How much multimedia and digital journalism content is there on University student news websites?

I came across a blog post last week by Mu Lin who writes about how journalism schools in the US are teaching multimedia journalism.  He compared the multimedia and digital journalism content of twelve news sites which are affiliated to or sponsored by universities or J-schools “in an effort to tell how their affiliated journalism schools and programs are embracing the ongoing digital revolution in the journalism profession.”

It was an interesting exercise so I decided to copy develop the idea by looking at some equivalent UK sites.  I’ve broadly followed Mu Lin’s method although I’ve tweaked it a little, as I’ll explain.

How I selected the 7 news sites

I started with the Guardian’s Student Media Awards 2011 shortlist for Website of the Year. I dropped SUSU.TV because that’s specifically video content and more entertainment than news (it’s worth a look!).  I also dropped the Oxonian Globalist because it consists of Economist-style, long-form analytical articles with no multimedia content (on the day of my analysis, at least).  So that left me with Redbrick (University of Birmingham) which was the 2011 winner, The Student Journals (University of Warwick) which was the runner-up and LSMedia (University of Liverpool)

I then added Quays News which is the University of Salford’s website.  (I had to include that, didn’t I!)

I included EastLondonLines which is run by the media department of Goldsmiths.  I like this website, set up in 2009, because of the community it covers.  The East London Line is a new-ish train line which runs from Dalston in East London down to Croydon so the website is an experiment in creating a community out of a transport link.  Nice idea, eh?

I included my old alma mater, the University of Sheffield’s, website, Forge Today.

Finally, I added Gair Rhydd (“Free Word” in Welsh) which is run by students at Cardiff University which has a prominent journalism school.

Method

I’m using the same categories that Mu Lin used for his analysis and, like him, I’m not including text and photos as multimedia content.  Instead, the focus was on video, audio, audio photo slideshow, photo gallery, data visualization, infographics, web-specific writing technique, social media use, etc. (MuLin)

I just looked at the front page of these websites and the content which was linked on there.

Unlike MuLin, I do look at interactivity and engagement e.g. share buttons, comments sections, polls.

Caveats/excuses

I analysed the websites on Tuesday 19th June.  This is not the best time of year to look at student websites since most universities are like ghost towns at the moment.  Some websites I discounted from the analysis for this reason;  they hadn’t been updated in months.

I’m not analysing the quality of the journalism in this exercise.  I’m simply looking at how much multimedia content there is on the front page.

I know I’ve omitted some excellent websites.  If you’d like to suggest some others I should have included, I’ll see if I can carry out this analysis again using some other examples.

I’m not always comparing like with like.  Some of these websites are more closely tied to journalism departments than others (Quays News, for example)

Aims  

I think it’s important to see whether the next generation of journalists is already embracing the digital era, innovating, pushing boundaries, multiskilling.  It’s one thing to learn this in the classroom but are they then applying it to their own journalism practice outside?  Not all the contributors to these websites are journalism students which is refreshing and it’s good to see students from a variety of backgrounds embracing multimedia.

THE ANALYSIS

DATA VISUALISATION (interactive maps, graphic, timeline)

The only example on the day I looked was Gair Rhydd’s very simple pie chart representing the way Guild fee money was spent.  (It’s spoilt by the fact that they couldn’t write £3000.00 accurately!)

I should mention though that the reason Redbrick won the Website of the Year was for its excellent live coverage of the August riots in Birmingham.  It looks like they made good use of interactive maps and time lines (plus CoveritLive and social media) so there are definitely good examples out there of students willing and able to grasp this new-ish area of journalism.

But I thought I’d find more examples of students experimenting with data and visualisation. It would be a great USP for fresh-out-of-college students who need something that makes them stand out from the crowd.  Most newsrooms are full of people (like me) who know very little about data journalism and might well be very keen to take on somebody who can show them a portfolio of work in this field.

VIDEO (Only video originated by students rather than stuff they’d sourced from YouTube and embedded)

4 of the websites had links to video content on their front page.

Quays News – Monton residents campaign against pay-and-display car parking.  This was a new report that had been tweeted about the day before.  It contained interviews with key people and a script narrated by the reporter.

Food hygiene report.  Again, this was a video report with interviews, scripted narration and a piece-to-camera.

Both videos are embedded into the online article and to some extent enrich the story rather than simply reversion it on a different platform.

Latest TV news bulletin.  Quays TV is produced and presented by students and broadcasts every Wednesday afternoon from MediaCity.  It features a mix of live interviews and reports.

Article on plans to redevelop St Peter’s Square contains an originated video of a walkaround showing what the square looks like now.  There is no narration or interviews, just natural sound.  It sits well in the article and is a really good use of video to tell an important side of the story which can ONLY be told in video.  But it’s spoilt by the poor sound quality.

LSMedia – There was no video in their main news items but LSFilm and LSRadio (all under the umbrella of LSMedia) feature on the front page and have videos about their participation in Liverpool Soundcity.  LSFilm’s is just video on a music bed – very creative.  The second from LSRadio centres round a nicely informal discussion with participants.

ForgeToday – Videos are in a separate section on the right hand side rather than embedded in articles.  On the day of the analysis, these were exclusively sports matches with commentary.

Redbricks – has an article about the British tennis pro, Laura Robson.   A video of quick fire questions is embedded into the article.

PHOTO SLIDESHOWS

3 websites featured photo slideshows (without audio.)

Quays News – The article on the Chester Food Festival includes a photo slideshow.

Report on plans to redesign St Peter’s Square contains a photo slideshow.

Redbricks – The review of five different video games uses a Slideshow format which works really engagingly for this subject matter.

