By Katie Ronske
How have the presidential candidates incorporated social media into their campaign strategies? How can local races be reported in ways that attract viewers when the race for the White House is dominating the news?
Students are tackling these questions and others under the guidance of two professors in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. For the first time, the professors have linked their respective sections of Journalism 492 -- Campaign Management '08 Election and TV News Election Coverage -- with the goal of teaching juniors and seniors how to turn a critical eye on the media and on the candidates.
"Bringing these classes together has given our students the opportunity to see the election through the eyes of both the general public and media analysts, making them more savvy media consumers,'' said Michelle Honald, an assistant professor of public relations who specializes in political communications.
Each class meets separately once a week throughout fall quarter. Honald's class is devoted to campaign management and effective strategies. Her counterpart, Mary Rogus, an associate professor of broadcast journalism, has her students analyzing television coverage. Every other week, the two classes meet to share their findings.
"It has been great to see the two groups of students come together over the course of the quarter," Rogus said. "We have had some great discussions that enabled the students to gain different perspectives and learn from each other."
To prepare for the joint discussion, Honald's students analyze campaign strategies of the presidential hopefuls and whether the media are reporting issues of public interest. Students are blogging about the campaigns as well as using social media sites such as Facebook to post their opinions on the races. They're also required to work at a local campaign headquarters on election night.
As part of their analysis, students are taking a critical look at how the candidates themselves are using social media to reel in new voters and campaign funds. The strategy has become a staple in Barack Obama's campaign.
"Using social media and the Internet for campaigning was first seen in the 2000 election, and now Obama's campaign is using social media to reach the younger demographic through instant messages, text messages, Facebook, MySpace and iPhone applications," Honald said. "This has been extremely successful in his campaign, not only in reaching young voters but in fund-raising as well."
Meanwhile, Rogus' students study the major networks' campaign coverage and how the local races are covered. They also keep weekly blogs.
"My students are learning how to report stories in ways that will engage their audiences, a skill they will all use at some point in their broadcast careers," Rogus said. "They have also developed the skills to critique and analyze television coverage at both the national and local levels."
As part of the class, Rogus' students will broadcast live from WOUB studios on election night, reporting the outcomes of county, state and national races. She hopes that by the end of the quarter, students will have the know-how to successfully report on a local campaign.
Local races, Rogus said, are sometimes difficult for journalists to cover because of all the hype around the presidential election.
"The first-hand experience they are gaining is something that I was never taught and have learned over 40 years on the job," Rogus said.
Students said the combined class has been helpful on a number of levels.
"I am developing better news judgment, and that's something I'll be able to take with me for the rest of my career," said Allison Herman, a junior broadcast journalism major.
Added Alivia Nuzzo, a senior public relations major: "I think the class is an excellent opportunity to examine the current election as new methods of campaigning evolve. The discussions, especially with the broadcast media class, allow us to learn to argue and think critically about the issues."
To keep up with the election classes, check out the student blogs at tvelectionclass.blogspot.com and through the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Web site.