HOW TO THINK DIGITAL FIRST
Here is a must read on how to get your mind past the print first concept to the digital first concept.

AN EXAMPLE OF A COLLEGE DIGITAL FIRST OPERATION
The following is from The Convergence Newsletter published by Newsplex at the University of South Carolina. Could Doane Student Media use this as a model to develop its digital-first program?

A Changing College Newsroom: From Convergence to Digital First to What’s Next
By Aaron Chimbel, Texas Christian University

The rapid evolution of a college newsroom is easy to see at Texas Christian University, where student media is focused around TCU 360, a digital-first news organization that has overtaken the campus newspaper to be the central news source.

It has been a methodical shift that we’ve chronicled through several articles in The Convergence Newsletter. The TCU Daily Skiff, an 111-year-old newspaper, was the primary news outlet on campus. Then in July 2011 the Schieffer School of Journalism launched TCU 360 to be the home of all student-produced journalism including the Skiff, the TCU News Now television broadcast and Image magazine. However, each outlet largely produced its own content and the website’s small staff had little time for original digital reporting.

That changed last year with the shift to a digital-first approach. TCU 360 – not the Skiff – became the primary news organization. While the paper was still printed four times a week, the entire news gathering infrastructure for student media was moved under one executive editor for 360, with the goal of producing news in real time. Each program still had a student leader, but those jobs changed dramatically, as the Skiff editor and News Now executive producer organized content already produced and no longer assigned stories.

“The website is becoming the preferred way of receiving news on campus,” said Taylor Prater, a managing editor for TCU 360 in spring 2013. “Watching traffic grow and seeing social media response has helped me see its impact on the student body.”

Through these changes and others, including moving all the news products into a single lab in 2009, everything was converged but the advisers. There remained three: one for print, one for broadcast, and one for the website.

Enter Kent Chapline, who was hired in 2012 as a faculty member in the Schieffer School after serving as executive producer of digital media for CBSDFW.com, the converged website for two television stations and two radio stations owned by CBS in Dallas-Fort Worth. He became director of student media in 2013 to provide a singular focus – and he knows exactly what he wants to do.

“My goal for TCU 360 is for it to compete with – and beat – the pros when it comes to innovative storytelling,” Chapline says. “Our students are smart, creative, and energetic. They love journalism, they love storytelling, and they love the possibilities of digital media. That combination is all they need.”

Chapline points to The New York Times’ “Snow Fall,” the Peabody Award-winning immersive multimedia story about an avalanche in Washington state, as a model for students to push the limits of storytelling.

“It’s a great example of the power of a good idea executed well,” Chapline said. “Few news outlets have the resources to pull off a project as good as ‘Snow Fall’ – although that doesn’t stop them from trying. But anybody can come up with the idea for a ‘Snow Fall.’ That’s got nothing to do with the size or resources of the news outlet.”

Aiming to do innovative work is something Executive Editor Olivia Caridi says the digital-first focus allows.

“Students working for student media spend most of their time experimenting with tools for the Web and less time trying to innovate the printed Daily Skiff,” says Caridi, who returned as executive editor for fall 2013.

The other big change for 2013-14 is that the Daily Skiff is dropping the daily and is being reborn as a weekly paper with a new focus on in-depth coverage of important issues and less event coverage.

The goal is to produce more journalism while still giving students the opportunity to produce a paper as well as provide a vibrant product for advertisers.

“I think the last step is to put full effort into making student media a completely digital operation,” Caridi said. “Ultimately, the Skiff is a historic product, but students and faculty aren’t picking it up, and the interest in newspapers just isn’t there anymore. If we could use the staff and energy to put full effort into the website, I think digital first would really take off at TCU.”

Advisors are working on a redesign for the website, which will be responsive, meaning the same page will conform to the device being viewed. Combined, smart phones and tablets already account for nearly 40 percent of visits to TCU 360.

One of Caridi’s managing editors for fall 2013, Jordan Rubio, says that while progress in digital journalism had been made, the work is not yet done and that, realistically, there will always be new challenges.

“Overall, I think that our imaginations need to lead us where we need to go next and that there is a great deal left to do,” Rubio said. “We need to evolve as a news organization that can use other tools such as databases … to fully tell a story.”

Students say the digital-first evolution has taken time, with some improvements and imperfections. Prater, who was also visual editor, one of the top positions in fall 2012, during the first semester of digital first, said things have gotten better after about a year.

“We’ve done a good job about assigning reporters to breaking stories and making quicker deadlines as well as planning a more efficient editing process to get the story online as soon as possible,” Prater said. “Communication is much better.”

But Rubio says the smoother organization hasn’t translated to using all that digital journalism can offer.

“When it comes to breaking news stories, we only have text and photos,” he said. “We need to incorporate some other media such as video and infographics. Nevertheless, 360 has evolved to become more digital first in its approach.”

Chapline says the operation might never be fully digital first given the nature of a news organization that is integrated with courses as well as several media products.

“It’s close, and maybe this is as close as it’s possible to get,” Chapline said. “The outlier is our television programs. As it stands right now, most of the stories produced by students in the newscast and sportscast classes are done specifically for those television programs. The stories run online, but that’s not their first destination. Likewise, the programs themselves are produced from a television-first perspective.”

The challenge, in part, is that students still want – and are getting – jobs in television newsrooms, where specific skills are required.

“Certainly, it would be possible to produce both the stories and the programs themselves as digital-first products,” said Chapline, who spent 20 years at television stations in Texas and Oklahoma. “But I think the nature of television programs, and the television industry, is such that we would be doing our students a disservice by adopting that approach.”

But there remains room to experiment in student media, which receives financial support from the university and doesn’t have to make a profit. The rapid turnover of the student staff each year also allows quick changes in organizational structure, Chapline said.

“In student media we have the luxury of being very nimble in the way we operate,” he said.

It’s flexibility that professional news organizations don’t always have.

“As managers in professional newsrooms across the country can verify, it can be very difficult to teach old dogs new tricks,” Chapline said. “Some established journalists aren’t comfortable with digital technology; others are simply unwilling to learn. With rare exceptions, our student journalists don’t have those problems.

“It’s also easier to experiment and fail in student media. That’s vital; it’s part of the learning process. But pros often don’t have that luxury.”

So the focus is on producing journalism and preparing students for the digital world, even if they may not end up working in a digital-first newsroom, though the digital skills and mindset are something most legacy newsrooms want too.

“They’re learning that a story is a story regardless of where it’s published,” Chapline said. “The important thing is for journalists to reach their audience on the audience’s terms.”

The good news is the students have bought in. They’re ready for the challenge and are full of ideas on how to meet it.

“Digital first has the potential to make student media, and all media organizations, tell complete stories from all sorts of different angles and let us be part of the community,” Rubio said. “It is truly an exciting time.”