Guest Post: North Florida Spinnaker Offers New Way to Look at ‘Top News’

This is a guest post written by John Timpe, the Center for Student Media adviser at the University of North Florida, a position which includes oversight of the UNF Spinnaker.  He briefly outlines an innovative solution to the “Top News” conundrum faced by many student and professional media online.

At some of the metro newspapers I worked at, editors often posted stories themselves. The placement/prominence on the website for those stories depended on how an editor filled out a field with a “score.”  The score usually went from 1 to 5.  As you might imagine, most editors rated everything their team did as a 5.

Periodically, a manager would come through to encourage editors to be more deliberative with the scoring. That would last for about two weeks.  So the net result was that “Top Stories” on a website would degenerate into what got posted most recently. The only solution would be for a “sweeper” online editor to come through periodically and clean things up.

When Pat Moore, one of our summer digital editors, worked with the unfspinnaker.com redesign, he wanted to avoid this problem. As with most student media, the kind of manpower required to clean things up on a regular basis, especially at night, over weekends, and during the summer just doesn’t exist.

So he created a concept that would allow an editor to launch each story with a score, but over time, the audience could override that score with their clicks.  His concept would allow the site to calculate the clicks for a story relative to the overall clicks the site experiences. The time since initial posting also would factor in.

Pat and his counterpart, Joe Basco, then underwent the challenge of challenges at a four-year public university: finding a student database programmer who knows enough to create an algorithm, program within WordPress, etc.– for the wages student media pay.

Good student database programmers get great jobs on the side at companies such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  So the Spinnaker Digital department made some sacrifices in hours in other places, upped the hourly salary rate, found a good programmer in Aleksey Charapko, and turned him loose.

He made Pat’s concept a reality, and it’s live now under “Top News” at unfspinnaker.com.

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