Savvy young journalists spend a week in small town newsrooms as 2020 RJI Potter Digital Ambassadors

The students worked with newsroom staff to maximize their multimedia and social media presence.

For the third year, Missouri School of Journalism students spent one week of their winter break working alongside veteran journalists in small, community newspapers around Missouri as part of the School’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Potter Digital Ambassador program.

Eight student ambassadors were paired with eight community weekly or daily newspapers to upgrade tools and strategies that would maximize their multimedia and social media presence.

“I absolutely loved my time as a Potter Ambassador,” said senior Veronica Mohesky. “While working for Gallatin News, I learned what it is like to work at a newspaper in a small town and I got an idea of how hard they work to keep local news alive in their communities.”

All of the students lived in the communities for a week and spent five full days in newsrooms, gathering information, training staff in digital tools and practices, and leaving behind written routines that would sustain the initiatives they brought to the news organization.

“The team was super receptive to my ideas and I’m seeing some of the strategies I suggested implemented on their Instagram and Facebook accounts,” said student Greta Serrin, who spent a week with Northeast News. She also wrote about her week experience for the paper.

For Mohesky, working and living in a small, rural town like Gallatin, Mo. (population 1,731) made her appreciate the work that local journalists do.

“I was surprised by the lack of broadband access that this town deals with and how bad the internet is there,” she said. “This experience really reinforced to me that citizens should support local journalism because it is so important for civic engagement.”

The students were selected through an application process that emphasized their skills background, as well as their personal background. They submitted a written application and were interviewed separately. Each student had completed most of the courses in a journalism specialty and were proficient in a range of media.

Each participating newspaper was selected through an application process that focused on their digital needs, their willingness to welcome the students and their ability to follow-through on the program objectives. They submitted a list of three priorities or goals for their “Potter” week.

Students were matched with newspapers according to how well their skill sets would be likely to meet the newspaper’s needs, and how closely their backgrounds coincided with the size and nature of the community. They then spent up to a month preparing for the visits. The students consulted with editors or publishers about the goals of the program, and they prepared a thorough community audit that covered demographics; competition; a SWOT analysis; economic outlook; government; and other factors that play into news coverage.

“When it comes to tangible, actionable benefits for a community newsroom, the Potter ambassador program is a home run,” said Randy Picht, RJI’s executive director.

2020 Potter Digital Ambassador Program Participants


Emily PowersStudent: Emily Powers

Editor: James Smith 

Location: Centralia, Missouri

Population: 4,192

Publishes: Weekly

GOALS: Improve the level of transfer – i.e., get social media visitors to follow links to the website. Increase Facebook likes and post more videos. Enhance overall digital footprint, including Instagram. Receive mobile video instruction.

Contributions and results:

  • Set up a Google Analytics report that will update the newsroom manager weekly on the views to the website.
  • Introduced Adobe Premiere Rush as a mobile video software tool.
  • Presented techniques for quick mobile shooting with an interview and b-roll.
  • Connected Facebook and Instagram pages to make sure all shares are posted on both. Explained to the team the importance of keeping all social accounts linked to promote the paper.
  • Designed a new YouTube page and connected that to the other accounts.
  • Explained Facebook Live and discussed strategies for when and why to use that application.
  • Compiled a list of video-making opportunities and showed how an event like weather can work as a short video opportunity.
  • Made a 15-second video about the weather and put it on Facebook to promote the website.


Caroline KealyStudent: Caroline Kealy

Editor: Kimball Long

Publisher: Kenny Long

Location: El Dorado Springs, Missouri 

Population: 3,577

Publishes: Weekly

GOALS: Coordinate social media among print newspaper, website, Facebook page and online TV station so each complements the other three. Improve digital management skills and help develop a digital vision for the future.

Contributions and results:

  • Created more consistent posting schedule and increased social promotion for the online TV station.
  • Improved the social presence for the newspaper.
  • Developed ideas for social accounts, including scheduling social posts for Facebook and Twitter.
  • Determined how to use town traditions and history for news content. For example, plan and schedule historical posts leading up to the annual weekend summer picnic.
  • Prepared “cheat sheets” to remind the team how to schedule posts on Twitter and Facebook and how to use Facebook Live for high school sports.
  • Built in ways to use social media and other low-cost tools to help promote their content.
  • Taught them how to strategically schedule posts so the Facebook page has at least some activity every single day and how to space out these posts to be posted at the most opportune times (in the morning when people are drinking their coffee, during the lunch hour, around the time people get home from work).

Prepared a guide about ways the newsroom could continue to implement some of these strategies.


Veronica MoheskyStudent: Veronica Mohesky

Publisher: Darryl Wilkinson

Location: Gallatin, Missouri

Population: 1,731

Publishes: Weekly

GOALS:  Develop a social media strategy that is consistent and drives more viewers to the newspaper website and triggers more online subscriptions. Improve the mobile platform for better display. Select video editing software and make video a much greater piece of the online efforts. 

Contributions and results:

  • Gave a demonstration of the best ways to post content to Facebook.
  • Set up Twitter accounts, posted on Twitter and followed relevant accounts.
  • Gave a presentation on how to create and edit videos.
  • Created a promotional social media video of the printing press and posted it online.
  • Explained how I made the video and what software to use.
  • Created guidelines for Twitter and Facebook and how to achieve goals moving forward.
  • Built and updated an excel sheet with a social media schedule.
  • Compiled a list of visual or video stories for the future.
  • Explained analytics and showed how website visitors were up 113%.


Student: Arin Jemerson

Editor and publisher: Dennis Warden and Jacob Warden

Location: Owensville, Missouri and Linn, Missouri

Population: 2,620 (Owensville); 1,429 (Linn)

Publishes: Weekly

GOALS: Learn best practices to develop an organized, consistent and professional social media presence. Drive more traffic to the website to successfully monetize digital content. Enhance reader engagement and interaction. Create and utilize a modern mindset of both digital and print for more impact.

