My seniors

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Most of my senior journalism students right after our final newscast.

I am wrapping up my fourth year in the classroom. That makes me a senior of sorts. I have spent four years learning about Loyola, teaching, journalism, social media and academia. But one lesson stands out above the rest. I am learning how to connect with young adults.

When I started at Loyola I served as academic advisor to a small group of students, all freshmen. We learned the ins and outs of class registration together. Now I advise more than 50 students, but it’s the ones I started with that have made the biggest impact on me. Some have moved on to other majors, or transferred from Loyola. A handful left college completely. But most are graduating in four years, due to a combination of their hard work and my advice about classes and careers.

Freshmen begin college with so much uncertainty– will I take the right classes? Will I make friends? Will I make the right choices about my life? For twelve years, someone has told them what classes to take, where to go, and in many cases how to think. It’s been amazing to see those freshmen blossom into seniors who can think on their own and are on the precipice of a new chapter in their lives.

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Just one of the faces I will miss on campus this fall.

For four years, I have seen these kids succeed and fail. They have stopped by my office for long chats about their lives. They have counseled me during my challenges on campus. Some have even babysat my kids. I am going to miss seeing them on campus in the fall.

I have attended three graduations as a faculty member, but next Saturday will be special. I am excited to see my seniors walk across the stage. But more importantly, I can’t wait to see what they do after they leave college and head out into the great world.


Summer goals

As the semester comes to a close, I am thinking about things I want to think about this summer. Here is a list, in no particular order.

#1: One of my new areas of focus at work is social media, which ties neatly into my grad school class this semester, participatory journalism. I teach storytelling on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. But I worry that students leave these lessons in the classroom when they work for the campus newspaper or as a newsroom intern. Often they complete work for an assignment but don’t brainstorm ways to use those skills on the job.

Today RTDNA published this article about how newsrooms can better use Instagram.

Author Steve Safran urges newsrooms to use Instagram to show followers that they are serious about the news. Although what works in print or on TV won’t translate neatly to Instagram, the fact is that the platform uses the same key concepts- compelling images and copy. And it’s free. The Loyola Maroon is on Instagram, but much of the content is self-promotional and not focused on the stories the staff tells each week in print and online. I will spend some time this summer searching for good examples of other student media outlets that are using Instagram well. I’ve found a few so far, including our neighbor, Tulane University’s Hullabaloo.

#2: Podcasting

My department is offering our first podcasting in the fall and I feel like it’s the perfect medium for a semester-long project. And podcasting is one of the topics on the schedule at Poynter Institute’s Teachapalooza this summer, which I am lucky enough to be attending. The medium is such a unique way to tell a story, which is what journalism is all about. Pew reports that more people are listening to podcasts, although that amounts to a small amount of people who listen to audio sources. I think it would be a fun thing to play with and a good performance tool for students who perhaps may not be confident about being on camera.

#3: Augmented reality: This week Snapchat introduced “World Lenses” that allow users to “virtual objects in the real world.” It’s cute and fun to add rainbows to everything, but I don’t know yet what the applications are for journalists. I will be attending the Missouri School of Journalism grad school on campus seminar this fall and the topic is “Redefining Reality: Determining what’s real in the age of AR/VR, alternative facts and fake news.” It should be a good place to discuss the implications of AR for journalists.

What else should I be pondering this summer? Let me know what you think the next big thing is in journalism!

My teaching philosophies

A gift from a former student and a good mantra for any professor.

I have taught more than 26 college courses, and in that time I’ve come in contact with hundreds of college students. Even though I have no formal educational training, I’ve learned a few things and refined my approach in the classroom. Here is a look at some of my philosophies when it comes to teaching, learning and connecting with students.

Teach storytelling, not technology.
The journalism industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. Yet storytelling is still key. I strive to teach students how to tell a story, no matter the platform. I found that many students have a tough time transitioning from the essays they’re forced to write in high school to basic news stories, so I spend lots of time on storyboarding, organizing and editing before students even turn in assignments for a grade.

Grade with learning in mind.
If you’ve ever worked in a TV newsroom, you’ve probably had the wonderful experience of a consultant or vice president who comes to town, watches a few of your newscasts, and rips them to shreds. Usually their advice is like Monday morning quarterbacking– too late to avoid the loss and totally unhelpful to you. I never enjoyed it. And I found that students reacted the same way when I critiqued their work. So now I give them chances to take the feedback I give them and turn it into a success.

In my beginning journalism course, for example, I give in-person feedback for each assignment’s first draft. If a student misses class, they miss valuable pointers that can improve their grade immediately. In my digital communications class we do a series of assignments that increase in point value. They’re working on the same skill, but they get better each time with feedback and repetition. As the students’ ability to listen to constructive criticism improves, so does their work.

