley plans on expanding to other neighborhoods as well.

In my reporting and social media courses, each student chooses a beat and creates a beat blog, which may range from anything as serious as local politics to something more fun like Memphis music or MMA. While the beats aren’t explicitly local per se, in-person reporting is required so they definitely have at least a local angle. These blogs are often fledgling efforts by inexperienced students, but local voices get heard that might not otherwise get media attention. You can check out my undergraduate and graduate students blogs via the blogrolls on our class sites. We are just getting started this semester, so there may not be much content yet.

My student Nicole Blum took this great Twitpic of a local fundraiser for St. Jude.

This semester, my social media students are also using a variety of tools such as Twitter and Flickr to report the news and share stories. For example, during a major snowstorm in Memphis last week, my students took photos and reported on everything from road conditions and wrecks to sledding spots from all over the greater metro area using the class hashtag #j4801 and #snOMG. My students have also been participating in campus and city-wide “Scavenger Hunts” that in a sense are also a form of local news reporting as they gather photos and quotes that tell a story about university and civic life. In fact, if you check out the hashtag #j7200 this week you could learn a little bit about some of the places and people in Memphis.

My goal is to continue to build upon and expand efforts such as these and get more of our courses involved in these efforts.


Filed under Journalism Education

7 responses to “Boots on the Ground: Students as Local News Sources

  1. I first stepped into a New Zealand newsroom in the hot metal days of 1962 when we did indeed learn on the job. There were no schools of journalism there in those days. We learned from fellow reporters and crusty old sub-editors. I was doubly handicapped being a female in a male environment. But I actually “did journalism” instead of listening to lectures. What a fun ride through some of the most intense newspaper days. And I picked up plenty of multimedia skills along the way. I am not done yet…

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  4. Pingback: JORNALICES | Jerónimo blogging about Media & Journalism

  5. Pingback: Carnival Roundup No. 2: Increasing news sources #JCarn « RJI

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  7. Ana

    I run a hyper-local reporting website where people can post news, events, opinions tagged by the geolocation. It is hyper-local reporting for anywhere.

    I would like to invite your students to go to and get involved in their communities too.

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