Should PR students be forced to blog? We think so

With apologies to National Lampoon!

With apologies to National Lampoon!

No, we’ve never threatened to shoot anyone’s dog. But if you want to study PR at Kent State, you can’t pass “PR Online Tactics” without writing a blog and putting it up for the world to see. If that bothers you, you’ll want to find another major.

As PR professionals, we know that blogs are part of the communication landscape. Not all organizations participate, but all are part of the social-media game — even if they don’t play. So a new PR grad must understand blogging — and what better way than learning by doing?

Some disagree with our blog-or-else policy. In her excellent article in JMC Educator, Shearlean Duke reports on a Delphi study involving top-level PR professionals. The Delphi panel lists blogging as one of the key new-media skills PR students should develop. But the panel also insists PR educators SHOULD NOT REQUIRE students to blog, as “forced content skews the transparency of the blogosphere.” Student blogging, they say, should be voluntary.

I’d link you to the article, but it’s one of those academic journals that requires a membership.

At Kent State, we disagree. Our blog assignments and readings include a heavy dose of transparency and authenticity. But since our program prepares students for PR careers, hands-on experience is the core of everything we do — and blogging is not part of that.

Why not make blogs optional? Because no one will write them. Our students work an average of 20 hours per week, some as many as 40. They don’t drive hand-me-down BMWs, and their Coach handbags are knockoffs. Optional assignments don’t work at Kent State — something we’ve learned from experience.

Does “forced blogging” violate the spirit of transparency? I suppose it does. But do you really think 18 students in Kent, Ohio, are a threat to the sanctity the blogosphere? Besides, some of them do outstanding work that would never happen without a little coercion from the professor. And since most students disclose the assignment in their first post or the “about” page, we’ve got the transparency thing covered.

What about restricting access? Some universities require student blogs, but place them behind firewalls where only classmates and instructor can see them? This puzzle me. Isn’t the point of blogging to open yourself to online conversation? That’s how it works in the real world, so why not the classroom?

What should students write about? For 3 years now, we’ve required our students to write about some niche of public relations — any area they find interesting. I suspect that policy constrains their “passion” a bit, but focusing on a PR-related topic forces students to think deeply and critically about the business, and that’s never a bad thing.

OK. We could allow students to blog about anything they know and love. But will a blog about trout fishing do as much for the student’s portfolio as one focused on environmental PR or corporate social responsibility? You see our dilemma, I’m sure.

For the record, here’s our rationale for requiring students to blog:

  • Blogging helps students more fully understand the medium. How to write it. How to interact with readers and other bloggers. How to research a post. How to discover and link to relevant material.
  • Blogging helps students develop their online voice. They practice the terse and conversational style of online writing while being coached and critiqued by people who do it well.
  • Blogging helps students land jobs. The blog enhances the digital portfolio by showcasing online skills and understanding. It’s especially helpful with employers who are late adopters of 2.0 communication. But let’s be realistic. Never once has an employer called my office to recruit a blogger. It’s an important skill in PR, but not yet a significant career track.
  • Blogging helps students develop as PR professionals. The focus is on transparency and two-way communication, just like PR practice. In addition, student bloggers must write well and write often. We deduct points for errors in fact or gaffs in grammar, punctuation and usage.

Some prominent bloggers believe grammar errors and typos add to the authenticity of a blog. We disagree. A PR student’s blog is far more than a “naked conversation.” It a key piece in a portfolio produced by a communication professional. While a student blog should be informal, it must also be polished.

So for students thinking of becoming PR majors at Kent State — prepare to meet thy blog. Or prepare to find another major.

______________________________________________________________

For links to the student bloggers of PRKent, Spring 2009, check the blogrolls to your right.

About these ads

58 Responses to Should PR students be forced to blog? We think so

  1. Nice article, Bill. Can I quote you in my upcoming PRSA Tactics piece?

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      You bet. Happy to help any way I can. What I didn’t discuss in this piece is the impact students’ blog have had on the job search. Top employers now seek students with the usual communication skills, but also with social media savvy (if not passion). A blog is one way to illustrate it.

  2. Chuck Hemann says:

    It boils down to this for me: Do you have something interesting to add to the conversation about topic x? If the answer is yes, then you should probably be blogging. I’d say the answer is yes more often than people are generally willing to admit. Students have a perspective, whether it’s ground in years of experience or not.

  3. Jenn Mattern says:

    Here are my thoughts:

    1. I think it’s a great idea to require students to participate in blogging (at the current time at least – that could change relatively quickly as platforms and tools do).

    2. I think far more emphasis however should be placed on the fundamentals, which can be adapted to changing technologies – I learned more about successful blogging from good old fashioned PR coursework than anything specific to the medium.

    3. I don’t think a specific platform should be pushed on students. They should be exposed to several (at the university’s expense for common paid platforms used by organizations), so they’re prepared to step into any blogging situation on graduation (the capabilities of each can vary drastically).

    4. I do think a bit more freedom in topics might be more appropriate. Just because they’re in a PR course doesn’t mean they want to write about that. Would you trust anything on a management blog from an undergrad? Probably not. I’d rather see them blogging about a specific niche or industry they’re knowledgeable about than have them blogging on a topic they’re not yet fully competent in – seems to me that risks setting them up for harsher criticism and ridicule from professionals publicly, which may be more of a turnoff to blogging than anything else. Should they be prepared to handle criticisms? Absolutely. But they should be given a fair shake to talk about something they know. Writing about a passion or area of expertise makes it much easier to run a successful blog (higher traffic, more comments, etc.), and their ability to attract those things is what truly makes the blog a worthwhile portfolio piece.

    5. I think if blogging is forced on PR students, it is absolutely vital that they’re exposed to all areas of blogging, and not solely the PR value of them. A lack of understanding about blogs’ marketing value, SEO uses, use as a business model (a very successful one these days as per the latest report coming out on professional blogging), etc. does nothing to help them understand blogging as a whole. If they’re forced to blog, in my opinion they should be given an opportunity to take advantage of that blog in any way a prospective client or employer might in the future (conversions to sales / hires, ad revenue, SEO functions, driving traffic from the blog to the professional site – all on top of the news and thought leadership side of things).

