COJR 3002: Special Topics

Social Media in Journalism

and Public Relations

Seton Hall University, Spring 2014, Mondays, 6:30 – 9 p.m., Fahy 321

pdf version of syllabus and schedule

Professor: Kyle Heim, Ph.D.

Office: Fahy Hall B12

Office hours: Mondays, 11 a.m. – noon; Tuesdays, 1 – 2:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, 11 a.m. – noon; or by appointment

Telephone: (973) 761-9475 (office)

Instructor email:

Email for submitting assignments ONLY:

Course blog:

Twitter: @SHUsocialmedia, #SHUsocialmedia

What kind of course is this?

Course description

Students are introduced to a variety of social media and the ways in which they may be used by journalists, public relations professionals, and citizens for information gathering, reporting, publicity, and engagement. Students will examine the principles behind social media and gain practical experience in the application of several tools. Prerequisite: COMM 1421 (Writing for the Media).

Course goals

  • To critically examine how the growth of social media both enhances and challenges the core values and skill sets of journalism and public relations.
  • To identify ways in which journalists and public relations practitioners can use social media not merely to “friend” or “follow” personal acquaintances but to interact with other professionals and the public.
  • To gain proficiency in the use of several forms of social media, including blogs, microblogs, social networking sites, photo and video sharing, and geolocation tools.
  • To develop a set of social media skills and practices that will endure even as the technology changes.

What this course is and is not

Social media has been defined as “any tool or service that uses the Internet to facilitate conversations” or “the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers” (Brian Solis, 2010). In this course we will consider the question, “How can social media improve the practice of journalism and public relations?” Nobody has all the answers because social media tools are still new and evolving. We’re figuring it out as we go. Navigating the social media terrain requires flexibility, adaptability, and creativity. All of us can learn from one another. We also can learn from reading and listening to others’ experiences and insights. Reading assignments and guest speakers are vital components of this course.

We all use social media in our personal lives, but in this course we’ll learn how to use social media to engage and inform citizens, consumers, and media professionals. All of the standard rules of effective communication – including proper spelling and grammar – still apply.

Required texts

A few words about technology and privacy

You will create and maintain a WordPress blog and a Twitter account in this course. If you already have a blog or a Twitter account, you will need to create new ones specifically for this course. You will be asked to post to other social media sites and services as well. In addition, you will need a Google account to have full access to services such as Google Maps. Although not required, a smartphone will be useful.

Anything you post online, including Twitter posts, will be public and searchable. Keep that in mind at all times. Your social media account names must identify you to your classmates and the professor and must be professional in tone (no cute nicknames). If you are uncomfortable using your full name, you may use other variations of your name that identify you to your classmates and professor without revealing your full identity to the public. All of your postings will be related to the content of the course. Grades will never be made public.

What rules and procedures do you need to know?

Blackboard site/course blog/email

To succeed in this course, you must have a functioning laptop computer with reliable Internet access. You must check the course blog, a Twitter account that you will set up, the course Blackboard site, and your Seton Hall email account regularly. This syllabus and course schedule will be posted to the course blog, and all assignment instructions will be posted to the blog. Grades will be posted to the Blackboard site. Announcements may be posted to the blog or on Blackboard. I will use your Seton Hall email address when I need to communicate with you. Computer or email problems will not be a valid excuse for ignoring instructions or failing to complete assignments on time.


Regular attendance is required. Absences will lead to a deduction in your grade at the end of the semester. This class meets only once a week and includes hands-on activities and quizzes that cannot be made up. Missing class will cause you to fall behind.

I will circulate a sign-in sheet during each class. The sign-in sheet is the official record of attendance. If you come to class late, after the sheet has circulated, you may be marked absent. If you forget to sign the sheet, you will be marked absent. If you need to leave class early, please notify me before the start of class. Leaving class early may count as an absence.

