Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 6 / October 1, 1994 / Page 4

News Flash: Building the Global Student News

by Gary Ritzenthaler (

When the editors of six New York newspapers agreed in 1848 to formally create the cooperative that would become the Associated Press, each of them did so for different reasons. The expense and wastefulness involved in setting up six separate agreements for telegraph services, the limited usefulness of foreign news and the desire to keep up with their competitors all played a part. Whatever their hidden agendas and varying motives, the simple catalyzing fact was that together they used a newly viable technology to provide a better product for their readers; through this collaboration each could enjoy the benefits of a service that would add to their profits.

Journalists have been joining the ranks of "net folk" in increasing numbers, as evidenced by Gary Gach's essay in this issue of CMC Magazine and Anne Bilodeau's recent announcement of the Society for Electronic News Delivery (SEND). After some early months of indecision, journalists are taking an active interest in exploring the Net and finding the ways to make it work for them.

Not all the interest has been at the professional level, however. Student journalists have produced some of the most innovative work in adapting, molding and creating news publications for this new medium. As of September 1994, nine universities in the U.S. had World Wide Web editions of their newspapers in production; an equal number had prototypes in development. Student journalists could even visit a WWW site exclusively devoted to student media, a complement to an existing mailing list passing daily discussion among student journalists around the world.

It is still the beginning of student journalist efforts in the online environment, but the time is right for a descendant of that fledgling wire service of 1848 to be born among the progeny of those New York editors.

This new partnership would bring together the student journalists at schools and universities around the world with the many campus newspapers and magazines -- using the Internet, the viable technology of today. It would allow each staff to provide new varieties of content to their readers: different views, on-the-scene pictures and relevant news from other campus publications they might have missed. More important, this collaboration would allow student writers, editors, news photographers and others to critique and learn from the work of their peers around the globe.

A handful of students around the world are already attempting to bring about such associations; one of these is known as the Global Student News project. The GSN is an experiment in gathering the forces of media content sharing together so they can keep informed about what others are doing, discuss content-sharing issues and decide on new techniques and strategies for using the Internet as a means to enhance their work and learn from one another.

Based on the metaphor of the traditional newswire and the organization of the Internet itself, the GSN is essentially a set of standards, a collection of "net tools", and a group of people who agree to use the standards to produce news and feature-related content. With luck and a lot of work, out of those simple elements a useful service will be formed. The individuality of the contributing groups is maintained by the use of "bureaus," a term used to designate the different groups working together in the larger whole of the project. The idea is that the construction of bureaus allows a lot of people to participate in the direction of the project and yet allows each group to take pride in the resources coming from their site. Each bureau may have a different medium and serve different needs in the student press community.

Here's one example of how it works, a bureau based on the technology of the mailing list. Student writers contribute stories to a "bureau chief" at their site, a motivated student with some experience in editing and reporting. (The bureau chief may in turn work with a faculty adviser, teaching assistant, or editor of an independent newspaper.) The bureau chief works with the students on revisions, style and any design elements to accompany the story. When the bureau chief and author agree the story is ready, they post the story or an announcement of its availability to a mailing list along with some identifying information. Student publications looking for content (either online or print variations) subscribe to the various mailing lists, read through the stories and announcements and decide if any meet their needs. They contact the bureau chief or author of the story and work out an agreement via email to send clips or other official notification for the author's files.

Student writers can contribute news items, columns, magazine-style features, even cartoons or photographs. By following established guidelines and maintaining the highest quality possible, members have a free news resource to supplement the material written by their local writers. In some instances, (news coverage of a national story or sports coverage of a nationally ranked team, for example), reporters for one paper or magazine might serve as "field reporters" for a number of other campus news organizations across that nation. Writers at separate universities could collaborate on a series of travel pieces (complete with photographs) that would be too expensive for the schools to produce individually. These are only a few examples of benefits the GSN can provide to its member bureaus, and each of them is an opportunity for a student writer to stretch his or her skills into a new medium.

This new ability to get published may provide the motivation needed to get more student journalists in touch with technologies that will form an important part of their careers.

In addition to the use of mailing lists described above, a significant number of students also are experimenting with the World Wide Web, creating useful resources and archives in addition to inventive online editions. Some GSN members are also developing IRC chat lines for interviews and working with Adobe Acrobat and other document interchange progams.

Online newspaper editions in particular can benefit from the GSN, because they have less space restrictions than their print relatives and they often are attempting to provide content that will distinguish them from the print publications with which they often share both staff and copy. By selecting stories from other university papers or stories with a national or global focus, online editions can provide a service to their readers that is usually out of reach of their print relatives.

The GSN seeks writers, photographers, administrators, contact/advisers at schools, universities, and independent campus publications wishing to send and receive content using the various GSN bureaus. More information about the Global Student News project (including how to create a bureau, how to subscribe to bureaus, and how to contribute work) and the current list of resources available, can be obtained by the following methods:

The GSN project is an idea with grand objectives. Many problems must be solved and a huge amount of organization remains to be done. In spite of this, the project can succeed with the help of enough educators and student journalists. The tools are available, the opportunity waiting. Like the wire service of 1848, this is simply an idea whose time has come. ¤

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