Introduce a wide variety of platforms and skills.
Newsrooms these days use many tools to tell stories. I expect my students to know some, but not all, of these tools and to be able to choose the right one for their story. This means that I need to stay on top of industry trends and constantly update my syllabus. And it could mean getting outside of my comfort zone, like when I started using and teaching Snapchat and Instagram. I want my students to consider all platforms and be able to match the message to the right tool, so I have to be willing to learn, too.

Open the classroom door.
I rely heavily on professional journalists to underscore the lessons I teach in my classroom. I send my students into newsrooms to observe producers and into the field to get up close and personal with reporters and photogs. I can lecture all day about finding sources or writing teases, but until you see someone do it on deadline, in person, the lesson doesn’t seem real.

Use your career and experience in meaningful ways.
I had a few professors who had considerable newsroom experience and they taught by repeating war stories from their time in the field. While many of those stories are interesting, I don’t remember learning much that helped me build my skills.

But some of my professors layered their experience with practical lessons. I learned producing from Lynda Kraxberger, and many of her classes used specific examples from her time in a control booth. She showed us a newscast she produced with a theme of hot weather and explained how she wove that topic throughout the show. Years later I drew upon that example when I designed a newscast for Veterans Day. That’s the sort of lesson I hope my students will take with them into their careers.

Students should get the chance to be in charge.
Students spend years following the rules in school. But there are no hard and fast rules in a newsroom. That’s part of developing critical thinkers. So I work to create situations where my students direct each other, whether that’s in a team project or for a newscast. I see my students grow when they give and get peer feedback. I believe learning comes from doing– and by communicating with others.

Remind students of their growth.
Students learn so much over just a semester, but it can be hard for them to see that growth. I team-taught with a professor who spent the last session of each course going over “what we learned.” Now I use that same method in all of my classes. It’s an excellent way to review concepts and skills, but it also shows students how far they’ve come in 16 weeks. (It also has the benefit of refreshing their memory before they evaluate the course.)

Give the student the benefit of the doubt.
I was shocked my first semester when students turned in things late– or not at all– and had flimsy excuses for all of it. Many of them expected me to give them third and fourth chances. One student turned in just one of 12 assignments and disappeared from class, then emailed me on the last day of class to ask how she could “bring up her grade.” I was unprepared to handle those attitudes and probably came off as a hard ass in the process.

But I’ve discovered that a little empathy goes a long way. As a producer, I was used to turning a no into a yes. I worked with many old school directors and engineers who didn’t like my new ideas. So I used humor and kindness to change their minds. And as I reflected on those relationships, I realized that I needed to change my attitude towards my students. Not to become a softie, but to make inroads while there was still time to shape their grades and attitudes.

Now I attack the problem on several fronts. Because I know students like personalized feedback, I communicate early and often with students if they miss class or assignments to find out what’s going on in their lives. I include helpful tips on my syllabi from students who have already taken the course. I tell students on the first day that I can help them in September, but not in December. I show examples of projects that students in previous classes have submitted to give them an idea of the work that is expected.

I don’t always help the students avoid major problems, but I know that I have made a significant difference for many who would have otherwise left the major or college altogether.

Rubrics rule.
I have yet to have a student argue a grade with me, and that’s because I use a detailed rubric on nearly every assignment. Rubrics help me set learning goals for each task and give students a window into my reasoning. I believe that a rubric is a contract between a teacher and a student and increase transparency between the two parties.

Stay connected to the newsroom and the industry.
A key part of my continuing education is returning to the newsroom. I have the benefit of knowing the major players and the systems but I don’t have a daily deadline. The work keeps my skills sharp and exposes me to current trends. Plus it’s fun to be back in a control room! I use that energy to motivate students and get them excited about journalism.

Loyola Student News Service: A successful partnership with The Times-Picayune|

I am a proud graduate of the University of Missouri’s school of journalism, and so I was schooled in the Missouri Method, which means that I learned by doing. Students work for a professional news outlet as undergrads. I anchored, reported, shot and edited, did live shots and produced for KOMU, the NBC affiliate in Columbia, Missouri. It was fun and a lot of hard work. Students also work for the Columbia Missourian, a newspaper which publishes five days a week, and KBIA, an NPR affiliate. But Mizzou is the only school in the nation which owns professional newsrooms.

Decades ago, Loyola started a TV and radio station, both with the call letters WWL. A priest dubbed the radio station “World Wide Loyola.” The school had a very successful journalism program for years, and many students and graduates worked for both outlets. Loyola sold both stations in 1989 for more than $120 million.

When I got to Loyola in 2013, we did not have a formal relationship with any news outlet in town. Our students would individually pitch their work to small newspapers, but there was no real partnership between the School of Mass Comm and any media organization. Loyola does have a successful campus newspaper, The Maroon, but it does not have a large audience.

