How one university publication is adapting to the digital era

By Dale Leach

Publishing four times per week in print and continuously online, the Baylor Lariat has changed its workflow to train student journalists to meet the demands of a 24/7 news cycle.

With an audience composed mostly of college students, the Baylor Lariat is at the forefront of the digital transformation facing newsrooms around the globe.

“This semester, we’ve started from scratch, turned the model upside down and said, ‘We’re not a newspaper anymore,’” adviser Paul Carr said. “‘We’re a news organization.’”

With media becoming increasingly consumed on mobile, the Lariat recently released a new app, employed a new newsroom management system and redesigned its website. After adding broadcast capabilities in the last two years, the staff of 30 students also received new video cameras this summer.

“It’s a wonderful time to be here,” Carr said. “But it’s a lot of stress – good stress.”

Staff members of the Lariat discuss story ideas during a meeting. (Instagram photo/@baylorlariat)

One issue the Lariat faces, though, with shifting positions and deadlines – and a crack advertising staff selling out inventory – is not having enough content to keep up with the 24/7 news cycle. When news breaks, editors use Associated Press stories to give students the appropriate time to improve their own copy and to make sure it’s ready to publish.

“And that I think is the best we can do to position them for where the industry is now.”

The staff also receives a moment to think about the bigger picture concerning how the Lariat wants to provide coverage for all of its platforms. Is it a story where video would work better than print? Maybe, maybe not. But Carr says it’s important for the students’ growth to be able to have those conversations.

“Even if they don’t do everything, they’re learning about it and seeing how it works together,” he said. “And that I think is the best we can do to position them for where the industry is now.”

For the times where the staff simply isn’t big enough to produce stories to fill pages, the AP wire offers students a chance to hone their news judgment and to really think about their audience’s preferences when it comes to coverage.

After selecting certain stories, editors can then track readership analytics to decide how much follow-up is needed, and in which formats, on various issues. There’s also the responsibility of informing fellow students about current events they may not see elsewhere.

“As somebody who’s a few years older than them, I may broaden their horizons in conversation, saying, ‘think about this, think about that and then decide,’” Carr said. “But I don’t make those decisions for them. They make the decisions on what they’re going to run.”

Going forward, Carr wants his students to be flexible. The technology they use today – yes, even the new app and newsroom tools – may be outdated in five years, or even sooner. But as the platforms and software change, the skills of data interpretation and news judgment will help his students gain the upper hand in the newsrooms of the future.

Dale Leach

Dale is the central regional director for The Associated Press, responsible for leading business development and responding quickly to member and customer needs in changing markets. An Ohio native now based in Dallas, Leach joined the AP in Columbus in 1981.

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