  4. kehuntley says:

    Absolutely, PR students should be required to blog. PR Online is one of the most valuable classes I have taken in the program! My blog served as a portfolio of writing samples when applying for internships and I feel it really boosts my resume.

    Although focusing on PR was difficult at times, I feel like the assignment would have been pointless if it wasn’t. By applying real situations to theory and practices that I learn in class and then opening it up to debate, it helps me to learn more than reading any book.

  5. Jenn Mattern says:

    As for “polished” blogs, I actually think that takes away a bit from the authenticity of blogging. Yes, students should proofread before posting. However, if they’re waiting long enough between writing and publishing to have fresh eyes on the piece, I’d question if blogging with its nature of immediacy was really the best medium for publishing that piece to begin with. When perfection in writing is an obvious focus on a blog, I tend to find the atmosphere becomes formalized to some degree, even if not intentionally, and reading becomes less enjoyable. Blogs are great because you can see what people are thinking right now – not because they’re digitized journals. Just my $.02.

  6. Dave Armon says:

    As someone who has hired plenty of KSU PR grads, student blogs provide wonderful insight into an individual’s thought processes and skills. If everything is bland and without a strong stand, that tells me something about how the individual will likely perform. That doesn’t mean that person won’t get a job, but it will probably be a position that doesn’t require persuasion or creativity. There are roles in life for left brainers and right brainers, and this is another tool (along with traditional portfolios, faculty and employer recommendations and interviewing) to ensure a good fit.

  7. Bill Sledzik says:

    Wow. Quick feedback today. Thanks, all. Our faculty will be discussing the “blog topics” issue this summer during our retreat. We see both sides, to be sure. If students could blog about their true “passion” topics, the results might actually be better.

    More freedom of “theme” might also encourage students to continue blogging once they leave the class. Right now, damned few do, but I’m not sure it’s the topic that holds them back. I think it’s time constraints.

    But hey, it’s not always fun to write about work, and it’s also hard to find the time. Sometimes I just want to blow this site up, but I know it supports the program, so I blog on.

    And Jenn, I should have mentioned that we do look at blogs beyond PR applications. The course includes discussion and inspection of blogs’ role in marketing, and we do an entire segment on optimization. Our current instructor for this course has significant expertise in Web content management and SEO, so that helps.

    We don’t do anything on blogging as an entrepreneurial project, but there is clearly room for that, too.

    Chuck, you sound like you’re on the fence on this topic. But maybe if we allowed students more latitude on their blog themes they would be more passionate about the experience. That also supports Jenn’s point. But would a blog about local bands be as attractive to an employer as one about the PR business? As I said earlier, that’s our dilemma. We’re working to produce employable PR professionals, not bloggers.

    Now, Jenn, as for authenticity through typos. Yes, I know the argument, and I see your point about immediacy. But it’s a hard sell for folks in a journalism school, where we still worship at the altar of precise language. Let me also say that many of our employers go to the same Church of the English Language. They don’t like subject-verb disagreement.

    And Katie, thanks for the testimonial. It supports my argument that PR topics are the way to go. But I’m keeping an open mind. There’s more than one way to do this.

    • Robert Checkal says:

      I think the reason most students don’t continue their blogs does happen to be the corner they’ve been painted into or… the “theme” as you put it. haha. I work 40 hours a week and I go to school full time as well, but I still try to find time for updates when I’m not swamped.

      The only thing I’m scared about when taking this class is the after-the-fact presence of an outdated blog from a class I took a few years ago hanging out on the Internet.

      I have a blog where I talk about my life and I divulge my thoughts and innerworkings and everything about myself. I don’t want one with a theme because it lacks substance to me. Not that themed blogs aren’t successful and useful, but there’s something to be said about those who really “blog.”

      Blogging to me means talking about any point of interest or topic I feel like talking about. Blogging maintains a sense of freedom that most traditional formats of publishing do not allow. That’s what’s appealing about blogs for so many people.

      To require a theme is almost ignorant of things that are important to the students writing them. Yeah, student A likes fashion and wouldn’t mind creating a themed PR blog surrounding it but student A also enjoys environmentalism, technology, social media, special events, entertainment… etc, etc. You get the point.

      • Bill Sledzik says:

        It goes back to the “passion” thing, Robert. You’re a better blogger when you love the subject, and I won’t argue that.

        But as a PR educator, it’s my job to focus on the intersection of PR and blogs. I teach PR, not blogging. To the extent blogging overlaps with PR, that’s fine. But there has to be a connection, even if it’s a loose one. A blog sharing one’s inner thoughts is cool, but it’s a personal diary.

        In the “PR Online Tactics” class, we talk about and study how organizations use blogs to help them reach strategic objectives — which includes building relationships through conversations. It may be fun, but that’s now why we do it.

        As for that out-of-date blog hanging in cyberspace, I see your point. But you can always include a link to your current site at the top of the last post. Or you can just take take the site down. That’ll offend some blogging purists, but if it’s your site, you can do whatever you want.

    • Robert Checkal says:

      I’m simply stating that students have multiple passions. Yes, the blog should definitely include the PR intersection. I don’t argue that in the least. Yes, blogs are useful as tools. I don’t argue that. I just feel students would have a hard time maintaining the blog if it’s a PR blog intersected with one particular subject. If students had the opportunity to both focus on one PR-intersected subject while still having the freedom to write about other PR-intersected subjects, they might maintain their work.

      The “personal diary” aspect of blogging is kind of where it started. I think it’s such a huge success because of the freedom people get to express their thoughts. Human thoughts are valid and important and having the freedom to publish them on an open network is a great feeling for some bloggers.

      While blogging has evolved, I still think the freedom of blogging openly about any topic does let people really write substantial posts. While it doesn’t need to maintain a “personal diary” feel to it for class, it should still allow freedom.

      I hope that better gets my point across, have a good day, sir.

  8. Hey Bill,

    One word: Absolutely!

