Read & Respond week 5: Twitter

September 12, 2019

This week is about all things Twitter, the platform where your thoughts are limited to 280 characters but the outrage is limitless. We’ve got some neophytes in our class, so first, have a poke around in some of these how-to links:

Getting more into the realm of journalism and mass communication, skim through these suggestions and warnings:

And now for the important part. There’s a current debate over whether Twitter does more harm than good. Read (don’t skim these ones) these next two and see what you think:

In your response, I’d like you to respond specifically to these two viewpoints. Never tweet? ALWAYS tweet? Something in between? Give us some examples that illustrate your stance and why it’ll make the world (or at least journalism) better!

As always, post your response as a comment to this post (and finish your Twitter duties) by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15.

Personal Blog for Week 5

For week 5, you will publish your explainer post. Remember that a minimum of 10 meaningful links is required, and don’t forget to bring your annotated list of links to Monday’s class! (full details with the assignment)

But Before You Go…

Finally (if you haven’t already) you need to get ON Twitter. You’ve got four things to do:

  • Create an account if you don’t have one (or want to use a different one for class), and make sure it is public (not hidden).
  • Follow at least 20 people – if you’re new to Twitter, try tweeting with some hashtags (#) and tag (@) some people (start with your classmates and me if you’re anxious).
  • Follow me (@thebobthe) so I can follow you back.
  • Post two tweets promoting one of your personal blog stories on two separate days, one on Thursday and one on Friday (include our course hashtag #WVUblogJ in each). We’ll compare their performance in class.

Assignment #4: Explain It!

September 11, 2019

Now that you know how to write an explainer, you’re going to make one of your own. This has a specific due date (included at the end of this assignment), so make sure you’re following directions. Using the posted guidelines, you’ll do the following:

  • Identify a subject in your area that requires explaining (see our own explainer for details on this)
  • Monday, Sept. 16: Bring to class (printed) an annotated subject list. This must include your subject, why it’s timely, and a link list with sentences explaining the relevance of each. Ten links are the minimum! (10 pts for Assignment)
  • Thursday, Sept. 19 (any time between 10a and 4p): Publish your explainer! Remember again that a minimum of 10 meaningful links is required! (10 points for Personal Post)

ALSO for next week: We’re getting started with Twitter, so you must have done the following prior to Monday’s class:

  • Create a Twitter account and follow at least 20 people (most of you have already done this!)
  • Follow me (@thebobthe) – that’s not an ego thing, it’s just needed for our following class work, so make sure I’m able to follow you back.
  • Post two tweets promoting one of your personal blog stories on two separate days, one on Thursday and one on Friday (include our course hashtag #WVUblogJ in each). We’ll compare their performance in class.

How-To: Write an Explainer Post

September 11, 2019

Any topic area has certain subjects that are important but complicated. Maybe it’s why the polls didn’t predict Trump’s win, or how boys can keep up with girls in school, or how to carry a gun while running, or why Cardi B and Nicki Minaj have beef. We’ll call this kind of post an Explainer, and yes, there’s even an explainer about explainers.

An explainer isn’t based on a question with a simple answer like “why does a cat purr?” but rather one that requires breaking down some complex details with a variety of sources and evidence. They’re a common tool for online media – Vox has its own section for them – and when planning your own, it helps to look at what’s come before. Let’s go back to that Cardi B and Nicki Minaj post (oh the sacrifices I make for education) and look at its components:

Hed: What’s being explained?

The Complete History of Nicki Minaj and Cardi B’s Beef

Okay, it’s a bit of a label hed, but you definitely know what you’re getting. Any good explainer post is built around the question “Why/How did things come to this point?” Your hed should reflect this, ideally by incorporating those “Why” and “How” words.

Lede: Why explain it now?

For more than a year, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B walked on eggshells while rumors of their alleged beef bubbled just below surface. Through shady interviews and sneak disses, the rappers waged a cold war. Then, during New York Fashion Week at Harper’s Bazaar Icon party, photos and video of a physical altercation between Cardi and Nicki’s parties circulated the web.

Since then, their public feud has intensified, with memorable Queen Radio rants and viral Instagram posts. But how exactly did we get here? Was it Nicki’s obsession with being the queen of rap? Is Cardi too sensitive? Below we revisit the history of Cardi B and Nicki’s long simmering feud and the events that led us here.

Explainers should be timely and clearly answer the “Why NOW” question. The beef in question dates back to June 2017, but the New York Fashion Week fight is what made it newsworthy for its Oct. 30, 2018 publication date.


This particular post takes the form of a timeline chronicling the various slights cast by B and Minaj. It’s marked by entries such as:

August 2017: Nicki denies subbing Cardi on “No Flags”

Notice how the post is broken up with subheadings that start with the date and detail what happened then. Even if you’re not doing a timeline, this bite-sized format helps make the complexity more approachable.


