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August 20 2012

13:34

Red & Black Lesson: Students Must Balance Business Needs at College Papers

There are no winners in the mess at the Red & Black. But there are lessons.

The Red & Black at the University of Georgia has long been regarded as one of America's finest college news operations. The students' journalism is consistently first class, and publisher Harry Montevideo has a track record as one of the sharpest business minds in the industry. (Disclosure: Montevideo has been a mentor of mine.)

But last week, a clumsy board memo became public, suggesting students focus more on "good" stories and granted more editorial control to professionals. Student editors resigned in protest. And Montevideo scuffled with a reporter at an open house. Montevideo has since issued a written apology for the scuffle and the board member who wrote the memo has resigned.

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How could things go so wrong? And what can the rest of us who work in college newspapers learn from it?

On the face of it, the dispute rests on whether students or professionals "control" the editorial content. Certainly, student control is central to the mission of student media. But the reality of running an independent, self-supporting college newspaper in the digital age is more nuanced than just who controls content.

Boards, editors and publishers must figure out how to evolve from the 1990s model of a journalism lab funded by an advertising monopoly to a 2010s model of a media company fighting in a hyper-competitive market.

"Every paper in the country wrestles with that: How do we deliver what you need to know vs. what you want to know?" said Barry Hollander, a professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

"If I knew the answer, I'd be a consultant ... I have no idea what the answer is, and I have my doubts about anyone who says they know what the answer is. We're all trying to feel our way along."

From lab to business

College newspaper boards and publishers must figure out the business model while still giving students the editorial freedom that they deserve and without compromising traditional journalistic values and ethics. In some ways, it's a more complicated balance than professional newsrooms where the publisher and owners get the final say on all business and editorial decisions.

In the 1990s model, college newspapers offered students and advertisers the only option for news and a local marketplace. That opened up a river of revenue that subsidized student-led newsrooms and provided nearly limitless journalistic freedom. I was a product of that system at the Oregon Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon in the late 1990s. It was the most fun I've had in journalism.

But I will be the first to admit, we occasionally produced some silly, unprofessional and self-absorbed journalism. In that model, it didn't matter. We practiced the skills we learned in class -- writing, sourcing and beats -- and didn't have to bother with advertisers, rates and readership.

But those days ended long before Myspace.

In the 2010s model, college newspapers offer one option among dozens. They compete against Facebook, Google and Twitter for students' time and advertisers' money. For many newspapers, readership and revenue are down 25 percent or more from the peak in the 1990s or 2000s.

Boards and publishers stare at those trendlines and seek solutions. But they also know they have no direct control over the most important piece of the operation: the content.

Different models at different schools

Each independent college newspaper confronts that challenge differently.

"It's the same as it has always been: education, training, persuading, suggesting. Some combination of all of those things," said Eric Jacobs, general manager for 31 years at The Daily Pennsylvanian.

At the Red & Black, the board believed the newspaper needed more professional oversight, especially online. "You've got to have people there to guide these things," Elliott Brack, the board's president, told the Student Press Law Center. "Each one of those takes its own professional."

But the students believed they were being forced into assignments that were more public relations than newsgathering, including "grip and grin" photos during sorority rush week, said Evan Stichler, the Red & Black's former chief photographer. "I think they were looking at it more from the marketing and advertising standpoint of getting viewers," he said.

At UCLA's Daily Bruin, director Arvli Ward is building a digital advertising network completely divorced from the newspaper. So far, his staff has built 60 mobile apps. His goal: to generate enough advertising revenue to subsidize the student newsroom.

"The monopoly that we owned was not on distributing dead tree products around campus, it was the advertising monopoly," Ward said. "That's what we have to regain. When we regain that, we can funnel money to our newsroom and let students do what they do. It's not going to be The New York Times, and sometimes it's going to be off color, but that's what makes a college newspaper interesting."

At the University of Oregon's Emerald, where I now work again, our student editors went on strike in 2009.

Students walked out after a consultant to the board drafted an organizational chart in which the publisher would oversee the student editor. I advocated for and later chaired an Editorial Independence Committee to protect the newsroom's editorial independence.

But my perspective evolved when I became publisher of the Emerald and was accountable for the company's financial performance. I still believe that students must retain editorial control. However, I also see the need to ensure student editors run the newsroom in a way that fits with the company's long-term business goals. It's a delicate balance that is now reviewed at least annually by an Editorial Advisory Committee led by a former Emerald editor in chief and editor at The Oregonian.

The sense of urgency is intense for independent college newspapers. Now, more than ever, college newspapers need tighter working relationships among news editors, business leaders and board members.

Or as Stichler, the former Red & Black photographer, put it: "Stick to your principles. Have some standards between board, editor and staff people ... You have to make sure everyone is in agreement."

