College Media Has Come A Long Way Online

    by Bryan Murley
    November 19, 2008
    Students at the Cornell Daily Sun. Photo by "foreverdigital":http://flickr.com/photos/foreverdigital/ used with Creative Commons permission.

    With the swift pace of change in the media landscape, it’s easy to overlook how far college news media has come in a short time. There has been some great innovation in college media, even as some lag behind.

    I was prompted to reflect on this last month, after reading Going Digital, an Inside Higher Ed article by Brian Farkas, editor of the Vassar Miscellany News.

    Even now, I find community college newspapers that still have no web presence." -- Bryan Murley

    Farkas writes:


    With our new Web site, http://miscellanynews.com/, we have now entered into the next generation of online journalism. And, for better or worse, we have become one of the few colleges in the country to do so. On our new site, reporters can contribute live blogs, attach videos and other multimedia to their articles, and display high-resolution photography in a way that our print publication never could. Best of all, The Miscellany’s site is flexible, no longer burdened with the stagnant design so common among news sites in the 1990s. We have become one of only a handful of college newspapers in the country, along with The Yale Daily News and The Swarthmore Phoenix, to adopt a Web 2.0 approach and craft our site using up-to-date CSS and XML standards.

    Farkas’ description is overly pessimistic. Despite his negative outlook, college newspapers across the country are still moving forward with online content. Their innovations have been visible over the past few years — especially when you consider how difficult it is for them to change.

    Resistance to Change

    When I first began blogging about online college media three years ago, most websites were little more than shovelware, with print editors and some advisers reluctant to invest time and energy in developing a robust web presence.

    Some of that resistance was based in tradition: It’s hard to steer a 100-year-old institution in a new direction. Production workflows had developed and been set like clockwork. Each new generation of editors and reporters walked in the footsteps of the previous generation, and learned their ways. The website was appended to the end of the workflow, after pages were sent to the press. Blowing up that workflow is not easy.


    Still more resistance was cultural. Print journalists saw themselves as newspaper journalists first. The battles over whether blogging could be journalism were still being fought. Copy editor Greg Finley of the Orion at California State-Chico argued in 2006 that newspapers should keep their content offline, saying “No other medium can match newspapers’ depth.”

    And another hurdle was technological: Inexpensive, easy-to-use tools for online storytelling were just coming into widespread use, and broadband Internet access was not nearly as widespread as it is today.

    That resistance has faded over time, especially as the news industry has struggled to reinvent itself.

    But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Even now, I find community college newspapers that still have no web presence. Bob Bergland, a professor at Missouri Western State University, found that 36% of a random sample of college newspapers had no web presence at all. (Bergland’s findings are not yet available online, but I’ll update this post as soon as they are available.)

    Large daily university papers struggle to make money from their websites, and campus readership of the printed product remains high compared to industry standards, which leads to a conundrum: whether to devote resources to a website when the print product is still so popular.

    And online efforts ebb and flow with staff changes as student journalists graduate and new ones take their place. One year, a paper hires a whiz-bang web designer who beefs up their online offerings. The next year, that designer is gone, and a less-savvy replacement can’t keep up the pace. One year’s multimedia journalist gives way to the next year’s more traditional print journalist.

    Blazing New Trails

    Despite all these obstacles, many college newspapers have moved forward with innovative online offerings. Here are a few examples of sites that have paved the way in blogging, video, audio slideshows, and other forms of interactivity:

    i-11d6aacf04c3f9aadea334826298933c-xpress map.jpg

    Xpress Flash-based map of campus

    San Francisco State University Xpress — Former SFSU journalism professor Andrew DeVigal, now multimedia editor for the New York Times, helped lead the Xpress staff in producing a multimedia-rich web site using Movable Type blogging software. Flash-based maps and audio slideshows (like this package that illustrates favorite student hangouts at SFSU) began on the Xpress site in 2006.

    Vanderbilt University InsideVandy — Chris Carroll, Vanderbilt student media adviser and co-founder of the Center for Innovation in College Media, led InsideVandy student journalists in an effort to create a “mothership” approach to student media, akin to Steve Yelvington’s BlufftonToday in 2006. The idea was to bring all student media — TV, radio, newspaper, and magazines — into one online presence that would allow anyone in the community to contribute content.