    I learned so much from your PR Online Tactics class. I credit this class for preparing me for my current job and being selected as an intern for Dix & Eaton, the Timken Company and Project Learn of Summit County. My employers were impressed with my knowledge and experience. I was able to explain the importance of getting involved in SM and the many benefits having a SM presence.

    I still maintain my blog, PRogressive Health (http://progressivehealth.wordpress.com), which is the same blog I started when I was in your class.

    Blogging enables students to perfect their online writing and find their voice. I blog about issues related to children — something that I’m passionate about and relates to my personal life. But talking about those issues with a PR spin made me love blogging even more.

    I really believe that students must learn about all the major aspects of social media to really get something out of it. The best way to learn is by doing.

  9. Chuck Hemann says:

    Bill – Actually, I think it probably makes sense, particularly from a “get the students thinking/analyzing” perspective. The flexibility point is key in my opinion. You want students to write well, contribute a perspective and then engage their readership. The topic doesn’t matter as it is the same process regardless of what you are writing about.

    As far as whether or not it would be attractive to perspective employers, I’d say yes, regardless of the topic. We’re looking at it from a writing skills standpoint. I don’t care if they thought XYZ should have/should not have been voted off of Idol this week.

  10. Bill Sledzik says:

    Note: Thanks to s glitch in WordPress, Robert’s comment and my reply fall out or sequence.

    Dave: Your comment came in as I was responding to the others. First, let me say thanks for hiring all those Kent grads.

    I keyed in on this line from your comment:

    If everything is bland and without a strong stand, that tells me something about how the individual will likely perform.

    Seems to me that the best way to avoid anything “bland” might be to give students more leeway on their topics and themes. That is, require blogging, but take down the constraints.

    And, Alexia, don’t lose that passion. I point our students to your Twitter activities all the time — a great example of how a young professional uses social media both strategically and sincerely. We’re proud to have you in the PRKent family. Folks can follow Alexia @alexiaharris

  11. Jenn Mattern says:

    Glad to hear you’re helping students see beyond the PR side of blogging Bill – it’s truly maddening seeing PR folks dismiss any benefits of blogging that don’t focus on their own agenda.

    “But would a blog about local bands be as attractive to an employer as one about the PR business? As I said earlier, that’s our dilemma. We’re working to produce employable PR professionals, not bloggers.”

    I suppose here’s how I look at it – each student has the right to decide what aspect of PR they want to get into upon graduation, and I feel that if they’re forced to do something with the intention of it being a portfolio piece then they should be permitted to invest that time in a portfolio piece relevant to their interest area. I worked in both nonprofit PR and music PR for example – completely different worlds. If I were recruiting someone then to assist with music PR, I’d much rather see that band on local bands which demonstrates they’re aware of the scene and able to connect with that audience. That makes them more valuable in that context than someone blogging about something like PR concepts. I did some recruiting through a nonprofit agency as well. In that case, a music blog would be worthless as a portfolio piece in convincing me to hire someone. But that’s the students’ choice – what kind of work do they want to do, and what kind of portfolio pieces will most help them do that?

  12. Jenn Mattern says:

    Speaking of proofreading…. lol “blog on local bands” – not “band on local bands”.

  13. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hmmm. I’m coming around on this as the discussion unfolds. Maybe we need to loosen up on the theme thing.

    I can see where a local music blog could easily tie in PR/promotion. But it might not be as easy for a blog about kayaking. But then I’m reminded of the social media activities of @davrutic at Folbot. He got my attention.

    Back to typos. Yikes. Errors happen more often in comments, as there’s not much time for proofreading. (Today’s rationalization.) But as I say in the “About the Blog” section, I also fix them when they don’t alter the meaning of the message. I hate that strikethru type thing — a silly affectation of the blogosphere.

  14. Jenn Mattern says:

    I generally don’t proofread comments unless there’s a preview option, where I’ll give it a quick read-through.

    Even a kayaking blog could be useful for someone interested in sports PR, even if it’s not the sport they’re ultimately involved with. It still shows employers that they’re capable of keeping that kind of audience interested. In the end, even requiring a blog in class doesn’t mean a student will choose to use it in their actual portfolios, especially if they couldn’t feel passionate about it and the blog reflects that – they may not be as proud of that as other samples they’ve created. Sure, with more freedom some will choose topics that won’t work well for portfolios, but it seems like that should be their decision to make. We all make good decisions and we all make poor decisions, and they have to start making those decisions for themselves somewhere.

    Related to your past response, I think exploring the entrepreneurial side of blogging would certainly be a good idea. For starters, it may make blogging a bit more exciting for some who don’t choose to be “blog purists,” and may give them added incentive to stick with it (I’m actually teaching my sister how to get started on that front to earn some part-time income when she heads off to school in DC this fall).

    Not only might it offer personal benefits, but professional as well. It helps to understand online business these days, with that area constantly growing. The neverending supply of new Web startups means more client or job opportunities, and even larger Web-based companies are putting more emphasis on PR (think Google). It helps to understand where those businesses are coming from, and where more traditional businesses continue to follow.

  15. Valerie says:

    Participating in social media is a necessary and important component of an education for today’s PR students. The rationale provided above is absolutely on point- Blogging helps students more fully understand the medium, develop their online voice, enhance their digital portfolio and ultimately help students land jobs. I recently wrote an article on the subject and believe that the students who participate in hands on courses are better positioned to find a job and have the necessary skills on the job. As several students pointed out in their feedback to me, beyond Facebook and MySpace, most students are not familiar with social media. Requiring students to engage may push them beyond their comfort level, but isn’t that what a good education is all about?

  16. stacy lambe says:

    As a PR/Ad graduate from Penn State, I find this discussion extremely interesting. We were never required to blog or engage online communications. Though, I did graduate in ’07 – I find it hard to believe that many professors weren’t engaged in new media.

    A requirement to blog is great! Part of the process is experimenting (and failing). While academic topics might be easier to grade for content, structure and execution, an emphasis should also be placed on engagement, outreach and interactivity.

