Lessons from Beat Blogging - by on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 23:59 - 0 Comments

EWA: Social media for better education reporting

Below you’ll find a post I created to go with a beatblogging presentation at the Education Writers Association conference.

For a more in-depth quick start guide on what beatblogging is, how to do it and best practices, check out my post: BCNI Philly: Why beatblog? (and why news should be social)

Best networks for education reporters

  • Facebook — Facebook is a no brainer. It originally started as a social network just for college students, then added high school students and now has expanded to allow everyone to join. You’ll find a much higher concentration of college students in particular on Facebook than you will on MySpace. Even many teachers, professors and administrators are joining Facebook these days. It’s the perfect network to find education-related people to interview and even find stories. Every education reporter should at least have a presence on Facebook.
  • Twitter – Twitter is a great social network for almost any journalist. In particular, it’s a great tool for crowdsourcing, asking questions and monitoring trends. Check out our screencast on how to use Twitter for reporting and our other screencast on how to use search.twitter.com.

Education beatbloggers to follow

  • Tawnell Hobbs/Kent Fischer | DISD Blog — The DISD blog won this year’s EWA award for best multimedia education blog and for good reason. It has been the gold standard for education beatblogs the past 1-2 years. Here are just a few of the lessons you can learn from the DISD blog: Fischer’s readers helped him uncover an A1 story, hoisting comments to build a better community, live blogging to help form a closer connection with readers, providing a public service for readers, etc, etc, etc.
  • Alexander Russo | District 299 Blog — Russo has a different kind of beatblog. He centers his blog around “hosting the conversation.” The District 299 is a place where people in Chicago can go to discuss education and the Chicago school district. Russo does original reporting, linking to others content and conversation starting.
  • Gotham Schools — This non-profit, new media startup is one to watch. They don’t have an institutional memory and aren’t beholden to how things “used to be.” Instead, they can concentrate on transforming education reporting. We’re big fans of their daily link journalism post too.
  • Khristopher Brooks — Brooks use of Facebook is one to emulate. He convinced the University of Nebraska to give him a nebraska.edu e-mail address. This allows him to see most students on the Nebraska Facebook network. Brooks does not grab students profile information without prior permission, however, and he mostly uses Facebook to find students who are studying certain majors or taking certain classes. If Brooks is doing a story where he needs to talk to a student about a controversial class, for instance, he can search the Nebraska Facebook network for students in that class, contact them and get interviews. He essentially uses Facebook as a phone book on steroids. Listen to Brooks discuss how Facebook has made his job much easier.

Best practices

  • Be transparent and accessible — Brooks is extremely accessible for Nebraska students because he has put himself on Facebook. If students want to contact him about an issue at Nebraska that he may not know about, they can easily do so via Facebook. It takes far less work on their part to send him a private message via Facebook than it does to hunt down his e-mail address or phone number. The easier you make it for people to contact you, the more likely it is that they will contact you. Get on multiple social networks (with your real name), put a bio and about page on your blog and make sure you have contact info on your blog.
  • Be social – This could be as simple as being active in the comments section after stories and blog posts. It also means being an active participant on social networks. If you’re on Twitter, just don’t ask people questions, but answer their questions too. Be social and get to know people. Social media is all about being social. The old way of doing journalism was one-way communication, but today it’s all about two-way communication. Be a part of a conversation.
  • Cultivate a community — Being social is the first part of cultivating a community. If you’re lucky enough to be given your own blog, use it to its fullest potential. A blog is a fantastic place to cultivate a community of knowledgeable sources that will send you tips, links and documents. Monica Guzman is the master community cultivator and is someone worth following for ideas on how to build a community.

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About BeatBlogging.org

BeatBlogging.org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. BeatBlogging.org offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He is @pwthornton on Twitter.