KB Faculty Chat: Georgy Cohen Reinvents News Sites

I wanted to give everyone a chance to hear more about the topics from those are going to be leading the great KnowledgeBuilders coming up.  Today’s Q&A blog is with Georgy Cohen, Manager of Web Content & Strategy of Tufts University and Co-founder, Meet Content (a resource on creating valuable content for higher ed web sites).

 

As the expert faculty, she will be leading an amazing KnowledgeBuilder on “Reinventing News on Your University Web Site” on October 13 at 11 AM Eastern Daylight Time. After reading, you will want to join the KnowledgeBuilder and move the updating of your college’s news web site to the top of your priority list.

1) How long have you been working in higher ed marketing communications and what do you like most about it?

I’ve been working in this field since 2004, all at Tufts University. Prior to that, I worked for three years out of college in the Boston Globe’s online newsroom. While I loved the fast-paced newsroom environment, I sought an opportunity to work in a nonprofit setting, specifically higher education, out of a desire to feel a connection to a meaningful mission and due to my positive experience as a student employee in the Boston University alumni publications office.

2) How often do you speak, at conference, webinars, or similar settings, to the higher ed marketing communications community? Where? About what?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to speak at several events in the past couple of years. The highlight was giving the keynote at HighEdWeb Arkansas this past July, where I spoke about storytelling as a framework for higher ed web marketing. That was a tremendous honor. Earlier this summer, I debuted my presentation on reinventing news on your university website [which I will deliver at HighEdWeb in addition to this webinar] at SUNYCUAD, and I also presented (twice!) at the Penn State Web Conference on bridging the digital and physical worlds.

Last year, I spoke at HighEdWeb and Stamats SIMTech about content curation. (I also reprised that talk for March 2011 .eduGuru Summit.) I’ve also been a guest on Higher Ed Live a couple of times.

3) What is the biggest missed opportunity you’ve seen higher ed news organizations have regarding their web sites?

One missed opportunity is the chance to tell their own stories. So many news sites default to simply posting press releases that are geared toward an audience of reporters and editors. Also, those releases might skew toward research and university news, neglecting slice-of-life, student and alumni features. that are often the most vibrant and compelling vehicles of our brand messaging. We shouldn’t outsource the telling of our story to media that may or may not take us up on the opportunity. We should own that opportunity. We have prospective students and alumni, as

well as internal audiences, who are invested in our institution to some degree and are willing to be engaged in its stories.

Another is the opportunity to communicate in real-time. When events happen — say, the toppling of the Libyan regime, or a rare Northeast earthquake/hurricane — people have questions. Universities, as vast repositories of knowledge and expertise, have a tremendous opportunity to add context to developing events and thereby assert their value and relevance. However, the window for capitalizing on public interest and curiosity is small, since news cycles get shorter and shorter (as do attention spans). Creating more nimble, web-first news operations that can provide context to these events in a more timely fashion is vital.

I also think that people believe it takes a lot of money or fancy technologies to tell stories in the way that mainstream media tell them. But look at those media. They’re using YouTube, Storify, Twitpic, blogs — the same free easy-to-use tools that we have at our disposal. So what’s stopping us?

4) Why is it important for a university to have a modern or reinvented web site for their news website?

Reinventing our online news experiences in higher ed will help us effectively take advantage of the opportunities outlined above that might otherwise be missed.

The standards for an online news experience are being set by CNN.com, NYTimes.com, ESPN.com and other mainstream media sites. They’re not being set by other universities. So if we’re benchmarking solely against other colleges to get a sense of how best to not only craft but publish and distribute our online news, we’re doing ourselves — and our users — a disservice. We are living in the era of the social, two-way, multimedia web. So many of our news sites are built around asocial, one-way, text-based experiences. The web doesn’t work that way anymore.

News is a unique content type with its own requirements, uses and expectations. You can’t approach it in the same way, or even with the same technologies, that you approach your homepage or top-level webpages. This is a relatively recent realization, and not just for higher ed. While I hold up mainstream media and other online publications as examples, even they don’t have it all figured out.

5) What are some of the top higher ed news sites that you have seen? What makes them so good?

http://bu.edu/today – BU Today was definitely an example we held in high regard during the process of creating Tufts Now, and for good reason. Whether it’s user comments, stunning photography, a hyperactive publishing schedule, an editorial mission that frequently takes them off-campus or a distinct personality that pervades both the design and the language around the site, BU Today sets a high bar.

http://today.duke.edu/ – Duke blends a variety of content types and timely coverage onto a robust homepage. Content is filterable, feedable and social.

http://news.vanderbilt.edu/ – Vanderbilt brings their multimedia content to the fore, which is great. They also highlight not just links to their social media channels, but actual social content. The “In The News” quote is a nice touch (the classy design treatment helps), and their news stories cover a wide swath of topics.

http://www.denison.edu/theden/ – This example was brought to my attention by the University of Rochester’s Lori Packer. Like BU Today, a sophisticated design and a distinct voice help the site stand out.

Their coverage ranges from students to alums to faculty, creating an insightful cross section of the campus community. They also do a good job of teasing additional content channels such as their magazine, blogs and materials specifically geared for the media.

6) Why should folks attend your EMG Academy KnowledgeBuilder on “Reinventing News on Your University Web Site” on Thursday, October 13?

Hopefully, in my previous answers, I have done a good job creating a sense of urgency around the need for higher ed to revisit our news sites! In addition, having helped lead the creation of Tufts Now, I have first-hand, recent experience in reinventing online news for a university. Also, my previous job working in a newspaper’s online newsroom and my continued attention to developments in that field have significantly shaped my attitudes around news experiences on the web, which I feel are valuable for higher ed to consider.

7) When creating a fresh news web site, who in the organization should be involved? Why should they be involved?

One of the things I discuss in my presentation is the value of a holistic approach, involving not just the writers and editors or the marketing/communications people, but also the designers, the developers, the social media managers and the photography/multimedia staff. The core group responsible for the site should reflect those skill sets. In addition, there should be significant consultation and partnership with communications representatives from the schools/departments and major offices like Admissions and Alumni Relations. A successful news site, whether at a university or school level, will have a diverse editorial team behind it, helping inform its content. At a tertiary level, it helps to spread awareness of your news initiative to anyone creating content, even editors of departmental newsletters, and to create pathways for them to feed information and event content up to the site.

8)If you could change one thing about higher education marketing communications today, what would it be?

Don’t be complacent. Whatever the change is that is necessary — adopting new technologies, improving editorial processes, increasing internal buy-in — find a way to make it happen. We don’t have the luxury of standing still — after all, our audiences aren’t.

Thank you to Georgy for sharing some insights and be sure to join her for this thought-provoking webinar on “Reinventing News on Your University Web Site” on October 13 at 11 AM Eastern Daylight Time.

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2 Comments

  1. KB Faculty Chat: Georgy Cohen Reinvents News Sites

    This takes a village. Some of us small colleges do not have a village.

  2. KB Faculty Chat: Georgy Cohen Reinvents News Sites

    Hi Scott – I hear what you’re saying. I do paint a pretty broad picture, and I know it’s a tall order for most higher ed communications staffs. But I think it’s important to start somewhere. Even if we just change one thing in our editorial process, or try one new content type, or change the perspective from which we approach our stories, we can make progress.

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