Internship opportunity: Work with CICM to help push innovation in college media

Bryan Murley announces the CICM internship program:

The pitch: How would you like to learn new media skills while having a positive impact on the college media environment? Join us for a semester of new media opportunity as the first intern for the Center for Innovation in College Media for Spring 2009.”

Sounds like a great opportunity to work on your Web production and development skills while helping out  an organization that’s been pushing student media forward for years now.

Deadline to apply: January 18.

Get on it.

CoPress launches hosted WordPress sites for student media

First, a bit of history: The first time I fiddled with a newspaper Web site, it was thespartandaily.com, after I walked into an adviser’s office at San Jose State’s School of Journalism & Mass Communications and asked something like “hey, any way to get an RSS feed off that thing?”

There was, and we did, and I spent a good chunk of time over the next two semesters redesigning the site, migrating it from one host to a second one that had purchased the first, and supporting early efforts at multimedia at the Daily.

But it wasn’t easy. And little of the code I had to muck about in to get the site to do what I wanted was code that I could learn from, or re-use, or maintain in any sort of extensible way.

Since then, more options have popped up for hosting student media Web sites, the most popular and obvious one being to launch a WordPress site on your own server.

But of course, it would be nice if there were one place to share tips, tricks, plugins, ideas, and code snippets with other students and advisers working with WordPress for student newspapers, right?

CoPress wants to be that place.

I’ve had a chance to talk, chat, and tweet with some of the students and recent graduates behind CoPress over the last few months, and I think they’re clearly the sharpest minds in online student media right now.

Here’s the short list of resources, places to start looking into CoPress, if you’re serious about getting your news site off that big popular hosted solution and thinking about giving students, staff, and advisers a chance to learn more than how to paste from Word into a WYSIWYG editor:

  • CoPress.org: Subscribe to the blog’s feed, read more about the budding organization, and contact the team.
  • CoPress Hosting: Not planning to deal with development, design, or server hosting on your own?  Talk with the CoPress team about what they can do for you.
  • CoPress on Twitter: Follow the team on Twitter.
  • CoPress on iTunes: Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.  The CoPress team has done an amazing job of staying transparent, posting recordings of their conference calls as a regular podcast.

If it sounds like I’m excited about this, I am.  This blog started out life in 2005 as “Ryan Sholin’s J-School Blog,” and as far as I’m concerned, working in student media is the best way to build your skillset, on deadline, with real stories, photos, video, readers, comments, and every other element live and in play.  If CoPress makes it easier for students to expand that skillset to cover development, design, and site management for online news, that’s fantastic.

Snapshots from the future of online student news

Those of you (er, both of you) who have been following this blog since its outset (onset?) in February 2005 will recall that I first got involved with the actual production of online news at the Spartan Daily, the student newspaper of San Jose State University, where I remain a graduate student, believe it or not.

I walked into Prof. Richard Craig‘s office one day in the summer of 2005 and said “Why isn’t there an RSS feed for the Daily?” and he and the other advisers and Daily-adjacent faculty members basically gave me the keys to the site and told me to go out and do whatever I could to improve it.

It turned out that adding an RSS feed was easy, but my interest — and sudden new role as the contact for the hosting and CMS provider (back then it was a company called Digital Partners) — led me to my first news site redesign, turning the Daily’s site into something slightly more pleasant to look at.

I think I must have taken a few independent study credits and the title of Webmaster the next semester.  I wasn’t the Online Editor, whose job at that point in time was mostly to do a lot of painful copy/paste webmonkey work very late at night, but I helped the staff try to figure out a little bit about what more they could do with the system.

Digital Partners was promptly swallowed up by College Publisher, and I redesigned the site again, with the excuse of porting it over to a new CMS and hosting system.  It was fun, and I was working with the incoming Online Editor, Shaminder Dulai, who started driving multimedia into the story count requirements at the Daily. (And then Daniel Sato and Neal Waters redesigned it.  And then Kyle Hansen redesigned it.  It should be redesigned every semester if there’s a student or two with a passion for online news design, and if you don’t have one or two of those around, something’s wrong. )

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This is all just to say that after working with a few versions of the dominant CMS/hosting tool for college newspapers, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. If all you’re interested in teaching or learning is content production, College Publisher is fine.  Stories, comments, blogs (?), video, photos — it can handle all that.  I’m pretty sure embeddable tools work as well.  But those are the limits.
  2. If you’re interested in teaching or learning anything at all about Web design, development, user interaction, interactivity, Flash-based multimedia or graphics, or community management, you need something more flexible than a turnkey solution.

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Once you get past that, you’re loose in the touchy and complicated world of how/why/when/where to deploy some sort of open source software and server setup that students can manage — and far more importantly, that the next student staff can manage.  And the next one.  And the next.

I’ve been excited to see a few projects appear in recent months to address that issue, and get past it.  Here’s the best I’ve seen, so far:

  • The Populous Project: This Knight News Challenge winning project intends to build a fully featured three-phase system for student (and small town?) news, from CMS to a front-end newsroom system for print and online, to a social networking tool to add on to news sites.  This project is based at the UCLA Daily Bruin, where they’re coding up a prototype in Django which they plan to open-source.
  • CoPress: This collective project features a bunch of online news students and recent graduates that I know from around the Web, and they’re applying for a Knight News Challenge grant this year. (Sense a theme here?)  Check out their answers to my questions about their proposal.  The gang at CoPress knows exactly what a student paper needs to get their jobs done and be innovative at the same time, and you can see that in their list of Ideal CMS Features, which includes things like the need for a system that plays well with InDesign and IPTC data.

