Preparing Students for Media Convergence

By: Steve Outing An ambitious new initiative at the University of Kansas' school of journalism and mass communications points to just how much journalism ? and journalism education ? is changing. As someone who has to look back 20 years to remember my days in journalism school, the contrast is stark.

What's being done at KU is a harbinger for other journalism programs at the college/university level, as journalism education makes the transition from training students in traditional journalism skills to training them for a world dominated by the Internet and media convergence.

Led by Freedom Forum fellow Christopher Ryan, who is spending two years as professional in residence at KU, the idea behind the program is to build a commercial-grade Web database publishing environment that serves the various student media at KU, and serves as a model for media convergence. A central database is being designed to hold all news articles from the student newspaper and magazine, audio/video archives from the student TV station, and a music archive for the student radio station. Community self-publishing for student groups and professor pages where instructors can publish class notes also is part of the model. All this information is to be re-used across multiple publications, since the data will be stored in "generic" formats accessible to various media forms.

According to Ryan, the system being built at KU can serve as a model for commercial publishers as they look to redesign their operations to support publishing to multiple media.

Reasonably priced

The new "Digital Jayhawk" publishing system is expected to be ready by the end of the year. Ryan is currently in the midst of purchasing about $45,000 of hardware and software, which will be added to the school's already extensive Web publishing infrastructure. He plans to use a heavy-duty Oracle database and ColdFusion as the Web application development tool.

Ryan had wanted to use Vignette's StoryServer, a powerful database publishing solution used by some larger news companies, including his old employer, the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But that solution proved to be too pricey for this project ? and indeed probably is too expensive a solution for many small publishers. But Ryan says that the ColdFusion alternative he's decided on for the KU program is economical enough for smaller news operations, although it requires more custom development work than the more expensive publishing systems require to implement.

The primary objective of the Digital Jayhawk program, says Ryan, is to build a highly customizable community publication, with many university organizations contributing information into the central database. The Oracle database can handle news stories, digital images, calendar information, statistics, audio and video segments, etc. With the new system, the Digital Jayhawk can publish large volumes of database-driven Web pages, as well as produce custom Web pages by hand.

For the student (or other) end-user, the Digital Jayhawk will be highly personalized. A user's customized home page (a la MyYahoo!) will include top campus and national news, plus news and information about groups that the user is interested or involved in. The latter information will come from Web self-publishing activities by campus organizations, especially those that tend to be ignored by local or campus news outlets. A member of the rowing team would see news items and calendar information from the club, for example. If the administrator of the team posted a "bulletin" about a practice cancellation to the database, members who have their home pages configured to track rowing news would see that news appear as a headline for a 24-hour period.

The system also is being designed so that professors can use the self-publishing tools to communicate with their students. Online class notes, syllabi, class schedules, homework assignments, etc. are likely uses, as well as giving instructors the ability to send bulletins (such as, "I'm sick today. Wednesday's class is cancelled!"). University administrators also will have the ability to publish important bulletins ("The university is closed today due to the blizzard") and have it show up on all users' personal home pages.

A central calendar system is part of the design, so that group and club administrators can submit their calendar events ? which they own and which are included in their own self-published areas of the Web ? and have them integrated into a campus-wide calendar of events.

Ryan says that this community publishing model is built around useful information ? "not pet pictures." This aspect of the overall model "is the sort of integration of news content with community self-publishing that I think news organizations need to develop."

Preparation for the real world

A major thrust of the Digital Jayhawk initiative is, of course, to train students for the changed world of journalism in this digital age. Students working within the program will mirror the roles of online producers and online programmers at major news companies' Internet sites. Broadcast students, for instance, are learning about streaming media. Journalism students will produce projects to be published online, and they'll be able to post digital portfolios and resumes. Says Ryan, "A top priority is to implement the 'media convergence' theory, blending audio, print and video into a well-managed, multi-media, multi-product news flow ? and exposing students to these issues."

KU's journalism school does not have a specific new media program, but rather new media curricula are integrated into each track.

There's also a strong research component in the project. Ryan believes that the experience of managing a multi-media, multi-product news flow will provide valuable lessons to the professional new media world. He also wants to measure how much personal preference users are willing to utilize, and how much is valuable to advertisers.

The money thing

While it might be nice to construct an ambitious Internet site without worrying about money, Ryan wants the project to mirror the real world as much as possible. The goal won't be to be overly profitable, but he's hoping that it can cover most if not all of its costs. The Digital Jayhawk will include banner advertising, sold by advertising students who will get a taste of online sales experience. Ryan plans to target mostly national advertisers, in order to avoid conflicts with the Lawrence Journal-World, or perhaps in partnership with the local daily.

Other revenue will come from linking Jayhawk pages to online shopping such as or, which pay commissions to Web sites that refer readers to the sales sites. Some content on the Jayhawk site also might be paid subscription, such as live Webcasts of KU basketball games, news conferences or player interviews. Other sections of the Digital Jayhawk also are likely to be restricted to specific audiences, such as KU alumni. Ryan is trying to build multiple revenue streams into the model ? just as is common in the professional Web news media world ? and expects the Digital Jayhawk not to be profitable for at least a couple of years.

Some of the cross-media applications envisioned for the Digital Jayhawk project are fascinating. A music database built by the campus radio station, for instance, will include profiles of the bands whose music the station plays. A Web page will show what song is currently being aired, and users will be able to pull up the band profile while listening to the song. These pages also might include an online shopping link to purchase the music at or

The campus environment, with so many student media outlets previously operating separately but now coming together in a media convergence model, is an ideal environment for an experiment such as this. But Ryan sees larger implications for professional media companies; even those that don't own multiple media type properties increasingly are doing partnerships with other types of media. He hopes that his work in the next two years on the Digital Jayhawk will inspire some of them.

Contact: Christopher Ryan,

Where's the beef?

In some recent columns, I've heaped praise on Sunline, the highly interactive Web site of a small newspaper in Florida. (I'm not the only one; the site has earned a fist full of online journalism awards in the last couple years.) But I received this opposing view from a reader who asked to remain unidentified:

"Sunline says it has 90% of visitors going to the community section and only 10% to the news section. Have you ever thought that this might be because the papers that Sunline draws its news from offer very little compelling content? Look at the Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and St. Petersburg Times sites. They offer much more comprehensive news coverage both in the papers and online. These papers, particularly the Herald and Times, are award winners for the editorial content of their papers on a yearly basis. I wonder how many of their Web site visitors would be interested in community journalism when they have such rich editorial content to enjoy instead? People go where the quality is. If a Sunline's news content is slim, no wonder the traffic goes to its superior community section instead."

Gender oops

My apologies to Jamie Heller, executive editor of, who I identified as a "he" in my last column. Heller is a she.

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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at


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