Tag Archives: public relations

The Hero Project: A media engagement experiment

Many student journalists choose the field of journalism and public relations because they want their life to have an impact. And teaching about engagement can help them in their desire to create change.

Research examining engagement tends to fall in three areas: 1) civic engagement, 2) student engagement and 3) employee engagement. Research definitions of engagement tend to reflect the aim of helping people to develop identity, learn how to participate and flourish as a community.

  • “…having both a behavioral component, termed participation, and an emotional component, termed identification” (Finn & Voelkl, 1993; p. 249).
  • “Civic engagement is any activity where people come together in their role as citizens” (Diller, 2001, p. 22).

In the field in journalism, educators have been criticized about teaching students about newsroom socialization rather than teaching them to tailor information to encourage citizens to participate. The intent of a liberal arts education was designed to nurture students to be problem solvers, creative thinkers, and critical scholars (Higginbotham 1961; Wick & Phillips, 2008).

As educators, we should critically evaluate whether our teaching efforts are helping to empower students to create public action and awareness. When teaching engagement, students should be asking themselves whether their efforts reflect a world they want to make and whether their efforts accurately represent people. Engagement has the potential to create a sense of connectedness and self-efficacy among humans, which can lead to loyalty to an individual and organization.

The cultivation of intellectual and critical thinkers starts with encouraging them to connect to people outside their usual social circles. Several organizational leaders are encouraging news reporters to connect their social media identities to stories, post requests for story ideas on social media channels and meet with online community members in a F2F environment.

The line between public relations and journalism is blurring. Both fields recognize the importance of relationships for future sustainability, however many public relations professionals understand the significance of relationships better.

Journalists often view themselves as serving specific communities. Researchers have often referred to community as a physical location. However, a community can refer to a geographic area or refer to a group of people with similar interests. The process of sharing information allows journalists to be more aware of the diversity of communities that exist.

It is important to have a plan in mind when crafting exercises that teach students about media engagement. I had spent fall semester 2011 structuring assignments for my spring 2012 honors Online Media class. I hope that sharing my plan will help or inspire other people to experiment.

In my Online Media class at Arizona State University, I taught social media, visual communication and coding… and time constraints would not allow the full experiment to take place. Time constraints are a common problem for educators who are digitally literate. In this post, I will discuss how I envisioned the assignment, what actually happened, and what how I would like to expand upon this experiment in the future.

The class final project theme centered on examining the meaning of hero. I specifically wanted students dissect the construct of hero. The group discussed and focused on nine sub-themes: 1) the philosophical dissection of the construct, 2) why we needs heroes, 3) superheroes, 4) video games, 5) children’s definition of heroes, 6) how other cultures define heroes, 7) musicians, 8) celebrities and 9) villains.

Plan for Engagement Experiment

First Day
I asked the mostly sophomore-level students to post their thoughts and reactions about The Hero Project to a Tumblr blog. I envisioned students sharing their personal thoughts on this blog throughout the semester. Blog posts can encourage classroom community and topic reflection. And I planned to share this blog on the final project website.

Second Week
Each student was to be responsible for a social media channel and one person was responsible with commenting on sites related to our niche. They were required to set up a social media profile, market the project, create content, connect with others with similar interests and promote the project following publication via their assigned channel. The setup portion of the assignment was to be due during the second week of the semester. The social media sites chosen were Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Pinterest, Quora, Flickr, Delicious, and blog comments.

Third Week
On the Tumblr blog, each student shared the best practices for engagement related to their social media channel.

Sixth Week
We discussed the creation of a promotional video related to the project. I showed examples of videos in class for inspiration: Jacob’s Story, Will it blend?, Free Hugs and Bad Project. Based on Jacob’s story, the students thought it would be engaging to bring a white board to the streets asking people who their hero was and why. Two students did shoot the slideshow, however it was created at the end of the semester.