    Virginia Tech Collegiate Times — The Collegiate Times became an example of both breaking news and multimedia usage in the aftermath of the April 16, 2007, massacre on campus. Student journalists posted breaking news updates, a blog, audio slideshows and video (see the CT archives here). More than that, other school newspapers also used online media to report on the shootings, posting video reports from their campuses and posting blog updates from Virginia (see continuing ICM coverage here).

    University of Washington Daily — Just days before the VT shootings, UW’s student journalists covered the death of a student on campus, using video and live updates to tell the story (archived story here). The Daily began shooting video news on campus in the 2006-07 school year.

    i-77f8c87c74e1f2bb857af0e882ff68b1-boxing slideshow.jpg

    Spartan Daily slideshow for a boxing story

    San Jose State University Spartan Daily — With Ryan Sholin as web editor, the Spartan Daily plunged into multimedia early. See this example, a 2006 story about SJSU boxing club members traveling to Berkeley to compete in a regional boxing tournament. In addition to text, the article features video and audio slideshows. The paper has continued to push the envelope, in March 2008 experimenting with live streaming TV and live blogging.

    Boise State University Arbiter — The Arbiter dove headfirst into web-first publishing when the Broncos went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2006. Since the Arbiter wasn’t publishing during the Christmas break, they made the most of their online presence. Staffers from the student newspaper published web-only content from Arizona, including podcasts, video and audio slideshows (see their coverage here). They have continued to produce podcasts and other multimedia coverage since then.

    Eastern Illinois University Daily Eastern News — Long before I was hired at Eastern, the DEN was producing audio slideshows using Soundslides that rivaled the best in the business. Check out this audio slideshow from the 2006 Greek Week Tugs competition. They were also early to experiment with podcasts and, in 2006, revamped their sports coverage by introducing a widget that could automatically update football scores and schedule information for readers.

    This is just a small sampling of the ways that students have taken advantage of online tools since late 2005. There are numerous other schools that have also moved into multimedia and online publishing with gusto, including the Daily Tar Heel at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Daily Collegian at Penn State, the Daily Pennsylvanian at Penn, the GW Hatchet at George Washington U., the Miami Hurricane, the Independent Florida Alligator at the University of Florida, the Corsair at Pensacola Junior College, the Gargoyle at Flagler College, the Daily Mississippian at Ole Miss, and numerous others. For more examples of student journalists’ multimedia, see this database.

    Recently, we saw clear evidence of this movement into online journalism on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, when student journalists across the country used tools like Mogulus, Twitter and CoverItLive to cover the historic election night. (For a sampling of coverage, see here).

    To borrow a phrase, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

    Bryan Murley is assistant professor of new and emerging media at Eastern Illinois University, where he advises DENnews.com, the online site for the student newspaper. He is also the director for innovation at the Center for Innovation in College Media, where he leads the weblog Innovation in College Media. He is the college media correspondent for MediaShift.

    Tagged: college newspapers history innovation multimedia

    23 responses to “College Media Has Come A Long Way Online”

    1. I’m incredibly proud to see the Spartan Daily among Bryan’s list of student newspapers ahead of the curve here, although of course, self-correcting Web and all, I have to offer a quick clarification.

      I was never the Online Editor at the Daily, although I held the title of Webmaster for two semesters and did Web development and design for the site.

      All the credit for what the Daily has turned into online goes to Shaminder Dulai, Daniel Sato, and Kyle Hansen, who were the online editors in succession in 2006 and 2007.

      They did the heavy lifting of getting shooters and reporters started with multimedia projects, pushing to add online news projects to the course requirements, and turning the Daily into a live local news organization.

      Shaminder and Daniel could tell you more about the strong ties between SJSU and San Francisco State photojournalists…

    2. Vadim Isakov says:

      Good post!!!
      Although I feel like you covered big university newspapers and ignored the smaller ones that managed to pull off great work with a modest budget. What about The Ithacan Online (http://theithacan.org/)?
      They are doing wonderful job that rests purely on their enthusiasm and their love of digital reporting! They won numerous awards in the United States!

