Managing scholastic journalism organizations online: Connectedness, encouragement ‘in the trenches’
This post is co-authored with Dave Porreca.
We always knew the Illinois Journalism Education Association was an amazing resource and help to scholastic media advisers across Illinois – the problem was that many others in our state didn’t.
So, in April of 2015, we embarked on a social media strategy and website reconstruction that would allow advisers, students and schools in Illinois to see how passionate we were about advisers who work tirelessly to protect and empower student journalists.
Our plan has three distinct components:
- We provide thick coverage for Illinois scholastic journalism events and opportunities. Whether it’s the IJEA Fall Conference at the University of Illinois, the IHSA State Journalism Competition at Eastern Illinois University, our yearbook and news/digital media contests, or our awards to honor achievements and friends of scholastic journalism, we want people to know what’s possible in Illinois.
- Professional development is tough to find time for, but our social media and website – through shares, retweets, and blogs – strives to give busy advisers tips, tricks and new ideas to try out in their classrooms. We have quite a few students who follow as well, so part of that content is to spark their creativity. Our Adviser Helpline is also growing in importance, particularly as the Speech Rights of Student Journalists law takes effect in Illinois. (Hooray!)
- Most important, IJEA media is a cheerleader. For people from news backgrounds, that can be challenging, but our organization’s purpose is well worth a bit of public relations. We produce and promote material that will inspire (gallery of student publications), encourage (local and national resources), commiserate and sympathize with (storytelling features and videos) our state’s advisers. We want them to know they are not alone in their struggles; we want to enthusiastically celebrate their many achievements.
We work to incorporate all three of these elements throughout each week in an organic way. This is all in our “spare time,” so there are seasons of plenty and – not so plenty. However, having two team members, both Dave and Amanda, has helped, as our professional and personal lives have thankfully taken turns in their times of chaos.
Whether it’s daily tweets (or retweets), weekly Facebook posts, the occasional Instagram image or a weekly blog from IJEA Board Members, there are a few other tricky points to keep in mind when managing a scholastic journalism organization’s media presence:
- There are multiple audiences. Work to provide information for advisers (target audience) as well as students, other professionals, national organizations, etc. Keeping a balance there will keep followers both present and engaged, a strategy that took us from 11 Twitter followers to more than 470 in just 18 months!
- Branding is the key. We cleaned up the logo, keep almost all images in-house, and use color and font selections precisely so that we become recognizable in the deluge of media voices.
- Running both social media and a website for a scholastic journalism organization is a great chance to experiment. The audience is gracious, and there is plenty of sympathy for excellent ideas that may not be perfectly executed.
- Fun. Yes, we said fun. All scholastic journalism advisers are amazing humans – we’ve never been proven wrong on that. They have a great sense of humor, love working with kiddos, and likely need a mental break from the deadline and grading grind. Try to be lighthearted once in a while, if only because those posts will get the most traction anyway.
Our experience building a following and access to resources has been wonderful. We believe Illinois journalism advisers feel more connected because of these tools, and we’d love to share or help your organizations as well!
Dave Porreca, CJE, is website director for Elmwood Park Community Unit School District 401, located in the Near West suburbs of Chicago. He taught journalism and advised student news publications at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana from 1995 to 2010. His students were NSPA Newspaper Pacemaker finalists five consecutive years and Online Pacemaker finalists four consecutive years. The 2006-07 Online Gargoyle was the first Illinois high school news website to win an Online Pacemaker.