Six Things Your Student News Outlet is Not Doing Online

At the recent Florida Scholastic Press Association conference in Orlando, Kansas State University journalism professor Kelly Furnas fired up the student attendees with a session outlining the things they are most likely not doing (but should be) with their news outlets online.  Furnas, who also serves as the executive director of the Journalism Education Association, aimed to help student editors “drive up traffic, increase reader engagement, and . . . educate your staff about Web techniques.”

While geared toward a high school student audience, many of the suggestions apply very directly to collegemediatopia.  Below is a sampling of his advice.

Kelly Furnas, K-State j-prof and JEA executive director

Six Things You’re Not Doing Online (But Should Be)

1) Placing links within stories.  As Furnas put it, “Stories online should be alive.”  He stressed the importance of outbound links, but also links to other pages on your own site to boost traffic, help readers track a larger narrative, and underscore your outlet’s comprehensiveness.  The suggestion, while seemingly obvious, resonated with me.  As someone who regularly reads and scrolls through student press sites, I can confirm that far too many online stories are dead fish, slapped onto webpages without a single link.  It’s a testament to the lingering print-first mentality, in which the main issue production takes precedence and pieces are then placed online as an afterthought.

2) Featuring online databases.  He displayed examples from the student newspaper he previously advised, The Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech.  The paper has put together a range of databases breaking down the details of campus crime, faculty and staff salaries, and even class grade distributions.  As Furnas exclaimed about the latter, “Think about all the stories there.  It’s one thing to do the investigation yourself and present the information.  It’s a whole other thing to let readers get stories for themselves and search through data to find the news and the narratives they’re most interested in, maybe from a perspective you have not thought of.”  (This portion of the talk reminded me of The Daily Illini‘s comprehensive online faculty and staff salary database, the most popular part of the paper’s site.)

3) Posting videos people actually want to watch.  During a session at the most recent CMA Spring College Media Convention, New York Times reporter and digital journalism guru Brian Stelter shared, “We’re all going to be video reporters in the future, which means we will have to comb our hair and stuff.  It’s something that is quietly happening in the industry.”  But at the moment, as Furnas noted, “By far, videos are among the least watched things online. . . . On news sites, people stay away from videos.  People want to read on news sites.”  To help change that, he advised, “Make videos you actually want to see.”  He specifically pointed out the news media’s prevalence for posting blah talking head vids, stressing that video news reports and featurettes should instead be created in very specific circumstances– when the content’s newsworthiness mixes with a quirky, visually-driven, must-see quality.

4) Utilizing social media beyond Facebook and Twitter.  He specifically touted Pinterest’s potential, telling student yearbook editors, “If there’s one social media platform that will save yearbooks, it’s Pinterest.  Talk about expanding your yearbook coverage year-wide.”  Tumblr, Technorati, and Instagram were also brought up Furnas or the students.

5) Incorporating interactive graphics.  To create them, Furnas suggested Google Chart Tools and Many Eyes.

6) Launching an events calendar.  As Furnas told the students, “Here’s another way for you to be covering your school better than anyone else.”  He confirmed that, while schools of course keep their own official calendars, “you know better what students want on an events calendar. . . . You don’t want a calendar that is a billion things deep.  Keep it to four or five events a day, just things students would really be interested in.”  To start, he advised checking out Google Calendar.

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