05/09/2012 05:30 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2012

News Mobs Engage Community Through Hyperlocal Coverage

By Kenneth Rosen

There weren't any dancers or cash giveaways of any kind.

"The idea translates across a lot of platforms and different kinds of events," said Keith Sharon, sports editor of The OC Register.

He is referring to news mobs, specifically the one he orchestrated on April 6 at the Angels' home opener against Kansas City.

A news mob is, at its core, a swarm of journalists and community contributors converging on an event to cover it from every possible angle.

Sharon gathered 91 editors, videographers, graphic editors, designers and reporters across different beats -- technology, business, city council, crime, food -- to cover the event from every perspective.

"We tried to cover it from the street up," he said during a phone interview earlier today, "rather than the normal way you cover opening day... from the event down."

Outlets such as College Media Matters and picked up on Sharon's coverage.

And so did we.

With what our special sections editor and myself gathered from The OC Register's news mob and CMM blogger Dan Reimold, we started planning for this year's Sidewalk Arts Festival where we executed our own.

The idea isn't a new one and stems from social media: an ongoing conversation about trends within a community.

"You have to use all the tools available to you," said Beth Concepción, PhD., a professor in the writing department who holds a degree of journalism in mass communications from the University of South Carolina. "If you don't you're missing an opportunity to connect with your readers or viewers."

With our readership increasing, the best way to engage our audience was through intense, hyper local coverage of the first major event in the spring. We brainstormed several ideas to construct the most elaborate painting of a visually intense event.

Our mob was considerably smaller than Sharon's and consisted of 11 people who spent the day covering the event in several ways:

  • How-to video

What was our most experimental piece? A Doggy Cam.

Each piece was pivotal in providing our readers with condensed and targeted coverage they could engage with. Journalism such as this is difficult from the start: where to begin? What conversation is the most important to engage, the colorful squares, the food vendors, the installation art, the kid's section, the academic tents? With such breadth of activities it's important to stay with the trends and follow the most popular aspects of an event.

The most difficult part of news mob coverage is distilling from the mass what's most easily digestible and widely obtainable. For the Sidewalk Arts Festival it was the squares (almost obvious in this case) and the massive bamboo installation through Instagram photos. That meant switching gears from our website to direct content toward our Instagram users through Facebook and Twitter.

So while new media remains just that, new, journalists are slowly diversifying their online content, but not as rapidly as the ever-changing field.

"I don't think companies are really using the tools that they could to build brand involvement, brand engagement," Concepción said. "I think they're still in a print-to-web model."

But, as an online-only news source, we're not.

For the Sand Arts Festival on May 4 you can expect more experimental footage and coverage until we find what works. (Hopefully we can get a turtle cam.) There's no reason to shy from the deep end. The key to news mob journalism is just that: the risk.

And don't forget to stop District T-shirt-wearing staff members this Friday to ask how you can contribute to the student voice of SCAD as we move college journalism forward.