Rich Beckman (@richbeckman) is the Knight Chair of Visual Journalism at the School of Communication at the University of Miami and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago, Chile. Rich is known for multimedia projects and for training students with high-end skills.
A few of the topics from this week’s podcast are:
How college media organizations can innovate and improve their Web sites
Comments on college media
What each professor would do if they were the editor of a college news organization today
This week, CoPress directors Daniel Bachhuber, Andrew Spittle, Lauren Rabaino and Adam Hemphill are attending the National College Media Convention in Austin, Texas. These are reports from the field. For more updates, follow the conversation on Twitter.
In the “Townsquare” session, led by Arvil Ward and Anthony Pesce, the Populous Project was demoed. The Populous Project is a Knight News Challenge funded project that is working to build a content management system for student news publications based on Django.
Among the technologies demoed were the Digital Newsroom, which is a system of tracking story assignments that is currently implemented by the UCLA Daily Bruin. As Arvil said, “this provides a communication tool with the ability to manage the newsroom online.” It has threaded commenting for story ideas and notifications for when an assignment changes. Interestingly, it is not yet integrated with the content management system and how closely it will be able to manage content is to be determined.
The final piece of the demo was Localresearch.com. Arvil described this as focused marketing to small local businesses that seeks to reinvent the decreasing value of print advertising. They provide a database of local business listings and for $45 a month they work with companies to create more full-featured listings that include links to social media, reviews, and more.
Andy Dehnart from Reality Blurred demoed Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps, and Google Voice among other things at the ACP/CMA 2009 conference. He started with a recap of how Facebook fan pages can benefit your news organization. Among other things the insights that Facebook offers could prove useful to figuring out how effective campaigns are.
He said that while a few years ago Google was the main traffic source for his site it has now become Twitter and Facebook. He says that “you need to speak to people where they already are” and that the top “neighborhoods” for online activity are now those sites.
Next up was Twitter and a quick introduction to how it works and how to use it. Andy mentioned that you need a solid vision of what you’ll be using Twitter for before you just start posting tweets. There needs to be a purpose in order for it to be effective for your news organization.
Quote URL was mentioned and looks like an interesting tool for aggregating conversations or reactions to a specific topic. You’re able to enter in links to various tweets and then Quote URL aggregates them into a central list.
Toward the end the subject moved to general site comments. Andy said that if you don’t yet have comments “it’s worth having a conversation about whether you want and/or need comments.” He cited the concerns over turning the comments list into a string of irrelevant posts. The takeaway: make sure that people will be using the comments and that you have a clear purpose for wanting them.
Much of the general conversation centered around how to make all of these tools as frictionless as possible. For both Facebook and Twitter tools that turned your stream into an automatic RSS list dump were brought up as great and efficient solutions.
After the demo some asked how much standard English conventions matter on Twitter. Andy’s response was that it really depends on your audience and purpose. If they won’t be bothered then it won’t be as large of a concern. However, there need to be some parameters and guidelines set beforehand so that everyone is clear going into the tool.
When hacking the student newsroom, you need a safe sandbox with which to experiment. That’s why this Thursday — at 4 PM Pacific/7 PM Eastern — we’re going to show you how to set up a WordPress instance solely for development purposes. If interested, you should RSVP to the Facebook Event as space will be limited.
Why a sandbox?
The advantage to having a sandbox is that these sites can be a great way to test out those ideas that you’re not sure quite how to implement or design. They provide a great test environment where you can experiment with ideas and code without having to worry about breaking things. Your Web staff and any others that are interested in learning about WordPress can use it to teach themselves some great new skills.
Thursday’s session is open to everyone, and we’ll be leading you through from start to finish on how to set up a demo instance of WordPress. We’ll show you how to create a subdomain on which to install WordPress plus lead you through each step of configuring the software. From creating the database to installing themes and plugins or getting some dummy content in there, we’ll cover it all.
If there’s time left over, we’ll also be open to discussing any and all questions you may have.
This is a great opportunity if you’ve ever wanted someone to show you how to start hacking a WordPress theme. CoPress team members will be there to answer your questions in real time — no more clogging up your inbox!
Earlier this summer, Student Life, the independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis, relaunched its Web site using WordPress µ. The new site is the culmination of several months of conversations within Student Life’s Web team and a summer of intense design and programming. More importantly, the July launch was the first time that Student Life’s Web site was completely student-run since joining College Publisher in 2001 (long before it became the College Media Network).
Our decision to leave CMN and College Publisher 5.0 stemmed from a desire to gain finer control over users’ experience in interacting with our Web site and to open to door for future Web development projects. We had been having discussions for several years about the possibility of building our own site, but the final decision to leave CMN was made last spring after a rocky experience with CP5 and the growth of our Web staff to a size that we thought could sustain the design and development of a new site into the future.
