End Notes

This semester, I created a new website for Sarah Lawrence’s newspaper, The Phoenix. Prior to my involvement with the publication, The Phoenix was suffering. Fewer and fewer print editions were made each year as disinterested staff members drolly produced content. With quality on a rapid decline, community interest also declined. The newspaper was the laughing stock of the college, the butt of many writing students’ jokes. In order to breathe life into a dying publication, I felt that a new website (one that was better than the weak wordpress job the previous editors had created) was necessary.

            To do this, I first established a human workforce: a team of dedicated students to delegate the work to in order to create a strong online press structure that would ensure the longevity of the site. This consisted of myself as project spearheader and overall editor, a web manager to handle technical stuff that was beyond my capabilities, and a photo editor to choose stimulating graphical content. We had an incredibly low budget, an unmotivated team of print editors, and nowhere to go but up.

            Prior to beginning this project, I had no web design knowledge whatsoever and so developing this skillset was the biggest part of developing a new literacy for me. Because we did not have the time or the resources to learn coding language and actually design a site from the ground up, I chose to utilize the web creation platform Squarespace to host the site. Squarespace is easy to use, and easily integrates other web content, social media sites, and different kinds of media. While it provided us with a professional and visually stimulating design platform, it eliminated the customizability that coding our own site or using a different platform would provide.

            It was difficult to begin, but once we got the ball rolling it quickly picked up momentum. The biggest issue was actually accumulating enough content, and content that was timely and relevant enough that students would actually read it. We were under a lot of social pressure: if the content was not relevant enough to the community, we would not only not gain readership but further mar the image of a publication that was already a PR nightmare. For weeks we rounded-up writers, pestered editors, and worked through the night to get the site ready for public readership.

            The next biggest question was the internal architecture of the site. As we learned in the E-Literature unit, the way that content is organized dictates how users navigate through. The way that navigation and consumption of content works dictates how users will understand and process that content. I decided to organize the site in a visually stimulating yet easily navigable way. The main page of the site features one huge article with a large graphic and main headline. Beneath this are three articles, one from each major print section “campus news,” “editorials,” and “features.” Along the side of the home page is a rail featuring a twitter feed and the latest updates to our “perspectives/blogs” sections: music, film, fashion, food, and literature. The goal was to give a preview of each section and easily connect the reader to each section without overwhelming with too much content.

            At the top of every page is a bar with each of the sections: campus, city, features, editorials, and perspectives. Clicking any of those links will bring the visitor to a separate main page for each section. These main pages are similar to the homepage, except instead of previews from every section, there are only headlines from that section.

            Sarah Lawrence needed a new public forum. A place where current events, student life, and campus issues come together in one place and community members could inform themselves, each other, and discuss them. A really important aspect of the design of the site was integrating a comments section. Here, students could voice their opinions and concerns openly, and others could respond to them. Since the site’s inception, numerous students have commented and responded to each others’ comments, furthering the discourse that the paper has begun. In this area we have succeeded.

            Beyond developing a web design literacy, I also developed social media, marketing, and branding literacies. One of the most important changes that we made was incorporating more student, non-staff member writing, art, and photography on the site. The website is linked to Facebook and Twitter, so every time a new article, photograph, or art piece goes up, I tweet and Facebook post the links to the site. When I do, I tag all of the students involved on their personal social media pages. This way, they can see their published work, share the links, and thus disseminate our content to a wider slice of the community. This not only increases individual artists’ visibility, but also the visibility of the paper as a whole. This also will help individuals build up their portfolios and present published works to potential future employers.

            This is a technique of microcelebrities: media users who accrue fame and wide followings by commanding social platforms online. Key tenets of these groups are brand development, impression management, persona creation, and inter/intranetwork connections. By utilizing social media and targeted graphics, we were able to refine and re-market the brand of The Phoenix while increasing intranetwork connectivity.

            Overall this project has been incredibly successful. There were few pitfalls, beyond the unavoidable annoyances of wrangling writers to meet deadlines and keeping up with regular site maintenance. The hardest aspects were the human co-ordination efforts. If there were 10 of me, creation of the site would have been a snap but unfortunately there is only one Wade. While I went into this expecting the technical stuff to be my biggest challenge, learning to be a team leader and organizer was the biggest issue. The human effort was the most important, and the most difficult to manage, part of the project.

            Now, the site is almost fully developed. We have developed a strong readership, a solid internal editing structure, an easily navigable interface, and a regular maintenance schedule. While we still have a long way to go, I am satisfied with the progress that we have made. For me, the site will never be finished: there are always improvements that can be made and more ways to market our material to a wider audience. The journalism that we produce can always be stronger and always be harder hitting. For now, my goal of developing a functioning online public forum has been accomplished; but, I have three more years to see exactly where I can take this site. Stay tuned, big things are to come.


