On September 2, Tufts welcomed 1,313 members of the Class of 2013 to the University. Web Communications was on hand to document the day’s events along with our colleagues in University Photography. Move-in for new students is in the morning, and a festive outdoor ceremony welcomes them to the Tufts community in the afternoon.
Matriculation day is one of our biggest one-day events—in fact, it’s one of only two events all year (the other one being Commencement) that merit the ordering of lunch for the whole editorial team. We work almost non-stop from before 8:00 am until after 6:00 pm to report and write, photograph and process, and record and edit the text, photos, and audio that tell the story of the day. My assignment—besides driving everyone to and from campus—was to live-tweet the Matriculation ceremony in the afternoon.
Live what? Last weekend I had a conversation with my boyfriend while standing on line at the supermarket about covering events live on Twitter.
“Well, you write little snippets about what’s happening, and people who are following you on Twitter can keep track of what’s going on at the event where you are,” I said, removing items from the cart.
“So it’s sort of like journalism in real time,” said Jay, whose day job involves something with engineering drawings that I don’t really understand.
“Yes, exactly!” I said. The cashier looked at me, startled. “It’s journalism! That’s exactly what it is!”
So there I was on Wednesday afternoon, sitting next to a column in front of Ballou Hall, typing furiously with my thumbs on my Blackberry. I decided to take a holistic, observational approach to the afternoon’s events, noting what was happening and what I was seeing, both verbally and with the occasional photo (uploaded via Übertwitter, my Blackberry Twitter client of choice, for those who care).
The voice of @TuftsUniversity on Twitter is conversational and friendly, but it’s the voice of the institution rather than any individual, and it’s a professional voice. At Matriculation, and in general, my mental guideline is to report what I’m seeing rather than editorialize about and to not write anything I’d be embarrassed for a senior administrator or my mom to read. It’s not my voice; it’s the University’s.
Twitter is not a science, nor will it ever be, and my coverage was not without a few hiccups and glitches. At one point, Übertwitter freaked out and switched accounts on me, and two tweets went through from my personal account. I also look forward to the day when uploading photos via Twitter is faster. In my experience, Übertwitter is faster than Twitpic, but both are slow enough to slow down the flow of conversation.
With live coverage on Twitter, it can be hard to strike a balance between too much and too little coverage. We got feedback by way of @ replies from people who wanted us to keep the news coming, but we also had at least one follower unfollow us (temporarily, we hope!) because he found the volume of tweets overwhelming. Looking back, there were a few I could have cut, but I think the stream conveyed a sense of the events and atmosphere of the day, and that was the plan. But still, lesson learned, and it’s something we’ll keep in mind next time.
Lately in Web Communications we’ve been talking a lot about new channels for content distribution, and we’ve also been talking a lot about using the stories we cover and the content we create as opportunities for us to learn while telling the Tufts story—sometimes even while shouting it—in new ways and to different people. Everyone on our editorial team has a background in journalism, and we put that to use to be journalists in the universe of social media and the web. It’s a new definition of journalism that may seem jarring, but it’s one we’re working with and molding as we discover and define new aspects of communicating on the Web.
Our Matriculation coverage, on Twitter and elsewhere, represents a synthesis of those ideas and goals. We used new channels (Twitter, the Tufts Photo blog) to get the Tufts story out to different and wider audiences, and we put together some features based on new ideas we felt would work on those channels. Many of these ideas came on suddenly or started small: A picture of a father in a funny t-shirt led to a slideshow of dads for the Photo blog, for example, and a brainstorming session in a meeting last week led to the audio slideshow "Along for the Ride," about what new students brought with them to Tufts.
Next week we’ll meet to discuss the coverage—what worked and what didn’t—and above all, what we learned from it. And next time, even next week or next month, we’ll take those lessons and produce something newer and better.