    Most blogs fail because they do not link or share with other blogs/audience/readers/etc.

    Finally, I do not think all blogs have to be only text. There is a movement within PR to utilize visual communications (whether its for pitches, press releases, awards, etc.). Let’s hope the students are publishing multimedia as well.

  17. laurencarll says:

    I absolutely think PR students should be “forced” to blog. Like Katie Huntley said, PR Online Tactics has been one of the most, if not THE most, valuable PR classes I’ve taken thus far. You’re right, Bill. Had we not been “forced” to write a weekly blog post, chances are, we wouldn’t.

    However, these blog posts helped me explore my creativity as a writer, while I linked my passion for the fashion industry with public relations. Blogging is a great hands-on experience for students to relate PR to a specific area they are interested in working. It requires us to think deeper and encourages us to engage in two-way communication. My blog has served as an impressive writing sample and a “resume booster,” and I think PRKent is helping its students be a “cut above the rest” by offering this course.

  18. Chuck Hemann says:

    Lauren/Katie – I have no doubt you gained a lot from the experience of writing a blog, but don’t you think you could’ve gleaned the same insights while writing something else? I’m not saying you dislike PR, or wouldn’t want to write about it, but I am wondering if your writing would have been even more dynamic if it were something else that you were truly passionate about.

    I don’t know the answer to that question by the way…each person is different.

  19. mediatide says:

    I force my multimedia students to create applications in different media. A lot of others do, too. So, yeah, you’re correct in your practice, especially since you guys are writers. Not much of a debate here. The key thing is helping them come up with relevant topics. A lot of my students have no idea what their angle will be at the beginning of the quarter, but after i show them some former students’ examples, they start to get inspired. And they do really good work.

  20. stacy lambe says:

    We appreciate the Nittany and JoePa love. I’m sure PSU will develop its online/PR courses. A few professors have already popped up on Twitter and seem to understand its developing nature.

    I love that your students are engaging in multimedia. Like it has been said before – this all requires hands on experience, regardless of skill or perfection.

    It would be interesting to see how these course assignments become integrated or if it leads to an “interactive communications” course where the expectation is to utilize online media, video, photography, etc.

    Things that might aide the development (outside of writing blogs) are using Readers/RSS Feeds, critiquing existing blogs/online news services, using Twitter (if only within classroom) or following online campaigns such as Pizza Hut’s Twintern.

  21. Bill Sledzik says:

    My bad! I inadvertently deleted my earlier response to Stacy. Here it is.

    Thank you, Stacy, and know that Nittany Lion fans are welcome on my blog anytime. JoePa rules!

    Nice point about taking the blogs beyond writing. Our students in the “PR Online Tactics” class do produce podcasts, but we don’t integrate them with the blog. Perhaps we should. And we still have a ways to go with video. Shooting and editing is a course in itself — unless you’re happy with the YouTube-style flip camera stuff. It has it’s place, to be sure, but it’s a bit cheesy for corporate applications.

    In fairness to your faculty at Penn State, we only began hands-on integration of social media in ’06, though we began to plan for it in ’04. It takes time — lots of time — to create a meaningful class like “PR Online Tactics.” (BTW, the credit for doing that belongs to my colleague, Michelle Ewing.)

    Multimedia is here. As of next academic year, we’re asking instructors in every skills-related class in the School of Journalism to require a multimedia project. Most of them are already doing it.

  22. Brittany Thoma says:

    I love my blog, and I love blogging. The only thing that’s keeping me from continuing it this semester is the time constraint, like you said Bill. I felt like blogging finally gave me the arena and the voice I needed in PR. Plus, I did write about my passion – how the green movement is affecting PR. And I even got to network with other PR pros across the country through my blog. Online Tactics was my most valuable course, and blogging was my favorite project. I would never have blogged had it not been assigned.

  23. Christina Klenotic says:

    Bill, odds are that a lot of employers of new PRKent grads are going to expect them to blog on behalf of the company as part of a department/corporate blog or monitor/respond to social media. The more prepared grads are, the more comfortable they’ll feel with that job responsibility.

    P.S. I vote for letting students pick their topic of choice. The more passion they feel for a topic, the more it will draw in readers and provide an incredible learning experience about building and maintaining an online community.

  24. Amanda Kozma says:

    I’m going to agree with the past PRKent students and say that PR Online was probably the most beneficial class I’ve taken in the program. I loved being “forced” to blog. It was something I have always wanted to do, but I never had the time or knew what to blog about. I was relieved that our topic had to relate to public relations, it provided us with a direction to get started.

    I understand choosing a topic of our choice might allow us to be more passionate in our writing; however, I think one of the greatest benefits from my blogging experience has been networking with other bloggers in the industry. Like Brittany, I’ve made contacts with people across the country. As a student, I doubt I would have ever had the opportunity to engage with those professionals had I not been actively blogging about similar topics. By writing about public relations on our blogs, we were forced to follow and comment on other PR blogs just to stay current and help us with our own posts every week.
    Blogging has been a great networking tool and learning experience, I don’t think I’d change my topic even if I had the choice.

  25. Jackie Lloyd says:

    Call me the black sheep of the PR sequence, but I absolutely hate the idea of forced blogging. In my opinion, you should only write about things that you are passionate enough to write about without prompting. I’ll admit I didn’t take PR Online, but I never felt like I was missing out on blogging because I created my own blog anyway. I’ve had classes with almost everyone who has taken PR Online and I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “I have a blog due tomorrow and absolutely nothing to say.” I like this line from Chuck’s reply: “It boils down to this for me: Do you have something interesting to add to the conversation about topic x? If the answer is yes, then you should probably be blogging.” I firmly believe that bloggers should only contribute something meaningful to the online conversation. If you honestly have nothing valuable to say, by all means keep the fluffy crap off the blogosphere. On the flip side, you can tell when a blogger is passionate about the topic. It shows in his/her work and it’s more interesting to read because of it. I think if you’re going to force students to blog, it should be about something they know and love. Good compromise, no?