    3. Vadim,

      One of the true problems in writing this type of story is knowing that you can’t mention everyone who’s doing creative work online. I did mention some smaller schools. Eastern Illinois’ enrollment is approx. 12,000, and Vanderbilt’s undergrad enrollment is roughly equivalent to Ithaca College’s.

      Also, I should note that neither Vanderbilt nor Va. Tech have journalism programs.

      Perhaps smaller school efforts are a topic for another post. :-)

    4. James E. Shelledy says:

      Good roundup, but I was surprised you overlooked LSU’s Daily Reveille website. Three years ago, it existed in name only. Last May, it got Editor & Publisher’s EPpy award for the best college newspaper website in the nation. On several occasions last year, it topped College Publisher’s most read collegiate websites.

    5. James,

      the point being made was there were people who were innovating three years ago. And see my note above, re: examples. The fact that some school didn’t make the list doesn’t mean they aren’t doing good work, or that I overlooked them. The Daily Reveille was mentioned in my roundup of election coverage linked above.

    6. Rachel Murdock says:

      Also take a look at BYU’s Newsnet. I graduated before it went online, but they were leaders in a converged newsroom publication, combining their print and broadcast programs to produce Newsnet in 1996 — well ahead of the curve.

    7. matt boedy says:

      How about the largest college newspaper in the country, with a pretty good website, too:

    8. Rachel: This article was specifically about online efforts.

      Matt: Look at the list at the bottom of the story. The Alligator is mentioned.

      I hope all the comments don’t follow this trend.

    9. Vadim Isakov says:

      Thank you for replying, Bryan. I know it is impossible to cover everything. I just thought I’d mention it to maybe encourage another post on smaller schools… )))
      Again, great and informative post! Thank you!

    10. Jan Shaw says:

      And I would like to add that at San Jose State University, the groundbreaking work of Ryan, Shaminder, Kyle and Daniel also included Christina Gullickson and has been carried on by online editors Will Cooley and Jesse Kimbrel this semester.

      It has been great, especially the real-time, online blogging of events where three or four or more reporters are all lined up and reporting like mad — including in one instance a fact checker who popped in to keep readers informed of the actual facts — as opposed to assertions.

      And this last election night was wild. More than that, the Web just opens up so much content space for great photos and graphics and stories and videos. It sure stretches our reporters. They are now required to do three multimedia stories out of the 33 news and feature stories they do each semester.

    11. R.Reece says:

      The Internet can be a medium for conveying news. Web, TV, radio, print are media.

    12. Great round-up Bryan!

      Today’s college newspapers have indeed come a long way in terms of their online focus and implementation.

      But what about the schools that were innovating without a print counterpart? What about the pure online news outlets?

      I was editor of such an outfit in 2003 with Dateline Alabama, which was started by then University of Alabama professor Jim Stovall. This site precluded many professional news sites by several years, having started in 2000!

      That site, though no longer in existence, swept SPJ awards for several years and even won the national SPJ award for best overall student news Web site in 2003.

      Since leaving UA, Dr. Stovall has started another online-only news venture at the University of Tennessee called Tennessee Journalist. This site is run solely by students, and features a Django-based CMS.

      These sites are valuable because they explore journalism beyond its traditional medium. And also because they aren’t newspaper Web sites, but news Web sites — an important distinction.

    13. Hi Bryan.

      Great job offering an array of student online endeavors. Thanks.

      I realize you couldn’t cover all aspects of online publishing… but do you have any more info about some of the technical and cultural constraints of going online?

      I noticed a few of the schools you highlighted use the free (ad-supported) College Publisher CMS… do others find server space on campus and technicians among administrative staff? or do they use another CMS?

      Here at a small private college where the administration has quashed CP because of the credit card ads and the server is held together with bandaids and paper clips, and the technical staff is dizzily running around working on curricular needs… we are out in the cold (just blogging along).

      Any ideas?