Ryan Frank is president of the Emerald Media Group, formerly the Oregon Daily Emerald, the independent nonprofit media company at the University of Oregon. He blogs at thegarage.dailyemerald.com.

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February 18 2011

21:30

UPIU Mentors, Publishes Student Journalists Around the Globe







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

Suleiman Abdullahi was recently an eyewitness to the birth of the world's newest nation.

In early January, the 20-year-old Kenyan journalism student flew to Juba, Sudan, to cover the massive referendum responsible for the creation and upcoming independence of South Sudan. As Abdullahi wrote, he arrived in the prospective nation's capital city with a travel visa, a press pass, a story budget, and a 48-hour window to interview, observe, and report upon "the history that was about to be made."

By the end of his first day, he was under arrest.

Abdullahi was part of a two-man student reporting crew hired by UPIU, a student journalism project run by the United Press International news service. UPIU is an emerging player in the college media and journalism education arenas. Its website features a self-publishing platform for news stories and multimedia journalism projects posted by students around the globe.

More than a platform

The most standout aspect of UPIU: It does not just publish content by students; it provides classroom workshops, story editing, and one-on-one mentoring to help their pieces sing. The students who take advantage of its services undergo what UPIU senior mentor Krista Kapralos calls a "mini-internship experience."

It currently partners with more than 30 schools in roughly a dozen countries, leading to a cluster of student-produced stories touching on things such as Kenyans and antibiotic resistance, Moroccans and Christianity, the Chinese and homosexuality, and Egyptians and a revolution. The UPIU motto: "Mentoring Student Journalists Worldwide."

"We want to leverage UPI's solid reputation to attract aspiring journalists and improve foreign coverage," said UPIU Asia regional director Harumi Gondo. "I've not encountered another program that has such direct communication and relationships with journalism schools around the world."

No contracts are signed. UPIU does not collect any revenue from the posted stories. Students retain ownership of their work and are free to submit elsewhere. In the meantime, their content is vetted by professionals and considered for pick-up by UPI. Since its creation in late 2008, more than 2,300 stories have been published on the site. More than 100 -- roughly 4 percent of all submissions -- have been approved for placement on UPI.com.

Extra Help in the Classroom

UPIU transparent-grey-logo 225.jpgI can personally vouch for its potential. I have incorporated UPIU into multiple sections of my news reporting classes at the University of Tampa to mostly positive results. The process is five-fold: 1) an introductory video chat with each class hosted by veteran journalist Kapralos, who oversees UPIU's initiatives in Africa, Europe, and the Americas; 2) an optional video session in which students pitch story ideas; 3) a critique from a UPIU mentor on subsequent story drafts students post to the site; 4) a video chat round-up with Kapralos commenting on the quality of submissions overall; and 5) revisions by the students based on the feedback from Kapralos and, of course, their professor.

Students' involvement with UPIU ultimately helps underscore the lessons I am teaching them -- if nothing else, the importance of a news hook, timeliness, editorial collaboration, and three-source minimums.

It also has served as the platform for award-winning work. In fall 2009, Michigan State University student Jeremy Blaney earned a Religion Newswriters Association honor for his reports on local Muslim issues that were published on UPIU and, soon after, UPI. The headline of one of his pieces, which touched on the intersection of Islam and technology was, "You're a Muslim? There's an App for That."

"When you're on our site, you're not only seeing students practicing journalism," Kapralos told a news-writing class during a recent video chat. "You're also seeing a lot of really groundbreaking work. And you're seeing it through a lens that you don't always see through the New York Times or CNN."

Lunch, Without the Education

One prime example involves peeling potatoes. Unbeknownst to many Westerners, a government program in India requires public schools to provide a hot lunch for all students. Since its roll-out roughly a decade ago, scattered stories from professional news media have been mainly glowing, focused on the positives of children eating at least one decent meal a day in a country where poverty and hunger are rampant.

It took a local student journalist -- and five days of editing oversight by a UPIU mentor -- to help present the truth. Shiv Sunny, a student at New Delhi's AJK Mass Communication Research Center, built upon his personal knowledge of the required lunches and close proximity to numerous schools to uncover the program's underbelly. In some schools, the teachers are the individuals required to receive the food shipments and prepare the meals -- forcing them to spend hours each day cooking, mixing, and peeling essentials like potatoes and carrots in place of teaching.

As Kapralos explained it, "The story our student found: Yeah, the students are getting lunch, but they're not getting any education because their teachers are spending literally the entire day in the kitchen." Another problem: Hungry students often attend school just for lunch, and then skip out on the learning.

