Learning how to share


Opportunities for college journalists to share stories, photos and video are spreading across the Internet. The <i>Report</i>'s Laura Dobler examines what this means for the student media.





Thanks to the slew of content sharing websites cropping up this year, content produced by college newspapers is making its way off campus — and onto other media platforms across the country.

College newsrooms, mirroring their professional counterparts, are adopting content sharing agreements at a growing rate. While exchanging articles, columns and photos offers students the opportunity to get their work and bylines in front of a new audience, the ultimate impact of content sharing for student journalism has yet to be seen.

“It seems like everyone out there has suddenly realized that they can get free or very low cost stories, photos and videos from students,” said Rachele Kanigel, a journalism professor at San Francisco State University.

The ‘internet newspaper’

A collective source for campus news from across the nation surfaced when Huffington Post launched a college section on its website on Feb. 22, 2010.

“We are in the business of promotion, and bringing different types of news together,” Leah Finnegan, editor of Huffington Post College, said.

Finnegan, the former editor-in-chief of the University of Texas-Austin’s student newspaper the Daily Texan, is responsible for selecting articles from college newspapers to post on the website each day.

“We have the time and the space on the site and have people here who are excited about college journalism. It seems like the right direction to grow because [college newspapers] are such untapped, interesting journalism,” Finnegan said.

The Huffington Post is an online news source that primarily aggregates content from other news organizations. It does not act as a wire service that shares content with its members. Rather, the website links to the content and sends the reader back to the original source to read the entire article.

“We want to funnel some of that traffic back to the college papers, give them more visibility, more of a chance to be read,” Finnegan said.

Part of the agreement with Huffington Post College is that student newspapers include a Huffington Post widget — a graphic application on a website that links to another site or HTML code — on their websites, Finnegan said.

Though the inclusion of the widget on college newspaper websites is not meant to imply that the newspaper agrees with the opinions and articles published on the Huffington Post, Suzanne Yada, online editor of the San Jose State University student newspaper The Spartan Daily, said that some readers will judge her newspaper based on the Huffington Post’s reputation.

“The fact that the Huffington Post is seen as a very partisan blog — it hurts schools that are trying to stay politically neutral,” Yada said.

Finnegan said she understands why college newspaper editors are wary of being affiliated with other news organizations and protective of who re-publishes their content.

“I remember last year [as a college editor] being approached with a partnership and I was very stubborn because you care so much about your paper, you want it to remain strong and independent,” Finnegan said.

The Huffington Post, which usually does not ask permission to link to newspapers’ content, seeks permission from college newspapers to establish a relationship between the news organizations, Finnegan said.

For the staff of the Nevada Sagebrush at the University of Nevada-Reno, the draw of participating in the Huffington Post was the opportunity of bringing national exposure to their content.

“It’s good for people who are out of state to find out what’s going on in Nevada and it’s also good for us to have a place to go to know what’s going on at other universities,” said Jessica Fryman, the Nevada Sagebrush editor-in-chief.

Campus Overload, a newly launched section on the Washington Post’s website, follows a model similar to the Huffington Post. Launched in February 2010, the section aggregates news from across the web and makes it easily accessible to readers interested in higher education.

“The purpose of [the site] is to create one spot for all news of interest to anyone with ties to higher education. I look for anything that pops out to me as interesting and as a window into life on campus and the culture of higher education,” Jenna Johnson, reporter for Campus Overload, said.

Content aggregation websites don’t just increase the exposure of college newspapers. They also provide a source for new story ideas.“I try to encourage my staff and myself to just see and know what is going on in the nation and make sure we are outside of our little bubble at University of Nevada-Reno,” Fryman said.

A new news cooperative

The College News Network (CNN), like the Huffington Post, offers an outlet for exposure and inspiration, but also provides a more tangible product: free content to fill the pages from other college newspapers in the network.

Dave Hendricks and Ryan Dunn, editors for the Ohio University student newspaper the Post, founded the CNN in October 2009 to provide a wire service for Ohio college newspapers to share content.

The Post sometimes relied on opinion and editorial content from other newspapers and “we needed that safety net and realized that everyone else did too,” Dunn said.The CNN has quickly expanded its reach and as of March, 53 newspapers from 28 states are part of the network, Dunn said. Since January, 8,684 articles have appeared on the wire, approximately 217 articles each day, Hendricks said.

