Thursday, May 10, 2012

High school confidential: Web edition

The City News Bureau of Chicago maxim, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out," hangs on the wall in Room 226 at Benito Juarez Community Academy. A student who takes that advice seriously might stumble on this page investigating Friday's guest for the 7:59 a.m. Media Studies class. I'll be there on behalf of the News Literacy Project.

If you're one of Liz Winfield's students, congratulations! My high school did not have a Media Studies class. Ms. Winfield also advises producers of a school newscast, described this way in a video archive: "Guest anchors Zuleima Martinez and Felix Castillo bring you stories about the baseball team, the end of the world and the new Demi Lovato single." (The actual newscast leads with the 2012 end-times forecast. Good call. A bumper inadvertently underscores the topic, marking the last chance to enter an LMFAO ticket raffle.)

Anyway, I'm giving extra credit to the sharp Juarez student who land here trying to to find my bio. But good luck if she tries to follow my trail in social media. Why for instance do so many of my Twitter status messages mention tweeting itself?

Why Twitter, Facebook are brain candy:

Nine disturbing behaviors on social media that people need to stop right now

RT @RexHuppke People will always remember where they were when they "liked" a Facebook link to a tweet about a blog about Obama endorsing gay marriage.

That last retweet repeats how news spreads in social media. Once the Tribune publishes a major story online, the next step is to tweet it. From there reporters and editors, listed in the Tribune's Twitter directory, may pass it along as well. Who knows what Juarez students will make of a retweet from Colonel Tribune, the newsroom avatar and raconteur.

Chicago project coordinator Mary Owen says only one girl in the back of the class is already on Twitter, but my guess is that enough are on Facebook to spark a discussion about sharing links. Does a retweet endorse a person or idea? Was the link even read before it was shared? And would students share likewise if they knew they were also sharing with their boss at Burger King?

Since this is a first-period class, I'll start with Twitter practice, no computer or smartphone required. I've asked students to tell why their classmates should be interested in Friday’s class, and write it in 120 characters or less, plus maybe one relevant URL. We’ll pick the best at the start of the class.

Reaching back to my days on business rewrite, I'll also arrive bearing McDonald's press releases for an exercise in how news propagates. Warning: Math ahead!

From there, it would be worth following a trending story (today the name "rommey" prompts a Google recommendation for "romney bully," which is beyond where the Washington Post headline writers would go) and review the resulting mix of recovery, aggregation, analysis and opinion, often from the same source.

Finally, I can put on my neighborhood blogger hat and talk about hyperlocal journalism, near journalism and advocacy.

Wish me luck: Think I'll have to slow down.

The News Literacy Project came my way by chance as Owen was leaving the Tribune and circulating her new address. A creation of former L.A. Times reporter Alan C. Miller, the nonprofit aims to teach critical thinking about what to believe. What would you like to know about how teens view news?