Using Skype to Teach Live Reporting

By Suzy Smith & Terry Heifetz, Ball State University

Social media has changed the way we interact within our communities. We use it to keep in touch with our families and friends, to connect with people who have common interests, to inform our social and professional groups about upcoming events or happenings, and even to share instant information about our feelings, our whereabouts and even share advice about places to go and things to do.

The news media has a long history with social media, although it is not obvious to most. From the early beginnings of the industry news has encouraged interaction between the audience and the news organization. Letters to the editor and phone call-in shows to the broadcast station are just two of the many ways that audiences in the past have played a part in interacting with the news. Technological advances have now made that interaction instantaneous. Discussion boards, twitter feeds, citizen journalism websites and Facebook groups, what we call social media, are among the many new outlets that provide audiences a way to take an active role in the news industry.

As educators it is our responsibility to both inform students on how to use these tools as well as encourage students to come up with new and exciting ways to use the tools. For colleges and universities that can sometimes be a challenge. Faculty members that are not as technologically savvy are hesitant to use these devices in the classroom. University rules and regulations are often unable to keep up with the changes in technology and therefore following the program set forth by the university can sometimes inhibit using all of these new technological advancements. Even students are sometimes hesitant to use social media in the classroom. They may use it for personal reasons, but often never think about it as a tool to help them in the classroom. Overcoming these obstacles is key for educators and students to maintain an understanding of the ways in which technology and social media can be used in ways that not only help build better understanding of the curriculum, but also of the world around us.

Social media is all about building communities. At its roots news is about building and informing communities. So it seems like a natural fit. As a professor teaching in broadcast journalism and news, it is essential to prepare students for what they will encounter once they begin working in today’s newsrooms. A colleague and I saw a need and found that social media could fill that need. News Directors across the state commented on how prepared Ball State students were for a world of reporting, but time and time again they said the one area students were lacking was in their live reporting skills. This created both a dilemma and an opportunity. The dilemma was trying to find a way to provide students with this experience without the cost associated with purchasing a live remote truck, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The opportunity was finding a way to provide students with this experience utilizing new technologies and social media to achieve it.

What we created was a way to use social media to help facilitate communication to and about communities, even using it in a way that provided an experience students wouldn’t have otherwise received. Using Skype we gave students the chance to produce and perform live reports for the nightly student produced newscast. Without a live truck students at Ball State University were never able to practice a craft that is so prevalent into today’s broadcast news industry, by using Skype they now could. Because stations are using Skype, or other software like it, more and more as a less expensive alternative for live reporting, we were preparing students for things they would experience as they began working in the industry. But the use of the social media in the class didn’t stop with just the live shots. Skype also provided countless opportunities for students to interact with professionals in the field. Reporters and producers shared their expertise with students via Skype, even offering advice on how live shot reporting changes when using a broadband based social media tool. It also opened up the discussion to other ways in which social media could be used in the news business. One pair of media professionals invited to talk with the class spoke at length about ways in which Facebook was being used by their organization to build that sense of community not only among those that watched the newscast, but also with those that produced the newscast. Soon students were talking about ways in which various social media tools could be used not only to interact with the audience, but also as news gathering tools for their stories; often discussing when and how sites such as Linkedin and Facebook can or cannot be trusted. It really was wonderful to see students leading their own ethical discussions.

Skype proved to be a game-changing tool in many ways. Not only did it provide an economical way for students to do live shot remotes, a skill that was lacking in their education, but it also opened up and built connections to media professionals in a way that a telephone conference call cannot. The community building that is inherent in social media, occurred in a couple of different ways with the use of Skype in our classroom; reporters built communities with their audience and students built communities with media professionals.

Skype wasn’t the only social media tool that we used in this class to educate our students. YouTube proved invaluable as a teaching tool; primarily showing students examples of good live reporting work, and of course more often examples of very poor work. We also use a variety of websites including, which also provided a number of examples of good work.

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