The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer’s newest venture, College Town, aims to put the news into the hands of local college students. The website covers four universities within the North Carolina Research Triangle: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University.
The site is tailored for each university, with separate tabs and tagging. The main page updates with the latest news for each.
“A big advantage of the site is it is very student-driven,” says Pressley Baird, editor of College Town. She manages a staff of student freelancers from the universities that contribute the content that appears on the sites.
In addition to providing college students with the news they want and need to consume, Baird wants to teach the students involved in populating the sites how to be strong, solid writers.
“The biggest thing you’re going to have to do at any job, whether it’s journalism or PR or advertising, or even not in media, is to write. You’re going to have to be able to write, even if it’s just an email,” she says.
The site launched on June 15, giving the team time to experiment and get settled before the schools start back up in August. Topics of the first stories ranged from the best running routes around UNC, to popular podcasts in the area to a list of vigils for the victims of the Orlando Shooting.
“It’s a mishmash,” Baird says. “It’s a wide variety of things. You never know what you’re going to get when you pull the site up.”
That’s her favorite part about College Town so far.
“There are no rules for how this is supposed to look,” she says.
She says newspapers can begin to feel predictable, since they are forced to cover certain events and issues. She wants to take a fresh look at big issues and let students know how the news is relatable and how they can get involved.
“Let’s talk about the hard news, but talk about it in a way where students can take it and use it,” she says.
She is heavily investing in social media, especially Snapchat. While the N&O does not have its own Snapchat presence, Baird believes the younger audience of College Town will be able to gather news and interact with the platform.
“I want our Snapchat to be really strong. I want it to be a place where a ton of students get the news,” she says. “That would be a really useful way to examine getting out news in a non-traditional manner.”
“Kids in college, 18 to 22 years old, they’re not in the market of picking up a print newspaper every day,” she says. “This is another way to reach them that is not a print newspaper. We’re getting them invested in their community.”
Her goal for the first year is to make College Town a go-to source for millennials.
“I would really love for people to say College Town is the only news website they read…I want that name recognition, for people to say, ‘Where’d you find out about that concert, or that protest’ and them say ‘Oh, I found out on College Town.’”