I was teaching basic and advanced journalism classes with Laura Jayne, a former editor at the Times-Picayune. We wanted our students to have real world experience, and so we used Laura’s connections at the Times-Pic to begin the Loyola Student News Service in the fall of 2014. All stories are published on, with many ending up in the paper’s print edition.

The project is a win-win for both parties. Students gain story assignments, access to to more and new communities, professional editorial feedback, a wider audience and community feedback, and clips for their portfolio. The Times-Pic gets coverage of events they might not otherwise get to, unique projects and more page views.

We began with print stories, and eventually branched into videos. Our bread and butter is “community news” like school events or small festivals. There might not be a Times-Pic reporter who wants to cover the tenth anniversary of the Gretna observatory, but I have a student who needs a story for his Friday class deadline.

We started with students in our advanced journalism course. The next semester we included students in the feature writing class, who produced several stories about prom like finding a dress on a budget and the growing trend of “promposals.” It was a great subject because most of our students are not that far removed from their own prom and got really excited about the topic.

In the spring of 2015 our capstone journalism students launched the “My Katrina” project. It was the tenth anniversary of the storm and everyone in New Orleans has a Katrina story- where they evacuated to, what they took, what they lost, how they found loved ones. The project required our students to reach beyond their comfort zone to find new voices, and to use new skills like portrait photography and longer-form writing. The day we posted the first story it was the most-read story on Analytics showed that each story garnered around 7,000 views. You can’t get that kind of exposure from a college newspaper website.

The LSNS has helped our students learn in so many different ways. We’ve seen students grow in how they find stories and sources, and bloom into better writers. They  see the data and know that their work is being read by thousands of people. They have a more robust portfolio. Their news judgement improves. Their confidence as a journalist grows.

Since 2014 we’ve expanded the LSNS into more of our mass comm courses. Times-Pic photographers take photos at a local prom and my TV production students create short videos that feature their “10 favorite looks.” More than a dozen of our students hosted the live stream of more than 20 Mardi Gras parades, which were seen by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Laura’s advanced journalism students produced photo galleries of local festivals. My digital communication students are working on short videos for the Times-Pic’s Facebook page. The newsroom is always looking for more content and we’re happy to have a place for our students to publish their work.

If you’re looking to partner with a local newsroom, we have some advice. The first thing to remember is that the students are contributors, NOT interns. They are gaining experience instead of a paycheck, but their job is to create content, just like any other reporter. You need a “hinge” between the two organizations. In our case it’s Laura, who knows the players in the newsroom and on campus. She is also the point person who uses the content management system to upload content. And you need to innovate with the times. The LSNS started with web stories and now we’re creating social media content because that’s where the Times-Pic audience is moving.

Our students are learning about journalism trends and getting their hands dirty at the same time. While it’s not the Missouri Method, it’s still a great way for our students to get a great journalism education.

Adding Grad School To My Life: Time Management Solutions

This book has changed how I view and spend my time.

In February I read a book that has changed how I view my life, or, more specifically, how I view my time. Author Laura Vanderkam has done some fascinating research on time management. In her latest book, “I Know How She Does It,” she encourages people to view their life as a mosaic– 168 hours per week, instead of 24 hours at a time. If we take this long view, we can see both the “stressful and the sweet moments.” Her point is that “the time is there to have what matters.”

So what matters to you? If you balance your life to make room for the things you enjoy, you will have a life worth living. Vanderkam opens her book with a sign she spotted while at a strawberry farm.

“‘Remember the berry season is short. This box holds approximately 10 lbs level full, 15 lbs heaping full.’ It is a metaphor for life, perhaps, in that everything is a metaphor for life. The berry season is short. So how full, exactly, so I intend to fill the box? Or, if we slice away the metaphor, we could just ask this: what does the good life look like for me?”

It’s up to us to make our own definition of “the good life.” Too often, when someone asks how we are, we are quick to answer, “Busy.” But we control our lives. We decide how to spend our time, even if we work 40+ hours a week. We are as busy as we want to be. And life is full of seasons.

I connected with so many ideas and concepts in this book that I ended up highlighting many pages.

For example, I am particularly busy during the two weeks each semester that I advise students. But I also enjoy a week off for spring break. (Actually, six work days.) So if I view my life just as those two stressful advising weeks, I would be miserable. However, that’s not the full picture of my work schedule. The book is full of strategies to help achieve more flexibility at work and home– and ways to observe your life to be more grateful.

Vanderkam writes, “This book is about… enjoying and make the most of your time, by which I mean investing as much as you wish in everything that matters: work, family, community, leisure. It is about celebrating abundance rather than lamenting choices or claiming that no one can have it all.”

Reading Vanderkam’s research has helped me refine my time management systems. I have tried to incorporate many of her suggestions into my life. For example, she suggests doing a 4 p.m. “triage” before leaving the office. Revisit your to-do list a hour before you leave the office, and decide what’s urgent and what can wait. Having a hard stop time at work has helped me become more efficient and to treat my personal life with the same urgency as work.

