Sunday, September 16, 2007

LA Times editor pushes Web-only publishing

A Los Angeles Times editor challenged student newspaper editors from around California to "stop killing trees" and try online-only publishing.

"Kill your paper," Sean Gallagher, the LATimes.com's managing editor for section development, told about 60 college newspapers editors who gathered at UCLA Saturday for an editors training session sponsored by the California College Media Association. "Stop publishing your print paper."

He suggested student newspapers "take the money from dead trees and put it into training."

Student journalists, Gallagher said, need to develop skills in database building, Flash, multimedia reporting and other new media tools.

Gallagher's presentation, "Getting Serious About Your Web Site," was one of half a dozen sessions at the fourth annual College Editors Boot Camp, sponsored by the California College Media Association, a statewide organization of four-year college media organizations and journalism programs. The organization also sponsored a daylong training for student newspaper ad salespeople on Saturday.

Gallagher urged the student editors to think about the visual side of storytelling and to find ways to interact with readers.

"That old model of us to them, it's dead," he said. "Now it's about blogs, Flash, other multimedia presentations."

Among the ideas he presented for student newspapers to try:
* Set up message boards. "You'll see there are topics (readers) want to talk about and some they don't."

* Run capsule reviews in print. Tease to the full reviews online.

* Post useful information online. He suggested things like bus schedules, gym hours, where to buy tickets for student performances. "It goes back to local, local, local."

* Post stories on the Web first. "A lot of people say, 'Don't put it on the Web yet, I want that in print first.' It's that print mentality you need to throw off. It's gone."

* Set up flat screen monitors around campus. Once they're in cafeterias, student lounges and other student gathering spots you can display the college newspaper Web site on them, giving you a captive audience.

* Sell online sponsorships. Invite advertisers to sponsor podcasts of an on-campus lecture series or other special features.

* Take on a database project. One example: get the office hours of all the professors on campus and monitor whether the profs show up. Publish the results in a searchable database. "That would be a great resource for the campus."

* Send out e-mail alerts.

* Look for student experts. Even if you don't know how to build a database or design a flash presentation, you can learn from other students who do. "There are people on your campus who have the knowledge. They want to be able to put it on their resume, 'I built this Web site.' They want to say to a potential employer, 'I did this graphic.'


Disclosure: The writer is vice president of the California College Media Association.

3 comments:

Dave Waddell said...

"Embracing the challenge" does not equate with killing the print publication, in my mind ... unless students are not interesting in having their stuff read by real student readers, which is the greatest motivation there is for producing good journalism on a college campus. A readership survey found last spring that 76 percent of Chico State students read the print Orion, 11 percent the online (I wish both were higher). I'm pretty sure that will gradually change, but our ad sales revenue percentages are similar to Ball State's: our revenue comes from print, overwhelmingly. And I would note that The Orion is embracing online increasingly and to the best of our abilities, including a lot of video and slide shows that not enough people are viewing, but it's priceless experience for our students. AND IT'S MONEY FROM PRINT THAT HAS PAID FOR AND WILL PAY FOR THE EQUIPMENT WE NEED TO DO THESE THINGS INCREASINGLY BETTER.

As for Gallagher's "killing the trees" argument, I don't know the numbers but a high percentage of newspapers are printed on recycled paper, is my understanding. Maybe someone knows more about that than I do, and can enlighten.

Why the desire by some to pit print vs. online? Embrace both.

Dave Waddell
Adviser to The Orion
Department of Journalism

Murley said...

Dave,

Most paper is recycled to some extent in newsprint. But there are also issues of the chemicals used in printing, processing plates, delivery, etc. Newspapers are a very environmentally impactful industry.

That said, web sites don't run on wind energy themselves. LCD monitors, lithium ion batteries, the electricity needed to keep the internet "tubes" running, all have an environmental impact as well. Google's building an office in South Carolina right next to a major electricity source precisely because it takes a lot of energy to power all those servers.

While the environmental argument sounds good on its face, the equation is not so clear as some would make it out to be.

David Freeman said...

I agree, "Embracing the challenge" does not equate with killing the print publication. We have both and it's exciting to see how the students are improving the print product because they are online and working to improve it. And, it's exciting to see them for the first time equate publication in the online newspaper with publication in the print publication. They are so far ahead of me right now that the challenge is on for me to learn new things and widen my perspective. Folks, I remember the first Trash 80 that showed up in our newsroom back in the early 80s. If you are old enough to remember those limited computers from Radio Shack, you'll understand the excitement of seeing just how differently we can get our stories, photos, audio and video before the public. That's the challenge. How do we provide a relevant experience for our students? My students today are enthusiastically putting together the print paper for tomorrow's delivery. They are also working on the online paper, too. That excitement is contagious. Keeping that contagion alive is also part of the challenge.

David Freeman