PUTTING FACEBOOK TO WORK
Facebook group functions ideal for news production
The Wood Word’s Facebook editing 5-step workflow
Lindsey Wotanis, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of communication arts and director of the broadcast journalism program at Marywood University. She serves as faculty adviser to The Wood Word, the campus’s award-winning student-run newspaper. She also advises the campus chapter of the Society for Collegiate Journalists, for which she also serves as a representative on the National Council. She presented a session on using Facebook groups for news production at the College Media Association’s spring 2013 convention.
|Exploring the social media site as a collaborative tool
By Lindsey Wotanis, Ph.D.
Facebook. It’s a social phenomenon and even an obsession for some, particularly among young people. An estimated 48 percent of adults between 18 and 34 check Facebook when they wake up, with 28 percent doing so before even getting out of bed, according to Facebook Statistics, Stats & Facts For 2011 | Digital Buzz Blog.
In 2011, the Pew Internet and American Life project reported that 86 percent of undergraduates were using social networks. In classrooms and dorm rooms across the country, students are updating statuses, “liking” photos, and accepting invitations to the next Friday night party.And, almost as soon as Facebook started gaining popularity, researchers began studying the impact its use among undergraduates would have on things like academic performance.
Studies like this one at The Ohio State University report that students who use Facebook tend to have lower GPAs and spend less time studying.
But it’s not all bad news. After all, at least we know where students’ attentions are. They’re on Facebook, and as they say, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
Student media advisers across the country are beginning to embrace Facebook and are finding ways to use it to increase efficiency, improve communication and enhance writing skills at campus news organizations.
Groups allow for sharing content, story ideas
Facebook has several unique attributes that make it an ideal platform for news production. Facebook groups, which can be set up as private, secret, and by-invitation-only platforms, serve as virtual office spaces for reporters and editors. The groups allow students to communicate through status updates and comments. They can also serve as a platform for students to post and edit content.
John Schmeltzer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Oklahoma, began using Facebook groups in his Multimedia Newsgathering course in 2011. Schmeltzer’s students routinely share their stories, produced for his class, with the independent campus daily. In order to streamline the process, Schmeltzer created a semi-private Facebook group that both his students and the newspaper editors would have access to.
Having the stories on Facebook has not only streamlined the sharing process, but also has made it easier for Schmeltzer to give feedback on the work before the final deadlines.
“I’ll look at a story and tell a student, ‘You can do better with this,” said Schmeltzer.
Students can also share and develop story ideas via groups. At The Wood Word, Marywood University’s student-run monthly newspaper, section editors post their content budgets after each editorial meeting. Budgets include story ideas as well as photography, graphics and multimedia requests. The staff even set up a separate group for staff writers, where they post stories available for the taking.
Communication becomes efficient, transparent
Jacob Lowary, coordinator of Student Affairs Publications and Marketing and adviser to The All State and The Monocle Yearbook at Austin Peay State University, created a Facebook group as a way to provide feedback on story ideas to his students. Initially, he planned to include alumni in the group as a way to connect current students to former students working in the industry.
“What it turned into was this mother student publications page, minus the alumni piece, where I send out information. I publish the critique there every week, [and] I put out things about awards, internships and jobs,” said Lowary.
To enhance communication and reduce workflow challenges, editors at The Wood Word transitioned their entire pre-publishing workflow to Facebook in 2011. Because Marywood is a small, liberal arts campus, the newspaper staff does not have a dedicated space to utilize as a newsroom. Facebook has become their virtual newsroom.
“I’d say we’re more unified because we’re able to have discussions on Facebook […] You don’t have to be always around each other all of the time,” said Vikki Hartt, co-opinion editor at The Wood Word.
In addition to individual section groups, the students at The Wood Word also have a main group for all staff members solely for communication. Like Lowary, they reported that communicating on Facebook was more efficient than exchanging emails. Sarah Cruz, news editor, said that relying on email for communication is difficult because “eventually [emails] get lost; but, with Facebook, everything is right there and you can’t ignore notifications.”
Molly Boylan, editor-in-chief at The Wood Word, said that using Facebook has strengthened communication at the paper.
“Students are always on Facebook. They’re not going to turn to their email as fast as their Facebook,” said Boylan.
Facebook also allows communication between the staff to be transparent. Anyone who is a member of a given group is privy to the discussion happening in the comments, keeping everyone in the loop in a way that’s impossible with email. What’s more, the “seen” function lets staffers know when others have viewed their posts or messages, which adds a layer of accountability to the workflow.
Lowary and Boylan both said the “seen” function helps them keep tabs on what’s going on among their respective staffs. Lowary said he was uncertain students were reading his critiques when he sent them via email. Facebook’s “seen” function holds students accountable; he knows who is looking at the critiques and who is not.
