Marc Messner isn't telling his Virginia Commonwealth University students how great they are. During this Tuesday morning's coffee-fueled critique session for Mobile and Social Media Journalism, he's all about the details.
He asks why a student who covered hard news stories about the General Assembly used flowers to background her professional Tumblr. "Maybe the State Capitol, something more indicative of your interests," he advises.
This is a dry run for presentations his students will make in a few days to WTVR Channel 6, the course's television media partner. Students are required to use four social-media platforms of their choice during the class, each modeled for a different purpose. This part of their training involves the dissemination of news through varied social media while using assorted technologies — video, handheld devices etc. — to gather it.
The course is supported by VCU's Center for Teaching Excellence and a Knight News Challenge Bridge Grant, which assisted in providing the 11 students with iPads. There are some wistful expressions when Messner reminds his pupils that they must return the machines at semester's end.
The students provided stories for WTVR's website. Scott Wise, a longtime executive producer, is director of interactive media at the station, which he joined in 1999. Back then, "I think we had one computer in the newsroom connected to the Internet," he recalls. The VCU students are aswim in the latest media technology, but in terms of professional and responsible application, Messner and Wise offer guidance. And in one case, employment.
Emily Satchell interned at WTVR in the first quarter of 2013 with the interactive media and Web team. Among her tasks was to start and maintain the station's Tumblr account and set up Reddit frameworks. Now the Gloucester native is continuing as a part-time production assistant.
Wise notes that 25 people are dedicated to programming in WTVR's newsroom. Three others work the online component. "I see those numbers evening out — to a point — we are a television station first and foremost." That the times are changing is clear: Richmond's tallest structure, the WTVR tower, hasn't broadcast TV signals since the station went digital in 2009.