“We didn’t think it’d get this big. It’s strange to think it (CNN) transitioned to bigger than our hopes for it,” Dunn said.

Every day, members of the CNN upload their newspapers’ content to the web site using RSS feeds — a format used to published frequently updated work — and the website then aggregates the content to display the headlines and the associated newspaper, Hendricks said. The current system allows the CNN Web site to stay manageable between two people.

“It is very hands off to the point that we don’t edit anything, everything is posted with only a few filters to keep out blog posts and things that wouldn’t be relevant,” Dunn saidThere are only three rules to the CNN membership agreement: The newspapers must be college newspapers, the newspapers must share all of their content and if a newspaper uses content from the wire the original reporter’s name and newspaper must be included in the byline, Hendricks said.

“We are doing this because we are student journalists and there is a need at our paper and I assume at other papers to have a service like this,” Hendricks said.

Fryman said the CNN allows her newspaper, the Nevada Sagebrush, to stay connected with other college newspapers.

“It is great to have other people to rely on and share that information in order for us (the newspaper) to be able to give our readers full coverage (of a story),” Fryman said.

The interconnection fostered by an organization like the CNN can lead to more comprehensive coverage of college events.

Hendricks said there was an incident in spring 2009 when students at Kent State University in Ohio were arrested after a party got out of hand and a couple weeks later a party at Ohio University also ended in police arrests.

“Had there been content sharing in place then, we (the Post) could have used stories and video from [Kent Wired] and then a few weeks later they would have access to all the information we were putting out about the riots here in Athens,” Hendricks said.

In February, Ohio State University’s student newspaper, the Lantern, printed a story from the Post found on the CNN about a student dying of meningitis at Ohio University, Everdeen Mason, the Lantern’s editor-in-chief, said.“We have students here who are from that area. Most of (the students at) Ohio State are from Ohio so anything that happens (in the state) it kind of resonates,” Mason said.

Sharing is not just limited to written content; Big Ten University student newspapers share photographs of sporting events using a service called the Big Ten Photo Exchange, Mason said.

“It’s really helpful, so if there is a road game that we can’t send our people to, if we wait a couple minutes the photographers will upload their sports photos to the page and we can use that in our paper,” Mason said.

College newspapers do not have the same resources to cover national issues that larger news organizations do, “so by having [the CNN] we are allowing student newspapers to help each other out,” Hendricks said.

UWIRE makes a comeback

The original source of college newspaper content sharing and part of the inspiration for Huffington Post College and CNN is back on the scene with UWIRE’s April 1, 2010, re-launch.

Founded in 1994, UWIRE was the nation’s leading source of college content with more than 800 college newspaper members when it abruptly disappeared in fall 2009, due in part to financial difficulties. Now that the website has returned, it hopes to retake its position as the top dog for college content, said Tom Orr, general manager of UWIRE and executive producer of Palestra.net, UWIRE’s partner site.

“I don’t think anyone else’s network is really close to the size of ours and when you are able to aggregate content from that many places you have a lot of opportunities to find great stories,” Orr said.

The sudden departure “ultimately helped us be a stronger company and we’ve learned about the need to adapt to the current market conditions,” Orr said.

UWIRE plans to keep all of its college newspaper members and most of its professional partnerships, and is in the process of forming new partners, Orr said.

A six-month absence is a long time in the digital world, said Bryan Murley, professor of new and emerging media at Eastern Illinois University.

“I think being gone for so long, people are going to forget that [UWIRE] is there, so I’ll be curious to see how they build that customer base back up and what they do in the future,” Murley said.

UWIRE will begin by sharing only written content, but plans to expand to sharing video, photography and multi-media content over the summer, Orr said.In the current job market it may not be enough to write only and reporters may need to learn how to shoot video and photography and “we think we are pretty well positioned to help people and help our members and our students do that,” Orr said.

For UWIRE to compete in the current digital market, the creators will need to find a unique way to produce and share news that keeps viewers coming back to the site, Murley said.

“If [UWIRE] could find a way to aggregate [video and web based] content they would have something that would be unique to themselves rather than just going to aggregate the written word,” Murley said.

Other plans for the upcoming months include reinstating UWIRE 100, which showcases the 100 top student journalists in the country, and setting up internship and job opportunities for students with UWIRE’s professional partners, Orr said.