  26. As you know, Bill, I do require my students to participate in social media — Twitter, PROpenmic, blogging, depending on the class. But there’s a BIG potential downside to it, as documented here: http://www.theprpractitioner.com/?p=444 Students make mistakes (although this one is more than a “mistake”) and the mistakes are as permanent for students as they are for companies. As Robert says in the comments on Brian’s post — “Class assignment makes me unemployable.” I’m not saying we shouldn’t require it, just that there’s also a big responsibility in preparing the students before they go public.

  27. Bill Sledzik says:

    Jackie: If all of our “black sheep” here performed as well as you, I could take half the semester off. We’re glad you came to Kent State. But you haven’t changed my mind.

    In my opinion, you should only write about things that you are passionate enough to write about without prompting.

    Gotta tell you, if I had written only about the topics I felt passion about, I’d have starved long ago. I made a good bit of cash writing about dental fillings, boring mills, speed reducers, truck tires and rustproofing. It’s not all glitz and glamor in this biz, but for me, it was all challenging.

    Passion? Our students showed plenty, even though some complained in the process. They had plenty to say, and most said it well. But it took a little coercion on our part to coax forth that content.

    Our students have written some inspired posts, and they’ve written some duds. Same is true for me. But they reaped some great experience, and they understand strategic use of social media far better as a result. I’m happy with that, and I think most of the students are as well.

    I have no problem allowing students to blog about topics they know and love, and we give them plenty of leeway so long as it ties back to PR. That is what we teach here, after all.

  28. Bill Sledzik says:

    Karen: That link leads to an interesting case that had me chuckling. Sounds like the kid put more work into fabricating the interview than it would have taken to just do it.

    Our context may be a tad different here at Kent, but perhaps not. Before our majors take the “PR Online Course,” they spend a required semester reporting for the Daily Kent Stater. Their work is published in print and/or online at KentNewsNet each week.

    Students are well aware of the risks they take by fabricating or embellishing, as it’s part of the instruction they get from Day One in J School. The mantra of “accuracy” cuts across every major in the school.

    I should explain that our students gain basic writing and news-gathering skills by taking two core classes with our journalism faculty. Our PR major is bit of a throwback by keeping this requirement in the “news” area, but we get great results. Students generally emerge as crisp writers and well-versed in AP style.

    In the “Beat Reporting” class, students work under stressful deadlines for 15 straight weeks, so they become accustomed to finding, assembling, and writing information quickly. Once they get to the blogging assignment their senior year, they post for only 8 weeks, and they pick the topics within the general PR theme we’ve dictated. It’s a relative breeze.

    I do feel for the kid referenced in the link you posted. But in this digital world, every mistake has a long life. We, as faculty, do bear the responsibility or preparing students for this reality, but I don’t believe we should protect them from it.

  29. Danny Brown says:

    Forcing anyone to do anything is way counter-productive. And forcing someone to blog especially so.

    A good blogger needs passion, time, commitment, knowledge and a heck of a lot more besides. Not to mention design skills, SEO skills, editing skills, fact-checking skills, etc.

    Not everyone can blog; not everyone wants to blog; not everyone should blog.

    No-one should be “forced” to do anything. Writing is a key part in PR, agreed, but there are many ways to learn writing skills.

    Forcing against someone’s will is a quick way to make them hate something. And there are enough haters externally without encouraging it internally as well.

  30. nicklucido says:

    First of all, as a PR student who started a blog on my own, I’m really excited to see more courses throwing students in the deep end of the pool when it comes to new media. Props!

    My question is how is assigning a blog assignment any different than assigning a press release? I don’t see much of a difference. If you assign a general topic, for example, discussing experience with social bookmarking, there is plenty of room for authenticity.

    In any case, publishing a blog for the entire world to see is great experience; your students will probably make mistakes along the way, but that is all part of the learning process.

    • Danny Brown says:

      @Nick.

      There’s a massive difference between writing a single press release and consistently writing a blog.

      A press release is telling one single story and unless it’s a social media news release, there is generally no feedback from the release itself.

      With a blog, you’re constantly dealing with feedback. You’re answering blog comments; you’re discussing on Twitter, Friendfeed or any other SM site you wish to mention.

      You’re also constantly thinking of additional content in the way of follow-up posts, complementary posts, involving your community, making people question you’re thoughts and encouraging interaction through comments, social bookmarking and more.

      There’s a key statement you make in your intro – YOU started the blog on YOUR OWN.

      I’d be curious to see how you would have felt if you’d been forced to do it.

      Blogging (good blogging) takes time, commitment, hard work, sweat, tears, disappointment and love.

      And if that description sounds too dramatic, then sorry, with all due respect, you’re not really blogging.

      Just a thought ;-)

  31. Jackie Lloyd says:

    Why thank you Bill, that’s very nice of you to say. But you still haven’t convinced me either. I think of it as survival of the PR fittest. Those in the PR sequence who are motivated enough to succeed will ultimately create blogs on their own and familiarize themselves with the social media world. NOT to say that a class about blogging isn’t extremely helpful and beneficial to students, but I think only those students with expressed interest in blogging should even take the class. I’m with Danny Brown, forcing anyone to do anything is counter-productive. It builds resentment. I also agree with Danny that there are many ways to build writing skills–as much as I hate to admit it the evil Print Beat Reporting class is a biggie (however ulcer-inducing it might be.) And to correct myself, I don’t think you should BLOG about anything you’re not passionate about. If I were being paid to blog about dental fillings, for example, I would be passionate about it because I am passionate about money and therefore vicariously passionate about the dental fillings blog that would be making me money :)

  32. Bill Sledzik says:

    I wish I could start over with the headline, “Should students be ‘required’ to blog?” The word “forced” has some connotations that puts it up there with water boarding. But I can’t change it now, as it would mess with the karma of the blogosphere.

    Still, I’m gonna take issue with both Jackie and Danny. Danny you say: “Forcing anyone to do anything is way counter-productive. And forcing someone to blog especially so.”

