Crosstown Digital Communications

Online Newsrooms in Higher Ed

On Feb. 13, I appeared on Higher Ed Live with Seth Odell to talk about online newsrooms in higher ed. We talked about the project I was recently a part of, Tufts Now, what universities should aim for with their online news and how to achieve that. Watch the archived video:

Thank you, Seth, for having me on the show, and thanks to those who watched and asked awesome questions! I’ve been eager to talk about this topic, as I often feel that higher ed news sites — owing to time, resources or different priorities — often get short shrift but have great potential to become a hub of information for our various audiences. I wanted to follow up on the show by emphasizing a few points.

We are all publishers now – This is one of the fundamental tenets of content marketing. So we better start acting like it. We are in charge of our own stories, so let’s take charge of the ways we tell and present them. We can’t rely just on positive media coverage. Content is our best marketing tool, so own it.

Don’t follow higher ed – Our audiences aren’t reading and sharing news from other higher ed news sites, so why would we use those as our benchmarks for the online news consumption experience? Also, higher ed is not a leader here (yet). Look to mainstream media, prominent blogs and other online publications to see how they do it. Remember — often, they are working with budget constraints similar to ours.

Mix it up - Online news content can (and should) go far beyond news releases and profiles. Video, audio slideshows, infographics, blogs, live chats, live tweeting, curation, live streaming interviews — all of these are in our arsenal and within our budgets, and they can help us cover stories in new and compelling ways.

Affordable tools like SoundSlides or SlideShowPro can help us create compelling audio-visual slideshows in minutes (and SoundSlides, at least, allows you to export your slideshow as a video clip you can then upload to YouTube). CoverItLive enables both live chats (with a professor talking about the revolution in Egypt, for example) and tweet/chat archives. Storify helps us curate content from a range of different outlets.

Pitching – We can have a great story, but how do we get it out there? If we’re pitching it for external coverage, are we looking beyond just the normal papers and considering blogs (both major and niche)? As David Meerman Scott emphasizes in his book “Real Time Marketing and PR,” news happens in real-time, so position what you’re pitching around current events or whatever the media is currently interested in. Know which way the wind blows. Relatedly, check out Conversation Agent’s thoughts on news discovery and the new PR.

And what about the tried and true press release? How does that need to change? The “social media press release,” a new template for media outreach in the real-time, multimedia web world, takes that traditional content platform and gives it legs. PR firm Shift Communications offers a social media news release template [PDF] and you can read more from Copyblogger, Brian Solis, Social Media Today and PBS MediaShift on the topic.

Distribution – For content we produce ourselves, does our content management system publish in real time, like a blog? (Heck, how about just using a blog platform?) Do you get picked up in Google News or Google Blog Alerts? Do you offer RSS feeds? Do you have an e-mail newsletter? Is there a plan for linking out news stories via social media? Where else do your news stories feed on your website — relevant top level pages? Relevant school sites? If there are no feeds, are you manually sharing relevant links with the appropriate web/communications folks elsewhere at your institution? Have we tagged and categorized our stories properly for findability and organization? Can your web stories get republished in the alumni magazine, with links or QR codes driving people to the web for extra multimedia coverage? Does your news coverage feed into your mobile site/digital signage/etc.?

Relationships, collaboration and voices – Your coverage is only going to be as strong as the relationships behind it. Are you connected to the other communications professionals and content creators/influencers at your institutions? Are you sharing information, story lists, news tips? Are you brainstorming about coverage?

Relatedly, when sitting down to figure out the best way to do online news at your institution, broaden the conversation beyond just your news or PR people. Have the social media folks at the table. Bring the designers. Perhaps most importantly, invite the programmers. See what everyone has to say. Want an outside voice? See if you have an alum who works in online journalism, or invite a staffer from the web newsroom at your local paper.


I wanted to share some of the blogs and online resources that have helped me in my journey through higher ed online news. While some are mainly geared toward professional journalists, there are lots of takeaways for higher ed if we ignore the hand-wringing about paywalls and online advertising :-)

News University – This resource from Poynter, while geared toward professional journalists, is available to anyone doing similar work. News U offers very affordable courses and webinars (priced right for even higher ed!) covering topics that range from video production to photo editing to news writing to introductory jQuery.

Adam Westbrook – This UK-based multimedia journalist is a go-to resource for learning doing video and multimedia work on a budget and a smart thinker on the future of online journalism. He offers a free ebook, “6×6,” that gives advice on the different skillsets that the next generation of multimedia journalist will need.

“New Rules of Marketing and PR” – It’s no secret that I am a David Meerman Scott fangirl, but this book really lays out the fundamental approach to online marketing and communications in a real-time, web-centric environment. Consider it your textbook.

College Web Editor Survey: State of Print and Electronic Publications in Higher Ed – This survey by Karine Joly, released in December 2010, provides some interesting context for online higher ed publications against their print counterparts, with some thoughts on the shift to digital and how to have web and print complement one another.

Leadership Lessons – Amy Mengel of ReadMedia recently launched a monthly series of interviews with higher ed public relations professionals. On the first episode, Jill Jess – associate director of news and media relations at the University of Kansas — discussed her transition to higher ed PR from journalism.

10,000 Words – This blog focuses on the intersection between journalism and technology, always sharing links to cool tools and pointers on emerging trends. The creator, Mark Luckie, now with the Washington Post, also wrote the great book “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook.”

Nieman Lab – This blog, a project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, explores journalism in the internet age.

PBS MediaShift – Presenting itself as “your guide to the digital media revolution,” covers everything from social media to online privacy to mobile to ebooks.

Producing Online News: New Tools, Stronger Stories” – This textbook is authored by Ryan Thornburg, an assistant professor of journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill and a great thinker on the future of news.

What else? I love talking about this stuff, so let’s keep the conversation going!

3 Responses

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Denise Graveline, Georgy Cohen. Georgy Cohen said: My roundup of info & insights on online newsrooms in #highered w/video from @higheredlive – [...]

  2. Hi Georgy!

    While you suggest that we should not follow the lead of other higher ed news sites, I think there is a LOT that Tufts and BU news portals offer which can be, er, followed, if not outright borrowed directly.

    I just pitched an integrated news portal to my team and management this morning. We’ll see how it goes. Our current set of news and alumni portals are built in DotNetNuke, however, I’m also very comfortable in Drupal and WordPress.

    One goal I’ve identified is to be able to repurpose our news content back out into the department sites, into news headline boxes for each department. This could be done in most CMSes using parser pointed at a filtered RSS feed of that department’s news items which appear in the central news site.

    This idea would centralize news production, while decentralizing and distributing news content — without copying and pasting anything.

    • Georgy says:

      Thanks, Jonathan! Good luck with your project. Repurposing your news content is a GREAT idea, for all the reasons you mention. Plus, there’s no better way to gain goodwill than to eliminate work for other people.

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