I woke up New Year’s Day feeling pretty excited about the year ahead. After 14 years as a print reporter in New Mexico, I resigned in December to have time to complete my master’s in digital journalism and design at the University of South Florida. It’s a big change after so many years as a reporter, but I felt it was time. I will also have the chance to continue teaching journalism at the University of New Mexico, which I have done part time for about two years.

My new roles also mean I’ll have more time to focus on learning and teaching the newest tools journalists and journalism students use to report, analyze and publish the news.

While I believe basic journalism skills are as important as ever, there is an increasing focus on the tools that reporters need to know to break news, engage readers and produce quality reporting.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen journalism become as much about tools as it is about reporting and writing and editing. Journalism is about software, hardware and online presence as much as it is about shoe leather, traditional paper notebooks and physical newsrooms.

I started this blog to talk about the tools and techniques I used recently in my reporting and how I can teach those same skills — and more — in my classes. The tools I write about this week might soon be as obsolete as typewriters, but I’m going to list, in no particular order, the things I’ve found most helpful so far. I hope you will share yours as well, and I hope to write new posts about what I learn as the year goes on.

Twitter for journalism students

Twitter is great for catching up on all the latest fashion. And football. And food. But forget all that. Twitter is incredibly powerful for news. Reporters use it to find sources, get story ideas, educate themselves and see what other writers are doing. Newspapers use it to promote upcoming stories, to cover breaking news and to interact with readers. But why should journalism students use it? What can they learn from putting 140 characters out into the world?

I think students can learn so much that I’m going to argue Twitter is one of the most important tools for student reporters to learn. Here’s why.

Twitter, especially when used to cover an event as it is happening, teaches students how to write on deadline. And that skill is one of the top things editors look for in a reporter. Updating readers quickly with information is critical in situations like wildfires, political debates and all kinds of breaking news.

Beyond that, though, Twitter (and live tweeting exercises you can teach in your class) teaches students how to think on deadline, and to focus on the most important parts of a story first. For students who are just learning how to outline a lede, a nut graf and some transitions, this can prove tough, but I believe that skill is as important as writing for print.

Indeed, when using Twitter for breaking news, reporters immediately must sift through and report the most important information. Who is being evacuated? Where can they find shelter? How many homes have burned, and which ones? (And where is the interactive map of those homes?) Students who can pick out the most newsworthy events, quickly summarize them and publish them will set themselves apart.

Using Twitter to cover an event live can help students in another way, and I think it’s one that’s often overlooked.

When an event is over and reporters then start to look through their notes, a glance at what they’ve tweeted should give them a good start, if they were on track in tweeting about the most interesting and important parts of what they covered. I think having that outline of key information helps student reporters as they head back to this newsroom with a ream of notes from the regent’s meeting.

Twitter, and live tweeting in particular, is also a lesson in keeping up. In having charged batteries. And snacks. Those of us who have live blogged an all-night legislative debate, for example, can appreciate the work that goes into following along and making sense of a slew of complicated amendments at 2 a.m.

More on how you can teach your students to live tweet here, and a shout out to @herbertlowe, a Marquette University professor who has mastered Twitter in education.

As an educator, you can also use hashtags for your class as a way of highlighting stories and information you think your students should see. I’ve used it to promote student work, and I’ve seen others hand out assignments on Twitter as well.

Screen Cast O Matic (http://screencast-o-matic.com/)

I was lucky to attend Poynter’s Teachapalooza 2012. In short, it was a world of geeky goodies for journalism nerds. (I think that was even the name of one of the panel names.) One of the tools I’ve used the most since learning about it at the conference is Screen Cast O Matic. It’s a program that allows you to make a video of whatever is on your screen. You can add just your voice, or you can include your tired teacher face as well. I found this extremely helpful for short instructions that I wanted students to view outside of class. I know other instructors have used it for tutorials to which students can refer after a lecture on how to use Photoshop, for example. I plan to try to use it this year to send oral feedback to students on their writing.

I haven’t seen students use it yet, but I think it’s got a lot of potential uses in the newsroom, including for tutorials for new reporters on how to use complicated programs or software. Here is one early example I did, on how students can generate follow up story ideas.


Storify (@storify)

Storify is an easy story curation tool and teaches students to identify and cull information from social media. Large newspapers often use Storify as a digest of reaction to a big event, or of continuing coverage of a big topic.

I haven’t used Storify as much as I could as I sometimes found it running slow and buggy, especially during busy news times. The day the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act, I scurried to create a Storify for the newspaper I was with. I gave up in frustration about how slow it was, but I will say that once I tweeted my gripe, the company tweeted back to see if I was still on deadline and asked what it could do to help.

But it’s got great potential and some of my students really like it. I also like to read the Storifies that big papers do of big events, to see what information they pulled in — and what they left out.

Here is one example of how I used Storify to show students how to think critically about news coverage.

[View the story “Lessons in ethics + critical thinking from #sandy” on Storify]

IAnnotate App

In my work as a writing coach, I critique five student newspapers a week. At first I did this by hand. As in, I used a red ink pen, the way my mentors and editors did back in the day.

I now use IAnnotate, a nifty PDF reader and editor app for the Ipad. (Yes, it has a “red pen.”) Once I download a PDF of the newspaper, I can “write” on the document as I please, and that includes the (sort of) old fashioned copy editing symbols students should get to know. I then use an Ipad to project the papers each week during my critiques.  I also can save my marked versions to Dropbox if students want to access them after class.

I haven’t seen students use this much in journalism, but it would be great for marking up large PDF documents to be used in reporting.

As I get to know those tools, there are so many more I plan to check out in 2013. I’ve been wanting to participate in the #satchat events, a live Twitter chat with other educators, and #wjchat, a chat for web journalists. I also need to focus more on Google Apps for Education. And the list goes on. I’m not into New Year’s resolutions, but learning more tools is high on my list.

In the meantime, I’m planning a two-day journalism bootcamp for local students in January. I hope to be able to post feedback and thoughts on what worked and what didn’t for anyone else planning something similar next year. Send me your tips!

See you in 2013.