NOLA Notes: Figuring out how to make digital dollars in college media

We’re in the home stretch of my posts drawn from my (obviously) voluminous notes from the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.  After’s today’s post, I plan one more on new revenue streams outside of print and digital advertising.

When newspapers started confronting the new realities of advertising, their chiefs lamented they were trading “print dollars for digital dimes.” Then commodity ad rates online plummeted, and people started talking about “digital pennies.”

But we know we’ve got to turn those pennies into dollars (exactly when is a question for another day).

I hope my headline doesn’t over-promise. No one has figured this out. But some smart college media people are “figuring,” and I’m passing along some of their thoughts in notes form.  Some of these points appeared in earlier “NOLA Notes” posts but bear repeating in this context.

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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:

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NOLA Notes: Winning the local digital audience when news isn’t breaking

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

We’ve established that breaking local news is critical to your success as a digital news outlet on campus. But news isn’t “breaking” all the time (unless you’re an annoying click-baiter). So you need to do a lot more to be part of the daily digital diet of your prospective audience. This post is full of suggestions from several leaders in digital-first campus media.

First, two quotes to encourage any journalist worried about whether “social” is taking over “news.”

“Quality matters.” — Erica Perel, newsroom adviser, Daily Tar Heel (serving the University of North Carolina).

“So do what the college press always has done. We were hyperlocal before the term was invented.” — Omar Sofradzija, editorial adviser, The State News (serving Michigan State University).

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#collegemedia Thanksgiving turnabout: Do we deserve our audience’s thanks?

This Thanksgiving, why should our college media audience be thankful for us?

Permit me to offer three reasons — and to encourage you to think about how well you’re earning each category of appreciation from the members of your audience.

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NOLA Notes: Tips for “owning” local breaking news online

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

“Meaningful, local, breaking news works. … Once you break it, you own the story. People keep coming back to you.” The words came from Ryan Frank, president of the Emerald Media Group (serving the University of Oregon), and I heard no disagreement from any of the digital-savvy college media folks in New Orleans.

This means jumping onto big news in a big hurry, but it also means re-thinking coverage of scheduled events, like SGA meetings and sports. If you’re looking for big-picture thinking on a digital-first structure, this earlier post is for you. These are some examples and tips:

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NOLA Notes: Build digital-first structure and culture (or, do you have a prayer or a plan?)

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

Update appended Dec. 1 regarding the “digital managing editor” at The State News.

Updated Dec. 6 with a link to details of Emerald Media Group’s restructured newsroom. 

You’ve figured out that the “right now” needs of your digital audience are not the same as the “read more in depth later” needs of your print audience. You’ve coached and cajoled. And if you’re like most college media editors and advisers, you seem a long way from your goal.

The biggest reason may be pretty simple. Your organization’s structure and culture are at odds with what you really want.

Ryan Frank, president/adviser at Emerald Media Group, said he had a moment of clarity when he considered the digital vs. print needs created by every University of Oregon football game. He realized that “the kid who worked 12 hours on gameday,” filing furiously and writing the digital game story (actually only part of the Emerald’s game coverage) was simply not going to thoughtfully write the smart follow-up for the Emerald’s Monday print product. Either she would think print-first and neglect the immediate online needs, or she’d be exhausted by the digital needs and file a print story that just shoveled what was already online.

“That was my light-bulb moment. The structure just doesn’t fit if digital journalism is a priority,” Frank said.

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NOLA Notes: Focus on ‘true’ digital audience

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

You could be discouraged when Omar Sofradzija says the “true audience” for statenews.com, the student news site serving Michigan State, really is only 22 percent of the site’s visitors.

Or you could recognize that the “true audience” is a local, engaged audience that wants your local journalism and is valuable to advertisers. That leads you to then focus on building that audience without wasting time producing “clickbait” that really doesn’t serve your true audience or the advertisers who want to reach them.

That takeaway in two tweets from Judy Gibbs Robinson of the University of Oklahoma:

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NOLA Notes: ‘Don’t just write words. Write music.’ A brief, important point about varying sentence length

Because I couldn’t get a projector to work at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans, I read aloud a passage in a “Free Your Writing Voice” session that I’ve sometimes just flashed on a screen. I had not prepared for a dramatic reading, so I was surprised at how powerful it sounded coming out of my mouth.

The audience seemed to like it, though it’s a long passage. So I encourage you to read it aloud.

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NOLA Notes: Applying ‘resource velocity’ to our most important resource: student journalists

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

Arvli Ward, the student media director at UCLA, is far from the first speaker at a college media convention to talk about the importance of recruiting, training and retaining student journalists. But he’s the first I’ve heard who talked about maximizing the “resource velocity” of those students.

In fact, Ward recruits his student resources by treating them as customers. I thought that was fascinating and so pounded a lot of notes into my laptop. Here are some lightly edited highlights, along with related points I heard later from Candace Baltz of Washington State University:

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NOLA Notes: Maximizing print income in college media

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

For all the well-deserved attention on the shift to digital consumption of news, there are two important reasons most of us in college media are not ready to abandon print newspapers:

  • Print is still the way many students prefer to get campus news (60 percent according to a 2011 survey). We are all right to be concerned about whether that number is on the way down. But even campus papers recording drops still report numbers that would make off-campus papers green with envy.
  • Print advertising profit is vital for most student media programs. We need that money to fund the training it will take to fuel that vital digital innovation.

So one of my priorities in New Orleans was hearing about ways to maximize print income. What follows may not be surprising for advisers who are heavily involved in advertising and distribution. But for those like me who’ve spent more time on newsroom matters, this may be helpful.

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