NOLA Notes: The audience loves entertainment; is that scary or exciting?

Another in a series of posts drawn from notes taken at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.

When the talk at the “Reinventing College Media” workshop in New Orleans turned to how much college students love entertainment news, The Daily Utah Chronicle General Manager Jake Sorensen said what I was thinking: “This is scary.”

Scary because most advisers and student editors live and breathe “hard” news. Hand over our front page to concert previews? Never!

But I was much less frightened after the day-long workshop. So here’s a brief summary and some thoughts of my own:

First, Ryan Frank, president of the Emerald Media Group (serving the University of Oregon), described the thought process he led in the Emerald’s now-famous “revolution” — transforming a daily paper into a twice-a-week newsmagazine plus strong digital products.

Six weeks after he took the job, Frank put up a sign in the conference room: “If a venture capitalist gave you $750K to build a news operation on our campus, what would you build?”

Frank realized that students likely would love a product resembling a good alt-weekly: solid journalism presented boldy, plus LOTS of entertainment coverage. When he put an alt-weekly on the table next to the then-Emerald, most editors immediately saw the potential. One advocated the traditional newspaper approach until Frank asked him, “What would happen to the Emerald if a Portland alt-weekly started a campus edition?”

Next, Frank conducted an exercise with his editors. He went to a whiteboard and drew two circles: one for a male student’s brain and one for a female student’s brain.  He asked the editors to fill in how much of each brain was filled up by school issues, sports, entertainment, etc. Afterward, he asked, “Did anyone say student government?”

This could have been a scary moment until Frank added, “We’ll still cover the SGA — in a different format.” (More on that below.) His bigger point was that “if students spend their time and money on entertainment, shouldn’t we cover that?”

The answer at the Emerald became two weekly print products with distinct priorities:

  • “Emerald Monday” features a major news story on the cover. That story takes up two pages inside.
  • “Emerald Weekend,” published on Thursdays, is heavily oriented toward entertainment and sports, looking forward to the weekend.

It’s important to note the Emerald is covering local entertainment and publishing local music listings. It’s not full of writers reviewing movies and albums that are already reviewed in hundreds of other places.

As previously described in my post on structure and culture of a digital-first newsroom, the Emerald has created parallel print and digital editors throughout its newsroom.

Sorensen, on the other hand, is considering re-organizing his Utah operation under a news director and an entertainment director. Each would be responsible for their subject areas on all student media platforms — print, digital and broadcast.

The solution will be different in every market. As Sorensen advised, “Start where you are.”

Finally, let’s circle back for a moment to the possible news benefits of an alt-weekly mentality.

Frank showed us an alt-weekly election preview cover with a “Game of Thrones” theme and the headline, “Election is Coming.” Wouldn’t a student be more likely to read that preview than one presented in a traditional “newspaper” format? Wouldn’t that cover earn a higher “above the fold” rating by actually appealing to new readers?

And if we present our SGA and institutional coverage along the lines we use for entertainment — big, bold packages on big topics and quick listings for the routine — won’t we serve our readers better by enticing them to actually read the coverage rather than flipping past it to get to something interesting?

Scary? Yes, it can be. But maybe we can convert the fear into excitement about engaging our audience with both entertainment and “hard” news coverage.

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About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on December 2, 2013, in Digital/social, Financial sustainability, NOLA Notes, What to cover. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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