Engaging the audience: a progress report

Dear Student Media staff:

This will be a long message, so flag it to read later when you have a few minutes.

TL;DR? There’s a lot of good stuff going on in Student Media. While we’re all striving to do better in so many areas, it’s important to recognize where we’re making strong progress in engaging our audience.

Now, please indulge a little narrative of how I came to write this message.

When the Executive Board made its presentation to Dr. Thompson and the SAEM directors Feb. 10, my 30-second wrapup was along these lines:

I’m very pleased with Student Media’s progress in being outward-facing – that is, we’re out engaging our community, not sitting in our offices thinking great thoughts and passing judgment.

(My comments were the least impressive thing about the presentation. Dr. Thompson, Dean  Jackson and several directors praised the professionalism of the executives and the scope of their work.)

Over the last week to 10 days, there were so many examples of being outward-facing and engaging that I thought it would be appropriate to illustrate what I’m talking about.

At the Executive Board meeting last Friday, Feb. 20, the “Tank” team blew us away with their presentation of a photo booth that would include a slow-motion feature. I can’t do it justice here, but you can track the project here. It’s just awesome. It promises to be a money-maker, a great way to involve Student Media in events on- and off-campus and a viral content generator. Construction of the actual camera stand is under way, and you’ll soon be able to see this in action.

On Saturday, Feb. 21, I tweeted:

“Today: @GeorgeAnneSport: 9+ hours tweeting BSB + SB + hoops. @TheCircleGSU: Covg of wild car crash. @GSUStudentMedia rocks!”

The sports tweets are too voluminous to capture here. Here’s the car crash coverage, including a great photo gallery from candidate Johnny Lu.

Our increased presence on social media is remarkable. It shows we’re out there reporting every day, and it’s reaching the audience where it is – on their phones. The new daily desk in The George-Anne and reflectorgsu.com are strong additions to The Circle and the GSU Student Media accounts.

On Monday, Feb. 23, I got to meet New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. When I told him what I do here, he said, “I liked the coverage in The George-Anne.” I was pleased that he spent enough time lingering over the story about him that he remembered the newspaper’s name (which, let’s face it, is a bit difficult).  At that same dinner, Student Media also was represented by two students, Nadia Dreid and Will Peebles, who had read Kristof’s books and engaged him in conversation along with leaders of the campus Student Abolitionist Movement. The Circle then live-tweeted Kristof’s speech.

The weather on Tuesday, Feb. 24, was pretty rotten. But it made me feel good when I saw a student walking to a building carrying a copy of The George-Anne. I knew he probably had just been given a paper by a Street Team member, out hustling on the sidewalks in the cold and wet. For those who don’t know, the Street Team now is distributing more than 2,500 copies of every issue and is the reason our press run has gone up over the last year — while many college papers have been cutting distribution.

As I flipped through the Tuesday paper, I wrote “yea!” on one ad because it was from a new advertiser. One of the greatest signs about our improved and expanded sales teams is that they’re bringing in new clients. That happens because we’re out there talking to businesses about how Student Media can help them. Ginny Byrd has led the Business division through adoption of a professional sales model based on collaboration with the client. It works. This is an important part of our role in the community – and of course it helps pay the bills.

Also Tuesday, Jeff Licciardello, Sam Hicks and I met with representatives of Health Services, the Counseling Center and Auxiliary Services to talk about the Our House magazine. Jeff’s presentation was well received, and Associate Dean Kerry Greenstein ended up the meeting by saying how pleased he was with Student Media’s willingness to engage the community on issues like sensitivity in alcohol coverage. This was the third meeting editors had held with stakeholders on this issue. (Yes, we’re still having issues with campus advertising in Our House. But I’m proud of our efforts.)

Immediately after that meeting, Emily Skolrood and I met with LaShanda Johnson of Health Services to finalize details on the Spring Break safety event we’re co-sponsoring March 2. Public Safety and the Office of Alcohol and Other Drugs also will be involved. This is a good spot to recognize how Emily and the marketing crew have brought more partners into our events. They reached out to the Center for Sustainability as a partner in the upcoming Dress In the Press, and that’s shaping up to set records for participation and sponsorship revenue.

While we’re on the subject of events and partners, The Circle is co-sponsoring a film contest and event with the Film Club. It will be fun and a good trial run for bigger things.

Tuesday night means Candidate Program. I joined Will Price and Lauren Gorla at the George-Anne/Magazines class, which has at least 17 active participants. The Business/Marketing, Creative and Digital tracks were meeting elsewhere. In our class, the candidates tried out their rapid news writing chops on an exercise in which one of Will’s 11 cats, Fluffy, met an unfortunate end. (No actual animals were harmed in this exercise.) Our executives presented a session on our very unique program at the Georgia College Press Association a few weeks ago, to the usual utter astonishment.

