Tag Archive for American University

Outgoing Writing Students Share Tips for Success

One of the challenges of teaching writing classes to college kids is that they all come in with different levels of interest and experience.

Here are three things I do at American University to help smooth the way.AU outside

1 – Before the semester begins, I send out a short survey. I ask my incoming students how much they’ve written outside the classroom, why they’re taking the class (no penalty if it’s simply to fulfill a requirement), and their toughest writing challenges. I find the kids appreciate being asked and are happy to respond.

2 – On opening night, I pitch like a used car salesman. I know most will not go on to writing or communications careers. I tell them to think of their time with me as cross training for whatever field they eventually choose. I point to studies that show employers place high value in employees who are clear and concise. I warn they will hear a lot from me about precision and clarity.

3 – On finals night, I offer a bonus. Sharing a tip for success with my next students earns two free points. Most remember they were afforded this opportunity thanks to the previous class, and include some lesson learned. I’m always surprised by one or two comments on the tip sheet, which you can find (unedited) here on the class blog.

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Has Your College Degree Paid Off?

What's the ROI for your college degree?

What’s the ROI for your college degree?

Statistically speaking, the return on my journalism degree is pretty low. But there’s more to life than statistics. Click here to read more.


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NBC4’s Goff Says Engage Your Audience, Own Your Brand

“Be the CEO of your own career,” Goff told students.

Engaging content, the strategic use of social media, and constant vigilance aimed at building a unique brand are the recipe for success for communicators in today’s on-demand digital society, Washington broadcast journalist Angie Goff told students Thursday at American University.

“Own your brand,” Goff said. “Be the CEO of your own career.”

Goff has branded herself as a “multi-media journalist” for NBC4 Washington, where she anchors on the weekend and reports during the week. She is known for using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to enhance her stories, and is now working more with Pinterest and Google+.

Technology has changed expectations, she said, meaning that consumers are always “looking for an excuse to change the channel.” Moving ahead – for everyone from authors to engineers – requires sound knowledge of communications basics, a working knowledge of the latest tools, and the determination to turn a job into a career.

Thanks to NBC4’s Angie Goff for AU visit.

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TV Reporter Goff’s Discipline Yields Valuable Lessons

Angie Goff's reporting has earned more than 17,000 Facebook fans.

A 17-year-old girl collapses in gym class and dies hours later.

A TV journalist and crew pack up to go cover the story. There is no chit-chat during the drive from Washington to suburban Maryland. Instead, the reporter logs onto Facebook, finds friends of the girl, and makes contact. Soon, the reporter is friends with the friends, who send her quotes and photos that enable a richer, more compelling story.

NBC4’s Angie Goff shared the story with my class this week at American University. Embedded within are some key lessons about how to use social media for business purposes.

1-    Think like a handyman: Define the goal, then pick the best tool for the job. Facebook was ideal because it enabled immediate interaction and photo-sharing.

2-    Don’t embarrass your mother. This was a sensitive story, and, while deadlines loomed, Goff showed compassion throughout. Whether you’re reporting from the scene or pitching a book, say please and thank-you, even when online.

3-    Show yourself. Goff maintained the proper professional detachment on the air. Later, on her blog, she admitted that being a mom makes such stories difficult to hear and “even harder to cover.” Your followers know you’re human; it’s okay, and even beneficial, to show it now and then.

In extending our reach, social media tools have made it easy to forget the power of a handshake, or at least a cyber-shake. Facebook is great; Facebook plus face-to-face is better.

Have you ever forgotten the fundamentals and paid a price?

A Step Back and a Look Ahead – 2011 Photos

The photos tell the story. Thanks to all who welcomed Bella in 2011; the prequel, Bootlicker, will be out soon.


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Delivering the Fundamentals

Once this was state of the art technology.

As I look over the syllabus for the communications class I’m about to begin teaching at American University, it’s evident that technology has forced a change in the curriculum.

No longer can universities send students into the world equipped only to write for print, broadcast or public relations. That’s the way it was not so long ago; students picked a lane and began specializing as soon as possible. And they stayed in their lanes.

Today’s technology has put a messaging arsenal in the hands of communicators, and students expecting to find work better understand tools, strategy and messaging.

Not that we should diminish the importance of fundamentals. Quite the contrary. I will stress precision and clarity this semester. We will work on speed without sacrificing accuracy.  We will drill to ensure that the writing is timely, relevant, and engaging.

At some point I will steer them to this website and others like it, and we will touch on writing for the web, updating online, writing blog posts and crafting video scripts. We will discuss what makes a good headline and a bad cutline.

We will look at associated Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and YouTube pages, and talk about what works and why. Someone will mention good fundamentals, and I’ll smile to myself because I’ll know they’re on the right track.

You can stay up all night perusing all the social media tools now available. Long before dawn, it will be apparent that while the delivery vehicles change, the fundamentals remain the same. And you better get them right. At least that’s my view. What’s yours?

American University Posts Prof Profile on iTunes

American University in Washington, D.C., has staked out turf on iTunes U. Here, Steve talks about the nexus between class, work and self-publishing. Click to see the American University Interview

Dressing Properly for the New Communications Environment

Disciplines as different as writing and rodeo have this in common: the communications environment has changed radically. Global whining is rampant, but will not stop or slow the phenomenon. If success hinges on reaching the masses, you must bulk up your messaging arsenal, whether you write words or rope calves.

There was a time when aspiring journalists were taught print or broadcast and steered into the appropriate lanes. The two didn’t mingle, and the idea of throwing some public relations into the mix was as forbidden as messing with grandma’s secret recipe for Blueberry Yum Yum.

These days, as discussed in this video, college-level communications students are taught to write for print, switch to present tense for broadcast, chunk their copy for online, and how to shoot and add photos and video to their stories. They learn the art of tweeting, and how to stimulate a discussion on Facebook.

They learn all this or pick another field, for expectations are high and it is a buyer’s market in the industry these days.

As I developed the Bella website, I realized the job required many of the skills needed by communications students, self-published authors, and pretty much everyone else trying to get known or make a sale. Specifically, the site incorporates: PR blurbs, video scripts, creative writing, blog posts, photo captions, a personal bio and more.

Of course you need a strategy before you start posting. Hemingway warned us never to mistake motion for action. When the cowboy and his horse burst through the gate, he knows he will have his calf lassoed in 11 seconds. If he’s sharp, the video will be up on his website a few minutes later, with a tweet linking to the post. Later he’ll add words to his blog describing the incredible rush he felt when the rope found its target, and some photos for his Facebook page. When he becomes famous, he’ll write his story, which of course will be available on an e-reader.

Or, maybe not. Maybe he’ll dismount, tip his hat to the crowd, and that’ll be that.

How did you master the new communications environment, or are you still struggling?

Social Media Key to Creative Publishing

“You have to be creative, you have to work hard, and you have to be a little bit lucky,” Steve tells American University’s SOC News.

Read the rest here.