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, 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:

  • 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.

Richard Koci Hernandez in slides

For weeks, I’ve been meaning to get Richard Koci Hernandez on the phone for a quick podcast about his move from the San Jose Mercury News to the faculty of UC Berkeley.

That phone call hasn’t happened yet, but hey, here’s a story about Koci put together by Cal Poly journalism student Lauren Rabaino.

The text is cool enough…

“When asked if he made the switch to get out early before the journalism industry goes up in flames, Koci Hernandez said, ‘Kinda, but not really.’ He’s a newspaper optimist and said he still believes in a strong future for journalism.

‘I guess I have a naive vein in me,’ he said. “But I thought I might actually be able to “save” journalism or do something positive in my new role here at Berkeley, more than I could have by staying at a newspaper.'”

…but be sure to check out the slide presentation Lauren created to tell the story.  It’s embedded in her post, and there’s a bigger version up on Google Docs.

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. )


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.


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?

A few ways to teach the Pro side of Pro-Am Journalism to J-School students

Jay Rosen was just on stage talking about (see his lessons learned post at PressThink), and one thing that comes up is training on both the Pro and the Amateur side to smooth the process of writing/editing stories and gathering/parsing data.

So how can J-School students who need to learn these new skills (this would be the Interactivity part of the trinity) pick them up in school?

A few ideas:

  • Create Facebook and MySpace identities for your student media outlet and then manage/promote them.  Start discussions about campus news and find the online communities that are already in your neighborhoods, then tie into them.
  • Create a Ning social network for a niche at your school:  Club sports not getting enough coverage in your paper?  Ning ’em.
  • Find a tool to gather data from your campus community.  It can be simple as a Google Map or as complicated as a database project, but take a common problem or question on your campus (parking, for example) and start asking your readers to contribute answers to those questions.

Does anyone have examples of student media taking these steps? (I know you do…)

And maybe more important, is this something you teach in a class, or are your students pretty much left to figure this out on their own?

Wave your nerd flag high

Will Sullivan of Journerdism and the Palm Beach Post gets the Bryan Murley IM interview treatment over at Innovation in College Media.

In a wide-ranging interview (heh…) Sullivan offers a bit more advice than we usually get from his linkblogging, although the studied eye should be able to find the wisdom in the snark, as always.

Will’s take on some of the oft-raging newspaper video debate points:

“So the issue I’m much more concerned about is the lack of proper training, editing and opportunities for people to take gear out and fail. Failing while shooting and editing is part of the learning process. We need to realize that and allow staff resources to be devoted to it. I’ve seen so much reporter video that is a great effort but shouldn’t see the light of day. I’ve also seen lots of ‘high end’ video that really needs a re-edit.”

He and I often differ on this sort of stuff, but I think this is an important part of the answer to the question that goes something like “Should we buy expensive cameras and train photographers to shoot video or buy cheap point-and-shoots and throw them at reporters?”

On both fronts: Train, try, fail, learn, repeat.

That includes the big shots shooting HD and the young guns grabbing a tiny P&S on the way to the crime scene. Don’t get caught up in listening to the bunch of photographers and pundits telling you what’s best, just go out there with whatever gear you have available and give it a try, no matter what your role is at your paper.

More wise words along those lines from Will on what to do while you’re in college:

“The point is, while you’re in school: DIY! Get your hands dirty in everything. Play with it. Understand it. And then specialize in the areas that you really have a natural talent.”

Exactly. Don’t wait around for your school to develop an Online Journalism track or a Django for Non-Programmers class. Find a good blog or a good book on the topic of your choice and woodshed on that sucker until you come out with either a finished product or a failure that leads you to the next project. Sitting on your hands waiting for the Magic Professor to come along won’t get you a job anywhere.

Read the whole interview and think about how you can get your hands dirty with a new technology today. As for me, I’ve got an easy project in the works that should help our paper practice a tiny slice of some of what I preach here on a regular basis.

Redesign interrupted, actual content to follow

As much as it pains me to do so, I’ll interrupt my ongoing monologue about this blog’s ongoing redesign (Almost done! IE6 sucks!) to bring you actual links to actual information that has nothing to do (as far as I know) with cute cats verbing ur nounz.

Bryan Murley interviews Rob Curley by IM over at ICM, and it’s worth a read if you happen to be in the news business, or a journalism student, or, really, in any business where innovation is a daily challenge.

Here’s a snippet:

“I think that if a student in a newspaper journalism program is only taught about print, then that student will likely think the only “real” newspaper journalism is print, or is never taught about other ways of telling stories and reaching readers, then that student will have that mindset.”

Go read the whole thing.

I’ve sounded off loudly and frequently about what I think J-School students should learn, so I won’t bore you with yet another long list, but if you’re a journalism student in a newspaper program, and no one is teaching you how to tell stories in a medium other than text, you need to start learning on your own.

Get a blog, look at its guts, get a Flickr account, get a Delicious account, use an RSS reader, start networking, start reading everything you can get your eyes on about what it is you want to do with your life.

Don’t wait for it to come up in class. – the ultimate student media vertical?

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

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?

More advice from Rob Curley

If you’re an aspiring young (or not) journalist and you don’t have the good sense to pay attention to what Rob Curley says, I sort of feel sorry for you. That’s the truth, harsh as it may seem. Whenever guys like Curley or Holovaty or anyone else speaks up who has taken online journalism and developed it an extra step to create something new or different or compelling — whether it’s a way to better tell a story or a way to better build a community — I tune right in, ears on strong.

So listen up:

Curley writes to Innovation in College Media’s Bryan Murley in “What sort of things should an aspiring journalist be thinking about?”:

“And my biggest advice would be to have at least one portfolio piece that shows you understand the importance of the things I’ve listed above. If you want to impress an editor who is hiring, show him/her that you aren’t just willing to do these sorts of things, but that you can’t wait to do these sorts of things. All things being equal, who do you think gets the job: the person who hands over a bunch of photocopied newspaper clips, or someone who also sends a link to a well-done multimedia project?”

Hey Spartan Daily kids (and all J-School students everywhere). Those of you just writing stories for the print edition, not participating in the blogs, not asking your faculty advisers when they’re going to get you one of those great audio recorders, not asking where you can borrow a video camera from, not asking the online editor to show you how the content management system works… WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Good luck at the internship with the weekly paper, but seriously, if you want more than that out of a journalism career, it’s time to either start learning on your own, or asking for more from your school.

If you ask them to teach you more, maybe they’ll get the idea that they should be teaching you more.