Advice for college media advisers: It’s time to go beyond reporting and writing

As student media adviser, you need to supervise a full-blown digital operation and help students learn all the best practices in content production and promotion.

An all-inclusive approach to content production

Tell students to abandon the idea of “I want to write an article about…”; when they pitch a story to you, give them a check list and ask what elements there may be for this story:

  • article
  • audio (e.g., embed ambient sound or soundbite using SoundCloud)
  • video (embed snippets or standalone package)
  • photos (still photos; slideshow gallery)
  • audio slideshow

Ask students to research for background materials with which they can produce interactive features such as a data visualization, interactive map, timeline, etc.

Also encourage students to innovate: going mobile? try a new tool? twitter chat? curated contents? user-generated contents? live tweeting? … …

A story may not have all the elements available, or the student may not have the skill set to produce all the available elements, and that’s okay – what matters more is that students adopt the mindset of “producing a story,” not “writing an article.”

An all-around approach to content promotion

A student media website provides for an excellent opportunity to practice content marketing, which is a skill that sees growing demand. Among others, here are some marketing practices that students can learn and do:

Search engine optimization (SEO), both on-page and off-page. For on-page SEO, students can research for target keywords for use in the article and metadata. The article itself can use some special web-writing guidelines for an optimized online reading experience. For off-page SEO, students can practice link-building and other tactics to increase site visibility.

Web metrics and analytics. Implement Google Analytics on the site; students can practice monitoring traffic, reading and interpreting reports, and learn to take appropriate actions to improve content delivery.

Social media promotion. Content promotion via social media is more that posting on Facebook and tweeting on Twitter. For instance, students need to research and target different hashtags so as to reach a larger audience base.

An open mindset to learn new things

As adviser, you don’t need to feel embarrassed if you are asking students to do something you are not an expert in, or have no idea about. Keep track of what’s happening in the field, brief students on the latest trends and tools, learn something by yourself, and work on something together with the students.

The one thing a student media adviser ought to feel embarrassed about is doing nothing – the world is changing, and changing so fast, that we should do our best to prepare students for new tasks they will face in real world.

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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