Web Watch 8: The Missing Link

In last week’s Web Watch I outlined five stages college publications go through to create an online publication. In brief, they included:

  1. Get online. Start a site and get used to updating it on a regular basis.
  2. Shovel content from the print edition to the online edition.
  3. The online becomes important. You start to produce some web-exclusive content.
  4. The online is fully integrated into the process. Stories are told in forms designed for online
  5. The online prevails.

Innovation in College Media’s Bryan Murley caught my post and suggested that something was missing. You might call it the missing link. It is linking to other sites.

It would take very little to encourage (student journalists) to turn in stories with a “for more information…” addendum at the end of the story that could be converted into URLs on the site. Likewise, scanning or otherwise putting original source documents onto the web site doesn’t tax the definition of “web-exclusive” in my mind.

Good point. A simple path to get away from shovelware is to start adding value. Add links.

Where is the missing link?

But this is a problem plaguing the entire industry, not just the college media. Online journalism guru Steve Outing, who writes for Editor & Publisher, has been harping that for years. Only recently have a few publications been risking sending their readers to another site with links.

I searched California community college sites and even expanded my Web Watch to California State University sites (private schools and UCs to follow) and had little luck finding ANYBODY linking to other sites. Admittedly, I did not check EVERY story on every publication, but I looked for likely stories.

My web experience shows me that bloggers have been fastest to adopt the concept of linking to other sites. Let me point to the work of my students’ blogs as examples: No Man’s Press Box or General Education and the Community College Try.

But blogs are not the only place for links. Do your students use web sites as sources for their stories? Add a bit of code to the online version and make it easier for the reader to check the site. Any movie review, music review, book review, etc. could probably find a site to link to give the interested reader more information. Start there. But don’t limit efforts to entertainment. The web is a treasure trove of information. Sure, you might direct your reader away from your site, but if you’re good enough, the reader will come back. What’s the old saying?

If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was, and always will be yours. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with. — Anonymous

If you’ve built reader loyalty, the reader will return.

Also try to add other source content.

Those of you doubting whether your students can/will do this, I like Murley’s title for my five stages. He refers to them as the five stages of grief.

Getting beyond shovelware

Few California community college publications are beyond the shovelware stage. In fact, the five California community college and two California State University sites that continue to post PDF-only versions of their print publications are the epitome of shovelware. There is nothing wrong with posting the PDF of the print version as an option for the reader, but when it is the ONLY option, that is not an online pubication, it is a publication online.

But most of us are firmly entrenched in the shovelware stage with our online publications, too. Only a few schools are breaking out of the mold with content in new story forms: video, slideshows, podcasts, etc.

Even more important than these new story forms –at least given our stage of development– is the mid-issue update. Very few of the community colleges are doing that, and first glance at the four-year schools looks like few of them are doing that either. This is especially egregious with those schools that publish the print edition every other week. Two weeks and nothing new of importance has happened on your campus? At the very least, post updated scores on sporting contests. And feature those updates prominently.

You might not have the staff or money or energy to publish a print edition more often, but news does not take the week off. Why does your coverage? Train students to update sites regularly. Yeah, I know the arguments for and against scooping yourself. Get over it if you want to make your online publication relevant.

Lecture v. conversation

Murley made another good point about my five steps that we can discuss later: changing journalism from lecture to conversation. Most people might put that in my fifth step. He suggested it needs to start in Step 2.

Observed this week

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