This post in particular is strong because it not only employs strong evidence for its explanation, it brings in a strong VARIETY of sources. Consider this passage:

Coincidentally, Nicki’s original verse on “MotorSport” leaked the same day as her interview, revealing she had referenced Cardi:

I’m with a couple bad bitches that’ll rip the party
If Cardi the QB, I’m Nick Lombardi
Pull up in the space coupe, I done linked with Marty
I can actually afford to get a pink Bugatti

The final version replaced Cardi’s name with Quavo, and it’s still unclear if it was meant to be shade or a shout out. Nicki later tweeted that she changed the verse per Atlantic’s request.


It’s typical of the article, too: throughout, it employs links, social media posts, screenshots and video to support every claim it makes. This isn’t just gossip, it’s a fully documented account.

Planning your explainer

Here’s a few steps, via Poynter, for creating an explainer post of your own:

  1. Figure out what to explain: What’s a subject your readers need/want to have broken down for them? Look for a question that “requires more than a fact to explain.”
  2. Report the explainer: Poynter recommends contacting multiple experts; for a blog post, that translates into multiple explanatory links and media. Keep your questions pretty basic – think elementary school level – and along the lines of “why does this happen?”
  3. Craft the explainer: Don’t start with history, start with why it matters now. This is similar to establishing a news peg for any story. Poynter provides a tremendous example here: After President Obama signed a bill restoring Secret Service protection to former presidents and their families, Slate asked the question “does that include presidential pets?” (you’ll have to click through for the answer)
  4. Consider voice and style: (This one’s from The Word Factory) An explainer typically deals with a complicated subject, so it’s particularly important to avoid technical jargon or lengthy, complex sentences. Often, a more casual or conversational tone will be used to lighten a heavy subject (that’s up to the individual publication though).

Remember: You’ll have an assignment on this as well, so start thinking now about what your readers need explained!

Read & Respond week 4: Links and Crowds

September 5, 2019

This week, we’ll be talking about connections, both the in-person links that create crowds and the digital ones that create, well, the Internet.


The term “the wisdom of crowds” was popularized by James Surowiecki, but it’s been around for a while. Some take issue with the idea that crowds actually have any particular wisdom; a crowd, after all is just a thrown rock away from a mob. Here’s a little tune on the subject from Nova:

Moving on to links and linking, consider some ideas from these posts:

  • Start with the mechanics of links. Where do they come from? Why are they blue and underlined?
  • Bill Thompson talks about links as the key component of “the semantic Web.” This one’s a little wonky, but at its heart is the idea that the meaning of a link comes from how it’s used rather than just where it goes.
  • Did you know that the way you use links affects how your posts show up in Google search? It’s true! You probably realize that using bland link text like “click here” is an amateur move, but the quantity AND quality of your links affects your PageRank, which determines where you show up in search.

So how do you write good link text? Start with this rule of thumb: “link text should always describe what the user will see when they click on it.” Avoid “click here“or actually posting the full URL. Try some of these strategies for writing quality links (from Harvard – fancy!) and drawing search engine hits (scroll down – the first part is more about not using “click here,” and I think you know that by this point).

You will need to post your response as a comment to this post no later than 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8. Keep it concise and relevant, and provide some useful examples!

Personal Post

Write a blog post synthesizing (and linking) ideas from several members of your blogroll. As always, it must be relevant to your personal blog concept and must include:

  • At least three links (more is better) to meaningful content. This means news stories, relevant posts, and substantive material, NOT to homepages (e.g., or general sites (e.g.,
  • At least three content links: Images, video, social media posts, etc.

You will post it on Thursday some time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Assignment #3: Find Your Community

September 4, 2019

So far, you’ve introduced yourself, determined a focus for your blog, and made your first posts. This week, you’ll identify points of contact that will help you stay in touch with your community of interest. (

Part 1: Refine your focus

Last week, you created an “About” page with your blog’s mission statement. Now that you’ve had a chance to write some posts in this area, refine your “About” page and add some depth. Remember these points:

  • It’s not about you. Make sure your focus is a larger conversation, not a diary or “expert advice” (you’re not one) or “my crazy life” blog (nobody cares). How can you connect with a larger community?
    • Remember: No advice blogs, no reviews, no profile-only blogs, no whatever else I decide is off-limits (don’t worry, I’ll tell you if you’re doing it)
  • It’s not about everything. Avoid being too broad (e.g., “pop culture”) – if you say you will write about something general like “sports,” you’ll need to spell out what a reader might get out of reading your site compared to the countless other sports sites out there.
    • Think of yourself as the intersection of a Venn diagram with at least 2-3 circles
  • It’s not just links. Links are necessary, but a successful blog needs to add something to the information it synthesizes from elsewhere. Linking to a bunch of stories about the Pittsburgh Penguins is not blogging.

Part 2: Identify sources to help you

Blogging isn’t something you have to do on your own. With your focused topic in mind, it’s time to identify some sources to help you on that path. You will identify at least 10 individuals to follow: At least five bloggers and at least five social media accounts. Each of these should be a spiritual cousin to your own – they do something related to what you hope to do.