Eighth Week
The class of nine students was required to create a multimedia piece summarizing the effect their personal hero had on them. They were asked to interview their personal hero and/or interview themselves talking about their hero. I graded them on creativity and focus, rather than production quality. You can view their videos on their class Tumblr site. The majority of the class members voted that this were their favorite assignment of the semester. Here is some of their feedback:

  • “Making this personal hero video was a very cathartic experience … I think it communicates the message I was going for and I would love to make it longer.”
  • “We don’t often get the chance to express ourselves personally in journalism class, and I enjoyed being able to tell my own story for a change. I can’t wait to share this video with my dad. He had no idea while working on this that I was calling him my hero.”
  • “No matter what grade I get, this will probably end up being my favorite assignment of the semester. It was deeply personal, and dug at the core of what makes who I am.”

I encourage educators to allow at least one assignment that challenges students to apply a different or more personal lens related to the class focus.

Fifteenth Week
The crew coded and created a website called The Hero Project. And they posted their final thoughts about the project on the Tumblr blog. Ideally, I wanted them to interact more in social media spheres, however I am quite proud of what they did accomplish.

The Future

Ideally, I would like to teach a class called “Engaging Communities.” In such a class, I would like teaching crowdsourcing/curation, engagement, search, alternative forms of storytelling, verification and much more.

My students did begin to understand that they need to learn how to connect their content to people in the online environment. I wanted students to post suggested hashtags, live Twitter feeds, live chats and Ustreams, social media share buttons near stories and create a resources page and sidebars to encourage people to engage the content offline and online.

I have accepted a position at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism for fall 2012. I am co-teaching and helping design a journalism capstone class in this department. Based on my experience with this experiment this past Spring semester, I am inspired to continue. Here are some of my plans for the fall semester course:

During the first week students, students will search social media channels and search engines for story idea inspiration around an assigned theme. Sites could include:

Students will pitch their ideas on a G+ class circle. They will then vote (+1) and comment critically on the ideas. They will be required to observe and create content for niche communities throughout the semester. Team members will also be required to create crowdsourced stories, experiment with storytelling and engage in niche communities throughout the semester.

When I taught at Bloomsburg University in PA, I noticed that students would grow creatively and intellectually when given the opportunity to express themselves. Several academic studies show that the desire to be creative is a top reason why many journalism students choose the major of journalism. This fall semester, I am assigning every student to visually summarize their interpretation of the team’s topic using multimedia. The multimedia piece could be a montage of feet or it could be them expressing their thoughts to the camera about the niche topic. The more creative projects will receive higher grades. They will embed the SEOed video on the team’s Tumblr blog. And I also plan to still have them create promotional videos.

My goal ultimately with these assignments is to send a message that I want them to approach journalism from different angles. Many educators spend a great amount of time telling them what is and what is not journalism. In my class, I want them to take risks that reflect their desire to inform, help and motivate people. Research in political communication and other fields has shown that mobilizing efforts do influence positive behavior within individuals. Thus, I want them to also think about how they can mobilize the public for civic good. To find inspirational examples of mobilizing efforts, one should look at historical newspapers of the underground press in the 1960s.

Some syllabi suggestions would be to: 1) assign a social media editor to team projects, 2) require research of a social media channel and formulating story ideas within the channels, 3) assign a crowdsourced assignment, 4) embrace personal expression and interpretation and 5) require public and private reflection.

To learn more about engagement, I suggest reading posts from Steve Buttry, Knight Foundation’s Engagement Commons or Howard Rheingold. And of course, here is my presentation and visit my teaching page for updates on my classroom experiments at Michigan State University.

And if you have questions or comments, please comment or email me at carp@msu.edu. And I want to thank the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication public relations and communication technology divisions for the speaking invitation (#AEJMC12 #prprofs) and my co-panelists @PRvolsProf, @jizaks, @abbylovett, @marcusmessner, @RedClayHound, Charles Lubbers and moderator @Gallicano.

Online portfolios and the splash page

Each year I encourage my students to visit sites that aggregate the latest web design trends in hopes that they will become inspired.

This semester appears to be the semester of the splash page. A splash page is a page that is typically taken up by an image. Many students recruited someone to take professional portfolio pictures of them. As you browse these sites, you will see many sites feature an image of the student with a quote adjacent to their image.

Feel free to comment on their sites or visit sites from previous semesters.