It’s also very important to note here that Emily and others from Marketing did an amazing job recruiting at SOAR last summer, leading to our biggest-ever candidate class in the fall, and followed that up with a good spring class.

True story: In the van on a long trip last spring, I told students they should be brainstorming instead of goofing off. The response (the polite part, anyway) was, “What do you want us to brainstorm?” How to double the size of Student Media staff in a year, I said. I haven’t counted heads from last year’s staff list, but I’m sure we’re approaching that goal. Managing our human resources deserves more attention, and stay tuned for more on that.

The George-Anne of Thursday, Feb. 26, started with a cover that clearly engaged students and gave them reasons to open the paper. Heather Yeomans, Alex Tobia and the crew in Creative deserve great credit for embracing non-traditional design and working with The George-Anne to bring us a redesigned paper that gets better every week. Especially compare the way the basketball photo at the top of the cover is cropped compared to the way the full frame showed up on the digital version. That’s a brilliant crop that worked with the “G-A” flag and conveyed energy. If I knew of a national award for best crop, I’d nominate it! Does the audience sit around studying our crops? Of course not. But the energy of the cover has a lot to do with whether they pick up and open the paper.

Big splashes on the cover and inside are great, but I think my favorite regular part of the paper is Page 2, where we merge briefs from the daily desk, The Circle and The Reflector into a high-energy package that underscores our engagement with the campus.

Also worth noting: Stories about veterans and the Chocolate Run and an opinion spread on natural hair that quoted students and not just official sources. I talk about lot about getting “names and faces” in the paper, and it’s great to see it happen. We can do a lot better – especially at getting names into photo captions! But we’re headed in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Cabby Johnson’s story on reflectorgsu.com that day was welcome for adding “official” sources where needed. Instead of just opining about how to get enough sleep, she talked to a GSU psychologist and a professor who deals with sleepy students.

The Thursday issue ended with Colin Ritsick’s wonderful two-page spread on basketball player Angel Matias. I was not surprised when the radio broadcast team at the Georgia Southern-App State game Thursday night plugged the story – twice! OK, I was a little surprised when play-by-play announcer Chris Blair ended up by saying, “If you missed it, read the story at thegeorgeanne.com.”  Wow, let’s make him an honorary Street Team member.

While I was listening to the game, the Internet was broken by runaway llamas and what-color-is-that-dress. When I caught up to all the madness on Twitter, I tweeted “#whereisjeff?” At almost the same instant, Jeff posted a clever quiz about the dress. And he did actual reporting, posting a screen shot from Adobe analyzing the dress color. (The dress, BTW, is black and blue. Seriously, what’s wrong with you guys?) If you think all this sounds silly, ask yourself if it’s a good thing that GSU students associate us with the things they want to talk about. (Hint: yes. That’s why The New York Times covered it. And for the serious side, keep reading.)

Late Thursday night, Jordan Felton of The Circle thought she heard gunshots. She went outside and took photos that started our our coverage of the fatal shooting at Campus Crossing apartments.  Casey Cargle and the daily desk pursued the story throughout Friday, eventually learning the only student involved sustained a minor injury. So students saw us as a place they could turn for photos of the crime scene and updates on a very serious story.

While Casey working on that, the fall football schedule was announced Friday morning. The George-Anne soon was tweeting highlights. And within 90 minutes, Katie Tolbert posted a quick analysis.

Friday started very early for nine people on the road to the SPJ “JournCamp” in Atlanta. I’m very pleased these nine have joined SPJ, the first step toward getting a chapter on campus. That chapter won’t be under the umbrella of Student Media, and it should be a great way for bring our staff in contact with journalism students who aren’t (yet) involved with us.

Of course, this doesn’t begin to capture what went on here even in that one-week stretch. I’m sure I’ve overlooked some important engagement accomplishments, and I apologize in advance. But I wanted to invite everyone to pause for a few minutes and reflect on how far we’ve come.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about what we need to do better. Happily, a big piece will be leveraging what we’ve already started and getting this content to a wider part of the student body.

So I’m very interested in establishing a “Mission Control” to make sure we’re sharing all our varied content from multiple divisions to best effect on all platforms. I think that quite possibly can be part of the “studio” idea – putting a physical presence in the Russell Union where our content is displayed and we often have staff members on hand.

Engagement will help us build our print audience. But it’s absolutely critical to build the foundation for a future where print dollars may not match current levels. Nobody knows what the future is, but we know “mobile” is part of it. I just happened to see a tweet today from Erica Perel, the newsroom adviser at the Daily Tar Heel, from a keynote speech at the ACP conference in Los Angeles by Brian Stelter, now CNN’s media reporter and a former NYTimes reporter:

“Brian Stelter on Board of college paper: At every meeting: I beg them to take mobile more seriously.”

It’s all about engaging the audience where it is. We are well on the way, and I’m proud of everyone who is working hard to do it better every day.



About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on February 28, 2015, in Design, Digital/social, Reporting, What to cover. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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