• ADVERTISEMENT

    Why Do Some College Newspapers Still Have No Web Presence?

    by Bryan Murley
    August 11, 2009
    Image by mfobrien via Flickr.

    Summer’s almost over and college newspapers across the country will be cranking up to full speed soon. Likely, they’ll be getting ready for further adventures in online journalism, expanding their online presence while attempting to keep the print product financially successful.

    But hard as it is to believe, there are still student newspapers around the country that have no online presence at all. At the Associated Collegiate Press Summer Workshops recently, I asked for a show of hands from students whose newspapers didn’t have websites. In two sessions, several hands were raised.

    It still surprises me that any school newspaper would be without an online presence in this day and age."

    I won’t say which schools these students represent, but I’ve come across the phenomenon in other presentations over the years as well. And it still surprises me that any school newspaper would be without an online presence in this day and age.

    ADVERTISEMENT

    [update 8-12-09: per the comments, Bob Bergland notes a survey he conducted: “We were amazed to find that 36% of the 392 papers analyzed (random sample from the ~1,600 on the E&P directory) did not have a web presence (defined as no site, a site with no content listed as being under construction or a site which had not been updated in over six months).”]

    There are two primary obstacles for getting a college newspaper online: One is relatively easy to overcome (technology), the other much harder but more crucial overall (institutional).

    Technology

    I spoke to one student who was working to bring the college newspaper online at a school in the Southeast U.S. This student had a lot of questions about content management systems: Which one is best? How difficult are they to install and maintain?

    ADVERTISEMENT

    Honestly, the technical issue is one that can be overcome in an instant if you just want to get started. There are two fine weblog publishing platforms (out of many) which can provide a college newspaper with a place to put content online: Blogger and WordPress.com. Both will allow students to experience the joys of a content management system and putting content online. If you’ve got no budget and no technical help, this is the easiest way to get online now.

    i-7f9c5f3d163f36d5dbc8b8671b769b5c-collegepublisher.jpg

    If you want a turn-key content management system with your own domain name and ability to control some of the advertising, there’s College Media Network (CMN), which will keep the back-end running while young journalists focus on the content. Some would complain about some of CMN’s advertising, but I’ve never had a problem working with the network to remove ads that, for example, might offend sensitive sensibilities on a religious campus.

    And if you want to go all-out, then there are numerous open-source content management systems (CMS) that you can install on a server on your campus or on a hosting service. (See this CoPress wiki for information about three top open-source content management systems.)

    Institutional

    A more important obstacle for some schools that still don’t have an online presence is the institutional one. When I started advising, I worked at a private college that was affiliated with a religious denomination. We had an online site when I got there in 2001, but there are still private religious institutions that keep their student newspapers from publishing online.

    I have heard several justifications for this reticence, but they are all, at heart, about protecting the image of the university or college.

    Make no mistake, college news is a messy business. Students are learning, and their mistakes all too often show up in print. An online presence will broadcast those mistakes to the world, so the theory goes. Also, a college that supports student press freedoms when distributed to 2,000 people on campus might not be so keen to distribute “bad news” about the campus when the whole world is watching.

    There’s also the trouble with donors. When I was advising at a private school, we got several comments from donors who were outraged at some of the advertising that showed up on our student newspaper site. Personally, I thought these complaints were overblown, but I’m not in charge of development. We walked a fine line in those discussions. My argument to donors would be this: Do you want this to be a respected institution, or a backwater for propagating nonsense? If the former, then push to get students online. If the latter, then stay offline and wither.

    A disservice to future journalists

    Trumping all those considerations, staying offline is a disservice to student journalists who cannot use the online tools now widespread in the industry. A student who can’t put material online can’t really understand the impact of social networks like Twitter or Facebook to spread news. They can’t really understand what it is to create a personal brand. And they can’t really understand the challenges of multimedia production.

    A college that will not allow their student journalists to practice online journalism in a “real world” setting is abandoning its commitment to education in order to save face. And that is a tragedy not only for the college, but for the students who look to higher education to prepare them for the future.

    Is your school keeping you from pressing forward in online news? Drop a comment, even anonymously. This is truly the last frontier for online journalism. Let’s see if we can pull together to get all student newspapers online.

    Bryan Murley is assistant professor of new and emerging media at Eastern Illinois University, where he advises DENnews.com, the Pacemaker-winning 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 media college newspapers digital divide journalism online journalism school
    • In an odd way, I’m glad to hear that others–besides the private schools–are slow to drag and click, but your ideas on using wordpress and blogspot serve as a good remedy. Students also may enjoy animoto.com as a fun way to create content that they can drop into a blog.

    • Bob Bergland

      The number of college papers without a web presence was also the most surprising finding of our research study, too (I still need to get that paper to you, Bryan). We were amazed to find that 36% of the 392 papers analyzed (random sample from the ~1,600 on the E&P directory) did not have a web presence (defined as no site, a site with no content listed as being under construction or a site which had not been updated in over six months).
      The fact that over a third of the papers didn’t have a website seems unconscionable, as Bryan suggests, in an age when Internet skills are so vital to any student entering the media workplace.

    • When I went to Curtin University of Technology (2002-2004) we didn’t have a website for our student newspaper, The Western Independent. Fair enough, after all it was half a decade ago. Our main focus was on TV, radio and print. New media was merely vaguely covered in some of the core media units. After reading your article above, I went straight to the Curtin website to see if The Western Independent had gone online yet. It hasn’t. And that’s a shame. Why can’t the Department of Media and Information collaborate with the departments of Internet Studies and Computer Science? Perhaps cross-institutional teamwork is difficult to substantiate into action.

    • There are colleges and thousands of high schools without any newspaper at all. The fairly simple technical solutions mentioned above provide an opportunity for those schools to start a publication when before it may not have been possible. Every school should have an information source for its community. To not have one is no longer a choice people can blame on a lack of publishing resources. High school journalism especially should be booming, but it’s not.

    • Wayne Myers

      I am very surprised that you do not name even one college newspaper that does not have an on-line edition. Why would you not want to do that? This is one of the reasons why journalism is falling apart–were you just trying to be nice? At worst, it looks like lazy reporting (although I know that’s probably not the case here). I absolutely agree with you that college papers without an on-line edition are doing future journalists a disservice–so why don’t you name names? You’ve undermined what could have been an influential, courageous article with the omission.

    • I absolutely agree with you that college papers without an on-line edition are doing future journalists a disservice–so why don’t you name names? You’ve undermined what could have been an influential, courageous article with the omission.

      Because I don’t think it’s the fault of the college journalists that the people above them don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t want to penalize people who don’t deserve to be penalized.

      To be clear, if I could separate the idiots from the students, I would be more than happy to do so. But that’s not always possible.

      Believe me, I’d shame anyone I thought would be worth the effort. But I think that wouldn’t serve the larger goal, which is making sure college journalists get the training they are paying for.

      At least for the moment.

    • yya this here!

  • ADVERTISEMENT
  • ADVERTISEMENT
  • 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 »

    Follow us on Social Media

    @MediaShiftorg
    @Mediatwit
    @MediaShiftPod
    Facebook.com/MediaShift