Section 1
Kelly Andersen
Tara Boyd
Caitlin Cruz
Harmony Huskinson
Olivia Khiel
Leila O’Hara
Torunn Sinclair
Preston Sotelo
Cassie Strauss

Section 2
Hayden Packwood
Erin O’Connor
Vanja Veric
David Sydiongco
Ali Lasch
Haley Buntrock
Michelle Rivas
Hannah Shive
Devin McIntyre
Samantha Koukoulas
Sebastian Zotoff
Sonya Chavez
Haley Madden
Monique Zatcoff
Charissa Heckard
Mohamud Ali
Charles Hall
Daniel Escobedo
Osej Serratos

A letter to my students

I have accepted an academic position at Michigan State University in the School of Journalism, and I am excited to engage with the professors and students intellectually.

I am saying goodbye to the past five years at Arizona State University, but I most sad to say goodbye to my students. My students handed in their final projects last night.

This is a note to them:

As a teacher, I have several goals for you: increase your confidence, help you find your creative self and understand the importance of relationships.

Most students do not believe at the beginning of my class that they can handle learning social media, multimedia and coding. At the end of the semester, many of you were teaching students in other classes.

Each person is able to do anything if they work for it. You will discover that skills are only a small part of your future success; the most important part of the equation for your future is developing a work ethic.

In the future, I plan to develop more exercises that allow students to tap into their creative selves. Through this exploration, you better discover your many sides and potential. I hope that you will continue to experiment and challenge ways to share and communicate information.

Most teachers at ASU are only able to work with students during one semester. This means that students are less likely to develop relationships with potential mentors. I want you to seek out people who will challenge and critique you. It is the most efficient path to professional success. It is important to develop relationships with people in the administration, with leaders at your jobs or internships and with other professors.

Many of you have learned that your classmates are resources as well. Remember, the bonds developed in my class do not have to end. You can connect with your classmates again to create another product together.

My professors are the reason that I became a professor. They helped me see my potential. I owe them so much for their kindness and time. And I am still here to help you.

I saw many of you became teachers in this class and previous classes, which means you are leaders. And I hope that with what you have learned you are better able to follow your passions and be happy. I firmly believe you can have it all.


Focus on the homepage to grab attention

I wanted to share with you my Online Media students’ portfolios. The group sought to capture attention by incorporating graphics, rollovers, and pictures on their homepages. You can also browse portfolios from past semesters.

Mauro Whiteman
Gabriela Rodiles
Kayla Frost
Connor Radnovich
Aiyana Havir
Alex Gregory
Kelsey Roderique
Josselyn Berry
Kate Kunkel
Brittany E. Morris
Alex Lancial
Pearce Bley
Dani Schenone

Encourage students to design with the intent to help

My students completed their final projects for my Online Media class. Their projects impressed me. Many students have not had any technical skills training prior to this class.

I was also moved by my students’ desire to help people with their research and reporting on difficult topics.

I try to encourage students to create a site that reflects quality and experimentation. I ask students several questions as they design their final projects:

  1. Is this information meaningful?
  2. Are you helping?
  3. Why is this information important?
  4. Will people understand what you are trying to communicate?

I would also suggest another tip to educators. People need context. To help orient the reader, students should use summary decks, definition of terms, information history boxes, timelines, lists of facts, a resources page, etc. to help readers understand the issue. I often ask my students what do people need in order to understand this topic.

Next semester I plan to try another experiment focused on encouraging public engagement. I will let you know how it turns out. Feel free to browse my students’ sites.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, it attacks brain and spinal cord cells responsible for muscle movement. About 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time, according to the ALS Association. Currently, there is no cure. ALS affects more than just nerves—it wears at patients’ families, lifestyles and emotions. From the loss of independence to the loss of a loved one, the struggles are plenty for those affected.

The Pain of Healing
Self-injury is a difficult topic to discuss. Society often fails to look past the cuts and burns to find the real source of pain. This website provides an in-depth look at different behaviors associated with self-injury, the reasoning behind these behaviors, and treatment options for those wanting to seek help. After conducting extensive research on this topic, the goal is to raise awareness and help erase the stigma associated with self-harm.

For Sale: A Home Foreclosure Educational Resource

From the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to ASU’s Civil Justice Clinic, resources aimed at helping families overcome the effects of foreclosure have attempted to alleviate the situation. These are the stories of the impact of home foreclosure in Phoenix.