(For a sense of what’s possible when you break out of the College Publisher mold and go your own way, check out the WordPress-powered Miami Hurricane.)

My most important questions for any student media CMS project have to do with scalability and repeatability:

How easy will this CMS be to host, given the variety of university and external systems in play at student media outlets with a wide range of organizational structures?

How easy will this CMS be to maintain for a steady flow of students through a newsroom, year after year?

Shifting priorities

If posting gets a little light around here, it’s because a few projects are working their way toward completion. One is nearly finished (more on that within the next few weeks) and another I just made a big change to get started on in earnest. There’s a third that’s on hold for a few minutes, but I’m sure I’ll be picking it back up shortly.

Anyway, I’m sending you away so you come back for more, later, when things have settled down a little bit here on my overcrowded desk/desktop/brain/life:

  • The Fresno State Collegian online edition covered an off-campus shooting this week with breaking news updates, slideshows and video. Powered by WordPress.
  • I’m about halfway through News, Improved. If you’re any sort of edito, manager or publisher with any level of seriousness in you about training your employees for the future present, you really need to pick up this quick read. Look for the examples at your circulation level, and have at it.
  • The relaunched-on-the-fly Kiowa County Signal in tornado-ravaged Greenburg, Kansas has a map up where readers can “flag” the places they knew until last weekend.
  • On the mapping note, my colleagues at work have brewed up the beginning of something really cool for local search: Santa Cruz Spots. Maps+Reviews+Ratings = a really handy database. It’s still in beta, so feel free to kick it around and let me know what you think.

That’s it for now. Go away. Come back later.

RateMyProfessors.com – the ultimate student media vertical?

Two weeks ago, a little business brief zipped across my workflow radar at the office – mtvU buys RateMyProfessors.com*.

For those of you keeping up with the college newspaper business, last summer, mtvU bought College Publisher, by far the largest hosting and CMS provider for online student media.

Now, the Viacom subsidiary adds RateMyProfessors to its stable.

Awesome move.

What’s the best vertical service your college newspaper can provide to you readers? I say it’s a professor-rating site, closely followed by a textbook exchange bulletin board of some sort. (Note to self: develop ultimate Web 2.0 textbook exchange site and sell to mtvU for millions.)

Soon enough, we’ll start to see professor rating widgets showing up on college newspaper sites. Very cool, very sticky, and very useful to readers.

So what’s the one vertical your small-to-medium sized newspaper not on a college campus needs to provide to its readers?

Let’s put it this way: What’s the one thing unique and special and specific about your town that you simply should not get outdone on by any other media outlet or service?

*(School spirit disclosure: RateMyProfessors was founded by an SJSU alum, inspired by SJSU profs.)

Questions for student media advisers

Bryan Murley posted his responses to what Rob Curley said a day ahead of schedule, having been scooped by his source — a common problem when using bloggers as sources, for those of you taking notes.

He brings up some crucial questions for student media advisers. Yes, this means you.

“When you critique the paper product, do you critique the online product as well? When you do, do you ask about Web ‘extras’?”

Ah, now there’s a good pair of questions.

I translate them as: Do you just talk the talk when it comes to developing online skills, or do you actually take the time to *look* at the Web site with students and *talk* about what it’s doing. “Hey you should really check out this thing that so-and-so did, kids” is not teaching. “Let’s all pull this project up on our browsers and talk about how so-and-so went about telling this story,” – now we’re cooking with some more powerful stuff.

So, advisers, ask yourselves: Are you cooking with powerful stuff, or just paying lip service to the two or three kids doing the heavy lifting?

Which newspaper will drop its print edition first?

Wired News prediction for 2007: “A major newspaper gives up printing on paper to publish exclusively online.

Howard Owens doesn’t think so: “Ain’t happening. There’s still too much revenue tied up in print and not enough online. A major newspaper — I’m taking this to mean a major metro — couldn’t support it’s current news operation with a digital-only strategy. Not now. Not yet. Not for a couple to a few years.

Lucas Grindley follows the money: “If a newspaper stops printing, about two-thirds of its operating expenses are thrown out the window. No more newsprint. No more carriers. No more circulation department, sales kiosks and all that.

Bryan Murley says college papers can do it under certain circumstances:

  • A small advertising base
  • A majority of funding from student fees
  • A small staff
  • A visionary editor
  • A forward-thinking adviser
  • A fully wired campus

Calling the Spartan Daily

Steve Greene was right when he recommended the Daily become a weekly print paper with a continuous online news site, a la the [X]Press at San Francisco State.

Cue rant: I’m not going into the painful details about how much talking-head event coverage gets into the Daily, or how certain stories (and feature photos) are repeated each and every semester (ballroom dancing, anyone?), or how much superfluous wire copy gets into print during busy points in the school year, but seriously, students are being cheated out of the experience of working in a continuous news environment because the faculty sees the print product as the end-all be-all of newspapering. Note to my peers: As reporters, you will be expected to get stories done before 5pm on occasion, and they will be posted online immediately. That’s the real world of newspapers today. It’s nice that the Daily has trained a steady string of page designers, but it could just as easily turn out an annual crop of multimedia producers. Wouldn’t that be a bit of a modernization? End rant.

How much of the same can be said of your major metro daily? Or your small-to-medium town broadsheet replete with wire copy on international events and faraway football games?

How many broadsheets will be willing to start the process of change by re-aligning as tabloid-size papers with less cable news and Internet overlap of content?

We’ll see more announcements of this sort of thing in 2007.  I wish that college newspapers would lead adoption instead of following five years behind trends, but that might still be a pretty hefty wish.

Good luck to all daily print publications this year — they’re going to need it.