In another strategy, Vanderkam says sometimes you need to plan to have fun. You need to research what events are going on during the upcoming weekend, or make dinner reservations for Saturday night. I found that if I had free time but didn’t have anything planned, I wasted that time on social media. Now I am curating a list of books I want to read and using my library’s online request service to make sure I always have something to read. It sounds simple, but it does require a bit of planning to take full advantage of the little free time I get.

I am also much more aware of the time I am spending online. Do I want to scroll through Facebook for 20 minutes or should I spend my time writing a great lecture? Do I really need to spend 30 minutes answering emails? Should I pick up the phone and call a friend and have an actual conversation instead of texting? If I am actively logging my time, I am more likely to stop working on a task after 30 minutes than to tell myself– just finish one more thing, and then realize I have spent an hour on the work that should have only taken 20 minutes.

I have been working on my Master’s degree for 4 semesters. I chose to complete an online program in order to fit it into my already pretty full life. One thing that has helped me is that I was already balancing my teaching job with freelance work, using time I wasn’t in the classroom to work for my old TV station. So I swapped that freelance work for grad school tasks. But I still have to be very exact with my time management to make it all work. I work ahead as much as possible. I advantage of pockets of time at the office to complete assignments or readings. I do research during my daughter’s ballet class. We often do homework together in the evenings. I choose to view grad school as a choice. That can be hard to remember when I have a 25 page paper due. But it’s something I’m doing for myself and my career.

I teach four classes each semester, and often I am teaching a course that’s new to me, which means developing a new syllabus, schedule, assignments and lectures. To use academic lingo, that’s a “new prep” for each class period. And of course I want my students to know about the latest trends and technology. So I do push myself to develop the best lectures and courses. But if I’m using my time strategically, I can do the work I love, enjoy it, AND make space in my life for other pursuits.

If you’re interested in learning more about Vanderkam’s theories and strategies, you can read her blog at

Cutting the cord and saving big $$

I wrote a paper about my family’s experience with streaming TV several weeks ago. This blog post expands on our experiment.

In December of 2016, my family cut the cord. And we’re not alone. More Americans are dropping cable to lower their entertainment costs. In 2016, the Leichtman Research Group, Inc. reported that the number of people who pay for traditional cable TV has declined every year since 2012.

In some cases, consumers are “cord nevers”- people who bypass traditional cable for streaming services. Many of my college students fall into this category. In 2015, Forrester surveyed 32,000 U.S. adults and found that 76 percent subscribed to cable, but of the 24 percent that did not, 18 percent never had cable to begin with. In the same report, Forrester predicted that by 2025, 50 percent of adults under 32 years old would not pay for cable subscriptions.

But my husband and I are not young adults. And we both made careers working for local TV and cable outlets. Cutting the cord would be a big step. However, we have two little girls who mostly watch Netflix and YouTube videos. So we wondered– could we survive with only streaming services and apps for home entertainment?

Our Cox cable bill was about $140 each month for a middle-tier cable package, plus rental fees for three DVRs. Cox has a land-line cable monopoly in Orleans Parish, so we couldn’t bargain against another cable providers to leverage a lower bill. So we began researching streaming subscriptions.

When we surveyed our family’s viewing habits, we realized we watched live sports, local news, and every Disney channel offered. We subscribed to HBO but didn’t watch a lot of the channel, except for Game of Thrones. We also subscribe to Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. When we researched streaming services we knew we needed Walt Disney Company content, which owns ESPN and the Disney lineup.

We decided to test two streaming services. We paid $35 a month for Sony’s PlayStation Vue service, which gave us 60 channels to watch through Apple TV. The package gave us most of the key channels we wanted, as well as a handy “watchlist” feature. We can “tag” a show and then watch it later, similar to a DVR.

We also signed up for AT&T’s DirecTV Now package, paying $35 a month for 100 channels for an introductory offer, and a free Apple TV if we signed up for three months. The quality of the service is not as dependable as PlayStation Vue. We have had multiple buffering problems during the past two months. The guide is difficult to access and there are very few descriptions of the programming. And there is no “watchlist” option.

When we called to cancel our cable subscription, Cox gave us a basic package of about 20 channels and a cable box for free because they want to keep their subscriber base intact. We now pay $3 for one extra box. I like this option because I was worried about access to local news during severe weather. Our Cox bill dropped to $70 for internet service and one cable box.

After nearly four months of using the services, I find that I rarely watch live TV. Instead, I use Netflix or Hulu via the Apple TV. My girls watch some live streaming shows on Disney Junior or PBS, but they primarily stream episodes from the apps. My husband probably watches the most live steaming TV– mainly sporting events.

