ACP Online Pacemaker Finalist: Harvard Crimson

In late March, the Associated Collegiate Press announced its selection of 50 finalists for the annual Online Pacemaker awards.  The finalists represent online versions of print publications and online-only outlets at U.S. schools large and small, public and private, admin.-controlled and independent. Sites were evaluated for the quality of their “multimedia storytelling, writing and editing, site design, in-depth and complete coverage, interactivity, and graphics and photography.”

In this occasional CMM series, I offer my personal take on some finalists’ standout innovations or positive attributes- aimed at helping other student media up their Web games.  Next up . . .

Harvard Crimson

The Crimson sports a very professional site with wonderful spacing and without distracting clutter.  The placement, large size, and standalone aspect of the main photo slideshow is a plus (especially when you have a terrific image like the Wheeler mug above- don’t look too long, the kid’s eyes will haunt you). The featured videos on the far right, midway down, also benefit from their large still image teasers- making them much more likely to elicit a curious click.  And the repetition of the maroon color scheme also exudes a calm newsiness that I cannot explain but quite like.

By far, the highlight of the Crimson Web game is FlyByBlog.  It is an obsessively-updated Web-only feature highlighting Harvard gossip, “oddities” and news that might not be fit for the paper’s print edition.  The tagline:  “Harvard Life. To Go.”

Every student newspaper should sport a similar feature.  I love FlyBy because it embodies the best of journalism 2.0.  It does not attempt to parrot the print pub.  It is providing everything the print pub cannot or does not.  It has the ability to break big news in real time, but more often treads lighter- focusing on events, hypothetical questions, and mini-profiles.

For example, among the current slate of posts: a recurring glimpse back at Crimson archives, with related commentary about various moments in school history; a set of Q&As with random HU graduating seniors about their time at the school- people who might otherwise have never been featured in the Crimson during their undergraduate careers; the full text of a prominent speech given on campus (how often do you see the full text of something like that in print?); and a heads-up that a campus shuttle stop was moved 80 yards (i.e. an item probably not newsworthy enough for a print  paper mention).

FlyBy is written in short, snappy, more personal blog style, appealing to students’ uber-short attention spans.  It incorporates new media, including word curdles and video.  It is basically a quick-hit, in-the-moment, occasionally-offbeat conversation with students that provides a real-time liveliness too often missing from campus newspaper sites.  It also offers much greater enticement for students to actually check out the site on a regular basis, an especially attractive notion for weekly student pubs whose Web content tends to sour like milk after a few days.

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