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Graphics, social media as a gateway to college and career? It’s 🔥

By Jayne O’Donnell

Youthcast Media Group®

While other teens were traveling or catching up on sleep, Carnellia “Celine” Daniels spent her February break with YMG and me learning to use graphics to create factual, engaging posts for social media including TikTok — yes, TikTok — and Instagram.

The Hartford, Connecticut high school sophomore and several of her classmates were also learning about affordable housing, criminal justice and mental illness as they mastered grammatical captions, pithy pull quotes and the best visuals to draw attention to their posts.

If you’re one of those who scoff at social media, I assure you your cynicism is misplaced here. Whether or not TikTok survives all the real and threatened U.S. bans, the writing (yes, writing!), design and analytical skills we’re teaching teens will live on long after the platform’s successor (or the one after that).

The training was part of our new partnership with ReadyCT, a career-training nonprofit in my home state. (I grew up in the New Haven suburb of Hamden.) We’re helping prepare the students in ReadyCT’s journalism pathway at Weaver High School for newsrooms, but also board rooms, operating rooms or any other places where clear, convincing communication is key.

It’s not nearly enough for young journalists to be good at writing and reporting the news. Media outlets now also look for job candidates who are adept at social media, preferably with strong followings, and know how to increase what’s known as “engagement” with their own and their colleagues’ content. That means a combination of video, photos, charts and other graphics that keeps readers' eyes on the journalism.

During my 28 years at USA TODAY — which ended with a 2021 buyout — my work friends kept getting younger as my contemporaries left for other jobs or fields. I watched as two of my newer colleagues — former deputy managing editor for audience, Alex Ptachick, and former investigative reporter Cara Kelly — rose rapidly through the ranks due to their strong journalism and digital skills. Alex, now director of new content initiatives at Heart Newspapers, consults occasionally for YMG on social media, helping us fine-tune our strategy and train the next generation.

Cara, an adjunct professor at American University, is one of our new part-time instructors, who we call “mentor-editors,” helping make one of our spring workshop teams’ food insecurity stories as informative and engaging as possible.

Celine and her classmates each created six social media posts using the Canva graphics program to promote some of our students’ reporting from a recent mental health conference and received $100 stipends for their work. Celine also put her new skills to work right away in an Instagram Story promoting the monthly “Teen Takeover” some of Weaver’s young journalists do on Hartford’s WQTQ 89.9 radio. It was about trauma in teens.

Before she joined the journalism pathway at Weaver, Celine thought she wanted to be a nurse, but now she’s also considering journalism. Or, she says, she can do social media for nursing or a hospital.

That’s the idea!

“Many high schoolers have an innate understanding of social media platforms because they use them regularly,” says Cara. “Through Youthcast Media Group's workshops, they begin to learn how to use them professionally. The workshops not only prepare them for college courses, but also give them a leg up on a wide-range of future jobs.”


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