If you’re absent:

  • You’re still responsible for material covered in class that evening. Consult a classmate to obtain notes and other materials that you missed. If you still have questions, email me.
  • You’re still responsible for turning in on time any assignments that are due. If you are unable to meet a deadline because of extreme circumstances, contact me at least 24 hours in advance. I may grant an extension and waive the deadline penalty if you have a documented excuse such as illness or emergency (see “Assignments and deadlines” below).

How attendance affects your course grade:

  • Everyone is entitled to one “free” absence during the semester, no questions asked.
  • Each additional absence will lead to a 20-point deduction at the end of the semester, which is a drop of one grade level (e.g., from an A to an A- or from a B- to a C+).
  • Generally, there are no excused absences. However, there are five exceptional situations in which I might consider counting you as present even though you were absent: (1) involvement in an official Seton Hall sports team or extracurricular activity that requires you to miss class for a game, competition, performance, or conference; (2) a death or life-threatening illness in the immediate family; (3) an extended period of hospitalization or incapacitation; (4) an order to report for jury duty or military service; or (5) observance of an officially recognized religious holiday. In any of these situations, you must notify me in advance or as soon as possible. You may be asked to provide documentation.

Assignments and deadlines

Because of the nature of this course, assignments will be submitted in a variety of formats. Any assignment that is not submitted in the proper format or does not follow proper procedures may be penalized with a deduction in points or a zero.

Deadlines are critical in the social media world. Minutes and seconds count. Submit all assignments by the due date and time. Computer-related problems will not be a valid excuse for failing to submit assignments properly or for submitting them late. Any assignment submitted up to 48 hours late will receive a 10% point deduction (approximately one full letter grade). ANY ASSIGNMENT SUBMITTED MORE THAN 48 HOURS LATE WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED, WILL NOT BE GRADED, AND WILL EARN A ZERO.

Extensions may be granted at my discretion and may require documentation of extreme circumstances, such as illness or an emergency. All extensions must be requested at least 24 hours before the assignment is due. Extensions will not be granted after the deadline has passed.

Laptops and other electronic devices

We will use laptop computers extensively this semester. Bring your laptop to each class session. Laptop or tablet computers are to be used for class-related purposes only. You may be asked to close them or put them away when we are not using them. Cell phones and other electronic devices may NOT be used except when needed for an in-class exercise. They must be turned off (or set to “vibrate”) and put away to avoid disrupting the class. Texting is not allowed in class. If you are expecting an urgent message, please let me know before the start of class. Students violating the policy on laptops and electronic devices during class may be asked to leave and/or may be marked absent.

Plagiarism and academic dishonesty

It is unethical to plagiarize the work of others or to fabricate information. Any incident of plagiarism or academic dishonesty may result in a zero on the assignment and/or an “F” in the course, depending on the nature and severity of the offense. Incidents also may be reported to the department chair and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Students suspected of academic dishonesty on an assignment may be required to redo that assignment or a similar assignment at the discretion of the instructor, with no proof of misconduct required.

Needs and accommodations

If you have a documented disability, you may be eligible for reasonable accommodations in compliance with University policy, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and/or the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Students are not permitted to negotiate accommodations directly with professors. To request accommodations or assistance, please self-identify with the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS), Duffy Hall, Room 67, at the beginning of the semester. For more information or to register for services, contact DSS at (973) 313-6003.

Important dates

  • Tuesday, Jan. 21 – Last Day of Add/Drop and Late Registration
  • Friday, Feb. 21 – Last Day for Withdrawal without Professor/Dean Signatures
  • Friday, March 7 – Last Day for Withdrawal with Professor/Dean Signatures

What will you do, and how are grades earned?

Course requirements

Readings: Reading is an essential part of this course. Class sessions will build upon the assigned readings, not simply rehash them. When reading material on the web, be sure to click on any relevant embedded links and peruse any comments left by readers.

Participation: This is not a purely lecture-based course. Come to class prepared to discuss and reflect upon the assigned readings. Also, spend some time each week surveying the social media landscape and be prepared to share any interesting discoveries during class. I am hoping to have several guest speakers visit our class this semester. Give these guests your undivided attention and be prepared to ask them questions. You will be graded on the quantity and quality of your class participation for the first half of the semester (20 points) and the last half of the semester (20 points). Coming to class late, leaving early, or using electronic devices for purposes unrelated to the course will lead to deductions in your participation grade.