Krista225.jpgAdmittedly, some students treat UPIU similarly. They use the site to gain a web presence with panache and ignore the professional mentors' editing feedback, leaving their articles' factual inaccuracies and grammar slips in public view. The operation also still screams young and scrappy rather than streamlined, at times seemingly run solely on the hard work and sheer tenacity of Kapralos. And the site's story template is somewhat restrictive -- sporting the same look for every piece and an accompanying photo slot that is a bit tiny.

According to Kapralos, template changes, multimedia add-ons, and paid freelancing opportunities are in the works. The latest call, which is for student reports on Internet infrastructure, access, and control, offers $100 for selected stories.

Back in Juba

The first major freelance initiative was the Sudan assignment, which spun into action quickly as hopes for the referendum became reality. UPI president Nicholas Chiaia was a strong advocate of hiring students as stringers for the seminal event.

"He really sees the value in student journalists and he is not one to turn them away simply because they have minimal professional experience," said Kapralos. "He's the one to say, 'We need to utilize students, if there's a way we can do it that equates to responsible reporting and provides quality work.'"

Kapralos contacted two student journalists in Kenya whose previous work impressed her: Abdi Latif Dahir and Abdullahi. She assigned Dahir to Nairobi, where he covered the referendum voting of Sudanese refugees. She asked Abdullahi to fly to the story's geographic center, Juba.

Along with his "fixer" (a local guide), Abdullahi boldly charged into the international reporting gig. He describes competing for stories with "thousands of foreign correspondents, each one eager to thrust their cameras and microphones at every passing local." At times, Abdullahi employed his "rudimentary Arabic" to interview residents who did not speak English.

Just before midnight on the day of the big vote, he went downtown to see if anyone had begun lining up. There, he said, an "extra cautious" security force detained him and demanded a curfew.

"You are welcome to do your work here and we appreciate you, but you must be indoors by midnight," the police told him. "After midnight, we really cannot guarantee your safety and we don't want your government breathing down on our necks."

In Washington, D.C., Kapralos was holding her breath. She had been trading messages with Abdullahi non-stop. He had been turning in all his reports on time. Suddenly, he had gone quiet, and a story deadline had passed.

"As an editor, it's one thing to have a story go missing in the melee of a major breaking news situation," she recalled. "But when the breaking news story is in a region of the world where violence has been a way of life for decades, and when what you've lost isn't a story, but a reporter, stakes are high."

Fortunately, Abdullahi was released a half hour later, unharmed, and went back to work. He ultimately earned three UPI bylines, reporting on the guns, flags, billboards, long lines, traditional folk songs, and ink-stained fingers of voters that comprised the spectacle of the historic referendum.

And along the way -- like his reporting partner Dahir -- he experienced his own unforgettable journalistic coming-of-age story.

"Seeing tens of thousands of people line up under the scorching sun with such zeal is a scene that is hard to describe," Abdullahi wrote soon after flying home. "When it's all done and the seemingly inevitable decision of secession is made, we'll be able to say that we were there when they became a nation."

Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution, was published this past fall by Rutgers University Press.







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

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December 02 2010

18:17

10 Reasons Our Student Newspaper Blog Stinks

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

I am writing an adviser's confession: Our student newspaper blog stinks.

Amid many scoops and successes this semester, The Minaret, the weekly campus paper I advise at the University of Tampa, has endured a major bust. Roughly three months in, our efforts to launch a buzzworthy and newsworthy blog have failed -- spectacularly.

But I will not go quietly into that long production night, which for us is Tuesday.

Instead, I want my staff to learn from our mistakes and grow our blog, The Crescent, into something better. I also want to ensure others do not follow in our #epicfail footsteps.

In that spirit, here are the top ten reasons I believe our student newspaper blog, so far, has flopped.

10 Reasons

1. We don't have a dedicated blog editor.
Our managing editor oversees the blog. At first glance, that makes sense. He's a workaholic new media whiz kid with design chops and an unbridled passion for journalism and the newspaper. So far though, it has been hellish for him.

I know we live in a journalism age in which everyone is supposed to be equipped to do everything. And I know that student newspaper staffers regularly double and triple up on their defined job scope for the greater good of the paper. But for our managing editor -- someone who is already enmeshed in layout, staff oversight, copy editing, reporting, and budget issues -- launching and overseeing the blog appears to be a step too far.

Even in the short time I've known him, I've been able to measure his stress not by the look on his face, but the fuzz. When he's clean-shaven, I know all's well and we have a solid issue. When he sports two-day stubble, I know there's a major misspelling in a published headline and a reporter who's gone MIA. When he periodically dives into blog work, his scruff becomes a full-blown "defeat" beard, the kind Al Gore grew after he lost the 2000 presidential election and the one Conan O'Brien continues to sport after being ousted from "The Tonight Show."