Contributions and results:

  • Made a guide on using and posting to Instagram.
  • Created a guide about more efficiently reporting stories and posting them faster online and on social platforms.
  • Worked with managers about changes in the newsroom to create better flow and find easier ways to build in online work.
  • Taught staff how to post on Facebook more effectively and efficiently.
  • Facebook Live’d a city council meeting and showed staff how to do that.
  • Made an Instagram account for all publications.
  • Saw over 500% engagement rise on social media over previous week.


Sidney SteeleStudent: Sidney Steele

Editor: Peggy Scott 

Location: Festus, Missouri (near St. Louis)

Population: 11,602

Publishes: Weekly

GOALS: Create more videos and optimize digital products and social media. Grow the emailed newsletter subscriber list. Interpret analytics to keep track of growth. Produce a news podcast with a local radio station.  Launch a digital presence with and for a high school audience.

Contributions and results:

  • Created a report using Google Analytics that can be updated each week.
  • Built a how-to guide for creating and interpreting the analytics reports
  • Re-worked the home page for the website.
  • Met with the teen advisory panel to discuss how they use social media and read the news, as well as ways to share their work for the Leader.
  • Participated in an ad-sales meeting where we discussed ways to sell more digital space online and how to promote the upcoming podcast.
  • Met with the podcast team and finalized a title, booked a date for the first interview and finalized a work plan.
  • Helped a reporter with photographs and social media during a live interview.
  • Led a presentation about being digital first, using social media, writing social media copy and using a social media schedule.
  • Practiced writing social media posts.
  • I set up the Leader gmail account with all of the settings for Google Analytics and set an analytics report to be emailed to the staff every week.
  • Completed the how-to guide for using Google Analytics and creating an analytics report.


Student: Siobhan Conners

Publisher: Phil Cobb

Location: Maryville, Missouri

Population: 11,846

Publishes: Weekly

GOALS: Use social media to promote content to increase use of print and digital products and ultimately increase subscribers and revenue. Engage with readers in a positive way. Improve skills and use of video. Stand out from the competition.

  • Prepared a social media document that dictates posts be scheduled at times when the Forum has the highest traffic.
  • Set up an Instagram account with that allows Instagram posts to be scheduled and a link created for a bio. Created a “how-to” document that goes through the process step by step. 
  • Brainstormed ideas for best practices strategies and routines that the staff could use moving forward and saved it to the shared folder.
  • Shot footage of the Skidmore Museum to use for a short social video, edited it and covered the process in a video presentation.
  • Explained the value of Google Analytics to the staff.


Greta SerrinStudent: Greta Serrin

Owner/editor: Mike Bushnell

Location: Northeast Kansas City, Missouri

Population: 481,420

Publishes: Weekly

GOALS: Analyze and upgrade use of social media platforms. Make sense of analytics and develop a plan for daily marketing presentations. Expedite audio and video editing.

Contributions and results:

  • Sit with the managing editor in a podcast interview to take video and photos. I wrote potential captions down as I went to try and give examples for more engaging captions. 
  • Grabbed photos and videos during a reporter’s interview and posted on both Instagram and Twitter for a podcast.
  • Guided staff through scheduling a post each day on Instagram.
  • Set up a monthly analytics report to send to the news email account.
  • Set up a HootSuite schedule for Twitter and Facebook. Everyone grasped the idea of consistent posting.
  • Created a Google Doc to log stories to re-share on social media.
  • Downloaded a WordPress app to show how easy it is to write stories on breaking news, then link that story on Facebook and Twitter posts.
  • Ordered a phone tripod and stabilizer to enhance videos.
  • Created a reminders tip sheet for each staff member to hang in their offices for reference on posting to social media.
  • Wrote a podcast social media posting guide.
  • There has already been positive feedback in the community. The editor went into a local coffee shop, and the barista commented on how she was getting all of her news from the northeast news on social media this week!


Juliana TornabeneStudent: Juliana Tornabene

Editor: Nicole Cook

Location: Sedalia, Missouri

Population: 21,489

Publishes: Daily, Tuesday through Saturday

GOALS: Evaluate social media efforts to improve delivery. Provide instruction, tips, tricks and more ideas for video production. Analyze analytics for better interpretation of statistical information. 

Contributions and results:

  • Presented an analytics report and explained what it meant.
  • Created an “Analytics How-to Guide” about making analytics strategies and forming conclusions.
  • Set up a Tweriod for the newspaper’s Twitter account to show them the best times to post.
  • Set up an Instagram account and and posted the first photo. Continued to post to Instagram all week.
  • Completed videos and taught staff how to make them. 
  • Helped staff learn how to use the Adobe Spark Video editing app.
  • Shared my headline SEO guide with staff.
  • Made a “Where do we go from here?” doc about what we have learned this week and how those ideas will be implemented in the future.

These eight newspapers join a group of 20 that have benefited from Potter Ambassador’s one-on-one help, learning and honing various digital skills. But what about past participants? Did the week-long program have lasting benefit? RJI decided to check back with past participants to see what they’ve learned and how the program impacted these newsrooms.

About Walter B. Potter, Jr.

In 2010, Walt Potter (MA ’81) established the Missouri School of Journalism’s Walter B. Potter Fund for Innovation in Local Journalism. The endowment supports teaching and research centered on journalism that serves small communities, such as towns in rural areas or individual neighborhoods in larger urban areas. Potter says his gift is in honor of his late father, Walter Sr., and is motivated by his career as a journalist as well as his positive experiences as a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism. 

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