College daily newspapers are gradually dropping print

Four out of 10 college dailies are no longer printing daily.

How do I know? I checked the status of every college paper listed in a 1997 study by John Bodle that identified 101 college dailies. Back then, Bodle was trying to assess the relative independence of college newspapers from their host institution.

In doing so, he created a system to describe and categorize the schools based on their funding and structure. Looking across his original typology (which may or may not be accurate in today’s environment), the fate of college dailies has been fairly consistent. However, there is slightly more daily print publication still happening at college newspapers with more of an independent tilt. But not by much. And it’s also worth noting that if Bodle’s survey was administered again, we’d probably see some shift in the typology. A few more schools may have gained or lost aspects of independence in the last 20 years.

Type % not daily
Moderately curriculum-based (25) 44%
Moderately independent (27) 30%
Strong independent (12) 33%
Mixed (36) 42%

Of course, a vast majority of all of these newspapers — probably all but one or two schools — are publishing online daily and have potentially greater reach and influence than their 1997 counterparts. Because audience analytics data is often fiercely guarded, it would be hard to know which college daily has the largest digital footprint.

You can view a full data sheet here showing each institution’s newspaper along with the original typology and its publishing frequency as it could be determined in fall 2015.

If you know of a college daily that’s not on my list but should be, drop me a note in the comments.

*I added a link to my source table and edited this post after publication for clarity.

An idea to LATCH on to: how to organize any field of information

This might be one of those “duh” concepts, but when I first encountered it, it was oddly more like “a-ha!”

The task of organizing information has never been more vital. We are now awash in information. What makes information useful is how it is organized. The discipline of organizing information can be called “information architecture.” And to keep that idea going, anyone who works to organize information can be called an “information architect.” So a skilled journalist can be an information architect. Editors and page designers, yes. Infographic artists, of course. Web designers. All sorts of people involved in communication.

There is a simple tool that can help anyone become an information architect. It’s easy to remember, too. You can thank Richard Wurman for it. Here it is: LATCH.

  • Location: Where something is physically located: maps, parts of a cell, addresses
  • Alphabet: Listing of text ranked by alphabetical order: rosters, phone books, encyclopedias
  • Time: Duration or placement in time: dates, time spans, timelines, processes
  • Category: Groupings of things by something they have in common: think of departments in a department store or sections in a newspaper
  • Hierarchy: Ranked by values, either quantitative or qualitative: money, height, military rank, size, importance

Applying one organizational factor against another is how we get things like charts and graphs, and insight. For example: the value of stock prices (hierarchy) of tech companies vs. manufacturing (category) over three years (time).

Designer == Coder

lots of folks have been talking about how designers need to learn how to code. i agree, but also: should developers learn design principles?

There should always be a little cross-training in every industry. It improves communication and mutual respect. A serious UI/UX designer isn’t trying to just make something “pretty.” More like, “pretty awesome.” (Heh!) But experts should be left to do what they do best: design experiences or code the backend. Very few can do both equally well. One of the complications is that on the web, there are no decent design tools. On the Web, design is CSS. The code is the design control. Instead of a paint bucket with red as the color, you have to create or specify an HTML object and give it this property:

background: #c00000;

And in order to “paint” on an HTML canvas, a designer needs to know some code to get it done. I don’t think anyone should expect a UX designer to code advanced queries and JavaScript. But he should be able to clearly describe the user’s needs and expectations, and understand the capabilities and limitations of every technology — just as an established print designer knows some paper types have better color reproduction than others.

When I interned at the Naples Daily News in 2006, I designed newspaper layouts as a copy editor. The layout software we used was code-based. Every headline, byline, photo caption and article text had to be set with special codes not unlike HTML. I had an epiphany later on, thinking back on this experience while I was dabbling in advanced CSS: Programs like QuarkXPress and InDesign merely removed the coding aspect from design. It replaced markup with buttons and toolboxes.

Today, when I “design” a website, I often think in desktop-publishing terms: image boxes, text boxes, headlines, paragraph styles, all of which have either CSS or HTML equivalents. A “div” for example can be practically anything, either a text or an image frame, depending on the CSS. Similarly, when I draw a box in InDesign, almost anything I can imagine can be placed inside of it. Because I understand how a CMS works, I can also imagine divs and other objects as “placeholders” for dynamic data, like a list of headlines.

It is therefore not hard to imagine better design tools built for the web that are as powerful as InDesign is for print. In fact, Adobe Muse strives to offer this very thing. All it’s missing is the ability to integrate with content management systems, which can’t be too far away. After all, InDesign itself has XML import/export capabilities and can do simple data-driven documents out of the box (a glorified mail-merge), but even more is possible with InDesign plugins.

In other words, someday soon, designers can get back to strictly designing* and coders back to coding.

*Of course, another roadblock is browser compliance with HTML and CSS specifications. Browsers need to be as predictable as a PDF reader. A document creator should be able to use standard tools and create something that he is reasonably certain will be represented the same way across all browsers, operating systems and devices, just like today’s PDFs.

E-learning still has a long way to go

One week into my studies at U-M’s online master’s program, and I can tell that e-learning has a long way to go. I don’t think it’s the fault of the professors, but the systems they’re given.

We use Blackboard, which is surely a robust system that seems to do an adequate job at handling different kinds of learning modes. It has certainly come a long way since its days as WebCT. But I still feel like I’m using a website designed in 2002. Framesets, seriously? And all kinds of Java, which always seems slow and buggy to me.

For a user who is accustomed to the ease of navigating Facebook, Twitter and numerous iPhone apps, Blackboard is just plain ugly and awkward. For someone who appreciates simple, unobtrusive design, it’s a chore to use. Granted, it is clearly a product that has collected a lot of functionality over the years — a compliment to its apparent flexibility — but lacks the finesse that comes with a product that was designed on purpose.

A better web learning system would integrate webinar-style lectures and interactions, collaborative writeboards and other teamwork tools, integrated file sharing, a user directory with avatars, chat (show me if any other classmates are online), integrated calendar and RSS feeds, private messaging, live notifications and other features that make me addicted to it the way I’m addicted to checking my Facebook. In other words, look at every successful feature of social networks, and design them for a learning environment, which are essentially the same as “groups” with a leader/moderator.

If the Blackboard system I’m using now offers any of those features, they are not obvious. (Another design flaw.)

Of course, I am only seeing half of the end-user experience. I’m sure the teacher/admin side isn’t pretty, either.

If I get in the right mood, maybe I’ll whip up a quick wireframe on what Blackboard could look like if it got some real design direction.

 

A hack job toward single-post exporting

I spoke too soon. Somebody already wrote a plugin that lets you export a single post into an InDesign-friendly format: tagged text, no less.

So, of course, when I came across it my immediate desire was to hack it up and see what I could make it do.

First was to see how I could manipulate the InDesign tags to fit the stylesheets we have in place at The Daily Cougar. Easily accomplished by exporting a complete story (headline, cutline, etc., included) into tagged-text and looking at the guts of it.

This got to be pretty interesting, so I went on a tangent, and realized I could access all of the WordPress functions available through the loop. That meant I could export the headline (the_title) and category (get_the_category) fairly easily. The trick would be writing some simple functions to fetch our custom-field driven subheadline and bylines. And the icing on the cake would be to grab the cutline from the first image attachment of the article.

So, long story short, I’ve got a workable web-to-print workflow piece, customized for our environment and ready for testing in the wild.

Next up: hack the plugin’s “Print post” function to generate a clean XML document that could be imported into any page layout program. If it seems worthwhile, maybe I’ll offer it up to the plugin authors as a new feature.

Man, I’m a huge nerd.