Student Media and Domains

I want to tell a quick story as an example to show how we are starting to see how investing in a simple project like Domain of One’s Own is creating a better web student ran web outside of the project itself.

Back in October, I had the pleasure of meeting with the editorial board of the OU Daily, our on-campus newspaper, to demo something I had been cooking up for some time.

I met Dana Branham, OU Daily editor-in-chief, for the first time in February 2016. At the time, she was online editor and had recently written a post on her personal domain on OU Create, our Domain of One’s Own initiative, that walked through how they had recently used CartoDB for one of their stories on earthquakes in Oklahoma. I was deeply impressed with the blog work she was doing both at the Daily and as a Global Engagement Fellow. Her domain is RICH.

So I cold-called her hoping that she would be willing to meet me for coffee. I wanted to pick her brain about how 1. we could be helpful either to reaching more students or 2. with Student Media. She mentioned that she was really interested in trying to do some feature stories in the same fashion as the famous NYTimes Snowfall project and that got my mind spinning.

While the idea stayed in the back of my head, things didn’t come back around until after I met with Seth Prince, the Student Media Design Adviser. We connected over Twitter where I posted about enjoying how his Feature Writing class was using Medium as it’s course platform.

We would physically connect at an adjunct orientation for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, where we both teach, and would eventually setup a coffee meeting at the same Starbucks where I had met Dana six months prior.

Eventually, we got smart and all connected around a table. Seth and Dana decided they wanted to move forward with experimenting with some of the same technology we were using with OU Create for some of their feature work. The idea was take an exposé they did on how the football rallied around the SAE incident to bring the team closer together. The story is called How SAE Fueled an Oklahoma Turnaround. It’s a really good story and has some embedded media such as pictures and videos, but the team at the Daily had done so much reporting on SAE that we wanted to bring in other pieces like some Timeline.JS work, embedded tweets, and links to other OU Daily stories. So I offered to redesign the story domains style and get back with them.

Dana was kind enough to send me a Google Doc with the story and she commented out some ideas of pieces that could be connected through the new site. As the designer, I wanted to come to really understand the tone. I would read a sentence or two, close my eyes and try to visualize the story. And then I would highlight certain words and annotate some ideas. I would also try to break the story up into what I thought would make good sections.

I started to piece together in my mind this story of dark. The focus on race; a wet night and following morning; the football players wearing all black. So I wanted it to be black and white with muted tones and I wanted to accentuate the weather as best as I could.

What I showed to the editorial board is below (on the real version the video isn’t as shaky though).

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I made a clone of the site so they could peak at the code a little bit if they wanted to. While I was doing that, they were able to get a subdomain setup on and install WordPress.

Let’s stop and spend some time there. OU Daily moved to their latest news-oriented content management system ~10 years ago. It’s a CMS that’s used by a lot of news organizations and it’s best known for being very stable software and ad friendly. While they use different CMSs for other Student Media sites, this really is a big first for OU Daily. And in my opinion a big deal because they now have a ton of flexibility when it comes to story presentation.

But back to the matter at hand… Yesterday, the OU Daily dropped their first story with the new look. It’s a story that focuses on the difficulties students are having in accessing mental health care on campus and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’ve made the screenshot below scrollable but I highly suggest that you check it out in full technicolor as well.

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So let’s tie this back to OU Create and the Domain of One’s Own project. This started because a student was given a domain to experiment with in class. She then took that knowledge and brought it to her job. And through cross-department collaboration, we’ve now brought that technology to their web presence.

This kind of outcome is not quantifiable. You can’t find the impact of this student on OU Create simply by counting registrations and blog posts and other forms of analysis. It’s a larger narrative–a story–about building one student’s web literacy and being willing to collaborate across department lines. These sites are on completely different servers and don’t count towards “our numbers”, but I couldn’t care less. We’ve made the university web a better experience for everyone and given students the opportunity to do more than put content on a standardized news CMS. They aren’t just writing and publishing journalism–they’re building it as well. Point blank and the period.