Challenge assignments: These assignments will require you to use one or more forms of social media, applying the principles discussed in class and in the assigned readings. These mini assignments will expose you to various social media tools and give you an opportunity to reflect on how they may be used in journalism and public relations.

Social media project: This project will require you to apply the skills you have developed during the semester to a news topic or a public relations client. Social media must be central to the project, not merely an afterthought. Social media must be used in ways that are appropriate, relevant, and substantive. You may work individually or in pairs. (The requirements will be greater for those who work in pairs.) There are two options:

  1. A news or feature story, posted to your blog, about a topic relevant to a Seton Hall or local/regional audience. The story must incorporate social media elements.
  2. A social media release publicizing timely news about a campus organization or a local/regional organization or company. The social media release must be accompanied by a pitch list, an email pitch, and social media elements related to your client’s news.

You will receive more details about this project and a grading rubric over the course of the semester. You will submit a project proposal, which counts as one of the weekly challenge assignments (due March 24). The project will be due May 12, during exam week. You will give a brief presentation of your project to the class on May 12. You must complete this project in order to pass the course. Failure to complete the project will result in an “F” in the course, regardless of your point total at the end of the semester.

Case study on best/worst social media practices: You will work in pairs for this assignment. Each pair will select a case study of a news event, PR campaign, etc., in which specific social media tools were used by journalists or PR professionals in ways that raised questions or controversy. Each pair will deliver a presentation to the class thoroughly summarizing the case, analyzing how and why the usage of social media was effective or ineffective (drawing upon criteria discussed in class and in the readings), and explaining what lessons the case teaches us about best and worst social media practices. Presentations will be staggered throughout the semester. The presentation must be 7 to 10 minutes and include one or more interactive or multimedia elements.

Quizzes: Seven short pop quizzes will be given during randomly chosen class sessions. Each quiz will cover the assigned reading for that evening and the material discussed in class the previous week. The quizzes may be a mix of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and short-answer formats. You may use handwritten or printed-out notes for the quizzes, but you may not use your laptops, other electronic devices, or the readings themselves. Your top five quiz scores will count toward your course grade, and your two lowest quiz scores will be dropped. If you are absent on an evening when there is a quiz, you will receive a zero. There will be no make-up quizzes.

In-class exercises: There will be several hands-on exercises that will be completed and submitted during class. Some of these exercises may be graded; some may be “all or nothing” (you will earn either the full point value or a zero). These exercises cannot be made up. If you are absent and miss an in-class exercise, you won’t earn the points.


You may earn up to 500 points in this course, broken down as follows:

  • Weekly challenges (20 points each) – 200 points
  • Social media project – 100 points
  • Case study presentation – 40 points
  • Top five quiz scores (16 points each) – 80 points
  • In-class exercises – 40 points
  • Class participation – 40 points

Point totals will be converted to letter grades at the end of the semester, using the following scale:

  • 470 – 500 (94%) = A
  • 450 – 469.5 (90%) = A-
  • 430 – 449.5 (86%) = B+
  • 410 – 429.5 (82%) = B
  • 390 – 409.5 (78%) = B-
  • 370 – 389.5 (74%) = C+
  • 350 – 369.5 (70%) = C
  • 330 – 349.5 (66%) = C-
  • 310 – 329.5 (62%) = D+
  • 275 – 309.5 (55%) = D
  • 0 – 274.5 = F

Points will be deducted at the end of the semester for students with more than one absence (see “Attendance” above).

Grades will be recorded on the course Blackboard site. It is your responsibility to monitor your grades. Questions regarding grades should be raised when an assignment is returned. I will NOT re-evaluate scores on assignments more than two weeks after the scores have been recorded.


The week-by-week schedule and list of assigned readings are available here.


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