Last week I spent two hours talking to third year undergraduate media communications students about their feature ideas. It was a great session with half the class of 30 students doing speed pitches in which they displayed posters outlining three feature ideas. They shared their thinking about who the feature would be written for, the format it would take and where they thought it might be published.

There was a huge variety of ideas which led to some interesting conversations. Senior lecturer Dan Ashton provided feedback slips for students to share their thoughts on the ideas they saw. That meant that each student would receive feedback from all their peers. That will be very useful.

It was a buzzy two hours in which I had a lot of great conversations and asked a lot of questions. Having reflected on what I heard and saw there were three elements that stick out.

Passion
I asked everyone why they had suggested their ideas and why they thought anyone would read them. The reason? The web is awash with content and there is bound to be someone who has had your idea or produced something similar. I was also asking it for another reason – to gauge interest and passion in the topics that students were talking about.

Passion for your subject is what will make the difference if you plan to produce content on a regular basis and want it to resonate for people and you want to grow an audience around it. If you know your subject well then you will always have an angle because you can reference what others are doing who are talking about the same subject. You develop authority and your audience will grow.

After digging into the feature ideas it became apparent which ideas really interested the students and after a bit more discussion I’d uncovered some really interesting stories about why a particular topic interested them. For example, one student had played drums for years and wanted to create a drum kit review site with a geographic focus ie looking at drum kits shops in a specific area, recommending kits by age and reviewing shops etc.

Another wanted to do a travel piece based on a particular town in the US. Turns out he goes there regularly because that’s where his girlfriend is from.

You can see and hear when someone starts to talk about something they are passionate about. As someone who writes professionally I’d caution that you’d always be able to write about things that excite you, because you won’t (unless you are really lucky). But that’s what is worth striving for. That said, you can do it anyway on your own blog.

Creativity
I was struck by the range of ideas – from feature articles in print to apps and a directory. Pictures and video were also featured in many pitches too. One issue I raised with quite a few students is how to incorporate relevant content that already exists into new ideas. For example, one student wanted to write a piece on a band that would focus on how each of the band’s albums had developed musically. He was interested in likening the sound of each album to similar sounds sounds produced by other artists. I suggested that an embedded Youtube playlist¬† of those similar songs or albums could really enhance the piece and add a lot of value for readers.

I think it is worth dwelling on the questions, ‘What could I do?’ and ‘How could I do it?’ and indulge in some creative thinking. And don’t forget to build on what’s out there.

Who is the audience?
Whenever you create some content ask yourself who it is for . This question seemed to trip up some of the students. If it does, I’d suggest giving it some serious thought. And consider building the audience as a part of the research¬† through crowdsourcing ideas or sharing your thing and asking questions openly ahead of creating the piece.

I’m back at Bath Spa University tomorrow to hear the pitches of the rest of the class and will report back on that too.