As we started to look for a content management system to power our new site, we evaluated three basic options: using WordPress (WordPress µ), Drupal or building our own content management system in Django. At the end of the day, we chose to go with the WP option because several members of our interactive staff had worked with it in the past and because the system offered an easy way of running our main site and all of our blogs within one installation. Although Drupal is also extremely powerful, we found that WordPress’s interface was better suited to a workflow that would begin to allow non-technical reporters and editors to work within our CMS. We haven’t dropped the long-term plan of moving to a Django-powered system, but the development cycle for creating a system that would completely suit our needs would have taken far longer than the time we allotted for our Web transition.
Now that we’ve shared a few our our ideas, let’s see yours! With the above video in mind, put the information into action. In the upcoming weeks:
Week 1: Plan a brainstorming session. It can be in your newsroom or on a camping trip or at an editor’s house. Make it fun and have lots of food. Make a list of all of the best ideas for how you can better implement the Web in your newsroom. It’s important that everyone is involved in the process.
Specifically, figure out how to (1) Start a Web-first workflow for all articles to be posted in a 24-hour news cycle, and (2) Generate Web-specific content like videos, slideshows and Twitter/Facebook/SMS updates. You can start a staff blog this week and write your first post about the ideas you brainstormed.
Week 2: Help every editor and reporter set up Google alerts for their section or beat as well as create a Twitter account to reach out to readers. At every budget meeting, require an aspect of every article pitch be based on feedback from readers on the Web. Start to build a strong community with your audience online and make sure it’s a two-way dialogue.
If you already have a Twitter account, this can be the week when you set up a system for publishing your editorial calendar for public feedback.
Weeks 3-6: Get out of the habit of updating your site once a day after the newspaper is printing. This is a huge step, so you’ll have to start slow. During this week, try not to post your articles online at 10 p.m. See how early you can post everything (and subsequently tweet the headlines), then figure out how your staff needs to shift roles to have a continuous flow of news throughout the day. This could mean changing the hours of your copy editors, changing deadlines for reporters and training everyone how to use the CMS.
Week 6-9: Really take control of live and breaking coverage. This can be as simple as posting event recaps (e.g. sports games, debates, concerts) online within a few hours after they’re over, because that’s when people will be looking. During those same events, post pictures and tweets that your readers will be interested in, and make sure to keep an eye on feedback from your users too.
Do they have questions? “Is #46 on the bench?” “How many people are at the concert?” Answer those questions. For breaking news like fires, robberies or protests, post as much information as you can as soon as you can. If it’s incomplete, that’s OK — but be accurate. Post updates as you go. Be sure to tweet the information too.
Week 9-12: After your staff starts to get comfortable with the Web, take on a big project like creating a system for an open editorial calendar, a continually updated news wiki or an iPhone app for readers on the go. All of your projects will feed on the other skills you’ve acquired: covering breaking news, thinking Web-first and encouraging community involvement.
Last but not least, report back! Let your peers know how your experiment went and what lessons you learned.
We hear it over and over again – “Innovate, innovate, innovate!” But what does that really mean in the context of newspapers, and why is it necessary? Let’s start by stepping back to see where newspapers went wrong.
Newspapers are falling into a similar trap, but college media can change course before it’s too late. We should be the ones experimenting and taking risks. The students should be leading the way.
To quote Jason Calacanis, “Innovation is all you have. Once you stop innovating you lose your talent and you lose the race. Never. Stop. Innovating. Never. Never. Never.”
What is innovation really, though? Innovation is experimenting and taking risks. Innovation is trying what’s radically new.
After you take a look at the video above, be the innovator in your newsroom. Play it at your next staff meeting, e-mail the link to them or even post it to their Facebook walls. We have an entire series of videos coming for you in the following weeks to help your entire newsroom understand how to step ahead.
As the school year winds down to an end, many news organizations are searching for the next online editor. If you already have your next online editor, then the summer is a perfect time for him or her to brush up on necessary skills that will make your news website flourish.
Finding the balance
Ideally, an online editor will have both the tech-smarts and the journalism abilities to present news content in web-friendly way. You can teach someone how to embed a video from YouTube or add a new article to a CMS, but teaching someone how to write a lead can’t be done through an hour-long training session.
Splitting the job
Increasingly, the responsiblity of maintaining the website is more than a one-man show.
As Andrew Spittle suggested in the CoPress forum, the best way to balance the job is to split the web position into a web developer and web editorial position. Editing articles in addition to training the staff for multimedia year-round leaves little time to focus on developing new features.