Scars of War
In 2001, the United States became embattled in the longest war in U.S. history. Since it began, more than 42,000 military members have returned home injured. These injuries can range from concussions to missing limbs. But they also include injuries that aren’t physically visible. No scars are the same. And every wounded warrior experiences them differently. This is an in-depth look at service members’ experiences and how they deal with the prolonged effects of war in the Middle East.

The Perils of Public Transit
A team of reporters sought to more precisely understand the public transit conflict. You can read stories about local bus drivers, the dangers that Phoenix bus operators face, the status of contract negotiations, and the future of passenger service.

Immigration Economics
Even before Arizona’s immigration law, known as SB 1070, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio made it his goal to end illegal immigration in his county. His plans are to arrest and turn over illegal immigrants, who were violating other laws such as working with fake documents, to Immigration officials. So far, Arpaio’s office has arrested hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants, but little is known about what happens to those arrested. This site touches on some of those issues.

Citizens of Nowhere
The journeys of refugees from their countries of origin to the United States may last only a few days, but adjusting to their new life is a long process — one that often involves government-funded agencies and community groups. Once the refugees become citizens, they often create cultural centers and continue their traditional celebrations. This site shares some of those stories.



Hiring trend: we’ll take you and your followers

Students must know how to cultivate community. It is becoming more common to expect that they secure a social media following prior to graduation. As an example, the Klout score is the new the press pass. A high Klout score suggests that you have influence among your followers.

The number of people using social networking sites is growing. And more than half of U.S. adults follow a brand. Information providers must know how to write stories, but they must also learn how connect that content to readers.

The responsibility of promotion and connection is shifting from the organization to the individual. Broadcast journalists are expected to tweet and Facebook. The majority of journalists operate social media accounts. However, the posting of content does not guarantee an audience especially if you are a student.

I have found students can learn computer-mediated communication in a short amount of time. But at first, most students treat social media applications as if they were Facebook.

My students are required to tweet for two weeks after my Twitter lecture. The reoccurring theme I hear each semester is that they do not understand Twitter until I ask them Tweet information for two weeks. Following that assignment, I require my students to write a small reflection paper. These are excerpts from my honor’s section:

“Before this project, I didn’t fully understand the point of Twitter, and I mostly used as an extension of my Facebook profile.”

“I was aware of the value of Twitter, but I had yet to reap the rewards because I did not understand how to make use of all of its advantages.”

“I had a Twitter account, but it might as well have been completely inactive. My lack of interest probably spawned from not understanding the purpose of the social media site … I would never anticipated at the beginning of this project that I would 53 followers within two weeks. I will absolutely continue to use Twitter.”

“Coming into this Twitter project, I didn’t have a high opinion of Twitter and my underlying, unspoken goal was to get through this project as quickly as possible. However, after just two weeks on the aforementioned social media, I have come to understand and enjoy the rapid sharing of information.”

My students are amazing. But it is an invalid assumption to think that students are digitally savvy in all spheres. Each application cultivates a unique community, and to be respected by its members, people must know how to speak the language to engage participants. People tend to connect to people they perceive as like-minded, which positively influences trust.

As a teacher, you need to encourage them to publish useful information for a niche community. One component of credibility is expertise. They should develop expertise in a topic area to help position themselves as an information authority. This is uncomfortable for some students, but it is how intellectual communities are built.

Journalism and PR student multimedia project examples

My sophomore-level Online Media students create both professional portfolios and small team websites each semester. This is their first college classroom experience using technological tools to share their research, reporting, and stories. I select approximately one-third of their projects to publish for the CronkiteZine each semester.

I wanted to share with you some of their projects to show how capable students can be when given the foundation. The foundation includes the teaching of typography, web writing, multimedia storytelling, and web design. I wish I could spend more time on multimedia storytelling, however time constraints do not allow it. My hope following this class is that they will continue creating such content on their own.

Final Projects

ASU Crime – Each year ASU Police publishes crime statistics. This website is dedicated to going more in-depth to see what those numbers really mean.

Scars of War – In 2001, the United States became embattled in the longest war in U.S. history. Since it began, more than 42,000 military members have returned home injured. This piece investigates how service people transition.

Photo Enforcement - This site was created to provide accurate, objective reporting on the issue of photo enforcement.

