Managing Digital Communities
Listed as "Reporting Digital Communities"
DePaul University | Winter Quarter 2010

Journ 377 & Journ 515
Lewis Center, Room 1104
Tuesdays 5:45 to 9 p.m., Jan. 5 to March 16

Instructor: Tracy Samantha Schmidt
Email: | Cell: 312-404-1092
Office Hours: Tuesdays 4:15 to 5:15  p.m, held at Starbucks at 55 E. Jackson

Course Description

Our industry is radically changing. In 2009, more than 15,000 reporters were laid off, 250 magazines shut down and several newspapers--including the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times--declared bankruptcy. It is a crisis stemming from an economic recession, years of status quo in newsrooms and rapid advances in technology.

To survive, newsrooms must reinvent themselves and many of them already are. They're writing for the web first, investing in mobile technology, hiring computer scientists to work with investigative reporters and using search engine optimization to drive traffic. Most importantly, newsrooms are engaging with readers both online and off.

No longer are readers resigned to the Op-Ed pages. They are now encouraged to comment on stories posted online, share the stories with their friends on Facebook and talk back to the reporters on Twitter. Some newsrooms are taking this engagement a step further and inviting readers to report stories themselves. CNN's iReporters are a perfect example of so-called citizen journalism.

To be sure, citizen journalism is controversial. Most readers do not have the training and experience that professional journalists do. Their reporting can be biased or worse, factually inaccurate.

Yet citizen journalism is also full of potential. What if a newsroom had breaking news tips, photos and videos, feature stories, wedding announcements, obits and sports scores flooding in from hundreds of readers? If properly managed, this user-generated content could supplement the professional reporters' work and create a newsroom that is truly by the people, for the people.

The key phrase is "properly managed." Enter the community manager--the fastest growing job in journalism that you've likely never heard of.

In newsrooms, community managers work directly with readers to cover their communities. The communities can be ones of  shared interests (example: dog lovers) or of location (example: Lincoln Park). It is the manager's role to create, grow and sustain these communities online.  To do that, the community manager must wear multiple hats: reporter, editor, fact-checker, ombudsman, tech geek, social media strategist, marketer and customer service representative.

If successful, the community manager will have established a network of motivated and engaged experts. They are not experts in the traditional sense. Rather, they are experts of their niche interests and their neighborhoods. These experts can help reporters with stories, submit their own content, solicit content from their peers and promote the network both online and off.

In this 10-week class, you will learn what it to takes to become a successful community manager at a news organization. In class, we will read about, discuss and hear from speakers about what makes a good online community.

Outside of class, we will work together to build two online communities, which will live on and serve Chicago's Old Town and Gold Coast neighborhoods. Our goal is for both online communities to become engaged and sustainable. When class ends in March, we should be able to hand over both of the websites to residents in those neighborhoods to manage. It's a tall order, but with hard work, open minds and support from the community, we will be successful.

Textbooks, Resources and Required Materials

In the spirit of community management, all work for this class will be assigned and completed on the class blogs. Beginning the second week of class, we will work with three blogs.

The first is a blog that everyone will contribute to called ChicagoNow Labs. Think of this as a public Blackboard. The syllabus and rubrics will live permanently on ChicagoNow Labs. Each week, I will post the required reading assignment. You will each be expected to post a response to the reading, as well as comment on each other's responses. Each week, you will also post observations about your work in the neighborhoods and what you've learned.

The other two blogs are Old Town Now and Gold Coast Now. The class will be divided in two, with one half working on Old Town Now and the other half working on Gold Coast Now. Each of you will be assigned a beat to focus on in that neighborhood (i.e. crime, business, schools, politics) and will be expected to post several times a week on your beat. Additionally, you will be expected to work together as a team to plan, grow and promote your neighborhood blog.

Students should have regular access to a digital camera. A hand-held video camera is required for one assignment and can be rented from DePaul.

Course Format

The class will be taught through a series of class discussions, guest speakers, field work, collaborative assignments and student presentations. There are no initial technical skill requirements for this class. You will learn learn everything you need to as the class progresses, but I am available to help with technical questions as they come up.

Despite the experimental nature of this course, I'll still expect and stress the fundamental requirements of journalism - such as accuracy and meeting deadlines. Many of the changes in the field that we'll talk about are making the practice of reporting more transparent and demanding than ever, and having strong basic skills will be vital.

With that in mind, there are several objectives for this course:

1) Build awareness and understanding of managing online communities for a news organization

2) Develop ability to maintain blogs through creation and posting of content (print, photo, or video) while maintaining journalistic standards including fairness, accuracy, and research/interviewing skills.

3) Learn how to properly solicit and work with user-generated content.

4) Exercise critical thinking in planning and execution of online communities, such as how to build interest in the blog and what resources will be needed to create successful blogs.

Attendance and Late Work

You are allowed to miss one class without penalty. Because we have several in-class exercises, class discussions and will work on the blogs in class, attendance is critical. You will automatically lose 5% off your final average for each session missed in the class after you have used your excused absence. Check with me about absences for medical reasons or other emergencies.

Late work will not be tolerated and will receive a 0.


Rubrics for every class assignment will be posted to ChicagoNow Labs. The class grade will be broken down by the following:

Reading Responses: 15%
Weekly Observations: 15%
Individual Posts on Neighborhood Blogs: 15%
Teamwork on Neighborhood Blogs: 15%
Final Project: 15%
Class Participation: 10%

There is no midterm for this class. However, your final project will span the second half of this class. For the final project, you will select and analyze a successful hyperlocal community website. The project must include a Q&A interview with the website's community manager. More details on this project will be given later in the quarter.

Graduate students will be given an additional assignment for the final project. Their final project will be worth 20 percent and their class participation worth 5%.

Statement on Academic Integrity

Work done for this course must adhere to the University Academic Integrity Policy, which you can review in the Student Handbook or by visiting Academic Integrity at DePaul University (

Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability, please check with me to see if reasonable accommodations can be made for you.

Office Hours

I will hold office hours before class on Tuesdays from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. at the Starbucks at 55 E. Jackson. So that I know to expect you, please email me ahead of time that you will be stopping by. I can also be reached by my cellphone and email listed above. Email is the best way to get a hold of me quickly. I will respond to all emails within 24 hours.

Course Schedule

Week One: Introduction to Community Management


Week Two: Defining a community


Week Three: Learning about the community


Week Four: Covering the community, Part One


Week Five: Covering the community, Part Two


Week Six: Engaging with the community


Week Seven: Growing the community


Week Eight: Policing the community


Week Nine: Monetizing the community


Week Ten:  Sustaining the community


Week Eleven: Finals

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