Blogging for Grades: Applied Digital & Social Media

Read SJMC Senior, Ricky Brandt’s post, on how a Journalism course helped transform his personal blog.

In job interviews, I don’t talk much about things I learned in a classroom, student organizations I was involved in or jobs I held during college.  And that’s strategic.  Employers have heard it all before, you were the president of your fraternity, a reRickyally hard worker, and straight-A student, good for you!

I don’t mean to say that these things aren’t important (they are), but employers want to hear about something that makes you different.  Something that shows your passions.  For me, that differentiator is a college food blog, CollegeFed.com, which I started just before my sophomore year at The University of Iowa. I never expected it to become anything worth talking about, but by the end of the year, I realized I wasn’t the only hungry college student looking for cheap, easy and delicious recipes.  I knew I needed to find a catalyst to bring me to the next level.

Enter Applied Digital and Social Media (ADSM), taught at the time by Brian Ekdale.  On the first day, he explained that every student was to start their own blog, maintain and promote it throughout the semester.  I was really excited about this setup, as I had already done half the work and since I already had a following of over 1,500 on twitter alone, what was really left to do?  It turned out, the class was more work than I initially anticipated, but I can honestly tell you that it was my favorite class at the UI (regards to my other professors) because I really resonated with what we were learning and had the chance to put it in practice every single day.

Consider it Blogging Boot Camp

For the first time, I found a community who was interested in the idea of blogging. People who understood the importance of putting out quality content and finding the best ways to share it.  We would brainstorm content for each other’s blogs, which ranged from an advice guide for international students to a budget fashion blog, and share advice on actually maintaining them. Some students liked their topics so much that they even planned to continue after the semester ended.

For me, it was a relief to have accountability that wasn’t self-imposed, and a knowledgeable editor to review my work.  Blogging is a lot harder than most think, especially if you’re a one-man shop.  Brian pushed me to focus on the content, take Search Engine Optimization (SEO) into account, and think bigger about the blog’s purpose and direction.  At times it was hard balancing the requirements of a journalistic course with the needs of a food blog, but that only led me to produce better content.  rb

I still talk to a number of people I worked with in that class and some who are taking it now.  Everyone seems to agree, understanding the basics of blogging and social media is essential for any twenty-first century journalism student.  ADSM was certainty not the hardest class I ever took in college (shout out to calculus for business), but it required a lot of hard work and dedication.  If you want a class that you’ll actually get something out of, do whatever it takes to be on the roster.

College Fed Today

As I write this, in my last semester as a senior and a year after taking ADSM, I am proud to say that College Fed is still active and remains my most valuable career asset.  Since taking the class, I’ve moved it over to my own WordPress site and have worked hard to gather a community of over 3,000 across social channels.  The blog receives an average of 40 unique visitors a day and most of the old content has been rewritten with my new skillset in mind.

I now have a team of six contributors who write recipes for the blog, some are in the same place I was when starting College Fed.  If you’re looking into entering the blogosphere and want to get your feet wet, send me a note; I’d love to work with anyone interested in writing about college food, no matter their experience level.

I’d recommend Applied Digital and Social Media to any UI student who has even the slightest interest in new media.  Blogging has given me a lot to be thankful for lately.  Maybe it can do the same for you.

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