    I’m not sure why blogging holds a special place in the communication matrix, but lots of folks seem to think so. Ours is an assignment designed to help one learn the medium and the process. In my first writing class, I was taught to write obituaries. Seems quaint looking back on it, but entry-level journalists in the 60s and 70s often started on the obit page. And lemme tell you, I hated writing about dead people, then getting an automatic “F” if I misspelled one name in the assignment. But I learned it. Man did I learn it.

    Call me “old school” if you’d like. But if we only assigned work students could feel passionate about, we’d never get anything done — in school or in the world.

    Now, let’s clear something else up. We don’t “force” anyone to blog. We simply make it part of the requirement for one major at the university. Students can opt to do other things, and many already do because of our dreaded “Beat Reporting” requirement. Jackie, I know you loved that one, too :-)

    Our students in the “news” side of the school are required to take Newswriting, Beat Reporting, Reporting Public Affairs, etc. These courses contain vital information for those who plan to earn their living as journalists.

    Did all journalists take those courses? No. Did all journalists go to J-School? No. And the same goes for PR professionals. So you see, students still have choices. But our job, as PR educators, is to prepare them for the tasks that lie ahead — at least as best we can anticipate them. Blogging is part of that task.

    And if the student dislikes blogging (which is just one component of the class), she can walk away from it in 15 weeks. But at least she knows what it’s about. I think the testimonials from some of the students who took this class illustrate the point.

    As I said, I’m coming around to being more flexible about the blog themes. But I gotta tell you, if a student finds writing 8 blog posts to be onerous, well, I know of 300 other majors that won’t require it.

    • Danny Brown says:

      Bill,

      Sorry, fella, have to disagree (which is the great thing about open blogs like yours).

      You’re comparing work practices with passion, and we both know they’re two totally different things.

      You know how much time and effort it takes to blog – that’s why so many fail in their first couple of months, if even that.

      By it’s very nature, a blog is a “personal weblog” (unless it’s an MU one that is multi-authored) and therefore it’s your thoughts, voice, opinion. It’s something that’s going to define you as a person.

      Even if you change the wording to “require”, it’s still making someone do something they may not want to do. And this has nothing to do with being an effective part of the curriculum – this can simply be the fact that the person doesn’t feel comfortable opening up their personal voice.

      You may feel there’s no difference between a journo student writing obits and a PR student blogging, but there’s a key difference – opinion versus fact.

      A great blog should be about opinion – a news story (obit or otherwise) is factual reporting. It’s far easier to be given details to run with as an article than it is to look at the news and come up with your own take and opinion, and then open that up for discussion with your readers.

      If you feel that blogs can be written as simple article generation sites, then that becomes editorial opinion and, as I said earlier, might be suited to an MU news-type blog.

      But taking away someone’s own choice and opinion stops it from being a blog and simply turns it into another article directory.

      • Bill Sledzik says:

        Always happy to host a forum for debate, Danny. That’s what it’s about here, and I’m glad you came back with a reply. Not sure how many are still with us, but who cares?

        Here is where we continue to disagree:

        By it’s very nature, a blog is a “personal weblog” (unless it’s an MU one that is multi-authored) and therefore it’s your thoughts, voice, opinion. It’s something that’s going to define you as a person.

        While many blogs are personal, others are written by people who represent organizations. To some extent, the blog remains personal — but it’s also part of the job — you know — work. And lemme tell you, those posts don’t always grow from passion.

        This blog is an example. If I didn’t see it as a way to enhance the education of my students and the stature of Kent State’s PR program, I’d shut down ToughSledding in a heartbeat. I blog first because it produces results, and second because it keeps my writing skills sharp. It’s also a way to stay current on the 2.0 end of the biz, which I’d have to do anyway.

        To paraphrase a line from Edison, blogging for me is a helluva lot more perspiration than inspiration.

        As for requiring “someone do something they may not want to do.” Welcome to college — and to life. If all I did in class is let students do what made them happy, we’d lose all credibility in the PR business and in higher ed. If a student isn’t comfortable writing opinion, it’s up to me to help him get comfortable. (My “hate” as a PR professional was special events — and I just loathed them. But I did events b/c they were part of the job I was paid to do. Many folks blog for the same reason.)

        Finally, I believe everyone should required to state an opinion and defend it. It’s fundamental to one’s personal growth, and that’s what bloggers do.

        Blogging helps a student learn to research a position carefully and to build and present a cogent argument. And the forum of the blogosphere lets other folks weigh in on the essays, providing feedback and criticism. I don’t see this as shackling a student at all. If anything, I see it as liberating, and a great chance to develop one’s critical thinking skills.

        Students don’t always agree with me about required blogging. That’s why — in the classroom at least — I’m the “Dad.” :-)

        Writing? Hell, good writing is good writing. If it’s a blog, the tone and format are different from a white paper or a feature story. But PR professionals must be adept at writing for all channels and forms.

  33. Valerie says:

    Bill,
    I think you are right- the conversation would no doubt be different if the term “required” vs “forced” was used. Danny makes several good points however, and while I remain in support of student blogging, and that PR classes should have a blogging requirement, would it be more effective to have a “class blog” where the students, alumni and even the professor contribute? Requiring a post (or multiple posts) offers a very different level of responsibility (for both the writer and to the readers)

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      That’s a possibility, Valerie. And maybe one we should consider. But I’m gonna go back to the impact a really good “solo” blog can have on a student’s portfolio. It’s invaluable, as it showcases a whole range of talents and understanding — research, writing, and above all, listening.

  34. Jenn Mattern says:

    I guess I missed the memo. I didn’t realize the blogging gods had determined blogs were only for opinions.

    Blogs are ever-evolving tools. In reality, a blog is more of a platform than a style, and bloggers have been successful using them in a variety of ways. Interestingly, my highest traffic and most profitable blog has very little conversation and is mostly tutorial-based and news reporting (actually many of the top blogs have a heavy emphasis on news). On the other hand, I have NakedPR which is nothing but opinion. It still does well for me on its intended fronts. Others I run are a nice combination of strategies. None performs better than another because of posting style alone, as long as they stick to being about the readers.

