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.