“There is no pretending that you haven’t seen [a post],” said Boylan. “As editor-in-chief, I know when someone has seen what I’ve posted, [or] if I’ve commented on something and they are completely ignoring me.”
But, what about those times when you don’t want everyone in the loop? Facebook’s messaging function allows staff members to communicate privately. Beyond the privacy, messaging is as instantaneous as commenting; students will receive immediate notifications when a new message is available. And, it can be used similarly to an instant messenger, from the days of AOL’s instant messenger. This can be advantageous when editing work on Facebook.
“You can be looking at the article and messaging [its author] at the same time,” said Kelly Rickert, co-opinion editor at The Wood Word.
Editing process becomes more social
All of these functions make Facebook an ideal platform for editing textual content in ways that improve student writing.
Nancy Sommers’ article, “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers,” published in College Composition and Communication in 1980, said experienced writers tend to approach editing from a more holistic point of view, concentrating on such big picture elements as form, balance, rhythm and communication. Inexperienced student writers, on the other hand, tend to concentrate on words rather than a holistic text.
Newspaper advisers can help students move from a fixation on commas and grammatical errors to a focus on news value, accuracy and clarity—in sum, a more holistic, experienced approach to the editing process. Facebook allows for editors to be able to address both sentence-level and holistic writing problems.
For instance, document functions allow editors to manage the sentence-level grammar and AP Style problems, while the comment function allows student editors and writers to have conversations on more holistic problems with the writing.
And perhaps the best part? Teachers and advisers can witness the process as it is happening. Each time a member of a group makes an edit to a document, Facebook notates the update and time-stamps it, so staffers are constantly aware of the last person to make edits to a story.
This transparency also aids in training new staff members. Freshman assistant news editor Brigid Edmunds, who joined the staff in just her second semester, said Facebook helped her learn the workflow and expectations for communication among the staff. For example, as soon as Edmunds was added to her respective news group, she could see all previous posts, comments and content.
“Every time anything happened in my section, I knew about every single thing that was going on. Even if it wasn’t my article [being edited], I would still receive a notification. So, in that way, it trained me to get into the ways that editors were doing things. It helped me to feel more a part of the team because someone didn’t have to sit me down and show me everything,” said Edmunds.
The social nature of Facebook also helps new staff members to quickly feel like part of a team. Students tag one another when they need help, want another staffer to edit an article or are ready to have a story posted to the web. Every time a new post is added or a new tag applied, students receive notifications. Autumn Granza, The Wood Word’s community editor, said that the notifications allow staff members to see feedback, review work-in-progress, and feel like part of a team.
“Let’s face it. Everyone loves getting tons of notifications,” she added.
Making the transition to a Facebook editing platform
News organizations thinking about utilizing Facebook for news production should start small and beta-test the process for a few months.
“You have to have a really good idea for what you want to use it for and have thought it through,” said Schmeltzer. “Do you want to keep it private or semi-private? There are all kinds of problems with public groups, not least of which is libel. Have a good idea of why you’re doing it, have a plan of how you’re going to use it, and stick to it.”
A few words of caution: Even though organizations can set groups to be private and secret, any content put online is just that—online. Students should be trained about the responsibilities of uploading content to the web.
“It’s a real way to tell students ‘you’re publishing.’ As soon as you push that button, you’re publishing,” said Schmeltzer.
Ann Williams, co-faculty adviser for The Wood Word, cautioned those adopting Facebook as an editing platform to be selective about who is invited to participate in groups.
“The key to getting the scoop is keeping information private. You can’t have everybody and their brother in the group and not expect information to leak or be compromised in some way,” said Williams.
In addition to compromising timely information, publishing on the web creates more opportunities for errors to slip through the cracks. Boylan said a key component to making the Facebook platform work is trusting the members of the groups.
“You don’t want articles to get out before they are ready to be out,” added Boylan.
Furthermore, Lowary cautioned that newsrooms should establish social media policies, and students should be trained to treat the Facebook groups like they would the physical newsroom. Advisers and student leaders should not tolerate inappropriate posting, unnecessarily harsh feedback, or any other inappropriate behaviors.
“I would set very clear restrictions on what you allow to be posted and educate the students on the purpose of why the group exists and what it is to be used for,” said Lowary. “Even though we are all staff members and one big happy family, that doesn’t mean something you find funny will be funny to someone else.”
At The Wood Word, staffers have become so accustomed to communicating on Facebook that they police one another; if someone makes an inappropriate post or comment, they discuss it openly and remind one another about professional courtesy.
Despite these few notes of caution, there are many advantages to making the transition. With proper planning, moving your newsroom to a virtual space can be fairly easy to do, especially for your students.
Take if from a freshman: “If you are Facebook savvy, it’s really easy to catch onto it quickly,” said Edmunds.