    Blogs are tailored to individual audiences – not a one size fits all tool to be used in one way. If Bill were forcing his students to formulate and publish opinions on highly specific topics, I’d completely agree and say that’s a rubbish way of teaching people to effectively blog. I don’t get that vibe though (although I can always be wrong).

    That adaptability is precisely why blogs are so beautiful to begin with – they can be anything. These days you can even use a blog as an all-out CMS, fully integrating anything from classifieds for your audience to forums and even your own niche social network. Appealing to one’s own audience and what they want doesn’t make it any less of a blog. If we want to stick to tradition, hell, let’s all go back to personal journaling about all of the mundane aspects of our lives.

    What’s stopping a student “forced” to blog from choosing their own style, opinionated or not? I don’t know. Perhaps the profs are. Or perhaps they’re not. I think making that choice is an important part of learning the medium to begin with.

    It also isn’t the only time students are forced to publicly share their opinions. Just think of any graduate program where you’re required to be published. Before I moved into PR, I studied engineering. Even there we were required to share professional opinions publicly. We worked with a nonprofit designing and creating prototypes of new equipment. We had to use our “professional” opinions regarding tools, technologies, etc. to solve real human-oriented problems, and put that on display presenting on television to the entire city and surrounding area (filled with massive numbers of employers of our engineering graduates btw). Nerve-racking? Sure. Room to screw up? You betcha. But it did force us to be diligent in our work. That was a part of the point. Hell, that was a freshman project. I would have taken blogging any day instead.

    I’m not even sure why opinions in and of themselves should be a reason for not requiring blogging, as long as students are given some say in the topics – allowing them to choose things they actually have opinions about to begin with. If you can’t formulate opinions and attempt to persuade, you probably don’t belong in PR – better to weed those folks out before they commit to it for a lifetime, no?

    • Danny Brown says:

      Jenn, from your time at Suite101 you of all people should know how much people hated force… ;-)

      I agree with you that opinions are everywhere and they can take different shapes. The key difference (imo) is that to make a blog really work (if it’s your *personal* blog) it needs time, effort, commitment and yes, passion and love.

      You don’t get that from being forced.

      And as I mentioned in my previous comment, by all means, have a MU blog to offer students to write on.

      With regards your last comment, I’d far rather have an intern working for me that has an opinion that’s NOT forced than make them say something they don’t want to. Maybe that’s just me.

  35. Bill Sledzik says:

    I don’t want to sidetrack the discussion, so consider this an “aside.” In my PR career, I helped give voice to many, many opinions I didn’t agree with. It’s part of being an advocate — a PR professional who represents a client’s interests. I never took a position I considered unethical or immoral. But my client’s positions didn’t always mirror my own.

    As for blog content of our students, we don’t require that they voice opinions, but we encourage them to put their ideas and analysis into their posts. Blogs are one of the few PR tools that enable us to get “personal,” and want students to experiment with that voice.

    I’m beginning to wonder if the Great Cluetrain gods will send me to hell for this. Oh, well.

  36. Jenn Mattern says:

    I thought it was more that they hated not being paid fairly or treated with respect (why I left at least, although I can’t speak from the writers’ perspective). ;) You know… I always wondered if you were the same Danny Brown from those days, but for some reason never asked.

    I think you bring up two interesting things:

    You mention “personal blogs” and how they shouldn’t be forced. I don’t get the feeling that’s what’s happening. Bill already noted that they’re able to give up the blogs after the assignment. They can delete it if they want to. They’re not tethered to it, and it doesn’t sound like they’re being forced to treat it as an overly “personal” blog. An MU blog really wouldn’t be that much different (possibly worse for students). They would still have their names publicly tied to those posts, opinions, or whatever else they share. They would likely still have some profile tied to them. The exposure would likely be greater rather than less (exposing that required content to even more people). The worst though is the fact that the students wouldn’t have the control then – they wouldn’t have the option to necessarily remove things they don’t want available after the course is completed.

    As for your comment about preferring an intern that has an opinion that’s not forced, I don’t think anyone is making anyone “say something don’t want to.” They’re not being force-fed post topics that I’ve seen, being told what their opinion should be. They’re just being required to formulate an opinion of their own – something they’d very well better be able to do upon graduating from a PR program. In the real world, they won’t be choosing what they write about. They’ll be blogging for clients or consulting on those blogs. They may not be overly passionate about the subject matter, but they’ll still be required to formulate professional opinions and make a case (or help their clients make a case) in those posts.

    I think both of the arguments you’ve made there could easily be solved by one little thing: more freedom in choosing the blog topics.

  37. Noelle P. says:

    I don’t see a problem with “requiring” students to maintain a blog as part of the Tactics class. As someone who had to complete the requirement, I had a lot of fun owning a blog. Not only did I get to voice my opinion on a topic in which I was interested, but I also got a crash course in social media. I was able to use my blog as a portfolio piece and talking point during my interviews. In fact, I would like to think that my blog helped me land my last internship.

    Much like Print Beat course (where PR majors work as a reporter for the college newspaper for one semester), PR Online forces students out of their comfort zone and allows them to see the other side of the job. PR professionals must work with journalists (and bloggers) so it seems only logical to emerge students in this environment.

    I’m not understanding why this is viewed as torture for students. It is no different than a 15-page paper, final exam, group project or required readings (all due at the same time). At least this is giving PRKent students practical experience and an edge that many students from other universities cannot claim. I can graduate and say that I own a blog. While it might seem trivial, higher level professionals cannot claim this. I learned how to write for social media, which is very different than print media and not many professionals have this skill.

  38. Melissa says:

    I loved taking PR Online this semester! I had always wanted to start a blog but had never gotten around to it. This class gave me the extra push that I needed to get it done.

    Whether you say ‘forced’ or ‘required’ I still think blogging for class is fantastic. Even though I haven’t been required to blog for a couple weeks now, I’m still doing it!

    Blogging is such a great resume builder! Learning about social media is such a fantastic way to go in class. Because of the skills I learned in PR Online (newsletters, Twitter, blogging etc.) I landed an internship for the summer!