Undocumented Students and the Dream Act – This site attempts to explain the complex realities undocumented students face in immigration law and shed light on the piece of legislation they hope will allow them to become lawful citizens: the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act.

Citizens of Nowhere – Once refugees become citizens, they often create cultural centers and continue their traditional celebrations. This site shares stories of their transition.

The Perils of Public Transit – A team of reporters sought to more precisely understand the public transit conflict. You can read stories about local bus drivers, the dangers that Phoenix bus operators face, the status of contract negotiations, and the future of passenger service.

Immigration Economics – Joe Arpaio’s office has arrested hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants, but little is known about what happens to those affected.

Practical Trash – This is a project devoted to informing people about  dumpster diving or uses for trash.

Pulse on a Corner – A story of two men who spend their days at an intersection of a popular coffee shop and restaurant.

Parting with Pets – The goal is to provide information and support to pet owners who may be preparing for the death of their animal.

Students Face Economic Hard Times – Many students at Arizona State University are feeling the pinch. This site breaks down how it is affecting them.

Helping students pick a blog topic

My Online Media students published their first posts today. The assignment requires them to focus on a niche area. The most difficult part often is trying to think of an idea for a blog topic.

For example, food blogs were attractive to students this semester. It would be difficult to develop community and authority with such a broad topic area. To follow their passion while helping them to be successful, students identified their corners in the food blogosphere.

One student is evaluating the healthiness of health food; another student is creating video and using text to decipher food terminology; and another student is focusing on sharing information on how to prepare backpacking meals. They will do well if they focus on quality and are unique enough to be recognized by other bloggers in their niche community.

Here are some questions that may help you develop a blog topic:
1. Can you develop a community? Is your content unique? Has it been done a million times? Harry Potter is not unique.
2. Can the angle allow for substance? Or will it lend itself to more surface-level coverage?
3. Are you committing professional suicide?

Prof KRG also presented questions you should ask yourself when trying to develop a blog topic. Jayson Peters pointed me to a site that details five different types of blogs that may help you identify your specialty.

Please feel free to read and comment on my students’ posts:

Aiyana Havir – Eye.oh.uh.Musician

Alex Lancial – The Dive Log

Kate Kunkel – Health Food is Junk

Pearce Bley – Budget Valley Golfing

Kayla Frost - The Hungry Backpacker

Mauro Whiteman – Words Like Freedom

Gabriela Rodiles – Gourmet Gab

Dani Schenone – The Closet Hoarder

Brittany Morris -Beardlesque Brittany

Connor Radnovich – Point of Clarification

Kelsey Roderique – Advertising Basics

Josselyn Berry – No More Ms. Nice Girl

Alex Gregory – State of the Stuff

Preston Sotelo – Videogames – The Digital Odyssey

Student online portfolios — journalism, PR, etc.

My Online Media students worked hard this semester to create their online portfolios. I am proud of them and proud of the hard work they put into these sites and my class.

You can also view portfolios from past semesters.

Meghan McCarthy
Sandra Sanchez
Aaron Lavinsky
Christina Silvestri
Andrea Martinez
Jack Fitzpatrick
Richard Flores
Bianca Harris
Emily Erwin
Andres Cano
Erin Saltzman
Tiana Chavez
Heather Jackson
Heather Yako
Sara Steffan
Uriel Garcia
Josh Plemon
Emily Johnson

Jeremy Knop
Stephanie Paeprer
Brennan Smith
Molly Smith
Shawn Deloney
Joseph Schmidt
Selena Larson
Tia Castaneda
Michelle Berbling
Joseph Nemec
Kalen Bigger
Matt Haldane
Paige Gruner
Jesseca Zwerg
Lindsay Hoffman
Aaron Wylam
Michael Hammelef
Danny Jimenez
Kiersten Farley

Tips to encourage people to become active information publishers

I had a recent conversation with someone who told me that in their culture they do not teach, rather they share information. Following our conversation, I began to contemplate how I could change the way I teach to encourage meaningful changes in my students. To begin the quest, I started with research. And discovered the “knowledge sharing” construct which focuses on the examination of factors that encourage people to share information online. Based on what I learned, I decided to share my research in the form of a presentation at the Broadcast Education Association conference in Las Vegas, NV.