A blog is important enough to have a staffer whose sole or most significant responsibility revolves around its maintenance. Just because a staffer in a separate position has the skills, knowledge or willingness to augment their work with additional blog oversight does not mean that they should.

2. We don't have a blog-first mentality.
The Crescent should be our spot to break news and provide real-time previews and post-event reviews. But the power of print is subverting the blog's potential. Students continue to hold content for the hard copy paper, seeing their role as weekly newshounds instead of real-time watchdogs. In this sense, writing for the Crescent is not perceived as a perfect avenue to report in the moment, engage readers or experiment. Instead, it is viewed as extra work, the type most staffers do not have the time or energy to take on.

3. We haven't integrated the blog into the paper.
In our early planning, we excitedly defined the Crescent as the last piece of our puzzle, the driving engine of a three-tiered presence that also includes our print edition and website. Instead, it's been the spare tire hidden in the trunk.

There is no real interplay between the blog and other parts of the Minaret. At editorial meetings, while brainstorming story ideas, we talk about news angles, sources, photos, editorial illustrations, information graphics, and full packaging options. The Crescent rarely, if ever, comes up.

Screen shot 2010-12-01 at 10.14.00 PM.pngWe randomly run a few Crescent headlines in RSS feed-fashion on the side of our home page, but otherwise the blog exists in no-man's land. It sports its own web address and masthead. At first glance, it is not immediately clear what the blog is, why it exists or who it belongs to.

4. We don't embrace the blog's multimedia potential.
The Crescent sports bare text and Flickr photos by the truckload. We are not running podcasts, audio slideshows, news videos, Dipity timelines or PDFs of campus security reports or student government budgets. At this point, we barely offer active links.

5. We haven't made the blog feel very inviting.
The design is what I've dubbed "minimalist bleak." The text is there, presented in the classic centerpiece one-column format, but it is tiny. The sparse whiteness of the page also appears just a bit too white, overwhelming the words and images embedded within it. We also don't tease out enough of each post to entice readers to click through. And the small photos running with the text are not grabbing anyone's attention.

6. We haven't made the blog interactive.
There is no dialogue with readers. We haven't solicited crazy Halloween stories, messy dorm room photos or #epicfailatUT tweets.

We have attempted to stir up interest in a poll question asked at the end of a big story in each week's print edition that students must travel to the blog to answer. Our enthusiasm has waned after realizing that not many people are answering. I recently responded to a question, selecting one of the three choices, and found each one had been chosen by 33.3 percent of respondents. It turned out only three of us had answered, each one giving a different response.

7. We aren't promoting the blog enough.
In an informal poll a few of my students and I conducted on campus, we came across only one student who even knew the Crescent existed. He had only been to the site once. When asked how he had heard about it, he giggled, replying, "Honestly, I don't remember."

We have not yet taken advantage of the massive power of social media to hype our efforts. Heck, we haven't even handed out flyers or papered dorm hallway walls with the web address. And while we drop in occasional quarter-page promos about it in our print edition, they don't sport an image, tagline or concept that in any way stands out from the bodybuilding and "quit smoking" ads running nearby.

8. We aren't running enough fresh content.
We never expected hourly updates, but we barely scrounge together three or four solid posts a week. They tend to go live at random and rarely relate to anything timely happening on campus or in the world. The bottom line: There is absolutely no reason for anyone to check out the blog on a regular basis or in the midst of breaking news.

9. We don't have a coherent voice.
This was a planning problem. We wanted a blog, plain and simple. But at the outset, we never really established why or what we wanted it to be. Is it meant for us to let our hair down and write without objectivity? Is it for us to tackle tougher issues and be more explicit? Is it to speak with sarcasm? Is it to drop the nonsense and literally be all-interactive, letting students write in and sound off? Is it to simply flesh out our print coverage? Answers still to come...

10. We don't offer a consistent editorial slate.
Our blog content is scattered. As recent headlines reveal, we jump randomly from "Gossip Girl Spoiler Chat" and "How Real Men Treat Women" to "American League Cy Young Predictions" and "Another Reason Canada Should Apologize to Justin Bieber."

The best blogs fill a niche, providing the most relevant and comprehensive information on a single slice of life, geographical area or area of interest. By contrast, our blog is a ditch- one in which we have been throwing unwanted or unneeded content, regardless of form, quality or relevancy to our readers.

Still Have Hope

On the bright side, the beauty of the web is that failure can often turn to success -- and you can watch it happen in real-time. I hope in the months to come the Crescent will become a central part of our web presence. The dream scenario is for the blog to be the students' home page, their first check in the morning, something for which they are excited to contribute, and something that fills their information niche.

But for now, as Usher once sang, this is my confession: Our student newspaper blog stinks.

Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution, was published this fall by Rutgers University Press.

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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