Activity: Evaluating our Publication’s Digital and Social Media

Objective: For staff members to understand the concept of an “audience” versus “users,” to identify if our publication’s online presence is geared more toward an “audience” or “users” and to evaluate how well our publication’s digital media, both website and social media presence, engages users.

Summary: Because the publication I advise is an extracurricular and I do not have any of the editorial board members in class, I am creating materials the editors in chief can use to run workshops and editor/staff training sessions whether or not I am present. They are designed to work during hour-long weekly meetings or during longer summer workshops. Together, the two activities will take about two hours to complete, including large group sharing and discussion time.

Each activity can be printed out or shared digitally with students. The activities include contextual information, detailed steps for small groups to follow and links to exemplary student publications (selected CSPA 2019 Gold Crown winners).

The overall goal is for students to closely analyze aspects of our publication’s digital presence, look at other publications in comparison and as possible inspiration and set goals for the future.

Because students participate in The Harbinger as an extracurricular, they are not graded and do not receive course credit for their work. Therefore, I have not included rubrics or homework with these activities. Instead, these two activities can run during concurrent weeks or be spread out over time. Staff members will be accountable for their work and insights by sharing verbally with the large group and by generating Google Docs to be shared with the editors in chief.


Evaluating our Publication’s Digital and Social Media

Our publication’s digital media should be more than simply a platform to publish and share. Our website and especially our social media should be not only a place to publish and promote our reporting but also a place for interaction and engagement.

As Steve Hill and Paul Bradshaw explain on page five of “Mobile-First Journalism”:

The term audience is problematic as it suggests passivity, i.e. a group of people passively watching TV in their living rooms. It is a model of media that presents the audience as the ‘child’ and we, the journalist, as a ‘parent’ who is ‘teaching’ the children what they need to know about the world…[traditionally] mass media is shaped like a megaphone—content is ‘broadcast’ from a centralized location to a large audience made up of passive receivers of content. A radio show or article in a print newspaper cannot be changed, altered or interacted with by the audience. Social media and mobile technology encourages far more interactive modes of communication.

In a nutshell, our digital, mobile and social media should provide interactive experiences that are different from that which we provide in our print publication.


Activity One: Is our website geared toward an “audience” or “users”?

It’s important to first consider how we perceive and treat the consumers of our digital media. Are they an “audience” or are they “users”?

Break into small groups of 3-4, grab a copy of the most recent print issue of The Harbinger and gather around at least one computer. Record your observations, insights and ideas in a Google Doc so you will be prepared to share them with the editors in chief and report to the large group.

  1. Take a few minutes to flip through our most recent print issue of The Harbinger, refreshing your memory of what we published and in what form (page design, graphics, etc.).
  • Visit The Harbinger homepage. Scroll through and study the homepage only, clicking links to see the full stories.
    • Discuss as a group how similar or different the experience of reading through the homepage of our publication’s website is from reading the print edition. What are the notable similarities and differences in terms of the subjects and forms of the content?
    • Do we seem to perceive those who visit our site as an “audience” or “users”? How?
    • What ideas do you have that could make our homepage and its content more engaging for users?
    • Provide links to examples to support your observations and ideas.
  • After visiting the homepage, dive a bit further back in time by clicking your group’s assigned section from the navigation bar (News, Opinion, Feature, A&E, Profile, or Sports).
    • Looking through the first page of each section (12 stories), list in your Google Doc any examples you encounter where you are treated as a “user” and not just an “audience.”
    • As you go through the content in your assigned section, also brainstorm ways each of these stories could be made more engaging for users. For example, could they be formatted differently? How? Could there be additional multimedia content? Interactive features? List and describe your ideas on your Doc.
  • Now select the “multimedia” tab of the menu bar. What types of content do you find? What is most interesting and engaging and why? What aspects are geared toward “users” versus an “audience”?
  • What ideas do you have for making multimedia elements of our site (and reporting in general) more engaging, interesting and interactive?

Here are a few examples of multimedia from 2019 CSPA Gold Crown winners for inspiration. Feel free to include links to elements you really like in your Doc!

If you finish before other groups, take some time to explore deeper into our own website or those listed above.

When the groups are done, the editors in chief will lead the large group in a discussion of realizations you’ve had about our website and ideas for the future. They will also project the Google Analytics for our site so you can look at and discuss elements such as user behavior, most viewed stories and how users are moving around the site. Be sure to come up with an action plan of what we should do take our user experiences to the next level.

Activity Two: How engaging is our publication’s social media presence?

As Hill and Bradshaw assert in “Mobile-First Journalism,” “For content to work on social media it really needs the user to engage with it—this could be a share, comment or like.”

Hill and Bradshaw say social media is an important tool to fill humans’ social needs such as the needs for human interactions and engagement, knowledge and insights needed to be a citizen and a desire for entertainment and help with the everyday tasks.

Using Hill and Bradshaw’s ideas as a framework for analyzing our publication’s use of social media, we will break into groups to look at what types of social media content we’re producing and how users are interacting with it.

If YOU are not yet following our publication on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, get on it right now!


After breaking into small groups of 3-4, each group will be assigned one of our publication’s social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) to look at closely. Record your observations, insights and ideas in a Google Doc so you will be prepared to share them with the Editors-in-Chief and report to the large group.

  1. Look closely through The Harbinger’s social media account you were assigned to. Take notes on the following:


  • How many followers do we have?
    • From a quick scroll through the followers, who do they appear to be (not specific names, but types of people- ex. current students, alums, teachers, parents, other high school publications, etc.)?
    • What types of people seem to make the largest percentages of followers?
    • Is there anything that surprised you about our followers?


  • How many times have we posted in the last 30 days?
    • What types of posts have we made in the last 30 days? (Consider both subject and style)
    • About percentage of our posts are promoting content from our website versus original reporting/content we created especially for this platform?

User Engagement:

  • How many of our posts contain an element overtly encouraging users to interact with /engage with the post? (If any, what elements were used?)
    • What was our most “liked” post from the last 30 days? How many likes?
    • What was our most shared post from the last 30 days? How many shares?
    • What was our most commented on post from the last 30 days? How many comments? Who commented and about what?

Please note anything else of significance you noticed, discussed or pondered.

  • After closely analyzing one of our social media accounts, visit the social media accounts (for the same social media platform) of the publications we looked at in the website analysis activity. (If you click the links to the publications’ sites, you will find direct links to their social media accounts at the top of each website.)

Although you do not need to take notes on all of the elements you listed above, please note in your Google Doc what you find interesting in contrast and comparison with our own social media presence. Give some specific examples. What ideas can we get from what they do?

  • Pathfinder, Parkway West High School, Ballwin, MO
  • Southwest Shadow, Southwest Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas, NV
  • The HarbingerShawnee Mission East High School, Prairie Village, KS (their social media links are at the very bottom of the homepage)
  • The Kirkwood Call, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, MO

When the groups are all done, the Editors-in-Chief will lead the large group in a discussion of your findings and ideas. They will also project the Analytics/Insights for our accounts so you can look at and discuss elements such as impressions, reach and user engagement. Also discuss:

  • Are we treating those who access our social media an “audience” or “users”?
  • How can we increase our followers on each social media platform?
  • What do our various users want to gain from our social media presences?
  • How can we increase user engagement so we get more shares, comments and likes?

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