Do you work for a college newspaper that has a website or do you work for a college media organization that produces a 24/7 news website, a newspaper and perhaps other media products (such as a magazine, TV broadcasts, radio programming, etc.)?
If you’re living in the 21st century, you should be working for the latter.
No matter how small your school is or how tiny your staff may be, you should think of your print publication as part of an integrated news operation that’s ready to cover news about your campus community at every hour of the day and night.
How do you know if you work for a news media operation?
• You publish content to your website first, not waiting for the daily, weekly or monthly deadlines of your print publication.
• You post new content to your website every day – or pretty close to that.
• You cover news, including sports, arts and cultural events, as it breaks.
• You use multiple media – audio, video, text, graphics, photos – to tell stories.
• You use social media, now vital component of all media, to find, report and distribute the news.
With the Web there’s no reason to "save" content for your print publication or limit yourself to what works best in print.
Some journalists worry about cannibalizing their print publication by posting to the Web first; they think people won’t pick up their newspaper if it includes information that’s already been published online. But they have to understand three fundamental truths:
1) Audiences for print and online are different. While your print newspaper strictly circulates on campus and in your community, your website goes to the world where alumni, parents of students, prospective students and random people searching for information will find it.
2) Print and online products are different. Print publications offer after-the-fact news accounts of the day, week or month in text and images. Online publications report news as it happens in text, video, audio, tweets, photos, interactive graphics and other media. They can be updated at a moment’s notice.
3) Consumers now expect to read about news as it happens. Your readers don’t want to wait for your next print publication to find out what the college president said at the press conference or who won the last basketball game. They want to know as the news unfolds.
The Web offers a host of opportunities for covering news as it breaks. Unfortunately, even now many college news organizations fail to take full advantage of the medium. An amazing number of student newspapers still simply “shovel” stories and photos from the print paper without updates or enhancements, remaining slaves to their fixed newspaper deadlines.
I'm not just talking here about "breaking news," the major events that force publications into Web-first publishing mode. I'm talking about game stories, crime reports, theater reviews, news accounts of routine speeches and events.
The good news is it doesn't take a major overhaul to move to a Web-first publishing model. You can do it today. Now. Right this moment.
Take that game story you're holding onto for next week's newspaper and publish it to your website. Tell the music critic reviewing tonight's concert to file the piece right after the event and then have the editor edit and publish it immediately. Better yet, have her tweet her comments and tell readers to look for the review on the website.
This is not to say student journalists should disregard their paper newspapers. Print is not dead and many student publications still get most of their advertising revenue and readers from their print edition. Online and print must work together, each serving their audiences as best they can.
But the more you start to think of yourself as a round-the-clock news source, the more your readers will see you that way and come to look to your website as the go-to destination for news about your community.