With many professional media organizations continuing to downsize, “we understand how difficult it is to get the kind of opportunities that you need to really make it these days. There are some really talented students out there so we are trying to help those students find the opportunities that they need to succeed,” Orr said.

Larger media organizations, like United Press International (UPI), are also using student content in their professional publications. UPI launched the University Media Alliance (UPIU), a collective website for college media networking that offers professional advice in exchange for publishing rights to student articles.

“So in a sense we are also getting free content, but I feel like it is also balanced because we are giving [students] a lot of our time in terms of critiquing,” said Harumi Gondo, an international coordinator of UPIU.

UPIU asks journalism professors to submit student work from across the world for its publication, which is copy-edited and critiqued by UPIU staff, Gondo saidIt is important to work with college journalists because “that is the landscape right now. Student journalists are the ones right now that are most on top of social media. Social media is the future and I’m not sure that everyone has caught on to that,” Gondo said.

The implications of sharing

Content sharing websites have created collective hubs for college news, networks for college newspapers to share ideas and a chance for student journalists’ work to be exposed on a national level.

However, there are concerns that the use of free content provided by student journalists is being abused by large businesses, said Murley.

“They are getting money off of a bunch of people who are working for free. So that is sweat equity to me, you are putting in the effort and you are getting nothing in return,” Murley said.

Like many other large media organizations, UPI at first only thought of college journalists as a free source of content, Gondo said.

“We want free reporters, but what I have learned is that it doesn’t always work that way, you have to be fair. You have to put in too, you can’t just take out,” Gondo said.

This is not a new occurrence. UWIRE had the licensing rights to distribute student work to any news organization it was partners with, CNN’s founder Hendricks said.

“I would go onto [websites] and see that something I had written was appearing there but I wouldn’t get any notice of that or any money that they perhaps made on advertisement for that,” Hendricks said.

Orr said most of UWIRE’s content sharing is among college newspapers, because the 18-23 year old demographic is the most interested in college news and licensing student content is not the main source of the site’s revenue.

Ultimately, he said, it is about providing the best possible content for college newspapers: “It is a very cyclical thing, our goal is to make our members successful because by making our members successful we will make ourselves successful in turn.”

However, whether the college newspapers themselves will have monetary success based on increased website traffic from national organizations still remains uncertain, Murley said.

“Is that web traffic valuable? Is it local traffic [that] will buy local advertising? Most student newspapers still have not solved the online advertising (dilemma) because [its] website traffic tends to be older, more parents, alumni and faculty than students,” Murley said.

The University of South Florida’s student newspaper, the Oracle, had three articles featured on the Huffington Post in its first week and the website traffic increased by approximately 900 to 1,000 hits per day, Kerry Klecic, the Oracle’s editor-in-chief, said.Even though it is too early to calculate monetary gains, Klecic said, “it is going to diversify the kind of people that are going to visit our website and read our content, which is really exciting.”

While job opportunities at traditional newsrooms dwindle and student interns replace professional journalists, San Francisco State University journalism professor Kanigel said she is afraid students are losing sight of the monetary value of their own work.

“The thing that concerns me is that it seems like it’s getting easier and easier to get published and harder and harder for [students] to make a living at it,” Kanigel said.

Journalism students are so accustomed to producing free content for news organizations that “the value of that content is going down and students won’t be thinking of themselves as producing work for pay,” Kanigel said.

However, students like Klecic are still hopeful that increased exposure on the Huffington Post and other news outlets will help his staff prepare for the future and lead to better job opportunities.

“When you go to an interview for a job someday that is something you can put on your resume and talk to an employer about and say ‘Hey my stuff is on the Huffington Post’ instead of just saying ‘Hey my stuff is on the Oracle’,” Klecic said.

Murley said he encourages students to share their content openly and realize that their work in college is not as valuable as they think. He also warns students to be wary of organizations that may be making money off of their work.

“Your content is not this all-valuable thing that you think it is — on the web it’s just like everything else out there, it’s just as free,” Murley said.

Murley and Kanigel agree that students should create an active online identity apart from the college newspapers, by blogging, setting up a personal website and creating an area of expertise and sharing content among newspapers can achieve this.

Students should think of themselves as a brand and learn how to sell the value of their skills and expertise rather than their content, Murley said.

“The student journalists who I know that have succeeded coming out of college have been online, have developed a brand and have shared a lot of content,” Murley said.


reports, Spring 2010