Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A cure for the summer publishing hiatus

Your college newspaper office is closed for the summer, but there's big news: the university president resigns, or a student is brutally murdered or there's a fire in the Humanities Building. What do you do?

The Johns Hopkins News-Letter has a solution: Blog it.

This summer editors at the Baltimore, MD university newspaper decided to keep readers up to date with blogs. In a May 14 letter to readers, Editor in Chief Sal Gentile introduced two new blogs with the promise they would "provide, for the first time in the history of the News-Letter, regularly updated, web-exclusive content during the summer, when the newspaper is not in print."

The two blogs are “What’s Next?" covering breakthroughs and controversies in science and technology, with an emphasis on research done at Hopkins, and “Town and Gown,” which covers news and politics about the university and the city. To their credit, the bloggers didn't wait for earth-shattering news. During the summer they covered everything from the university president's announcement on a new vision for achieving “carbon neutrality” to a price hike on soda.

So, Sal, how did the experiment go? We'd love to hear what kind of feedback you've received on the new blogs and if you have any advice for other college newspapers stuck in the summer doldrums. Leave a comment here or write to us at collegenewspaper@gmail.com.

1 comment:

Sal Gentile said...

Hi!

Thanks for reading and linking to the News-Letter blogs.

I would say this experiment has, for the most part, been a successful one. One of the marks of that success is simply the number of incoming freshmen who have contacted the News-Letter either impressed by our website or wanting to become bloggers. Our website has also leaped about 20 places in the College Publisher website popularity rankings. In that sense, I think, the blogs have provided content that is informative and interactive, and that our readers are simply interested in.

It has also had its drawbacks, of course. For one, it's been difficult to live up to the expectation of blogs that you update them at least once if not several times a day. The most successful blogs, at least, provide content on an almost hourly basis at times. We haven't quite been able to do that, for two reasons:

-There simply isn't enough news coming from the University over the summer to warrant several updates a day.
-With internships and other commitments, its difficult to get people to blog on a regular basis over the summer.

But the blogs have fortunately been a great way to provide news and information to our readers without jumping the hurdles associated with producing conventional content: assigning the story, doing the legwork (our office isn't even open and not many staff members are on campus), editing, copy editing, and so forth. When something happens, or when there's something quirky or funny to mention, you can just log in and blog about it. This doesn't provide the depth or the quality of reporting that a conventional article would, but it is a satisfactory substitute for (and complement to) the print newspaper itself, and I would absolutely recommend it to other college newspaper editors looking for summer content.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of summer
Sal