    14. James Raiderson says:

      Hi Bryan,

      I think I agree with a previous comment that you’re really cherry-picking the Web sites you found. You’re looking mostly at very large schools with significant budgets for their student paper. Then you’re comparing those to Vassar’s Miscellany News, which is comparatively tiny (and have a spectacular site for a college of their size).


    15. Thanks for recognizing The Corsair, Bryan. We have been working very hard to integrate new media trends in our curriculum as well as with the staff.

      We will be rolling out our own WordPress site soon and we are producing weekly news webcasts and beginning to live stream sports and other campus events. It’s amazing what can be done with a consumer video camera and laptop nowadays!

      We’re just a community college, but we’re proof that you don’t need a huge budget or fancy gadgets to work online. Just do it!

    16. Rachel Murdock says:

      NewsNet is an online effort, which is why I mentioned it. As I said, well ahead of the curve – check it out

    17. All, sorry for the late response. I’ve been out of internet access for a couple of days.

      There are several good topics for future posts. This was the first, so keep the suggestions coming.

      @Patrick: There are several online-only sites I could have mentioned (speakeasymag.org at Ohio U, for instance in addition to Dateline Alabama). Again, good suggestions for a future post.

      @James Raiderson – Vassar has 2,500 students, and a tuition of $39,000/year. Vanderbilt’s tuition: $36,000/year, undergrad enrollment 6,500.

      I was not actually “picking on” the miscellany news, but noted the editor’s rather myopic statement regarding how groundbreaking their new news site is.

      BTW, there are 50 schools using the new College Publisher system, including some that are mentioned above.

      @Rachel – I have. I visited BYU in 2006 for a convergence conference.

    18. Dave says:

      Mr. Murley,

      As the editor of the weekly campus newspaper of a small Pennsylvania college of 1800 students, I think that you are not fully considering the comparative difficulty of web development between small schools and large schools.

      I have to agree with Mr. Raiderson that you are cherrypicking examples of papers with exceptionally attractive sites; yet even those schools that you do cherrypick are somewhat large in student population, giving their newspapers far greater staffs. Beyond money (which is also another comparative disadvantage of most smaller school newspapers), the size of the staff pool is the single biggest difficulty to creating new and unique web content. We barely have enough staffers to write articles each week, much less develop multimedia content or write blogs.

      Are there exceptions? Are there small liberal arts schools who maintain beautiful web site with ubiquitous unique content? Of course. But I respectfully disagree that this is the norm. Looking at hundreds of college paper web sites as research for my own paper’s planned redesign, I must conclude that by and large, it is far more common for larger schools to have better web presences. Small college newspapers are in a battle just to get the weekly print version out, much less work online.

    19. Dave–
      You should look into College Publisher. It is a CMS that is offered free to college publications. However, if your school has any restrictions about promoting ads for credit cards, you may be out of luck (like me).
      I wish there were other options out there… Maybe someone can suggest another CMS for small schools that have ad constraints and no technical expertise and little server space. Help.

    20. @dave,

      once again, “cherry picking” is a loaded term. I should mention that before I worked at EIU, i spent six years at schools with 1800 student population or less (five at north greenville in s.c. and one at emory & henry in va.), so I’m certainly aware of the difficulties inherent in small schools, and plan on addressing this in a later post.

      there are over 2,000 schools in the u.s. – any sampling of online content would necessarily be “cherry-picking.”

    21. Web Editor says:

      Be wary of College Publisher. The quality of service is horrible and unprofessional. If you are a small school and have no other resources, this might be a good choice for you.

      Otherwise, look hard and close at other solutions before you go with CP. Every single day we regret working with them. Truly, you get what you pay for.

    22. Awesome! San Jose State University got a mention! And for the boxing story no less, holy s***! You have no idea. You really don’t.

      Now if you only knew what was happening behind the scenes when that story was conceptualized and covertly pushed through.

      And you got some facts wrong, but… (sigh)… that’s okay, that ship has sailed I suppose…

      thanks anyway

    23. I enjoyed reading through what everyone has said on this and I think it’s great because you guys have a strong site.

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media