Now that the site has been formally established, the design has been updated and improved, and we have accrued a sizable amount of content, thus begins the next phase in development: marketing. Marketing is often used as an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, delivering and communicating value to customers, in addition to maintaining and developing customer relations in a way that best serves the product, company, or brand. In our case, we’re not really trying to appeal to “customers” per se, because they do not buy our paper and we do not make money off of them. The student body of SLC can be seen somewhat like “customers” in that they are consuming the product (the paper and online content) that we produce. With a new staff, an entirely restructured press cycle, and an entirely redesigned web platform, we need to not only brand ourselves anew but market and advertise ourselves to a community that 1. is generally apathetic 2. has historically held unfavorable opinions about our publication and 3. does not know much if anything about our publication, its history, its staff, and its mission.

Because of the integration of the online platform, this marketing and public relations campaign will begin using internet mediums. As of now, we have established a Facebook Page and a Twitter account. Throughout the week, we tweet out links not only to our site main pages when we refresh them, but also to specific articles and photographic content that we want to promote. Ideally, because of the nature of the Twitter platform, we want to generate most of our buzz here. Twitter is easy to use, broadly accessible, and the hashtag functions makes it easy for us to connect with people that may be outside of the Sarah Lawrence sphere. Unfortunately, we have not developed a wide-enough Twitter following (and not enough SLC students have and regularly use their Twitter accounts) for this to be widely effective.

Thus the use of Facebook. Our Facebook page functions a little bit differently from typical institution pages. We do not have “followers” that “like” our page, we have “friends.” Our page is unique in that in half functions as typical Facebook user profile, and half functions as a business page. While at first this type of page gave me qualms, as it turns out this was the best option for our uses. By utilizing this kind of page, I can go online and actually personally “friend” Sarah Lawrence Students. This may seem creepy but it’s actually very effective: students see the personal invitations that I send them and feel as though they have been awarded special attention. It is also way more likely for a student to agree to a Facebook “friend” invite than to respond to an invitation to “like” a page. In the span of a few days, I was able to “friend” way more people than have ever been associated with our Facebook page. We are able to engage with and disseminate content to a much wider audience. This type of page also allows whoever is using The Phoenix’s Facebook account to privately message individuals. This is useful for when we need to professionally, but more quickly and effectively, communicate with people about publication business.

Because of the personal nature of Facebook and because so many students regularly check-in online, when I post content to our Facebook page it is seen by a wider audience of people. By utilizing Facebook, I have been able to increase site traffic exponentially, sharing content with a much wider audience than before. Users can engage with the content on Twitter, but Facebook provides an easier platform for commenting. Since beginning to heavily utilize our Facebook page, our articles have received way more attention, people have actually shared links on their personal Facebook pages (without me having to ask them haha!) and many have commented.

Originally I thought that by providing commenting and sharing options on the site, the majority of conversation would take place their. Since using Facebook, this has not been the case at all. We have received a few very long, very detailed comments on the site but most of the commenting happens in the comments section under the links on Facebook. Some of the commentary has been negative, but a vast majority has been very positive. This is another marketing boon: when people are positively commenting on articles, other people see that and then their image of our brand is improved. On Facebook, hundreds of people see these comments. Even if comments are negative, I’m still happy because that means that people are reading our content, the content is evoking a reaction, and then individuals are responding and acting upon that reaction.

Though the pathways that our readers take to engage with that content is not what I had originally thought would happen, they are still engaging with the content and ultimately this is all that matters. When other people comment and share links on Facebook, they are marketing our brand for us! And that’s awesome. The whole purpose of creating an online platform was to generate an online public forum—a digital space where our content would evoke discussion. The goal was for users to read content, engage with the content, and then bring discussion from real life online and vice versa. And that’s exactly what’s happening. Going forward, our marketing strategies for online communications will mirror these trends. We will continue to promote links on Facebook and Twitter, but individual editors and writers will also share links—ideally from the Facebook page so that not only will their Facebook friends be directed to the site, but will also be directed to our Facebook page. In theory, this should not only increase site traffic but also increase our followership on Facebook as well.

