GANAHL ON MEDIA: Happy B-Day BU Now!

While BU Now’s student staff is excited by a future one student editor describes as “unimaginable,” some college media pioneers involved in the site’s launch seem surprised by apparently aggressive challenges to its development from several faculty and campus media since its launch in April 2008.

BU Now is an independent, multi-media, student-managed, blog and news site that is a student organization recognized by the student government. Visitor traffic to BU Now in its first two years of operation has surprised the staff.

“I thought BU Now would only reach a small audience,” is how one editor expressed his initial expectations of the site. But Google Analytics has recorded nearly 166,000 page views from almost 75,000 visitors in 123 countries since the site’s launch. Please see related graphic for a summary of visitor traffic to BU Now.

Launched two-years ago this month, BU Now may be unique among the country’s growing number of college digital media for several reasons.

First, it is a student-edited blog and news site hosted on a university server that accepts both on and off campus postings that are student-moderated. Secondly, it ‘stands alone,’ and is independent of other student media. Thirdly, it sought to build from its inception cooperative and converged editorial relationships within the campus and community media ecosystem.

As BU Now approaches its second anniversary, I thought it important to capture the thoughts of the college media pioneers involved in or familiar with BU Now’s creation. I conducted a series of e-interviews (published at this link) with these campus media pioneers in February 2010. Nearly 90%, or 23 of 26, responded to my e-interview requests (In the interest of disclosure, I serve as BU Now’s founding faculty advisor).

The interview questions range from the media pioneers’ initial expectations of BU Now and thoughts about the nature of media convergence, to reflections on those conditions that helped or hindered BU Now’s development and their future hopes for the site

So, what do these media pioneers think of their BU Now experience two years after its launch?

Initially, the media pioneers had “no idea what to expect…we were starting from scratch (and) didn’t have a firm enough grasp…to know what (we were) getting into.” Some “wondered if anyone would take notice of it,” while one print media editor, “was initially concerned about how BU Now was going to impact college media” on campus. A student broadcast editor asked, “Why step on someone else’s toes?” when commenting on the site’s launch.

Undaunted, the students responded with ”tremendous energy and enthusiasm,” as they prepared to cover the 2008 presidential election during the first semester of operation. “We set up an election-central newsroom…had instant coverage of returns…and were there with on-the-spot video coverage of the spontaneous celebration in downtown,” recalls one media advisor/staff.

The election effort created a multi-platform partnership involving BU Now, the Voice newspaper and BloomUtoday.com that produced 71 stories about the 2008 Election that have attracted over 26,600 visitors to BU Now. The multi-media election coverage includes stories, podcasts, slideshows and videos.

Similar multi-platform partnerships between BU Now, and the campus paper and community website covered both the Homecoming 2008 dance controversy and the Block Party 2009.

The complete converged-media coverage of Homecoming 2008 includes 9 stories, three videos, two editorials, pictures and the posting of a complete copy of the Panel to Investigate Campus Climate and Security final report released in February 2009. The combined coverage has attracted over 13,300 visitors to BU Now.

Complete converged-media coverage of the Block Party 2009 includes 10 stories, four videos, pictures, an editorial and a ‘gonzo-style’ first-person report of the day’s events. This editorial coverage has attracted over 10,800 visitors to BU Now.

Included in this coverage is the Campus Block Party Information Session hosted by BU Now. Forum panelists included the town mayor, the town and campus police chiefs, the university’s student affairs vice-president and student representatives of Greek and residence life. The event received front-page coverage by the community’s daily newspaper the Press-Enterprise.

Election Night 2008 on Bloomsburg University’s campus from BU Now on Vimeo.
This year BU Now has solidified its staff structure, utilized social media sites such as Facebook and its group BU Now Editors in editorial promotional strategies, and expanded its participation in the national College Media Association. Six students were sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts to make two presentations at CMA’s national spring convention in NYC.

