College Web Innovators Show Their Ideas

College students took over the microphones for a Thursday session at the Online News Association conference in Toronto. It was their coming-out party.

Seven journalism schools have been working since June to develop new approaches to community news under a Knight Foundation News Challenge grant of $230,000. The schools are Michigan State University, the University of Kansas, Kansas State, Western Kentucky University, Ithaca College, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and St. Michael’s College. The students are part of the first generation to grow up on the Web, which was proposed and launched in the very early ’90s. Thursday was announcement day for their three tools.

The projects developed in these “innovation incubators” are now being shopped for potential partnerships at news outlets — and that was part of Thursday’s pitch.

The three ideas so far:

LOCKER TALKER

This product is a news and networking tool aimed at 10- to 14-year-olds.

The Locker Talker displays news and content chosen by the network to which the students belong and by themselves. Privacy is a key concern and the designers do not want to see real names, age, gender or location on the pages. Site administrators at news organizations would moderate message boards, approve group requests and facilitate sharing. Locker Talker would give the news organizations a platform with a hard-to-reach demographic.

Much of the content would be created by group members and then populated throughout the network. A network could be built around entertainment interests, news, politics or social groups. It could be a team, extracurricular activity or interest group. Think scouts, the soccer team or 4-H. News, commentary, calendars and games would fill the site.

Designed for interactivity, Locker Talker has a lot of elements:

  • Locker Notes are like Post-it notes, transmitted locker to locker.
  • Flip Book is a digital scrapbook for the locker owner that will not be shared.
  • Diary is another personal item that is not shared.
  • Magnets and stickers — virtual ones — can carry local advertisers.
  • Lap Top allows site administrators to post news videos or ads and lets members submit videos for circulation.

The developers said they are trying to promote activism, citizen journalism and news consumption — not trying to become the next FaceBook.

They are looking for a partner to host Locker Talker and link to it. The developers also hope eventually to have an open-source release.

Locker Talker was developed at St. Michael’s College, Michigan State University and Ithaca College.

The have posted some of their information online.

VOX POP

This is a straightforward letter-writing tool that is integrated with editorial content and makes it easy for people to engage in the dying art of writing letters to lobby for change,

Vox Pop links articles directly to a pop-up application pre-addressed to the people in the story to whom the readers might want to write. Editors select potential recipients of letters and, with tags, link the stories to the addresses.

Users have the option of reading other writers’ letters, and letting other people see or even use their own. They can call up pre-addressed forms that even have a suggested first paragraph to help them get started.

The developers say that Vox Pop could work from a newspaper or out of a social networking site and that they can support embedded audio and video files.

They hope to encourage citizen involvement by overcoming the barriers of time and initiative with ready-now addresses, and to make news organizations’ Web sites stickier, holding people longer.

Vox Pop developers, who are students and faculty at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, plan to make their idea available as open-source software.

Similar services are already available, but they tend to be geared toward state or national issues, they can be partisan and they are more expensive. The students said Vox Pop will drive letter-writing with articles, not agendas.

TANDEM

This is a collaborative news production project where people can, by pedaling together, build and post a multimedia news report.

The news project could be about something that has not yet been covered or could extend a report that they think needs some expansion.

The idea grows out of research that shows young news consumers prefer user-generated content to traditional media such as MTV.

By registering on Tandem, people can begin to direct a news project or volunteer to help someone else’s.

While the goal is finished stories, the collaborative nature of the tool means that contributors can view and edit works in progress. Creators can roll back changes that seem to be counter-productive and would decide what rights they would like to give for re-publishing.

The community would be drawn form other communities, such as YouTube, Flickr and FaceBook, and would contain people ready to contribute to our discuss projects. It has obvious applications as a crowd-sourcing tool.

Developers plan to keep the site independent with indexing and archiving — all drawn from free or open-source programs — but to partner with news organization hosts.

The seven schools are the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Ithaca College, Western Kentucky, Kansas State, the University of Kansas, Michigan State University and St. Michael’s College.

Michigan State University graduate student Jonathan Oosting concluded the presentations with the group’s we-have-arrived announcement: “We are members of this 18-34 audience. We have stories to tell. We know how to tell them. Put us to work.”

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