Since I’m on sabbatical leave this semester, I wasn’t originally planning on going to the National College Media Convention. But after thinking it over, I decided a couple of days before the convention that I would go after all. The convention was just a short train ride down to Washington, DC. And it would be good to see my student editors from The Quad, West Chester University’s award-winning student newspaper.
I’m glad I went. On Thursday afternoon, I enjoyed the keynote address by Rob Curley. I heard Rob three years ago when he was doing great things at the Lawrence, Kansas Journal-World. In particular, he was a pioneer in developing deep, rich content for the web, and saw early on the importance of the web for local newspapers. Last year he took a dream job as vice president for product development at Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive. In this position he has helped guide an extensive team of “convergence journalists” who create content for the Washington Post-Newsweek family of web sites, including most notably, washingtonpost.com.
I’m not sure how many in the audience truly appreciated how rapidly Rob Curley rose in his profession, or how amazingly prescient his advice was a few years ago when he spoke at the College Media Convention in Nashville in 2004. But I hope that at least some of the students who heard him speak Thursday afternoon take heed of his suggestions…
- Local newspapers must own local breaking news. Newspaper staffs are typically the largest news staffs in any market, easily outdistancing the resources of local broadcast news outlets. Yet when it comes to breaking news, people often turn to broadcasters. Newspapers need to realize that the web can help them in the effort to be the authoritative voice for breaking news.
- Newspapers should embrace platform-independent delivery. The most important part of the word newspaper is news, not paper. Most journalists today write for both print and web, and many create audio and video content as well. Newspapers can and should be the dominant sources of news content in any platform. Convergence journalism isn’t just a trend; it’s today’s reality.
- Newspaper websites should be about dialog, not monologue. Too many newspapers ‘t just “shovel” their print content into a web template. But that’s not how the web works…at least not effective web sites. People want to be able to participate. Give readers a voice on the web. Use the web to connect with your audience.
- Embrace change with the right mindset. There are plenty of people in the newspaper business who resist change, who pine for the “old days.” But change is inevitable, and those entering the journalism field would do well to position themselves for change. This means having both a broad skill set and an open mindset. Having a variety of talents can open a lot of doors, but having a bad attitude can close a lot more.
Although it was a very fast-paced keynote, and at times a bit overwhelming, I left feeling good about what I’ve been telling my students for years now. And it made me feel good about advising student media. Journalists really do make an important contribution to the world. I’m honored to work with students who may be someday become the next Rob Curleys of the world.