Herding Kittens

With the methodology for how we were going to create the web site decided upon, we now were faced with the equally daunting task of accumulating fresh, relevant, well-written content for the site. You really can’t have a news site without news. What was especially daunting for me about this was the fact that not only would I have to figure out how to get this content for the web’s initial launch, but I would also have to continue this process for as long as the site exists. News loses its punch if it is not timely. Regular updates on current events would be the key to generating regular traffic for the site.

First, I tried tapping in to the network of writers the The Phoenix had already established. Some of those writers are stronger than others, and among the whole collection of them few actually were willing to go above their regular bi-weekly writing duties and write extra pieces for the site. It became quite clear to me that I had to tap in to other writing resources on campus. This is where the idea of social capital comes in to play.

I quickly realized that running up to people and asking them “will you write for The Phoenix?” would not work. First and foremost, people were reluctant to write because it is extra work on top of already heavy course loads. Second, because the quality of writing in the print issues have been so poor of late, students were reluctant to have their names attached to the paper. I had to figure out some way to convince people that we were not a sinking ship.

I started going through every number in my digital rolodex. “Who would be willing to do extra work for me for free?” Was the question running through my head. I started by making a list of students’ with strong, specific interests. My asked my musical friends if they would be willing to write music pieces. I asked my activist friend to report on open race and sexual consent dialogues that occur around campus. I practically begged my law-student friend to write about politics on campus. At the end of the day, it boiled down to utilizing the connections and influence that I had accrued in social settings to get work done.

I had to develop a marketing strategy. How can you sell something so undesirable as ‘extra work?’ It came down to changing that conception of extra work. I advertised writing for The Phoenix as a portfolio building exercise. Anything that is published in our paper can be put on a resumé. I researched events on campus and reached out to students were either 1. interested in what was going on at the event or 2. already planning on attending the event. It’s way easier to convince someone to go to an event and write about it when they are already planning on attending the event.

While many turned me down, a few did not. Slowly, I began to develop a base of writers who actually cared. As those writers began telling their friends about the work they were doing for me, people began to talk. Rumors of The Phoenix online being a space where anyone could get their voices heard or their art displayed spread, and people actually began to approach me to ask me if they could submit. People realized that if their group was hosting an event, they could get free press if they got one of their friends to write about it and send it to me. In this way, people began to contact me just to let me know that things were going on around campus and if I could cover them. While at first this was frustrating because it meant extra work for me in coordinating reporters and photographers, it was immensely helpful to start aggregating information. I can’t get someone to write about something if I don’t know that it’s happening in the first place. This led to a quite diverse first-round of articles.

Social media was a big one in organizing the writers. Most of these conversations with potential writers occurred on Facebook. Without this platform, I would not have been able to communicate with the writers that made the website possible. I organized a group on Facebook for all of the writers. Here, I could post deadlines, send reminders, give advice, and publicly answer any questions that the writers might have. This might have been one of the best things for the success of the project.

While I could organize all of them on one space within a social media platform, getting the writers to actually send me work in a timely manner is a whole other issue…

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