College Newspaper of the Year, 2012-2013: The Emerald, University of Oregon
“If a venture capitalist gave you $750,000 to start a media company on this campus, what would you build?”
In April 2011, not long after he began his tenure as publisher of The Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon– since rebranded the Emerald Media Group– Ryan Frank posed this purposefully provocative question to the student staff.
In part, Frank’s aim with the $750,000 question was to inspire students to begin redefining how they plan, produce, and present journalism and to reinvent what it means to be a college media outlet.
As Frank told me a few weeks ago, “That was the first push we had to say, ‘Forget what we’ve done for 112 years. Pretend you’re starting from scratch. You’ve got VC money. You’re running a startup. What would you build?'”
Over the next 13 months, the early ideas stemming from that question– and many free-flowing newsroom conversations that followed– dramatically evolved. Their endpoint was a fully-realized, uber-researched, focus-group-tested, board-approved plan for an Emerald unlike any that had come before. Exactly one year ago today– May 23, 2012– the staff went public with their reinvention MO and what they dubbed “the start of a new era, the digital one.” Their one-word summation of the initiative: Revolution.
At present, 365 days after its premiere, I can excitedly confirm: the Revolution has been a rousing success. Over the past academic year, the Emerald’s innovative efforts have been immense, frequent, and fearless. The staff’s spirit of collaboration, lean startup style moxie, and idea development have been NONSTOP and so audacious the news, marketing, and tech teams deserve a Pulitzer for Whiteboard Brainstorming. And their push to greatly expand the breadth and depth of what it means to be a student journalist and student newspaper is so awe-inspiring it makes me smile just thinking about it.
At this moment, within the land of collegemediatopia, there is nothing quite like the Emerald. In the press landscape today, I can think of no greater compliment.
In fact, the Emerald is so cutting edge it makes this (admittedly informal) award outdated. I am honoring what I consider to be the best college newspaper of the past academic year. But the post-revolution Emerald is no longer just a newspaper. It hasn’t been since 11:59 p.m. PST, May 22, 2012. At midnight on the day that followed, it morphed into a full-blown, much more wide-ranging media company with a gigantic, noble mission: “to make college better.”
On a special site erected to honor the Revolution’s one-year anniversary, staff describe 5.23.2012 as simply “the day everything changed.”
Sharing that sentiment, I do believe the Emerald is changing college media greatly, for the better– setting a foundation for how to more richly report and share news; how to unleash digital journalism’s potential; how to generate revenue; how to structure staff; how to mesh marketing, advertising, events planning, tech tinkering, and pure journalism; how to merge professional and student staff; and how to remind readers of student journalism’s sexiness and significance.
During an exclusive chat with me last night, incoming and outgoing Emerald editors-in-chief Andy Rossback and Sam Stites shared their perspectives on the Emerald’s accomplishments over the past year, laid out some plans for next year, and offered advice for student news teams looking to follow in their innovative stead. [Click on the play button in the audio track below to listen to the interview in full.]
Interview: Emerald editors Andy Rossback & Sam Stites
[Audio temporarily unavailable due to CMM site reinvention. Check back soon.]
At the end of the chat, Rossback summed up the Emerald staff’s stellar work ethic– and its link to the place they call home. In his words:
All of us here really identify as Oregonians. We identify with the pioneer spirit . . . the Oregon Trail and coming out West, searching for the edge of the world. That’s really what we’re trying to do in our own way. It’s kind of like Oregon’s football team. It’s a flash of innovation and speed. And it’s everything about being an Oregonian or a Pacific Northwesterner. We love trying really hard and working really hard to come up with the best thing that we can. We like to impress ourselves every day. We try to impress each other. And [the element of] surprise is, I think, probably my favorite part of working at the Emerald– walking into a room and people are talking about something that is totally next level. I love working in an environment like that. I think it’s probably a similar feeling to how [world-famous distance runner] Steve Prefontaine felt running around the track at Oregon or around Eugene or around Coos Bay. His quote, I’ll read it for you here in close. It says, “How does a kid from Coos Bay with one leg longer than the other win races? All my life people have been telling me, ‘You’re too small, Pre.’ You’re not fast enough, Pre. Give up your foolish dream, Steve.’ But they forgot something. I HAVE TO WIN.” That’s hanging right above my computer screen. Right next to a picture of Steve Jobs that says, “I want to put a ding in the universe.”