Tomorrow's newsmakers today - Student newspaper online review: Part 2

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 4 February 2010

With my keen interest in the future of news, I've an interest in the people who will be producing the news in the future. Yesterday I started a series of blog posts looking at the digital incarnations of various student newspapers around the UK.

Furthest from the sun...

The websites were not without problems, even the best looking of them. Pluto Online at UCLAN uses Wordpress as the back-end CMS, and has a very crisp design feel to it. They are using the Arthemia theme by Michael Jubel.

Pluto Online at UCLan

I particularly liked the use of a secondary navigation underneath the main items on the homepage, which highlights some of the key content.

Pluto's mid-homepage category browse section

Using Wordpress gives the team at UCLAN easy access to some modern new online design patterns. For example, they employ a tag cloud on the right-hand side of their homepage. Over the years I've gradually come to the conclusion that the value of a tag cloud is not so much navigational for the users - although it does provide an overall 'information scent' about the site. It is more useful in SEO terms of having a keyword rich set of deep-links to important content.

Pluto's tag cloud

The footer of Pluto Online isn't taken up with the usual graveyard of worthy but dull links to privacy policies and copyright notices. Instead, it is used for the 'zeitgeist' of what is happening on the site - most viewed, most commented and most recent.

Footer of the Pluto site

Unfortunately I wasn't able to explore much of the site beyond the homepage. When I viewed it on January 13th, using Safari on a Mac, the main navigation on the site didn't work for me. Clicking a link changed the URL and appeared to reload the page, but the content remained the same. It was the same when I checked yesterday.

Pluto primary navigation

Online reproduction

There is a joke in here somewhere about students only being interested in reproduction, but I noticed a significant trend towards simply putting a facsimile of the entire print edition online, using a variety of technologies.

The Demon, at De Montfort University in Leicester, for example, uses the Issuu platform for their digital edition.

Demon reproduced using the Issuu platform

At Staffordshire University, the magazine produced by the OMG Media group is placed online using Scribd.

OMG using Scribd

Salford Student Direct, meanwhile, relies simply on the tried and trusted PDF format.

Whilst I am pleased to see these student papers experimenting with different publishing technologies, it does have one drawback. If I want to search for, or link to, Amy Seabrook's piece about tanning addiction in The Demon, it is trapped inside the digital print format. There is no unique URL. Increasingly as young journalists and writers rely on having a digital portfolio as they move into the workplace, this may prove to be a disadvantage.

Article in The Demon by Amy Seabrook

Next...

In the final part of this series, I'll be looking a little bit at uses of social media by student newspapers, and some of the common pitfalls of owning a website that they can fall into.

2 Comments

Hi there Martin,

I'm News Editor at Pluto, UCLan's student newspaper, and it's pleasing to see that you've picked up on our website in your review of online student media.

The sub-section links are something that we are looking at fixing at the moment, simply reloading the page is, as you pointed out, not their function.

Any criticism is more than welcome, we're always looking to improve our online coverage, so feel free to contact me at pnews[at]uclan.ac.uk.

Thanks,
Andy Halls.

Hi, I'm the new online editor at Pluto and just wanted to back up what Andy said. The section links are proving troublesome but will hopefully be resolved soon along with plenty of new content.
Best,
Mel

Keep up to date on my new blog