For me, the biggest drawbacks of using a streaming TV service come down to functionality. I do miss the ability to pause or rewind live TV. Anyone with kids will know the frustration of having a child wander into the living room and interrupt you at a pivotal moment in a TV show or movie. With a streaming service you can’t pause the action. We also can’t rewind the show if we miss something being said. I also miss the ability to record seasonal programming, like holiday specials that my girls like to watch repeatedly.

After three months of using both services, we chose to stick with DirecTVNow. In a nice customer service surprise, the company gave us a free year of HBO. But I still rarely watch live TV at home. I will turn on the Today show or local news, but that’s about it.

This experiment has shown me that live TV is something I don’t really incorporate into my life, so why should I pay for it? And it turns out, other consumers feel the same way. SNL Kagen forecasts that traditional TV subscriptions will fall by 1.5 percent each year over the next decade. Overall, the entertainment industry is offering more ways for you to watch content, with more options to pay for it. And all of that competition means lower prices for consumers.

Guess who’s coming to class?

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I love bringing guests into my classroom. I’ve noticed that I can say something over and over and it falls on deaf ears, but if students hear a guest say it they will finally start to listen. So here are my top tips for maximizing guest speakers in your classes.

1. Admit you’re not the expert.

I know that I don’t know everything about my industry, so an outside perspective helps both me and my students dive deeper into a topic. Guests are particularly important in the classes I teach department-wide, like ethics or intro to mass comm. I hosted multi-person panels for my intro class last fall to talk about journalism, PR and advertising, which helped bring a range of ideas into the room. You can have too many guests are once, but I think three or four is the sweet spot to have a lively discussion.

2. Think outside the box.

Videographers from three different TV stations give one-on-one critiques to my videography students.

A lecture or panel discussion is fine, but sometimes students need more than a talking head. I have brought in videographers from local TV stations to give one-on-one critiques of student work at the end of a semester. I bring in a local makeup expert who does work for ESPN and Fox Sports talent. I created a film fest for my digital communications students, and local journalists served as judges. The experts were able to give constructive comments in a fun venue and the winners took home Starbucks gift cards, just in time for finals all-nighters. I discovered two Happiness Engineers- yes, that’s a real job!- who work in town doing technical support for WordPress, and brought them into my class to give students free hands-on help with their web portfolios. And guests don’t have to visit in person- I use Skype if an expert lives outside of New Orleans.

3. Be transparent about your relationship with guests.

I worked with Roop Raj during Hurricane Katrina. Now he’s an anchor at Fox 2 in Detroit- but he loves coming back to New Orleans.

I’m lucky that I worked for 11 years in New Orleans before teaching, so I know folks in every newsroom in town. Sometimes our history stretches back years, but sometimes the guest is someone I never worked with but comes highly recommended by a former colleague. I always tell my students how I know the guest. This was particularly important when my husband spoke in my ethics class. One semester, I asked at least eight advertising professionals to speak and they all declined for one reason or another. Finally my husband agreed to fill the slot. He has worked in TV ad sales, as well as underwriting for NPR, for more than 15 years so he was pretty qualified to speak. We ended up having a great class discussion about his experience with an advertiser and an ethical problem they had with the NFL.

4. Not everyone should be a class guest.

The flip side of knowing a lot of media folks in town is that some of them volunteer to speak in my classes. And while I am grateful for the offer, not everyone is suited for the gig. In some rare cases I may not respect that person’s work or work ethic. Some guests have talked down to students. Some have spoken negatively about the news industry and its future. That’s not the message I want my students to hear. So if someone offers to visit campus and I’m not sure they will be a good fit, I often ask them to instead serve as a mentor to a student or to provide feedback on student work. I’ve found that for the most part, behind-the-scenes work doesn’t appeal to them so they don’t follow up with me.

5. Former students are often the best guests.

Mary Staes, a former student of mine and now a digital content producer at WWL-TV, and Kiri Walton, the Snapchat lead for|The Times-Picayune, visit my intro to mass comm class.

College students can be anxious about what happens after graduation. Recent grads make awesome guests because they have survived that transition and thrived since leaving campus. And they are much cooler than I am. They also talk more candidly about salaries and shift hours than industry veterans. And students often find them more approachable.

6. Leave time for one-on-one interaction.

B_1-l2TWIAE7GWx|The Times-Picayune photo editor Andrew Boyd gives Loyola mass comm students one-on-one advice about ethical challenges.

It’s one thing to hear someone drone on at the front of a classroom. It’s another to shake their hand and get their business card- and maybe even a selfie. I try to leave ample time at the end of each guest’s visit to give students the chance to ask questions face to face. Sometimes they want specific job advice, or just don’t want the entire class to hear their question.

Loyola digital marketing director Angie Dyer, Deveney account supervisor Katie Fauquier and Spears Group account coordinator Morgan Ballard (and former student!) visit my intro to mass comm class to discuss PR in the real world.