As educators, we can teach them newer media tools, however they will not use the tools unless they are motivated to share. Many leaders want to tap into the vein. However, this practice often involves publishing on top of an all-ready busy schedule. The practice of giving away information is controversial in the field of journalism, but perhaps loyalty can be created if the focus is on the act of sharing. The following information can be applied to students, leaders, or employees. But I will share research and ideas with you that can be used in the classroom to encourage students to continue publishing beyond required class assignments.

I have identified four areas that encourage people to share information: 1) expertise, 2) feedback, 3) supportive culture, and 4) media literate guidance.


  1. Information leadership – If a person perceives that they are an expert, they will feel more compelled to share information because they perceive they are a primary source and will enjoy the benefits of sharing such as recognition. However, we need to teach them how to become an expert. I often say an expert is someone who knows how to find information. Many of my students do not know how to search for credible information online. It would beneficial for students to teach them the basics of Google search, Google Alerts, social bookmarking, and how to use the online library system. I push my students to link to primary sources, rather than secondary sources that cite studies.
  2. Inner geek – I ask students to identify a blog passion area or topic that intrigues them to encourage my students to continue publishing. If they connect to publishing information on a niche area, they can develop a deeper level knowledge in one area and likely learn how to connect with others with similar interests. People need to learn how to be critical media consumers. Another assignment could include asking them monitor and critically analyze a blog in their topic area of interest.
  3. Reputation feedback – The desire for social status can be a strong motivator for publishing. Hung, et al. researched altruism, economic reward, reputation feedback, and reciprocity as motivators. Their research shows that reputation feedback was the only motivator for sharing information because it creates a sense of self-worth. If they can elevate their reputation online, they will be more inclined to share knowledge. Individual responsibility of their content pushes them to be creative, generate more ideas, and share useful ideas according to their research. If they connect to people outside of their social circle online, they may begin to realize their breadth of knowledge. They can participate in online conversations such as hashtag chats or share a specific area of expertise in a visual format on a site such as Slideshare by creating a PowerPoint on a topic. Some of my students create visual resumes on Slideshare.


  1. Human feedback – Social interaction can be a strong force to encourage information sharing. The lack of human feedback discourages contributions. People crave a sense of belonging. They want their efforts to be acknowledged. The majority of my students become frustrated when people do not comment on their blog posts despite the fact that majority of people do not participate in that manner. These people who don’t contribute are know as lurkers in research. It is important to encourage future content creators to interact with people online. One simple exercise is to ask students to comment on other peoples’ blogs. Most bloggers likely receive very few comments which puts commenting students on a blogger’s radar. If students blog, they often become excited when people comment on their blog, and most often, comments are supportive of their work.
  2. Awareness of visitor behavior – I feel the teaching of analytics is important for media literacy. Most people are not aware of how effortless it is to track online behavior. I have students embed Sitemeter onto their blogs. This free metrics tool helps them see what keywords were used to find them, the location of their visitors, and how often people visit their site. Sitemeter code can be embedded in a text box widget. You can also try bit.ly, Google Feedburner, and Get Clicky.

Supportive culture

  1. People do not share knowledge with people they do not trust because of a fear revealing their ignorance and facing criticism. Recent research reveals that this is also a reason people do not comment online. (That study is at home. I will link to it later.) That is why people cling to their Facebook friends rather than reaching out to strangers. Most people will not be uncivil toward their contributions, however people will make mistakes when learning how to professionally connect their content online. And this learning process should happen while they are in school. As educators, we should let them know that mistakes are tolerated. I give extensive handwritten feedback on my students’ blog posts because I want them to see the importance of good writing and understanding online cultures. Following a post, I encourage them to change potentially professionally damaging mistakes. But they should publish now, and publish often.

Media literate guidance

  1. Another study by a research firm identified 10 dying businesses in the United States. It was no surprise that the newspaper industry made it on the list. The study showed 28.6 percent of newspapers have closed since 2000. I see journalism schools teaching their students how to create content, but many educators need to teach students how to connect their content as well. Educators should participate in online communities to learn how to effectively teach their students that today creating a press release or a news article is only one step in reaching the public. And perhaps, by teaching them to share, they will understand how to have impact.