New From ‘Roanoke Times’: A Web Site Called ‘BigLickU’

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By: Jennifer Saba

Like just about every other paper in the country, The Roanoke (Va.) Times is desperate to reach young readers.

At first, the paper tried to hook young adults within the pages of its tab supplement, the Current, inserted in the daily paper six days a week. Though not exclusively for students, the Current recruited them to write stories and personal essays for a section within the tab.

It was a flop.

?It was not a good means to go after that demo,? recalled Chris Winston, then editor of Current, who added students rarely read the section.

That didn?t mean the Times was going to give up. Instead, the paper took steps to actually find out what students wanted and to little surprise, the answer involved the Internet.

The project evolved into a Web site called BigLickU.com, which officially launched today.

If it sounds ribald, Winston, who is now ?provost? and general manager of the site, explained Big Lick was once the name of old Roanoke before it became, well Roanoke in 1882. For those less versed in the ways of horses and other brine-loving animals — big lick is a twist on salt lick.

The site aims to connect 50,000 students at the several universities and colleges in the Roanoke area. It?s a destination, where freshman for example, can get learn the ropes from other students by finding out where to get a haircut, grab a burger, or fix a car.

There?s social networking and of course YouTube-style videos, though in order to participate, a user must have an .edu address (though anyone can access the regular content, like bar listings, etc.)

Winston said that more than 40 students are involved in BigLickU in some way, from writing and photography to selling and creating ads. The site is completely supported by advertising. So far, BigLickU has racked up restaurant, hair salon, and apartment community ads.

BigLickU even set up an office less than a block away from the Virginia Tech campus where student involved in the site can hang out, work, and take advantage of Wi-Fi. The labor is mostly free, though Winston said it counts toward school credit in some instances. Those students involved in ad sales and production are part-timers who are paid.

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