Students Create Site for College Journalists Who Want to Talk about the Craft

Two young entrepreneurs have launched an online community where college journalists are sharing ideas on technology, leadership, news judgment and content.

Kelsey A. Schnell and Brandon Martinez built CollegeNewsroom.org in Big Rapids, Mich., the home of Ferris State University.

I met Schnell and Martinez at the Michigan Press Association‘s winter conference on Saturday, where they were handing out business cards to try to get other college students to join the community. They said they are focusing on attracting people, not publications, because they are looking for personal involvement. So far, students from about 30 colleges have joined.

Schnell worked the crowd on Saturday as Martinez worked behind the scenes. While Schnell pitched in front of a monitor, Martinez stood behind the screen, calling pages and scrolling to keep pace with Schnell’s patter.

Schnell, creative developer for CollegeNewsroom.org, is editor-in-chief of the Ferris State Torch. Martinez is Web editor for CollegeNewsroom.org and the Torch, which are independent of each other.

CollegeNewsroom.org, which launched in November, has featured discussions about college editors’ use of Twitter and, within days of its launch, the iPad. Posts about whether college papers should print the n-word and whether it is OK to take a reporter’s byline off a poorly written story have made for some lively discussions on the site. Other posts include information on how to come up with catchy headlines and how to retain and motivate staff.

While the entrepreneurs are college editors, they are not journalism majors.

Schnell, a business administration major and political science minor, said he joined the newspaper as a freshman because he needed a job and the Ferris State Torch paid. He had no particular interest in journalism at the time. Martinez, who is majoring in the New Media Printing and Publishing program, was recruited to maintain the Web site by the paper’s former editor-in-chief.

Along the way, they’ve gotten help from the Torch’s adviser, Steve Fox, who began streamlining newspaper operations when he came to Ferris State three years ago. He encouraged Schnell to go to a Management Seminar for College News Editors and see what was happening outside of Big Rapids.

The conference, which included speakers from Gannett, the Associated Press and The Poynter Institute, became the spark for CollegeNewsroom.org.

“After all that ended, after dinner, all of us kids were let loose to talk about our newsrooms,” said Schnell, who wanted to keep the late-night conversations going online. “That was the best part. One of these things that I missed was … these great sessions.”

Martinez built CollegeNewsroom.org on a WordPress platform. The cost of the site has been about $100 on Schnell’s Discover credit card — and lots of time. They redesigned the Torch’s Web site on Jan. 13 and brought out CollegeNewsroom.org 2.0 on Jan. 20. 

What will happen with CollegeNewsroom.org? Both young men plan to stay involved. They would like to find ads or sponsors and, Schnell said, “the hope is that it will be student-driven.”

E-mail Joe Grimm for answers to your career questions.

Coming Wednesday: Join me and Poynter’s Colleen Eddy for a free live chat, Who is hiring journalists?” at 1 p.m. ET. You might be surprised to find out what’s happening on job boards.

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