7. Be diverse.

44 percent of Loyola’s School of Mass Comm’s student population is a racial minority, so I work to bring in guests that reflect that diversity. It’s important to me that students hear voices besides mine. So I have built a bench of people who can present not only topical content, but also their viewpoint on that content based on their experience as a person of color or other under-represented group. This allows students to gain a unique perspective on a topic that is different from my position as a white heterosexual cisgender woman.

8. Prep your students.

This student turned a class visit from WDSU sports anchor Fletcher Mackel into a summer internship.

I get the best interaction between students and guests when I spend time preparing the students for the class visit. I will instruct them to follow the guest on social media and show examples of the guest’s work. And I remind them that many guests are looking for interns and employees, so their visit to campus should be considered a job interview for students. Unfortunately I also have to remind students that they should not use their phones or laptops during guest visits.

9. Cast a wide net for experts.

I have found guests at donut shops, on Twitter and holiday parties. I am always on the lookout for people who are doing innovative things with media. And the nice thing about living in New Orleans is that once you’ve lived here, you tend to return, even if you move away. So former colleagues who have moved on to other markets are often happy to stop by campus when they’re in town.

Before the company folded, the New Orleans bureau for Al-Jazeera America visited my advanced journalism class. I used to work with videographer Leonel Mendez and he brought along anchor Jonathan Martin.

10. Say thank you- privately and publicly.

WWNO news director Eve Troeh and Tripod podcast reporter/producer Laine Kaplan-Levenson came to campus with NPR swag for students.

I give all my guests a small token of appreciation. Sometimes it’s a Loyola can koozie or water bottle. If someone does me a big favor I get them a nice Loyola coffee tumbler or Starbucks gift card. If my schedule allows I will take my guest to lunch at the faculty dining room (fried catfish Fridays!). And I make sure to thank them on social media, usually posting a pic from their visit on Twitter or Facebook.

Not Too Old For Snapchat

32487253484_3280ebccd1_oOne of the most fun things I teach is something I was most terrified to learn about. Snapchat is the new hot platform but I’ve learned it’s not just for tweens. This week my students are creating campaigns with Snapchat and it’s been fun to see what they come up with. And media companies want to know what my students love about the app.

I started using Snapchat in the summer of 2016. The goal of my digital communications class is to tell stories on multiple platforms. I knew I would use Instagram and Facebook in the class- but was I brave enough for Snapchat? After all, I was 39 and decidedly outside of the app’s target age range. But I wanted to get a feel for the app because I knew it was making big waves in the social media world. Some of my students told me they got a lot of their news from the app- including a major local story, the fatal shooting of a former Saints star. So I got a crash course from my 25 year old office manager and started snapping.

It was an awkward start. I didn’t know how to use the filters and I didn’t like that the app doesn’t allow you to adjust the camera’s iris. I was used to taking pretty pictures, making them even prettier with editing, and posting them on Facebook for all my friends to see, garnering likes and comments along the way. Now I was blindly taking pictures and getting little feedback. (The app allows you to see who views your snaps, but comments must be made via one-on-one messaging, which also disappears quickly.) It was unnerving.

I started to find my groove when I listened to the advice I give my students- I began telling stories. I started with a trip to an amusement park with my daughters. As we moved from the roller coaster to the carousel, I started to see that I was able to tell the story of our day. I then used the app to connect with my freshman Intro to Mass Comm students. I posted a snap when I posted a test review on Blackboard, and encouraged students to send me messages with questions. Once I figured out how to turn on the message alert (whoops!) the questions came rolling in. It was easier for many of them to send me a message when they were studying (often in the middle of the night) than it was for them to come to my office hours.

Now I try to post a couple times a week, with light-hearted content mixed with updates about class. I don’t have many followers, but most of them are my students. I would love to connect with more peers on the app, but it seems to be a hard sell for people my age.

Snapchat’s focus has always been disappearing photos. When the app launched in 2011 (under the name Picaboo), it was built to be the exact opposite of Facebook- the place where photos live forever. Teenagers wanted a place to be social without the long-term consequences of permanent reminders. So three Stanford students created an app designed to let images be seen and shared- and then deleted. “We weren’t cool, so we tried to build things to be cool,” founder Bobby Murphy told Forbes.

The idea has paid off in a big way. Snapchat went public last week and its valuation was $34 billion on the first day of trading. That’s billion with a B.

So what makes Snapchat so successful? Simply put, young people. In its filings with the Security and Exchange Committee, the company reported that people ages 18 to 24 are the most active among its daily 158 million users. And on its website Snapchat claims to reach 41 percent of all 18 to 34 year-olds in the United States.

