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The Potter Digital Ambassadors program recently paired five college journalism students with rural Missouri newspapers to help implement multimedia and social media strategies.

This was the inaugural year of the program, which is underwritten by Missouri School of Journalism alumnus and newspaper editor Walt Potter.

The ambassadors, all from the Missouri School of Journalism, had completed most of the courses in their specialty and were proficient in a range of media. They were selected through an application process that emphasized their skills and personal background.

The newspapers were selected through an application process that focused on digital needs, a willingness to welcome the students and an ability to follow-through on the week’s objectives. Students were selected according to how well their skill sets matched the newspaper’s needs, and how closely their backgrounds coincided with the size and nature of the community.

The students spent up to two weeks preparing for the visits. They consulted with editors or publishers about the goals of the program, and they prepared a thorough community audit that covered demographics, competition, a SWOT analysis, economic outlook, government and other factors that play into news coverage.

All of the students lived in the communities for a week during their winter break. They spent full days in newsrooms, gathering information, training staff in digital tools and practices, and leaving behind written routines that would sustain the initiatives they brought to the news organizations.

Bowling Green Times

Student: Lindsey Jenkins
Editor: Ethan Colbert
Parent company: Lakeway Publishers
Circulation: 3,125
Publication day: Wednesday

Goal

Develop a consistent, professional social media presence; enhance reader engagement; drive more traffic to the website.

Contributions and results

  • Set up a social media schedule on Hootsuite for Twitter and Facebook posts.
  • Established a routine for scheduling social media daily.
  • Trained staff in sharing wire content on website.
  • Created a style guide for consistent, professional posts.
  • Created an analytics report for future reference.
  • Watched Twitter impressions move from 223 to 2,300 during the week.
  • Created a list of social media resources for the long term.
  • Increased total weekly reach by 10 percent during the first week.
  • Increased number of like responses on Facebook by 50 percent.

Eldon Advertiser

Student: Claire Rounkles
Publisher: Trevor Vernon
Parent company: Vernon Publishing
Paid circulation: 4,825
Publication day: Thursday

Goal

Develop an organized system for producing and sharing social media; create a mindset that emphasizes breaking news; expand reader engagement.

Contributions and results

  • Created a weekly social media schedule on Hootsuite for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
  • Developed a posting routine.
  • Trained staff in the scheduling process.
  • Created models for social posts and trained staff.
  • Monitored social platforms and provided feedback.
  • Changed mindset from weekly to daily mentality.
  • Saw 100 percent improvement in number of likes, comments and engagements.

Houston Herald

Student: Marlee Baldridge
Publisher, owner: Brad Gentry
Editor: Jeff McNiell
Paid circulation: 4,075
Publication day: Thursday

Goal

Find the best tools and strategies for producing multimedia storytelling; adopt a digital newsroom mindset; sharpen techniques to deliver high-quality content. 

Contributions and results

  • Developed a Google Drive package including material on using content management system, social media strategies and implementation of drones.
  • Developed a primer on shooting and editing video.
  • Installed three video-editing applications on mobile devices.
  • Trained four staff members on the use of Splice, a mobile video-editing app.
  • Trained staff in strategic, effective use of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook tools.
  • Revitalized the newspaper’s YouTube presence.

Perryville Republic-Monitor

Student: Gary Garrison
Publisher: Beth Durreman
Paid circulation: 3,600
Publication days: Tuesday and Thursday

Goal

Expand audience reach and engagement in order to successfully monetize digital content.

Contributions and results

  • Developed a social media schedule using Hootsuite.
  • Built and shared a tutorial about using Hootsuite.
  • Trained the newsroom group about strategic sharing, i.e., sending stories to sources to urge re-sharing on other social media sites, thus expanding reach.
  • Put together a focus group of community business and civic leaders to determine what they would like to see in digital content from the newspaper.
  • Taught the staff how to develop business partnerships using social media.
  • Created a Google analytics report to be sent by email to the newsroom leaders weekly.
  • Facebook reach and engagement saw a 62 percent increase in January over December.  

Washington Missourian

Student: Travis Meier
Publisher: Bill Miller
Parent company: Missourian Publishing Company
Paid circulation: 11,966
Publication days: Wednesday and Friday (weekend edition)

Goal

Reignite efforts to produce quick, efficient, superior multimedia.

Contributions and results

  • Developed an analytics report to explain the logic behind placing more emphasis on video.
  • Outlined a three-pronged video approach: 1) Continue using YouTube embeds on the website, 2) Start embedding video within written stories as a supplementary media, 3) Take advantage of teasing and-or native videos for social media.
  • Spent time one-on-one with reporters and others modeling video shooting and editing, followed by practice and publication.
  • Planned and held a half-day training session on video production, including a staffwide exercise shooting iPhone videos to upload into a shareable folder.

Related stories

Poynter.org is featuring a series of stories featuring the students and papers involved with the Potter Digital Ambassadors program.

These college students taught digital skills to journalists in rural Missouri

A few years ago, Ethan Colbert got the chance to figure out just what he wanted to do with his career as a journalist. Colbert, then an undergrad at the University of Missouri, Columbia's Missouri School of Journalism, worked with a program that sent him to a small town about an hour west of St. Louis for a week. He left wanting to work at a local weekly, like Washington’s Missourian.

Read the full story here

How these tiny Missouri newsrooms learned to be smarter about social media

For the last two years at an annual conference, publishers and editors of Missouri newspapers got a few extra hours to sit with a journalism student and learn a new skill. 

Read the full story here

Want your newsroom to transform faster? Bring some college students in for a week

In the third part of this series, you’ll see how two students in the Potter Digital Ambassador program worked with those newsrooms, often one-on-one, to show that adding video and being part of the conversation online helps that work have more impact.

Read the full story here

Jeanne Abbott  
 
Guest blogger



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