It has also expanded relations with the university’s Office of Communications and campus organizations. As one broadcast editor explains, “BU Now has…allowed organizations and other campus media to promote and report events…which in turn gives BU Now a great standing with competing media, as well as, helps promote the site even more.”

A campus media student editor says, “I realized it was something much different and was actually very innovative…it allow(s) all students on campus to become involved in campus media without having to necessarily join the staff of one.”

The college media pioneers credit several factors that assisted in BU Now’s rapid development. “By far the most supportive entity has been its human resources-its dedicated staff and their faculty advisors,” concludes one student now graduated that served as editor for both the newspaper and BU Now.

Other students credit the university’s support. One student commented, “(the university) as a whole seemed to be very supportive of the project…and (its) technology (support) definitely helped the site.” Another student “was impressed with how easy the school gave us a domain name, and we have had great help with the set-up and design…as well.”

The initially supportive role of the campus newspaper is acknowledged by several students.”(We) made sure that both of our organizations could work together and at the same time not try to swallow each other,” explains a former print editor, “some of the (paper’s) writers contributed to the site.” One student said, “The strongest relationship…BU Now has is with the campus newspaper.”

In contrast to factors supporting its development, students noted several factors that hindered BU Now’s initial development.

“I think the main thing would be the fact that they do not have their own office. College students…need to feel that they are really a part of something,” explained an editor of another campus media. BU Now still has no dedicated office space. Much of the editorial work is done on the students’ computers in their own homes or apartments.

Secondly, others think the relationships between BU Now and some campus media eventually hindered its initial development. One former student involved in several campus media concludes, “For some reason I feel that the campus media tend to be very defensive of their turf and staff,” when commenting on recruitment challenges.

An editor of another campus media remembers, “BU Now was kind enough to add a tab for the paper…(to post) articles on the web. Unfortunately the paper dropped the ball in returning the favor.”

BU block party info session from Connor Showalter on Vimeo.
One former site editor notes the, “bickering between BU Now and the (newspaper) was definitely counterproductive,” while a current site editor describes the relationship between the two media as, ”a good relationship that turned sour.”

Thirdly, one student thinks BU Now’s very nature as a blog-news site may have hindered its development. It “was hard to communicate to the campus…It is a concept that students outside of the mass communications field might not be familiar with.” Another commenting on this aspect said, “the technology of blogs and forms of multimedia to relay news was something that was not widely utilized or familiar to the campus as well as others during the (launch) time.”

More than one student commented on the perceived tension between BU Now and some faculty members. “Admittedly, we were a young publication, still finding our way…(but) a lack of support – even criticism – was never going to encourage our staff,” is how one former editor characterized the reactions of several faculty. Another student simply said, “I think that the clash between certain faculty hindered (our) growth.”

But today, no student seems focused on the past, and almost all believe in a future that could be “something unimaginable.” All believe ‘technology is on their side.’ As one claims, “BU Now WILL be a multi-billion dollar website!!” because as another says BU Now is the, “very model of Media Convergence.”

For these media pioneers the future is one where the, “top columnists upload one or two articles a week…(while others)…upload daily bite-size blogs about the teams they are covering…and weekly video interviews…and original videos from students or campus groups…(and) short films or skits to promote…or entertain…(are included with) podcasts hosted,” by radio show DJ’s.

This is the future for these media pioneers. A future that includes “investigative journalism,” and a, “full, diverse staff of writers, videographers, reporters, graphic artists, information tech students, business and marketing students.”

Admittedly, “these are dreams of course.” But at BU Now…dreams are allowed…even encouraged.

Charge!

Dr. Richard Ganahl is a professor in mass communications at Bloomsburg University, PA. His column GANAHL ON MEDIA is an occasional column about media issues. Ganahl is a former media manager, publisher, entrepreneur and consultant. He is co-editor with Dr. Louisa Ha of the award-winning Webcasting Worldwide (2007), and the founding faculty advisor of BU Now, a multi-media, student-managed media blog site.

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