Legacy newsrooms are also paying attention. In February the New York Times announced it will launch a Discover channel- the feature that gives Snapchat users news. (It’s largely celebrity-based, but the content is getting more serious.) Kinsey Wilson, executive vice president of product and technology at The New York Times, told the Poynter Institute, “We see an opportunity to experiment with new digital storytelling forms, to reach a younger audience at scale.”


Kiri Walton, Snapchat Lead for|The Times-Picayune, visits my Digital Communications class.

That audience is sitting in my classroom, and news orgs have a lot of questions for them. Yesterday Kiri Walton visited my Digital Communications class and picked my students’ brains. She is the Snapchat lead for|The Times-Picayune, which means she produces all of the newsroom’s Snapchat content. My students told her they like how easy Snapchat is, they check the app “all day” and there is no pressure to post a perfect snap, unlike Instagram or Facebook, which they called “more formal.” Many of them have streaks going with their friends and use the app to chat more than they text. One student called Snapchat “an escape.”



33329962535_1231997788_o|The Times-Picayune uses Snaplytics to track user engagement and produce high-quality content for its Snapchat channel.

Walton showed the class how she uses the paid platform Snaplytics to edit content, add graphics and schedule snaps. It also allows users to upload video longer than 10 seconds, the current time limit for snaps. The site also tracks engagement metrics- how many people open your snaps, watch the story to completion, and screenshot your content.


Walton says the account strives to cover what makes New Orleans unique- the music, culture and art. She tries to snap any event that people will care about- All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, for example, which meant a lot of celebs like Beyonce’ and Shaq. Nolanews has also had success with account takeovers, including Tank from Tank and the Bangas, a local band that just won NPR’s Tiny Desk contest. And Walton said behind the scenes snaps also work well.

Walton says the snaps with the highest engagement are real and authentic, which echoes much of the research I see in my Participatory Journalism grad school course this semester. As my students said, Snapchat is about being casual and fun.

I see lots of opportunities for partnerships between my students and local newsrooms as more outlets launch Snapchat accounts. Finding out what young adults love about Snapchat and bringing those lessons to other platforms could help news orgs grow their audience. But it’s important to note that what works on Snapchat won’t necessarily work on Facebook or Twitter.

Walton said it best when she told my students, “If you always try to make people have FOMO (fear of missing out), you’re gonna win.” Create content that is fun and that you can’t find anywhere else- the audience will follow.

Instagram Lessons

Last week I took over the Instagram account for the Missouri J-School graduate school. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the platform. Here’s a look at what I posted and how I shaped my strategy.

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I thought for a long time about the best place to take my “intro selfie.” I knew I wanted to showcase Loyola and thankfully the weather cooperated with an outdoor shot. This photo is from the top of the cloister around Loyola’s “front lawn.”

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I chose this shot to showcase my connection to Mizzou as an undergrad. In hindsight it was kinda boring.

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It was National Love Your Pet day, which was a natural reason to include my dog Truman. He’s named after Mizzou’s tiger mascot (who of course is named for Missouri native U.S. President Harry S. Truman). I knew I wanted to include my dog in my Instagram story but I hadn’t planned to use the photo so early in the week. But it made more sense to use his photo on the “national holiday.” I tried to engage the audience with questions but got crickets.

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Iggy is Loyola’s spiritual mascot and his statue was an easy way to talk about the campus’ commitment to social justice issues. The week I was posting happened to be the biggest week in the run up to Fat Tuesday so Iggy was dressed for the occasion. I actually took a photo of the statue earlier the week prior but he didn’t have any beads yet so I went back for another picture later.

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I wanted to include some personal photos and this shot of my oldest daughter was really topical because we were in the midst of Girl Scout cookie delivery and National GS Cookie week. Plus she looks so cute 🙂 Again, crickets for my engagement attempt.

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I meant to post a shot of my other daughter on the second day of the takeover but I ran out of time. So on day three I moved on to shots from my work in the classroom. This photo is how I spend three mornings a week.

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Our students have spent two weeks live streaming Carnival parades for, which is the digital space for the Times-Picayune’s Carnival coverage. The newspaper has been live streaming cameras from around town during Carnival for more than 15 years. Showing more than 25 parades is a LOT of work and energy, so this year they asked our students to help out. They paid $10 an hour and the kids had to do research on all the parade krewes and be professionals in front of and behind the camera. We benefited from the paper’s massive built-in audience- numbers are still coming in but in years past it’s been tens of thousands of people. We had viewers from Spain, England and Australia. It’s been a fun, unique experiment.

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I meant to post a photo from the parade we covered the night before but I posted so late in the day I was worried it would be too many items too close together. (More on that later in this post.) So instead I used a throwback Thursday pic that just happens to be one of my all-time favorites of my kids.

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The Krewe of Muses is a beautiful nighttime parade and I wanted to showcase that side of Carnival. Then we caught a shoe at the parade from a friend (the members spend all year decorating them with glitter) and so of course I had to post that!

