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Developing a Mindset of Digital First

March 18, 2012

The adviser of the Pasadena City College Courier in Southern California recently posted on the Journalism of Community Colleges listserv his justifiable pride in the fact that a mere five hours or so after California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott made the announcement that he was stepping down,  the campus newspaper had the story online.  They’ve recently and firmly adopted the philosophy of digital first.  That is, when they think of news stories and when they make assignments, they think about their online paper, not their print paper.

This is something that many of us community college advisers have been pushing for some time.  But this is easier said than done for, even with students who routinely go to digital media first, not print.

That’s not to say we haven’t had our successes.  The Skyline View has had its successes, most notably when they covered a shooting on campus.  A witness charged into the newsroom during the first half hour of the first print production night of the fall semester to tell us what happened. Within minutes, the college was on lock down as the SWAT team went building by building to evacuate the campus.  Print went out the window completely.  It was all digital, baby.  The staff found a temporary home at a team member’s house in Pacifica.  Everyone went full throttle, pumped on adrenaline, posting continually until midnight and producing–in addition to updates as the night went on–a map of the campus and the events, a reaction piece, a news story and more.

The very next fall, the San Bruno fire hit during our first print cycle of that semester.  Again, the print edition became the afterthought as staff posted stories, updates, photos and video online as soon as they could. Obviously, no one thought, “Hmm, our print deadline isn’t for another two days; I’ve got time before this story is due.”  Nope.  They went right from reporting to posting.

The challenge is to keep that mindset when there is no crisis.

Ultimately, digital first reporters–and their advisers–must re-envision their priorities. Steve Buttry of Digital First Media has some suggestions on what these priorities should be:

“Whatever your job, you need to make high priorities to:

  • Work and think first for digital platforms.
  • Experiment and take risks.
  • Try new tools & techniques.
  • Cover news live.
  • Join, stimulate, curate and lead the community conversation.
  • Engage the community in your coverage.”

Does this mean the print edition is no longer important?  Not at all.  In fact, even in this era of iPhones and iPads, college newspapers in their hard copies are still widely read and viable.  At Skyline College, it’s likely that more of the campus picks up the paper than logs onto the newspaper website. We’re a relatively small campus and the reach of the physical newspaper is high.

That’s not the point, though.  The point is that up and coming journalists need to think digitally first if they want careers in journalism.  And their campus newspapers need to give them that experience.

Student journos, have you made the transition to thinking digitally first?  Why or why not?  Advisers, how have you helped foster this mindset?

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