The Web has never been noisier. With thousands of higher ed institutions competing for attention and an ever-growing number of media outlets, social networks and Twitter feeds, it can be difficult for university communications officials to get their school’s story heard. The problem is compounded when each department within a school has its own separate communications strategy, siloed from the rest of the campus. The result is a cluttered, cacophonous chaos of websites and press releases.
To cut through the noise, some schools are creating single, dedicated campus news sites. Tufts University recently launched “Tufts Now,” which is, in our opinion, the best example of what a university news site should be. Web communicator Georgy Cohen, who worked with the school to design and implement the site, recently gave Higher Ed Live a run-down of its key elements.
Cohen says the big advantage of a single news site is the convenience of having a single, at-a-glance destination for everyone involved in gathering, publicizing, and consuming campus news. “You want to make it easier on your user,” she explains, “whether it’s your internal or external community.”
One of the nice side-effects is that more people not directly related to the university are coming in contact with Tufts, because the single destination helps Tufts’ stories rank higher in search engine results. “We feel we’ve done something that measures up to what our users need, but also what they expect from online news in general,” Cohen says.
The homepage is the filter: it lets visitors know what are, in the opinion of real-life human editors, the most intriguing stories. It features a spotlight story with a big visual to catch visitors’ attention. Cohen says that Soundslides, an app downloadable to Mac or PC, is a convenient and affordable tool for creating slideshows that incorporate audio, still pictures, and video. Of course, the homepage also provides links for quick navigation to particular niche interests, such as faculty research, student and alumni events, classes, art exhibits, campus-based polls, press releases, articles, audio slideshows and videos.
Rather than trying to have one’s own small communications or media-relations office write all the content for the site, an online newsroom works more as a news hub, linking many types of readers to many content writers on campus. For example, Tufts’ news room culls tidbits from the university’s presence on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, raising viewers’ awareness of those outlets in the process.
Thus it’s important to build and maintain a network of good working relationships with the creators of that content, such as heads of various offices and departments on campus. “What really powers the site is those relationships,” Cohen stresses.
For ideas on visual presentation, looking outside the campus network for help might be prudent. Other major news outlets’ websites, such as NPR, The Guardian, FoxNews, and ESPN, as well as other college news sites like Boston University, serve as exemplars of how to make the site attractive and practical for users. Drupal provided the technical tools to get Tufts’ news site started, though we think that WordPress can function well for communications offices working on a lower budget.
To get started, Cohen encourages prospective news site designers to…
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