The Scott County High School Facebook page pops on the screen as Leslie Murphy begins her class in digital journalism.
Today’s discussion? A review of how many people have viewed their stories and what videos worked and why.
Murphy said she wanted to offer the class because “technology gets students highly engaged and interested in school.”
She said over the last few years, fewer students were interested in taking the traditional yearbook class, so “I decided to switch formats a little and offer a course that would give students the chance to publish their writings and photographs in a forum that is much more immediate.”
Kaitlin Prater was visibly pleased when Murphy announced that the pictures she took for the story about a Scott County High National Merit semifinalist quickly climbed to over 3,000 page views.
And, like all journalists in this digital era, Murphy and her class spend time figuring out what kind of news their audience wants.
Also, like all journalists, they are finding it to be a challenge. A Pew Research Center study found that 66 percent of Facebook users get news from the site. The Columbia Journalism Review wrote in a March article titled “Facebook is Eating the World” that “social media and platform companies took over what publishers couldn’t have built even if they wanted to. Now the news is filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable.”
No one in the class remembered a pre-digital age where internet news wasn’t a viable option. Most were in kindergarten when Facebook launched as a Harvard-only site in 2004.
Katie Cotterell said all of the news platforms make it hard to understand big issues because there is so much noise coming from so many directions. She also admits to be a rare teen who watches the “CBS Evening News.”
Murphy said she is trying to encourage creativity while showcasing the stories her class produces, which are meant to serve the Scott County High School community. That would include students, parents and faculty. For example, budding videographers Kutter Anness and Connor Caldwell have a penchant for wanting to use heavy metal as background music in videos, no matter the content. They have a good-natured, ongoing discussion as to when Megadeath might be just the right background sound.
The recent class review showed that, even within that community, different kinds of stories can do well. For example, the most-watched video on the site is an anti-bullying public service announcement featuring Scott County Principal Joe Covington. That video has more than 13,000 page views.
A video of a human version of “Hungry, Hungry Hippo” pulled in about 1,200 — still pretty good.
A group effort covering homecoming pulled in nearly 200 views in just a few hours after it was posted.
But students were less enthusiastic with stories that started like this: “A few announcements to start the week” or “Just a reminder that ....” Murphy said that’s why she talks with the students about what makes a good story. For example, a recent student video about books people love to read failed to explain what the book was about or why the interviewee liked it.
Still, Murphy has seen a lot of improvement since school started.
“It has been fun to work with students in this way and to see them take pride in their work when they get the number of views, likes or comments it receives when published on Facebook.”
They are also learning real world challenges in a digital age that folks who depended on paper and pen didn’t have fret about: Always check to make sure your equipment is sufficiently charged and don’t forget extra batteries.