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It’s not the Friday before Fat Tuesday without king cake! I had to make sure my freshmen didn’t miss out.

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I spent part of Friday having a fun lunch with friends in the French Quarter. But I didn’t want to post pictures of cocktails on the school’s account so instead I focused on the beautiful decorations.

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Saturday we went to two daytime parades. People think Mardi Gras is beer, beads and boobs. That’s on Bourbon Street- miles away from where we catch the parades. My Carnival experience is really about families being together along the parade route and I wanted to convey that spirit.

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I realized late in the day that I had yet to show my audience why people go crazy during Carnival- the throws! It’s exciting to catch beads, cups and stuffed animals, but once you lug it all home you realize you need to store it somewhere. Some of it ends up in my girls’ dress-up bin. We’ll recycle most of these beads at the ARC, a group of special needs adults that sorts and resells beads to parade krewes.

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This one is pretty self-explanatory.

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I took some photos along the parade route but it was dark by then and the quality of the images was not good. So I took a shot of my oldest daughter after our long day. I really struggled with the wording- at first I wrote that she had “crashed”- but the night before a suspected drunk driver had driven into a parade crowd (not near us, thankfully) and so I didn’t want to use that word. “Passed out” sounded like my kid was drunk. It wasn’t until later that my brain came up with “wiped out” but it had been a long day 😉

What I learned:

I had an IG account before this assignment but I had not posted in a couple of years because I use Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat so much. So before my takeover started I began posting to my own account again to make sure people knew I was current on the platform. I planned out my posts in a spreadsheet to make sure I was presenting a well-rounded look at my life. I was so glad that I was assigned such an exciting week to do the takeover, but honestly it was a lot of pressure to showcase such a multi-faceted part of my city’s culture.

I also felt pressure to post great pictures. I consider myself a solid amateur photographer with my iPhone- I try to use the rule of thirds and pay close attention to framing and light. But Instagram features such wonderful images that I wanted my work to measure up- and even stand out if possible.

I got a lot of advice from two friends who use Instagram frequently. They told me one to two posts per day was plenty, so I tried to keep it to no more than three. They also helped me understand the power of a topical hashtag, which I think helped bring more eyeballs to the account. They told me my copy was too formal and they hated my use of exclamation points. (My friends are opinionated.) I used a lot more copy than I normally would on my personal Instagram account and it was hard to be informative yet casual and fun. That was probably the hardest part of this assignment for me.

I did NOT like the algorithm changes Instagram made last year. I feel like I only see a few posts from my friends and the feed does not update frequently. But maybe I am doing something wrong.

This assignment did help me get a lot more comfortable with the platform. I tried out Boomerang and a video post (both on my personal account) and I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

I love the things I see on Instagram but four social media accounts is a lot for me. Going forward I may try and post a couple times a week and see how my algorithm works. But the takeover was a lot of fun and I think Loyola should try it with our students. If anyone has managed a student takeover account on the admin side I would love to hear about your experience.

Night Guy vs. Morning Guy

Jerry Seinfeld has this great bit about Night Guy versus Morning Guy.

Basically, Night Guy likes to stay up late, but dealing with a lack of sleep is Morning Guy’s problem.

When I reached the end of my first semester of teaching, I was Night Guy. I had successfully dealt with deadlines and student issues and I was ready for a nice long winter break. I posted my final grades and enjoyed a three week vacation from stress.

But when the next semester started, I had Morning Guy’s problem. What had worked the previous semester? What was a colossal failure? I couldn’t remember a thing about the previous five months- the entire fall semester was a blur. I did have some student evaluations, but they were too vague because they were based on a generic college-wise questionnaire. I proceeded to stumble through my second semester with a mix of wins and losses. It was as if I had learned nothing from the past several months and it was a frustrating experience.

So at the end of the spring semester, I wised up. I wanted to take care of my future self. I needed my own data to figure out what worked and what didn’t in the classroom. I created Survey Monkey surveys to get customized feedback from students about assignments, my syllabi and my teaching. I asked colleagues to critique my work flow. And I wrote Fall Professor Collins a letter so she wasn’t doomed to repeat Spring Professor Collins’ mistakes.

It turns out, it’s very helpful to get down the details when they’re fresh in your mind. (Who knew?!?) I continue to seek feedback from students and stress to them that their course evaluations make a difference. I also take detailed notes throughout the semester about what works and what doesn’t in each class. Sometimes it’s as simple as- “Portfolio photo assignment- pain in the butt to grade; students submitted lots of bad links.” Sometimes it’s an in-depth examination of why I don’t seem to be connecting with students about a certain skill. And I try to fold in successful examples that I find from other educators.

It’s a little more work along the way, but it’s all worth it when I sit down to plan the following semester and I have a roadmap to improve my next class.

Future Professor Collins says thanks.