    No matter what way you put it, blogging needs to stay in the requirements for the PR Kent State program!

  39. Sean Bailey says:

    I’m currently in the final weeks of my 1-yr post-grad PR program at Centennial College in Toronto. My blog began in preparation for an Online PR course that I took this past semester.

    Every student had the opportunity to pick a topic of their choosing and relate it to PR. Some of the choices were: travel, entertainment & food. Others, like my own, are general blogs about PR. I prefer this angle because I can touch on anything I want, as long as I relate it back to PR.

    Now that I’m finished the course, I’ve kept writing and it’s easier for me because I haven’t pigeon-holed myself.

    -Sean (@InSeansOpinion)

  40. Hi Bill, timely post for me, since I am sitting here in Vienna, having just finished up teaching future Austrian communications professionals. In yesterday’s lecture, I spoke about this exact topic, urging them to create a blog as a means of building “Brand You” and working on their writing skills.

    I used our USF Alum Meg Roberts (http://megroberts.wordpress.com) as an example of the great things that can happen to a student who blogs well with interesting posts about communications. For the Austrian students, there really is an opportunity to grab considerable mindshare, since they could not identify a single Austrian student blogging about communications topics.

    In Meg’s case, she wanted to be at the leading edge and created a plan to land a job and display her social media skills. Fast forward to today and I now have professionals asking me if I know her when they hear that I teach at USF.

    I also see blogging as an opportunity for students who have limited internship opps to still get experience. Since they can blog anytime, it does not really matter if they work, etc.

    The caveat, though, in all this is that students have examples like Meg to follow, but still do not try to follow her lead. I have a hard time getting my students to try and none of the Austrian students rushed out of class last night and started a blog.

  41. prpacesetter says:

    Great post Bill.

    I agree students should be required to blog. I didn’t feel “forced” when I took the PR Online Tactics class. Anxious yes, but after a few posts I found my own style. I even started a blog for Ohio Sports & Fitness, albeit not as consistent as I would like or as in depth as it needs to be. I am limited on time.

    A blogging class can be valuable for several reasons:

    It’s an important writing style, especially in today’s cyber world.

    As a PR major we must be able to write in a variety of formats. In my opinion blogging is one of the easiest styles to adapt to, plus it is to the point, thus many posts can be short, yet relevant.

    As Armon mentioned: blogging provides potential employers the opportunity to see your thought process. As an editor, I have turned to blogs to find freelance writers and editors.

    Blogging enhances writing skills. I took PR Online the same semester I took print beat reporting. This made for a tough semester, but I gained a great deal of writing knowledge and skills that I was able to mix between the two classes.

    Another important aspect of blogging: you must stay on top of the news, continually research, etc. While this is time consuming, it is an essential part of PR.

    The fact that students are able to write about what interests them makes this a much easier assignment. I can’t imagine writing 10 posts on a topic that I hated.

    Many PR majors may disagree with me, but I think we need more blogging and print beat type classes. The hands on experience is more valuable than some of the other classes I have taken. For example, a lecture type class that “forced” me to memorize and regurgitate information that I either will not use and/or was not applied to anything.

    In the end, all writing classes are important. As communicators we must be on top of our game.

  42. Philip says:

    Excellent post, Bill. We feel pretty much the same at the University of Sunderland. At the moment I let students write about anything they want to write about, mostly because we are usually so prescriptive about how they should write and this gives them a platform to be creative but I am leaning towards your more focused approach. Next year I’ll probably opt for anything you want at level one, something that will boost your cv at level two.

  43. Emma Long says:

    Hi Bill, great post.

    I agree with most of your points regarding the need to teach PR students the correct way to communicate online and how to utilise the advantages of social media.

    I am in my third year of a four year degree at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK and I have often raised the query regarding the need to teach us a similar module. The reply I’ve always been met with has been lack of time, resource and the final excuse of our age – apparently we’re “young enough not to be taught how to use it as we should already know”.

    Despite it not being a compulsory module at our university a number of my colleagues, including myself, do blog, tweet and post on facebook regularly. Perhaps if a student does take the onus upon themselves to develop their online skills and reach out to the online community it shows their commitment to the industry more?

    A really informative post though and one which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

  44. Man, talk about hitting a pain point– 54 comments, and climbing!

    I absolutely disagree with Shearlean, and let me tell you why:

    When I was a PR student at Centennial, I was forced into an online PR course that I adamantly opposed. I wasn’t into the blogosphere or social media, hell I didn’t even have a Face Book account (still don’t!). And then, after a month of maintaining my first blog, something changed. I’ve always been an overly ambitious young man, and I realized that in this space, I had incredible potential to grow, to build my name quickly and brand myself internationally. Today, I’m one of the few graduates from that class who still regularly maintains that same blog (shameless advertising: PR Ninja) and I’m probably the biggest social media proponent of all my peers. Simply put, that blog has changed my life. And had I not had a great prof to force me to build and maintain that blog, I would have never had the opportunity to consult government and big business organizations on social media, network with some of the greatest international minds in the business and cement my brand in the search engine fabric.

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Brandon,

      In fairness, Shearlean was only reporting the results of her study. It was the PR professionals who said, “don’t require blogging.” I honestly don’t know Shearlean’s position on the topic.

      But your comment reinforces my belief on all this. Part of the teacher’s role is to encourage experimentation, and sometimes that means we have to require it.

  45. Bill, I think this is fantastic as a learning tool for the students.

    Additionally, having a well-done blog is also much more important than a resume to get that first job. I am on several company advisory boards and when asked how to hire communicators at any level, my answer is “see how they communicate themselves. If they can’t do that, don’t hire them.”

    Keep up the good work. I wish all schools had professors like you.

    David

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Flattered, sir. Still searching for the magic potion that will keep them blogging on. There’s something about making it a class requirement that leads students to stop the activity after 15 weeks.

  46. [...] at Kent State University told me. Here is Bill’s post explaining the philosophy: Should PR students be forced to blog? We think so Note that there are more than 50 comments on Bill’s blog post as of this [...]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 90 other followers

%d bloggers like this: