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Student 'iPad Journos' covering Worlds via social media, CBS 6

Diana DiGangi, a senior mass communications major, is part of a team of VCU students covering the...
Diana DiGangi, a senior mass communications major, is part of a team of VCU students covering the bike race as iPadJournos.

As part of her journalism course at Virginia Commonwealth University, Diana DiGangi was assigned to cover a protest Saturday of the Confederate monuments along the 2015 UCI Road World Championships route when she found herself at the center of a breaking news story.

A small plane trailing a banner with the Confederate battle flag and the phrase "Confederate heros [sic] matter" was circling overhead the Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue, drawing the attention of thousands of spectators below who had gathered to watch the bike race.

"That was kind of breaking news that I covered that day, in addition to live-tweeting the press conference. It got a lot of traction of social media," said DiGangi, a senior mass communications major in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences. "I thought, 'This is a great shot, with the press conference below and the Jefferson Davis monument in the background and the plane flying back and forth overhead.'"

As of Wednesday morning, her story had received more than 80,000 page views and more than 3,000 comments and shares on Facebook.

DiGangi is one of 16 students covering the bike race this week as an "iPadJourno" in the Mobile and Social Media Journalism capstone course taught by Marcus Messner, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Robertson School.

"The class teaches students the professional use of social media as journalists and trains them in mobile reporting," Messner said. "Each student in the class gets a mobile reporting kit with iPad, keyboard, tripod and mic. This semester the main focus at the beginning is on the UCI race and later we will again turn our focus to elections."

The course, in its fourth year, was launched in cooperation with WTVR CBS 6 News, which is the project's media partner. All of the stories produced by the students are published on CBS 6's website, and shared on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The students also are experimenting with live-streams via Periscope.

I treasure the relationship we've formed with the iPadJournos.

"I treasure the relationship we've formed with the iPadJournos," said Scott Wise, director of interactive media for WTVR. "Their coverage of the UCI Road World Championships has helped elevate our online coverage by increasing the number of journalists on the street covering this huge event. Their ability to provide in-depth coverage has helped WTVR.com stand out among websites of television news stations."

So far, the students have produced stories about the bike race's opening ceremony that drew more than 15,000 fanshotel bookings in Richmond during the bike race, some local restaurant owners' frustration that sales during the bike race so far haven't met expectations, as well as full coverage of the cycling events and surrounding activities.

On Wednesday, for example, several of the iPadJournos reported live from the race's start at King's Dominion.

Brian Williams, a VCU iPadJourno and a senior mass communications major, shot photos of cyclists from Monroe Park on Tuesday.
Brian Williams, a VCU iPadJourno and a senior mass communications major, shot photos of cyclists from Monroe Park on Tuesday.

A day earlier, iPadJourno Brian Williams had staked out a spot at the corner of West Franklin Street and Laurel Street, snapping photos of cyclists speeding past.

"Covering the bike race has been very cool because we're getting real-world experience," said Williams, a senior mass communications major. "We're out here today, and the story's due tonight. It's like bang-bang-bang. It's fast-paced with real deadlines. It's not, 'Oh, I'm going to go sleep on it and think about it.' No, you have to get it in now and publish it. Bam."

 It's not, 'Oh, I'm going to go sleep on it and think about it.' No, you have to get it in now and publish it.

Williams said so far he has enjoyed covering the hotel bookings angle, interviewing visitors and locals about how they think Richmond has handled the race so far, and just keeping an eye out for great stories.

"You never know what's going to happen," he said. "I ran into [famous cyclist] Peter Sagan on accident. That was cool. You have to have your eyes peeled and you have to always be ready to report."

While the iPadJournos are covering the bike race as part of their regular class, many other VCU students are covering the race as part of a long list of special one-credit courses being taught at VCU during the bike race.

In one course, "Crowdsourcing the Worlds," taught by Robertson School journalism professors Tim Bajkiewicz, Ph.D., and Jeff South, students are collaborating to tell the untold stories of the bike race in words, pictures and video.

In another, "Bike Race Magazine," taught by VCU Student Media Director Greg Weatherford, participants are using narrative, photography, design and illustration to create an original print publication “that captures the emotions, events and images of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships at VCU.”

For Sidney Randolph, one of the iPadJournos and a senior mass communications major, covering the bike race has been one of the most difficult and intense things she has done – but not in a bad way, she said.

Sidney Randolph, an iPadJourno and a senior mass communications major, covered the bike race on Tuesday from the start and finish line area.
Sidney Randolph, an iPadJourno and a senior mass communications major, covered the bike race on Tuesday from the start and finish line area.

"It's given me perspective on how journalism is performed in the 21st century," she said. "In my [prerequisite courses], I mostly learned 'traditional' print journalism. But the iPadJournos project is a segue into the field of work I'm more interested in, which is online publication. My goal would be to work at places such as BuzzFeed."

On Tuesday, Randolph was live-tweeting and sharing live-stream video via Periscope from the race's starting line.

"I had never used Periscope prior to my coverage on Saturday, but I thought since it was the first day, I'd give it a shot," she said. "I had very minimal expectations regarding views. But, on one broadcast, I had almost 40 people watching live! When I stopped broadcasting, more than 20 people played it back. Comments poured in, too."

It's given me perspective on how journalism is performed in the 21st century.

The bike race, she said, has given her a valuable opportunity to report on a major global sporting event in real time.

"We have all the students live-tweeting the race – not necessarily the race, but more what's kind of going on around. And we also have people curating news, where we'll have students overseeing all the people who are reporting," Randolph said. "It's really interesting how news has changed so much. We would [previously have] had to wait until all these races were done before we could tell people about it, but now we can tell people what happened immediately. It's the real world of news today."

Follow the iPadJournos' coverage of the bike race on Twitter at @iPadJournos and #ipadjournos and on Instagram at ipadjournos.