Yardstick – Part 1 by Russ
January 27, 2009, 1:45 am
Filed under: Russ

In trying to figure out where to go from here, it really helps to figure out where here exactly is.

Unlike “real-world” publications, there are no good yardsticks to measure the relative success of a journalism student publication, and judging our Observer against professional publications isn’t fair (or maybe it is, if we want to end up in that world?)

We like to compare ourselves favorably to the Eagle but that’s a campus newspaper, a different animal altogether. There are strong student publications here at AU – for example, the “American Way of Life,” an undergraduate progressive student publication – but regrettably I couldn’t find it online anywhere.

If you mention some of AU SOC’s competitors in the graduate journalism field, it will probably make our beloved faculty’s teeth grind (I’ve tried it, you should too.) So maybe looking to see what they’re doing would be helpful – not to copy, but to get a sense of where we stand in the world. As many college and university administrators will tell you trying to quantify an institution’s faculty, curriculum and mission and rank them is unfair and not really possible, but competition is a driving force in real world journalism – the uncontrollable urge to get the scoop, no matter how small, even if readers don’t actually spend their mornings comparing news coverage.

I’ll make some brief comments, but the goal of this blog is to use the technology’s capabilities to the fullest and create an ongoing, free-flowing discussion, so the reader’s thoughts are as/more important than my own. If you happen to just be a graduate student journalism aficionado and have thoughts about what we’re missing the boat on, or what we’ve got right, tell us. If you’re a member of the AU SOC community (including the Observer staff and our beloved faculty) and you don’t like how the Observer compares, say why (via email to me to share with my classmates if you’re shy about putting an unfavorable comparison out there on the Web with your name or in the comments section) – what do you see the competition doing that we’re not?

The Competition:

Columbia University’s Journalism School: Probably the best known j-school, they’ve got more than a dozen student published Web sites, some continually updated and some not. A few of the more interesting:

  • The Columbia Journalist is a very similar product to the Observer. I really am not a fan of the Drupal CMS we use, and it’s hard to say what they’re using (at least for me,) but I like the look of our Web site better. The school’s site claims this is the best work from the Columbia News Service – a wire service that pushes student content. We have an internal queue of unused stories, but I kind of like the idea of more selectively choosing what work we run, and offering the rest for syndication. The New York Times is one of the distributors.
  • The Brooklyn Ink is intended to be an honest-to-god resource on the Web for news about Brooklyn. We’ve tossed around the idea of trying to focus the Observer as a more serious news site covering the District, but that’s for a future post. Until I get to that, this site offers some food for thought. They use the WordPress CMS and it looks great. This will also be the topic of a future post, but again, interesting to see what else is out there.

Northwestern’s Medill School has a couple of listed graduate student publications, namely two (one for the Chicago students and one for the students in D.C. that is currently on hiatus) that are pretty similar to our own publications – a general news/feature Web site. The Chicago site that’s currently up offers a mixed bag of what students are working on, and like our Transition Tracker several smaller projects with select groups of students working on specific projects, for example Medill on the Hill .

The hill project has a Twitter feed like us, but not with the same effect as our participation with the Inauguration Report.

This is hopefully enough to get some discussions going about where we are, and where we might want to go. As the semester continues, I’ll not only be following our stuff, I’ll watch to see where the others are going.


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[…] the AU world, I think it’s useful to compare what other J-school grad students are doing as a yardstick to figure out what we’re doing right and wrong. We’ve hit something of a slump, but I […]

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