  • Blog ExampleDead Frog is Todd Jackson’s blog about the comedy business.
  • Social Media ExampleJosh Marshall is the editor of Talking Points Memo. He tweet regularly about political coverage.

A few cautions: These can NOT be general, non-blog sites (e.g., @NYTimes,, but you may link to an individual blogger on such a site as long as you justify why that writer is an excellent source for you. The point is not to link to news sites you already know, it’s to find people and communities that are part of the conversation you want to join!

Add a blogroll (Links > Add New > Create a “Blogroll” category) and add your 10 blogs/accounts to it, and write a blog post linking and describing your members (10 pts for Assignment #3)

Part 3: Build on your community

As we’ve discussed this week, you need to get out of the way and cover your community and the current issues that concern it. After reading your sources, you must identify five timely subjects or issues they’re talking about that could serve as the focus of one (or more) of your upcoming posts. Each must include at least one link (more is better) to current discussion on the subject and explain what the focus of your post could be.

Write a synthesis post on an issue combining information from as many of your blogroll members as possible (10 pts for weekly personal blog post)

Due Dates

  • 4p Monday, Sept. 9: Add a blogroll (Links > Add New > Create a “Blogroll” category) and add your 10 blogs/accounts to it (5/10 pts for Assignment #3)
  • 4p Tuesday, Sept. 10: Write a short post linking each of your 10 influencers and explaining in about a sentence each why they are relevant to covering this community of interest. (5/10 pts for Assignment #3)
  • 4p Thursday, Sept. 12: Write a blog post synthesizing (and linking) ideas from several members of your blogroll. (10/10 points for Personal Post #4)


Read & Respond week 3: Origins of the Internet

August 29, 2019

This week, we’ll go back to where it all got started. As you learn to be a more effective online communicator, it helps to know more about where online communication came from. First: A video clip!


After viewing that, skim one or more of these links (they’re meaty, reference-heavy sources, so just get an overview):

From the early internet, the road leads to the social Web, and that road is littered with the corpses of early efforts (hey, remember Yik Yak?). Ever hear of Friendster? It’s arguably the first major social networking site … and it’s dead now. MySpace is still out there, populated by some hardcore oddballs, but it’s nothing like it once was. And we predict The Death Of Facebook pretty much every year. The argument has been made (seemingly every year) that social media as we know it is about to change. What do you think?

Is the Internet something invented by an individual? What’s a specific surprising event you found in the timelines? What do you think keeps a social media site alive, what do you think will be the next one to die, and what might take its place? Remember, your response is due as a comment to this post no later than 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3 (note later deadline due to Labor Day holiday).


For week 3, your personal post must be connected to a news item from this week and should use the strong headline and lede tips we’ve discussed in class. As always, it must be relevant to your personal blog concept and must include:

  • At least three links to meaningful content. This means news stories, relevant posts, and substantive material, NOT to homepages (e.g., or general sites (e.g.,
  • At least three content links: Images, video, social media posts, etc.

You will post it on Thursday some time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Assignment #2: The About Page

August 28, 2019

Your new blog needs a place for readers to find out what it’s about. You could do this as a first post, but over time, this will get hard to find – nobody likes scrolling, after all (well, kind of). Instead, you’re going to create an About page. Have a look at this read from blogtyrant on what makes a terrific “About Us” page – they include examples, too! With those ideas in mind, let’s get started…

Your about page should include the following sections IN THIS ORDER:

  1. What’s the blog about? Well DUH. But this means you’ll need to know that yourself, and that means spelling out the specifics of what readers can expect. You might add some links to similar blogs (while explaining what will make yours different)
  2. Who’s the author? Tell us your background. What are you studying? What are your interests and accomplishments? (note: Readers don’t want to hear about YOU until they’ve heard about your blog!)
  3. Where can I find you? You’re cultivating an online presence, so let interested readers know where they can hear more from you. You needn’t use an email if you don’t want, but at the very least put up your Twitter handle.

In addition to these sections, you’ll need to include the following:

  • An image: Images encourage engagement. This can be a personal photo or something otherwise relevant, but don’t just give us a wall of text.
  • Links: At the very least, you’ll need links to some contact information (Twitter, LinkedIn), but you might also include links to your work so readers can get a sense for you.

But how do I MAKE a new page??

It’s easy! In your dashboard:

  1. Pages > Add New
  2. Title: “About” or “About This Blog”
  3. Write some appropriate “about” content (you can update this as your blog grows)
  4. Publish!

What’s due

  1. Create an About page on your blog and post the link in a comment to THIS post. Once it’s up, I’ll add your blog to the blogroll on our course blog.
  2. Add the Calendar widget to your blog (Appearance > Widgets), then drag the Calendar widget to your sidebar). This is required for grading, so if your blog theme does not display the calendar after you’ve added it, you’ll need to select a new theme (Appearance > Themes)

Due: 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 1 (must post your link as a comment TO THIS POST by that time)