What Newspaper Pros Can Learn from the College Online Press

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By: Steve Outing

This week the winners of the College Press Network’s Best of the College Press competition were announced. And as the winners suggest, the students who produce these campus newspaper Web sites have a lot to teach us while they continue to learn.

The overall winner was the Kentucky Kernel, from the University of Kentucky at Lexington.

Gold Medal winners, in addition to the Kernal, were: The Vocal Cord, State University of NY Health Science Center at Brooklyn; The Digital Collegian, Pennsylvania State University at University Park; The Daily Iowan, University of Iowa at Iowa City; and Daily Online, University of Minnesota at Minneapolis.

Silver Medal winners were: Ram Page, Angelo State University at San Angelo, Texas; Campus Press, University of Colorado at Boulder; Orange Source, Syracuse University, New York; Daily Online, Stanford University, California; and Technician OnLine, North Carolina State University at Raleigh.

And Award of Excellence winners were: The Miami Hurricane, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida; Bronco Buzz, Santa Clara University, California; The Concord, Bellarmine College, Louisville, Kentucky; PlanetNews, San Francisco State University, California; University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas at Lawrence; Marquette Tribune, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; The Lantern, Ohio State University, Columbus; State News, Michigan State University at East Lansing; The Eagle, American University, Washington, D.C.; and The Daily Bruin, University of California at Los Angeles.

I hope you’ll take the time to check out some of these winners, many of whose sites rival some of the best professional newspaper Web services.

Mary Hoppin, one of the contest judges and new media business development manager at Imagine Publishing of Brisbane, California, says she was struck by the “vibrancy” of the top entries from the college press. “It’s really nice to see at the college level, design and content that really does compare favorably — and in a lot of cases is superior to — the kind of content that we see at Web sites that are professionally produced.”

Of the Kentucky Kernal, the overall winner, Hoppin says, “It’s such a great site in terms of ease of the interface, some of the design innovations, the color, and certainly the content.” She notes that the site’s staff has fine tuned the process of producing the online edition, so that it takes only 90 minutes a day. “That’s impressive.” On some days, the Kernal site looks better than USA Today Online, she says.

The thing that Hoppin noticed most as a result of the judging process was a different mindset among students working on college news Web sites. For today’s students working on the Web, the technology is “natural” to them and they are entirely comfortable working in the online medium. Because they have grown up with the online medium, learning to work on the Internet “is just like learning algebra” to them, Hoppin says. Unlike most seasoned media professionals, they don’t have the experience of “old media” which they are trying to transform to fit in the new media; they are in effect starting from scratch, without old pre-conceived notions limiting their thinking in site design, she says.

The best online student newspaper services also have considerable staff resources to bring to the table, Hoppin says, which accounts for some college sites being of better quality than modestly staffed professional newspaper Web sites. Many campus sites are getting help from the college’s computer science department, and an interested student might on his own learn to write a Java applet which then gets implemented as an experiment on the site. “College sites are the ones that are really going for it,” Hoppin says.

Of course, college newspaper Web sites often have less financial pressure put upon them. Banner ads are fairly sparce in the college Web press, but Hoppin says she did notice a few ads, especially local ones aimed at students, such as the local college bookstores. Also, some national college Web sites are networking banner ads targeted at students and putting them on multiple campus Web sites.

College Web news networks are also springing up, with campus Web papers contributing their best content to the networks, which distribute it via a wire service to campus sites around the U.S.

Hoppin says she learned a lot by being a judge in this contest. “I saw some new things that I’m pointing out to my company’s Webmasters,” she says.

The college press contest was sponsored by the College Press Network, a Web site that tracks college news Web sites. CPN tracks some 160 sites at U.S. colleges, as well as a couple dozen campus sites outside the U.S.

CALL FOR ENTRIES: E&P’s 1997 Best Online Newspaper Services Competition

For the second year, Editor & Publisher is sponsoring the Best Online Newspaper Services Competition, which identifies and honors the best work in interactive publishing by the commercial newspaper industry. This is a global competition, and news Web sites from around the world are invited to enter. (While the contest is primarily for the newspaper industry, there also is a single category for news sites from non-newspaper companies.)

Entries are now being accepted via a World Wide Web entry form, and the deadline is December 30, 1996. Winners of the competition in 10 categories will be announced on February 14, 1997, at E&P’s Interactive Newspapers conference in Houston, Texas.

News sites will be judged in early January 1997 by a distinguished panel of journalists, new media professionals, consultants, researchers and academics from around the world. I am again administering this competition, and I am in the process of selecting judges who can review sites in a variety of languages.

Contact: Steve Outing, steve@planetarynews.com

Another danger of caching

Guy Spriggs of the Rosetta Stone Consultancy in The Netherlands warns of an additional problem for Web sites as a result of caching techniques by online services like America Online. After reading my Monday column about AOL and caching, he wrote:

“Our AOL caching story is slightly different. A file at one of our customers’ Web sites was recently published with a typo in one of the links. The typo caused the link not to function, so it was quickly discovered and put right. However, AOL’s proxies had in the meantime cached the page. So every time an AOL user visited the site they received the ‘broken’ file from the proxy. I have lost count of the number of AOL users who have written to say that the site is broken. In fact it’s just that AOL has a cached copy of the file which contains an error.

“The lesson is: check and double-check your HTML files before publishing, since all proxies will cause the same effect, not just those of AOL.”

Contact: Guy Spriggs, rosetta@simplex.nl

A clever idea?

Should you mis-type one of the busiest Web sites on the Internet, Netscape, as http://www.netcape.com, you’ll end up seeing an advertisement for BestDomains, a broker that specializes in the sale of cyberspace assets like Internet domain names. That’s a clever way to get some traffic for your site, though I doubt it will generate many good feelings toward the company when Web users feel they’ve been “tricked.” BestDomains, of course, registered the netcape.com domain name, and presumably is offering it for sale.

(Credit goes to Richard Anderson of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, whose errant fingers were responsible for finding this little Internet oddity.)

No column over Thanksgiving holiday

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., there will be no Stop The Presses! column on Friday. The next column will appear on Monday, December 2.

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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