Richmond Paper’s Web Site an Online News Revolution

The online news revolution at The Collegian is built atop “Revolution News.” Beginning in summer 2008, staffers at the University of Richmond student newspaper tweaked, twiddled, and reconfigured the “Revolution News” WordPress template into an innovative, multimediated mix that recently won the Student Society for News Design’s best overall college newspaper Web site

Along with beating out biggies such as PSU’s Daily Collegian and The Miami Hurricane, the most impressive part of the Collegian‘s award-winning Web work: Last year, the site didn’t exist.  “We were thrilled we rose to the top of the design competition so quickly,” said former online managing editor Kimberly Leonard.  “Prior to last summer The Collegian was only released weekly in print, and its digital companion was more of an ‘archive’ or RSS feed- where the stories from the paper were copied and pasted online.”

Leonard led the Revolution with editor in chief Megan Wilson and online editor Dan Petty.  In a recent chat with CMM, she shared some thoughts on what makes the Collegian site stand out and offered a bit of advice for j-students interested in making a similarly fast-and-furious Web leap.

What do you think made the online Collegian rise above the rest this year?

As we put our Web site together last summer, we noted what other online media outlets had done to make their sites accessible to readers. We observed that the sites we liked less were too busy for users, leaving them feeling overwhelmed.  An online publication is competing with countless other sites for information, and we felt keeping or losing a reader would be based strongly on how they felt when they visited our front page. We wanted to make sure a user could clearly navigate around the site, and easily find what he or she needed. We kept the concepts of simplicity, order, and cleanliness in mind. We wanted to give readers enough options by regularly updating news, but we also did not want to crowd the reader’s mind with information. Providing a balance among text, multimedia, and photos was important.

What specific Web features have been audience hits or journalistically successful?

Multimedia: Our photo slideshows have been popular with users. We didn’t have much multimedia at the beginning of the year, but soon built enough to be able to present it on the front page. We enjoyed covering major events, such as the University of Richmond’s football championship game, where we were able to present one story in several ways- by making use of photo slideshows, articles, and videos.

– The main photo gallery on the homepage is also an important feature. It makes the site visually appealing, while highlighting the top stories. Our homepage images toward the bottom of the page encourage users to read stories, and keep that section from looking too crowded with text.

– The “Most Popular” section of the page allows users to see which articles are most read, most commented upon, and most e-mailed.

– Our Opinion section is also very popular, and the way the page is presented allows readers to follow their favorite columnists.  We also acknowledged readers’ preference for the Opinion section by placing it at the top of the homepage.

What advice do you have for j-students looking to up their news outlets’ Web game?

– Be willing to take a class in Web design or teach yourself Web coding. There is no way to bypass this if you want to have a site where you can easily manipulate the design.

Organize a team of editors and clearly define each person’s role in the project. Designing and managing a Web site is impossible for only one person, and you always want to communicate with team members to make sure everyone understands the direction of the project and how to keep the process running smoothly.

Cultivate a team of on-call reporters, editors and photographers who understand the importance of timely news. This keeps the content fresh.

Be consistent. Stories and photos should be presented in the same way on each post. Even small details- such as including a reporter’s name and e-mail address always in italics and at the bottom of a story- cannot be ignored. If visitors to your site cannot find what they need, you will lose them. Consistency of presentation is one way to avoid this.

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  1. […] to boldly reimagine everything they had previously known about the media outlet in their stead.  (See my related post on the award-winning reinvention of The Collegian site at the University of […]