This past Thursday we ran the first of what will become a bi-weekly series. We’re calling it “Hacking the Student Newsroom.” Each session will lead you through a specific skill related to WordPress and college news that you can implement immediately. We’ll also do our best to record the workshops for those who can’t make the scheduled date. This week’s session was on setting up a sandbox in WordPress.
A sandbox provides a great test environment where you can experiment with both ideas and code without having to worry about breaking things. Your Web staff and any others that are interested in learning about WordPress can also use a sandbox to teach themselves some great new skills.
We covered everything from creating a subdomain for a sandbox to the proper way to configure your development version of WordPress. For those who want a test site to test edits that will be made to the production site, we went over how to transfer your theme and plugin files so that everything is as similar as possible.
Innovation can’t happen without a knowledgeable staff, but a knowledgeable staff isn’t born into existence — it takes training and education on everyone’s part.
That’s what this video is all about: invest in your staff and make sure they’re properly educated for the Web. Furthermore, make sure that their education is a continual process. You can do this by encouraging the knowledgeable people in your newsroom to lead lessons over pizza lunches or by teaming up staff to compete on specific projects.
Investing in your staff isn’t only a matter of training, but of hiring the right people. Newsrooms should have at least one or two Web developers who are proficient in HTML/CSS, PHP, and/or Python to continue developing your website. Be resourceful about it; look to your college’s computer science department for budding programmers who have the skills and the passion.
You’ll be surprised at how many good ideas will come when you all sit down together and brainstorm. Don’t underestimate the power of team planning with your staff. Figuring out how your newsroom is going to work and grow together is the foundation for innovation. If you need conversation starters, we have plenty of ideas to get you started and even more on the way.
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.
This post is a behind-the-scenes look at how the Amherst Wire team produced Economic Stimulus 101, an example of deep-information journalism in an online multimedia format.
>Why deep-information journalism?
The Internet is awash with information that is, too frequently, miles wide and only inches deep. News organizations add to the problem when they bombard readers with commodity news (only the “facts and updates,” says the AP’s 2008 study on news consumption, as opposed to depth and breadth).
Deep-information journalism is one way to balance out shallow coverage by providing context, background and analysis for topical issues. BBC’s Special Reports accomplishes this with a clean design that encourages exploration. News wikis are another promising development that would achieve a similar goal if implemented well.
Economic Stimulus 101: The project
At the Amherst Wire, we wanted to turn an analytical lens on the federal economic stimulus bill that passed last month and capture various aspects of the questions and debates surrounding it. We also hoped to frame the topic in a broader context including historical parallels and general economic theory distilled into simple terms.
To do so, we interviewed six professors (five in economics and one in entrepreneurship) from UMass Amherst and Mt. Holyoke College, edited the videos into short clips, and arranged them by subject in an online guide.
We did extensive research and planning before setting up the interviews so that we would know the right questions to ask. This was particularly important when tackling a topic as complex as the U.S. economy — we had a lot of ground to cover, but at the same time, didn’t want to stray too far afield.
To land interviews with professors, we simply scanned departmentcontactlists and sent e-mails to faculty whose areas of expertise lined up with our topic. Out of maybe twenty professors contacted, six replied saying they were interested. We sent our questions in advance to give them time to prepare, and then conducted the interviews in their offices over the course of two weeks.
Each interview lasted 30-45 minutes and covered areas the professor was most familiar with. We didn’t follow a strict Q&A format or ask the questions in any particular order, but let the interview unfold more like a discussion. We would be reorganizing everything in the editing room later, anyway. Read more →