This summer, I had the opportunity to travel back to my hometown, Beaumont, Texas, and visit my college newspaper stomping grounds – the University Press.
Student Publications Director Andy Coughlan led me through the offices, which have been expanded greatly since my time working until all hours of the night to get out a twice-weekly paper. The equipment is obviously different. There’s no typesetter, no UPI dot-matrix printer, no photo darkroom, no Compugraphic computers with 5-inch floppy disk drives.
It was a surprise, then, to find out that the University Press is going to begin posting online content this fall for the first time. Previously, they’ve posted PDF versions of their print publication. Now, they’ll be using College Publisher to begin posting online.
Part of the impetus for the effort is the fact that Lamar will have a football team this fall for the first time in 20 years (I was in college when the school killed its football program. We editorialized in favor of the move).
I can’t begin to express how weird it felt to be a person who’s all about moving news online and the student newspaper I worked on is only now moving into the 21st century.
I spent a few minutes with Coughlan discussing the ins-and-outs of publishing content first online. I’ll repeat a few of the things we talked about, because they seem to crop up often in my travels and in e-mail conversations with journalists:
First, break news online. This is important. No, it’s essential. If you publish once or twice a week and you’re not “publishing” the score from Saturday’s football game until Wednesday, you’re not doing anyone any favors. Fans already know the score and most of the details of the game, so you’re printing old news, which, as you may have guessed, is an oxymoron. As soon as you can, put up the score and some of the essential details of the game. It’s a practice that will serve you well when you get into the “real” world. Then work on a forward-looking story for the print edition.
Second, the online audience is not the print audience. Although there are more students getting information via the Internet, they’re not necessarily using that medium for school news. The bulk of traffic is still coming from faculty, administrators, parents, alumni and prospective students. That means a couple of things: 1) you’re not cannibalizing your print audience by putting things on the web first, and 2) your advertising strategy is going to have to be different, because your audience is different.
Finally, embrace the tools of the web to tell stories online. I repeat this so often it’s become a cliche, but if you’re an editor or a copy editor and a reporter turns in a story without at least three hyperlinks to related content, they are not finished with the story! The hyperlink is the most basic building block of Web content. Get that right, at least.