Project to help papers with the digital side

Jul 6, 2015

By Stanley Schwartz

Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

COLUMBIA, MO—Trying to figure out the best way to use the Internet to build an audience? Some students from the University of Missouri School of Journalism may have the answer for you.

As part of their capstone project, 16 students were tasked with developing an interactive guide to help community newspapers boost online readership.

“Normally, students are asked what they want to do for their capstone project,” said Tom Warhover, the executive editor for innovation for The Missourian, the daily paper operated at MU. “This time, however, I said this would be a good project to pursue.”

The students worked in three groups—design, analytics and social media—with each group focusing on an aspect of digital media, said Cindy Huang. She and her group researched the analytics side of using the Web. The groups started in late February of this year and finished with the project at the end of the fall semester.

“We looked at providing help to mid-sized community papers to help them do a better job with digital,” she said.

With the help of the Hoosier State Press Association, the group sent questionnaires to 67 newspapers, seeking input into what they knew about digital media and what they wanted to know.

On the analysis side, Huang said, they wanted to teach newspapers the best way to use the free service Google Analytics. The guide explains key terms and the best ways to make digital newspapers work. When posting stories online, she explained, this tool would show which stories work best and at what time during the day. It provides a Google alert tutorial and explains how to install Google Analytics.

The entire team worked on the best way to convey the information to those who need it most, said Hannah Jacunski. She and the people on her team worked on the social media aspect of the project.

They decided to put all the information online to make it quick and easy to disseminate to newspapers. It also made sense that they would put online the best way to build an online audience.

To gain knowledge on what publishers wanted, Jacunski said they used Skype to bring those people into their planning sessions. Even though they worked with Indiana newspapers, she said, the information they generated could work at most community newspapers.

Those who shy away from social media will find how-to videos on how to use Facebook and guidelines on best practices for using social media. The guide does the same thing with Twitter. Smaller publications that don’t have the staff or the time to work all this out on their own, will find this information useful.

The design team focused on applying basic design principles to a newspaper website’s visuals. Although it does not explain how to use html, it does give information that will make a web page more readable. It also explains good ways to make a newspaper’s social media simple but classy.

“I felt as though we really accomplished something,” Jacunski said.

Warhover agreed: “I think they succeeded wonderfully.”

Looking at the final project online at, Warhover added that visually it could still be tweaked, but it provides a lot of information in a tight-looking package. He said this is something that might be continued with other classes in the future.