Lessons from UNC Charlotte’s new newsroom…

A stream of never-ending red eyes has brought me back to the East Coast once again. This time, I’m in Washington, D.C. for the College Media Convention. I managed to get to the convention hall just in time for the first panel, which appropriately enough was about: “Building the ‘ideal’ Student Media Workplace.” I’ll be giving my own talk on this topic on Saturday.

This session was hosted by Wayne Maikranz, the media advisor to the University Times, the UNC Charlotte student paper. Wayne talked about some of the lessons they’ve learned, not all of them good unfortunately. And there was a lively discussion after his presentation since his session attracted a few other folks who are in the process of building or designing new college media spaces.

UNC Charlotte has about 22,500 students and is growing rapidly. It’s the fourth largest UNC Campus.

A few years ago, the administration decided to build a new student union, and they worked hard to convince the University Times to move there. Initially, the newspaper was going to have a smaller space. But they said they’d only move if they got at least as much space as their previous location. So the administration increased the budget and accommodated them.

Wayne said the Times began planning for a new space four years ago. And they won’t be in the new space for another two years. And he worries that the space they’ve created is already obsolete. For instance, they decided to keep the print and the online staff separate, a decision that seemed to make sense a couple years ago. The web site barely got any traffic and the print edition was thriving. The online edition goes by the name “Niner Online.”

But now the students are pushing to cut back on resources for the print edition and put more focus online. The number of papers being picked up by students at UNC is falling, while the website is booming. Still, these two groups have separate offices and departments in the new building. And there is no dedicated multimedia space.

“What I’m realizing is that what we sat down and talked about two years ago is different than what we would talk about today,” Wayne said. “There are things you have to think about and plan for and it’s not always easy.”

The news groups did have a lot input on designing the space. They went with a fairly traditional newsroom design. There is an open area for the main newsroom that consists of 10 desks and chairs, and a separate office for the editor. The yearbook is in an adjacent office, the business offices have a set of offices down the hall, and same for the online staff. There is a big shared conference room that can hold about 30 people.

On the plus side, the groups can share equipment like digital and video cameras. Though this has not always worked smoothly in practice and they had to create a check-out procedure.

As for location, the new student media center was originally on the outskirts of the campus. But there is so much building going on that when it’s done, the campus will extend well beyond the media center.

Wayne took some questions. And I got to introduce myself, and also hear from some other folks building facilities.

John Thompson, the general manager of student media at Brigham Young University was there. They are going for a fully converged newsroom that will merge all student groups.

Gayle Brown, a student media advisor at Northern Kentucky University, talked about how she would like their new facility to have as few walls as possible so there would be more interaction among the different media groups. She expressed frustration that the students were so resistant to this idea.

This is something I heard a lot on my first day here. Several media advisors complained at different times how hard it is to get students to try new things or work with different groups. As an old-timey professional journalist, this continues to surprise me because the image we tend to have of college students is that they are so cutting edge and eager adopters of new technologies. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to be happening in college newsrooms as much as we’d expect.


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