@macjournalism’s journey from humble origins in 2015 to double NSPA Best Use of Social Media winner in 2018


Samantha Harwood

On May 6, 2015, the yearbook staff posted this picture of archived yearbooks to promote sales of surplus 2015 yearbooks. It was the first post on the @macjournalism page.

Kristen Tibbetts, staff reporter

Followers of the award-winning Macjournalism Instagram account are used to seeing multiple posts every day covering all types of events in the McCallum community. It was only a few years ago, however, that the account was just starting out.

The page was created in the spring of 2015 to sell extra yearbooks.

“Some of our first posts were memes trying to promote sales,” said Samantha Harwood, the former yearbook editor who was integral in the formation of the account. “We had maybe 10 or fewer posts before the next fall.”

The following fall, however, that all changed.

“When Mr. Winter first started at McCallum, we were walking him through all the platforms we used,” former yearbook editor Alana Raper said. “He asked if we had an Instagram. To be honest, I didn’t even know we had one.”

The picture kicked off the 2015-2016 school year and the #dayinthelifeatmac photo-of-the-day streak that continued ever since. Photo by Christina Beck.

Winter previously taught at Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, where the staff’s primary social media presence was on its Facebook account. But he was happy to switch over to Instagram when he noticed the hashtag, #dayinthelifeatmac.

“Now, people say Facebook is for adults,” Winter said. “The great thing about Instagram is that we really are hitting our core audience where they live: [this is] their space.”

Once at McCallum, Winter encouraged the editors to do something to make the Instagram account recognized throughout the school.

“I got a job here, and the teacher that I was replacing [Rhonda Moore] was a legend,” said Winter, who saw social media as a place where an already excellent program might improve. “When I saw that we already had the Instagram account, I decided that we’d post a picture a day.”

Editors from both the newspaper and yearbook staffs worked together, each being assigned a day of the week to organize a post. Especially in the first year of the account’s existence, organizing a post every day was difficult.

“Often in the beginning, it was us scrambling at around 6 p.m. [or] at the worst, 9 or 10 p.m., for something new to post that day,” Raper said. “Luckily, we never missed a day during that, we always came up with something that featured our students and their accomplishments.”

With 630 likes, this picture is part of a 2018 Taco Shack gallery, the most-liked post in Macjournalism history. Photo by Bella Russo.

Another initial challenge of creating the page was gaining followers.

“Other than photo of the day, we gained followers by promoting the Instagram a ton,” Harwood said. “We plastered the hallways with promo flyers with our Instagram handle and followed probably 600 McCallum students.”

It took a while for the student body to catch on, but slowly the follow count began to grow.

“At first, I think people were kind of confused,” Raper said. “Especially since it took a little while for the concept of a daily Instagram featuring student achievements and activities to get off the ground. We mainly spread by word of mouth, and I think by midway through the first semester, people were starting to get excited about it.”

Even after spreading the word as much as they could, the former editors said that they only really realized that the account was becoming a big deal when they overheard talk about it in the hallways. Later, both staffers and photojournalism students noticed that many students were excited to see a Macjournalism representative at their events.

“My favorite thing about contributing to the account was that people wanted to be featured, and people were excited to see their friends featured,” Raper said.

In under one year, the account transformed from exclusively selling yearbooks to covering events all across McCallum.

“I think the Instagram account has changed mainly by expanding its range of coverage,” Harwood said. “It covers all of the football games, dance shows and special events but also just day-to-day life at McCallum.”

This image of the inauguration walkout in 2017 elicited 72 comments, the most commenteds on a post in the account’s history. Photo by Dave Winter.

The staff believes there is still more progress to be made.

“One of the challenges is getting balance,” Winter said. “It seems like if you really do a good job of covering one thing, you get pushback from people in other groups who feel like they’re being underrepresented.”

Finding a balance has gotten more and more difficult as Macjournalism decided to post more than just once every day.

“Now I feel like if we miss something then we’ve failed,” Winter said. “When we started the Instagram account, it was more like ‘let’s just post something today.’ I think the program’s mindset has shifted to where the people who are all-in on the Instagram account feel like if something gets dropped, then we’ve let the school down. That makes it pretty hard work.”

There is also a greater push for utilizing every aspect of the account.

“The whole program needs to get video in everything,” Winter said. “We don’t use the video function or the story function on Instagram as much as we could.”

While there is room to improve, the staff recently has also found reason to celebrate.

On Nov. 4, the National Scholastic Press Association awarded Macjournalism two Best Use of Social Media award for having the best high school journalism social media account in the country. Winter and a handful of newspaper students attended the fall national scholastic journalism convention in Chicago, where, among other awards, the staff received first place for best social media reporting and best social media promotion.

“It was kind of surreal,” Winter said. “It was the first time [NSPA has] ever done [this category]. There’s only one winner and forever and always it will be us.”