Forgetoday – used a standalone slideshow to capture the essence of Sheffield Pride 2012.

SOCIAL MEDIA REPORTING (Storify)

Only Quays News had a social media story on its front page but do see my notes on Redbrick’s Birmingham riots coverage above which used Coveritlive etc.

Quays News – The article on homelessness featured a Storify curation of the reporter’s live tweets about spending a night on the streets of Manchester.  Storify is embedded in the online article and really enriches the online experience.  It includes several YouTube video updates of him talking about his experience.

STANDALONE AUDIO

Quays News – Salford students produce various podcasts using Soundcloud.  “Added Time” is part of a regular series in which students discuss the latest football issues.

The article on the Chester Food festival contains Soundcloud interviews with one of the organisers and a chef.  The article itself had short quotes from the interviewees but the audio went much further and deeper so enriched the online offering.

EastLondonLines – There was a Soundcloud recording of a house sparrow embedded into the article on the decline of the Cockney Sparrow but I suspect it was not originated!

EastLondonLines – The online article about a local college head getting a CBE had a Soundcloud interview with a student at the college.  The interview certainly enriched the online experience but it wasn’t properly incorporated into the article.  It was just tagged on to the end with nothing to tell the reader what it might contain.

INTERACTIVITY (polls, comments)

Most of the websites gave readers a chance to leave a comment, the exception being Quays News.

Redbricks – had a comments option at the end of articles.

Redbricks – poll asking if Usain Bolt will break World Record.

StudentJournals – Quick poll – Was this the best Premier League Season you have ever watched?

Student Journals – had a comments option at the end of articles and a “Best Comments” column on the front page.

LSMedia –  had a comments option at the end of articles

LSMedia – poll – Should the UK follow the ECHR’s ruling on giving prisoners the vote?

East LondonLines –  Featured videos on home page shows creative side of students’ work.

ForgeToday – had a comments option at the end of articles

Gair Rhydd – had a comments option at the end of articles

Conclusion

It was good to see Salford doing so well in the use of multimedia on the day I observed!  Phew!  But the majority of websites were looking for ways to enrich and expand the delivery of their stories on a digital platform and that’s a really good thing to see.

There were some glaring missed opportunities.  Gair Rhydd’s article on the 30th anniversary of the university’s bellringing society surely cried out for a video/audio of the bell ringing?!

On the writing for the web side, some articles were still too long with no sub headings and few pictures to ease the reader through and keep them engaged.  Only Redbrick used a “fact box” for example to add a bite size extra bit of information and had links to related articles. Several websites made good use of hyperlinks.

Redbrick and LSMedia a ticker feed at the top of the website carrying the latest news.

I thought there would have been more interactivity on the front page in the shape of polling, for example.  I didn’t see any instances of websites reaching out to the audience to ask for their stories/experience on a particular subject.  It seems to me that the nature of a university community, especially a campus, lends itself to this kind of collaborative journalism project and could act as a springboard for all kinds of innovation.  For example, websites could ask students for their experiences – good and bad – about getting jobs to fund themselves through their studies.

I look forward to your comments and do please pass on any really good examples of innovative multimedia journalism on university websites.

6 thoughts on “How much multimedia and digital journalism content is there on University student news websites?

  1. Hi Liz, interesting analysis and I’m pleased to see my old paper (website) Redbrick doing well. I know you were concentrating on the home pages, but I thought you might be interested in the hubs that Redbrick has been using to cover everything from Guild Council meetings to the campus elections this year.

    Combining polls, live updates, photos etc:

    http://www.redbrickpaper.co.uk/elections/
    http://www.redbrickpaper.co.uk/guildcouncil/
    http://www.redbrickpaper.co.uk/bucs/

    • Thanks for commenting and for pointing me in the direction of those links. I just took a quick look and they’re really interesting. Perhaps I should do a follow up post looking at the “best of” multimedia on student websites.
      I had to limit the analysis in some way hence I only looked at the front pages – so I knew I’d be missing some great content. My hope was that it would encourage people to send some innovative Multimedia student projects my way – which you did!

  2. Hi – a bit mean to do this in late June. Our term is over and we are running http://www.eastlondonlines.co.uk with volunteers until the next batch of students kick in. Had you looked earlier in the year you would have found we have a great deal of multi media work. We did some wonderful stuff on the Spoken Word using stop frame animation, we have video cycle routes through East London, we had video coverage of the mayoral elections, we regularly use Google maps and have social media fully integrated. The site is run by a cycle of students including MA TV journalism and MA Radio. Had you checked it in May you would have found rich use of sound every day for five weeks. In February through March we had far more video.
    Come back and check us out again!
    Angela Phillips

    • Thanks for getting in touch. Yes, I explained in my intro that it wasn’t the best time of year to do it. But it was in response to the US analysis which had been done the week before so the timing was dictated by that.
      I am very familiar with the work ELL does because I lived in Forest Hill until 14 months ago so right on your patch.
      I definitely want to do the analysis again but I’d also like to do a follow-up looking at the “best of” MM in student media so if you could point me in the direction of some good stuff, that would be great. The work you mention in your comment sounds really interesting.

  3. I don’t see how hard it is to know what the audio on the Maxine Room article would be about, after all the article was about the head and nobody else, so obviously the audio would have been and surprise,surprise was about Maxine Room.

    • Thanks for getting in touch. My point was that it was a good piece of audio that added to the story so it was a shame it was right at the end of the article where it looked a bit lost! I felt it might have had more impact if you’d made it more prominent and placed it in the main body of the article. I’m a radio person so I like audio! So the more prominent I can make it, the better.

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