Winchester News Online (WINOL) Critical Review

Terms of Reference

This report has been compiled in order to assess Winchester News Online, (WINOL) both my contribution towards it and the site as an editorial product as a whole. WINOL was conceived and created by Mr. Chris Horrie, a senior lecturer at Winchester University, in 2008. Produced by students and published once a week on a Thursday, it targets both Winchester residents and Winchester University staff and students. It was conceived primarily to give students simulated live working conditions and its aim was to ‘achieve the highest number of page impression “hits” possible by serving this audience and following an appropriate “news agenda”.’ The idea was that every major mechanism of a  news and features site would be recreated such as, for example, the BBC’s News Online, with any associated challenges of journalism in the ‘real world’ thus giving students the opportunity to try out a diverse number of roles before seeking their own after graduation.

 

Procedure

The project used an editorial structure typical of the industry, thus relying on a chain of command. I held the position of a features writer, specifically that of Technology and Science. The role of a features writer entailed that I:

o       Pitch relevant ideas to commissioning editors,

o       Write copy (according to deadline/with appropriate material, e.g. photos, video)

o       Answer to the feature’s editor.

 

Gauging the effectiveness of WINOL

It would be too simplistic to say that WINOL’s editorial was good in one area and weak in another as the roles played by many impact upon its effectiveness. Therefore I used a SWOT analysis as a way to take stock of the situation. It strengths are that it is student led, which focuses them to produce something on time as the site alters on a weekly basis. Thursday is the best day of the week for this, particularly so that the target audience can look things up to do for the weekend. The stories give students a portfolio of work and deadlines to work to, ensuring that work is completed on time. The site looks fresh, modern and is easy to find things on. The video bulletin with stories of the week is excellent. The building blocks were in place for a good site and student enthusiasm was there from the start.

 

One weakness immediately apparent though, was that Winchester, situated in the South of England, is too sleepy an area to have many news stories and it was stipulated from the beginning that the stories were to be home-based for the target audience. Another limitation is that the site, unlike the BBC New Online, is changed weekly as opposed to daily, or even hourly. Clearly this would be impossible to achieve within the remit but a major weakness never the less. A weakness to the scheme was that I was doing two other subjects (Post-modern Cultures and Rock & Pop Identities) as opposed to just ‘Journalism’ which gave me less time compared to single honours students. Furthermore, I was working a full time job to pay my way through university. The websites editorial structure created an opportunity to learn how a newsroom runs, although more student participation on Tuesdays may have helped the newspaper.

 

The site has been running for a short time and there is an opportunity to look at any teething problems in these early stages and to iron them out before it becomes popular. However, although e-mails were sent out, marketing of the website has been poor; no flyers or posters. In fact very few seem aware that it exists and the lack of interest can hardly invigorate writers to produce their best work. The website should pop up every time a student turns on a university computer.

 

Objectives for the site need to be clear and quantified based on current and established trends. Consumer spending has slowed and value for money will be even more important in the next year or so, therefore could home-grown, online stories, available ‘free’ on this site impact on local newspapers in the future? Probably not as local papers have their own sites…but can Editors study trends better to create a ‘must read’ paper?

 

Do local people want their news in this way and would a student only site generate more interest? Students sometimes have an unenviable reputation for drunken loutishness so I feel that currently the site may be lacking in ‘good-news’ stories aimed at portraying us in a better light whilst enhancing Winchester Universities reputation. If the website is customer led are all the potential customers being served by it? Is it possible to have church opening times and gossip about student parties successfully on the same page? Moreover, if the good people of Winchester read the news here it may be the only place a local senior citizen ‘meets’ a student and I’m not sure that this angle has been utilised yet, but is it possible to make a site ‘cool’ enough for students to want to read without alienating the other target market?

 

‘Hits’ would normally be seen as a way to gauge the effectiveness of a site but without groundwork to establish the site in the consciousness of the potential market this may make it appear as if it is not a success. It is effective in so much that it has arrived – but it has a way to go before it refreshes the parts that other sites do not reach.

 

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