Future of College Media: What makes a good college website work?

This post is the seventh in a series of 10 about the future of collegiate journalism, focusing on specific projects undertaken by members of college journalists around the country. This post covers the value of having a good website for a college media site, and lists some examples.

Screenshot of the Berkeley Beacon website on May 17, 2012

The importance of having a well-designed and user-friendly website should be an upmost priority for collegiate journalists, because as the future of journalism begins to shift online, college papers should be on the front lines of change. Although college students on average prefer a print college newspaper to an online one, online stories and content are important for people who don’t have access to a print edition. It’s also a good playground to experiment and show off digital talents to future employers. For this post, I’m going to list a handful of well-designed collegiate newspaper websites, then analyze what traits make them successful.

  • The Chronicle (Duke University)

While I haven’t posted too much about The Chronicle’s content, I do find their website intriguing. As with most other papers, they use a rotator near the top of the page to showcase stories from all different sections of their coverage. There’s no real integration with their social media outlets, other than links to the normal social media sites. The site also utilizes the same design motif used by the New York Times, in terms of the columnized way of showing off content. However, there’s a few oddities, including the weird spacing present between stories, and I dislike the grey color scheme.

  • Oregon Daily Emerald (University of Oregon)

I’ve written hundreds of words about my admiration for the Emerald, and their website is no different. While it uses the same columnized style as the The Chronicle, it’s spaced more evenly and feels much more news-y. There’s no rotator, so content has to be updated frequently to avoid staleness. Unlike most websites, the Emerald does not have a ‘recent comment’ or ‘most read’ section on their front page, which I actually support. Links to those kind of stories actually work best when presented next to an individual story, to encourage the reader to continue reading. Having it on the front page is too personal and blog-like, and distracts from the professional attitude a college paper should take.

  • The Red and Black (University of Georgia)

Although its not breaking any new ground, the Red and Black’s website is solidly built and executed well. They have a rotator, and have a slightly smaller columnized story format, with pictures included for almost all the stories. Generally, it’s a very traditionally designed site, down to the promotion of email updates at the very top of the page. There’s a few links to social media sites, including a large Facebook link, but it’s generally downplayed in favor of the stories. Overall, it’s a well-designed site, but The Red and Black won’t fool anyone into believing it’s a professional news site; its still very collegiate.

  • The Berkeley Beacon (Emerson College)

Unlike the other organizations on this list, the Berkeley Beacon is not a daily, and its staff isn’t huge. It’s more indicative of a ‘normal’ college paper, which means it has a small staff, low pay and comes out once a week. Which makes its website more amazing. According to this Nieman Journalism Lab article, the Beacon’s website is based upon the extremely popular Boston Globe site. Although they do not produce as much as content as other, daily college papers, the Beacon has one of the most unique web designs of any college newspaper I’ve seen. There’s a ton of white space, and the design is very simple, echoing the lines and design of a print newspaper without any traditional drop down menus or other ordinary website aspects.

So what makes those websites successful? Here’s a list:

  1. Social Media Presence: As I’ve written before, social media can be a great resource for college newspapers if done right. Just with this blog alone, nearly half of my views have come from social media sites, so I know firsthand the help it can provide to a website. But one also needs to make sure their social media is fairly represented on their site as well, and not just regulated to a small link on the side. Content posted on Facebook should be easily accesible through a website, and vice-versa.
  2. Don’t be something you’re not: As tempting as it can be to deck out a website with tons of cool features, the examples of the Berkeley Beacon (and The Daily Californian) simplicity is the future for web design. It’s much easier to find stories in these kind of designs, and it isn’t offensive to look at as well. The intelligent uses of white space and simplistic color schemes draw direct connections to reading an actual newspaper.
  3. Think of the readers: When posting something, remember to think, “How would the average reader look at our front page, and what do they want to see?” Generally, readers like new and updated content, stories they can either relate to or find important and ease of access; all of which are important anyways for collegiate journalists.
  4. Online is a medium, not a copy: Many collegiate websites, especially those that publish on a weekly basis, are centered around publishing a ton of stories once a week reposted from the print edition, and leaving it alone. As detailed in this excellent College Media Matters Post, collegiate news websites have a plethora of options available online, and yet usually choose to use their site as mainly a reposting site for print-edition articles. Breaking this trap is one of the essential steps in changing collegiate websites into actually viable mediums for journalism, rather than a place to only post print edition stories.

One thought on “Future of College Media: What makes a good college website work?

  1. I think that everything composed was actually very logical.
    However, what about this? what if you were to write a awesome
    headline? I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to run your blog, but suppose you added a post title that grabbed folk’s attention?
    I mean Future of College Media: What makes a good
    college website work? Life of Riley is kinda
    vanilla. You ought to look at Yahoo’s front page and watch how they create post headlines to grab people to open the links. You might try adding a video or a related picture or two to grab readers interested about everything’ve got to say.
    Just my opinion, it might bring your posts a little livelier.

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