What I’ve learned: The megaphone has changed hands and it’s now a smartphone

As journalists and scholastic newspaper advisers, it’s time stop thinking about “audience” and start focusing on engaging “users” who are active participants in the media they consume.

In “Mobile-First Journalism,” Steve Hill and Paul Bradshaw assert we need to shift from the idea of mass media as a megaphone projecting news to its audience. Instead of thinking of passive audiences receiving information, we must connect with users on a deeper level through interactive elements, social media tools and even crowdsourcing.

Whether teens or adults, today’s users are empowered to make choices about what’s important and interesting. In ways, they’ve taken the megaphone into their own hands in the form of a smartphone.

We tend to spend a large portion of our days staring into phones and interacting with the world we can carry in our pockets. Users expect interactive media where they can comment, share, like and more, amplifying and responding to journalists’ work.

As teachers, instead of presenting journalism as an elevated form of communication transmitted from “those who know” to “those who don’t,” Hill and Bradshaw say digital media, and especially social media, is an important tool to fill humans’ social needs.

This idea threw me for a loop at first. Is it possible the platforms I mindlessly waste away hours (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rabbit holes they send me through) actually fill my needs as a human? Is social media not just a way of promoting stories and pulling readers to our publication’s website?

After some thinking (as I scrolled through my various social feeds) I realized that yes, many of my needs are fulfilled as the minutes fly by. This fulfillment comes not just from Instagram “Cats Doing Things” and the endless rants and brags of moms in my “October 2017 Babies” Facebook group.

My needs are also filled by the way I’ve curated my feeds to keep me up to date and engaged with the world. I’m part of the conversations when I respond with vitriol to @realDonaldTrump or share a powerful piece of news analysis on Facebook. I’m connected when I vote in an Instagram poll and direct tweet an educator I admire. I may be in my living room but the expanse of what I can learn, ponder and respond to is limitless.

As an adviser, I need to help my staff see digital media as more than a platform to publish and share. It can and should be a place of interaction and engagement. I’m excited to learn from this course how to do this effectively.

According to Hill and Bradshaw, today’s journalists must think about human interactions and engagement, the knowledge and insights needed to be a citizen, and the entertainment and tasks of an everyday person.

Journalists, both professional and scholastic, must form relationships while reporting and making sense of news, helping users navigate the noise. Just like the pros, scholastic journalists have to understand their users’ needs, go where their users are and engage them, not just report to them.

It is also essential for scholastic publications to think about the devices used to access their content. If 80 percent of the time users access a publication site on their phone, then the site better be configured to work well on a small screen.

With smartphones in our pockets, we can both consume and create images, audio, video and, yes, even text. However, when it comes to content creation, we need to teach scholastic journalists need to shift from thinking about mobile journalism (or MoJo) as simply a way to record video or post and share static written content. True MoJo is flexible, creative, and interactive. It has a sense of flux.

As “Understanding mobile journalism” from the “Mobile Journalism Manual” states, with MoJo there’s “a new workflow for media storytelling where reporters are trained and equipped for being fully mobile and fully autonomous.”

I look forward to experimenting with this new workflow and learning how to help my staff be more autonomous. All of my publication’s journalists, not just the online and and social media editors, should think mobile-first which can impact their modes of reporting and potential narrative structures.

MoJo can transform users’ experiences and energize journalists as we share the megaphone and open up the possibilities in exciting new ways.

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