Beyond online and social media marketing strategies, we are also working on advertising and marketing campaigns in non-digital spaces. This will namely be in the form of word of mouth information propagation and flyers. Our flyers are especially important because they will direct people to our site who are not necessarily within our sphere of influence online. There are many individuals who we are not connected to on Facebook or Twitter, and who may never happenstance stumble upon a link to our site. These flyers are also important because, graphically, they are helping to define our brand. A really important aspect of our branding strategy is the graphic design of our site and our print publication. We emphasize clean, clear, minimal layouts with black and white and cream and forest green (our school colors) tones. Advertisers aim to make their products instantly recognizable to their markets. Hopefully, by propagating our cream and forest green-toned graphic of a phoenix rising out of the ashes, our readers will be able to see a flyer or see our site up on a computer screen and be able to instantaneously recognize it as The Phoenix. Our flyers are going to go up everywhere: in all student-run spaces, all dining halls (including the Heimbold Atrium Café and Hill to Go), all community message boards, the Library, and pretty much anywhere else that we are physically allowed to put up flyers.

Further marketing strategies that we are devising will include publicity stunts (to be determined, we have talked about running around the North Lawn throwing papers and flyers in the air a lá Mean Girls but there is still much discussion on the topic) and public arts projects such as painting the community boards by Bates and Hill House and arranging white stones on either the North or South Lawns (or both) that spell out The Phoenix. We want to get our newspaper as much visibility as possible. Not only to grow readership but also to improve our community standing. Ultimately, our goal is that this will increase the number of students who are willing and excited to write for our publication, leading to more content, more variety, higher quality writing, and our ability to produce more stimulating news.

While all of these methods sound fine and dandy in theory, they are just our plan for now. We hope to adapt these campaign strategies as we go and see exactly how the community is responding. If something is not working, we’ll fix it or come up with something new. Young people are fickle, and we have to be able to almost instantaneously adjust how we are appealing to them in order to not lose our readership.

Friend us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/slcphoenix
Follow us on Twitter: @SLCPhoenix

Outrage: Community Forum at its Finest

With the launch of the site a few weeks in the past, we have begun to accrue a decent amount of content on the site. We have feature pieces, editorials, campus events, city happenings, and fashion, music, film, and food blog pages.

Upon the initial launch of the site, I wrote this letter explaining the mission of The Phoenix and the specific purposes of the online site:

Hello Sarah Lawrence College,

If you are reading this, then you have successfully navigated to The Phoenix Online. Welcome! We are absolutely stoked to be here and to be delivering you up-to-date news about our campus. After much ado we have finally stepped into the 21st century and upgraded our webpage, because there is way too much to talk about for just one bi-weekly newspaper.

Our goal is to publish accounts of campus events as well as to have individuals voice their opinions and perspectives on issues spanning everything from school politics to popular cultural trends. We are not only an onlinenews source but also a space for discussing, questioning, celebrating, discovering, and exploring everything that comprises Sarah Lawrence culture and beyond.

Anyone who attends or is employed by Sarah Lawrence College may write for this publication (subject to our editing). We host meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesdays in the North Room at the pub where anyone can come to contribute content, share ideas, or just see what we’re all about. We are always looking for new voices and new viewpoints.

In recent years, our print publication has fallen beneath an acceptable standard of publishing, both in terms of timeliness and presentation. Don’t worry, we know—which is why all of that is about to change. This site is our first step in re-conceptualizing and restructuring a publication that the entire community can be proud of.

Other platforms have been created to fill the void that existed in a school without a proper news source. SLCspeaks is an incredible publication that allows students’ stories to be shared in a way that has never before been done at this school. Its creators, managers, and writers have brought this school a sense of community that is invaluable. They redefined our notion of what it means to have a voice here. Let it be clear that we are not SLCspeaks, nor would we ever try to be.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about anything that we present or should be presenting, definitely let us know. At the bottom of each piece, there is space for you to put in your two cents and speak directly to our writers and editors. We implore you to let us, and each other, know what you think.

We want to be as transparent and accessible as possible for you. We want to start more open dialogues with you so that we can become the best we can be. All letters to the editor that we receive will be addressed timely and honestly.

We admit that we have a long way to go before we will be the publication that this campus deserves, but think of this as The Phoenix rising out of the ashes.

Sarah Lawrence is a very opinionated and vocal place, so I knew that as soon as any controversial content was put up on the site community members would respond immediately and passionately. Boy oh boy was I right.

In our previous print issue, we had published a piece written by a first-year student arguing that SLC lacks a sense of community and does not do enough to transition first-years into college. In it, she uses inflammatory language and basically rags on not only the administration but community members in general. She quotes various first-years in the piece, many of whom are her closest friends. I published the piece on the site, not because I thought that it was an important or particularly well-written piece, but because I knew that it would spark controversy. And it did.

Within 5 hours of me tweeting out and Facebook posting the link to the article, it received two essay-style responses in the comments section of the site. Students were enraged that the author called for more community-building organizations and potentially the introduction of Greek Life into Sarah Lawrence culture. Respondents questioned not only her opinion, but also her journalistic integrity in quoting only her closest friends.

A few people came up to me questioning why I published it if it was such a negative piece. To be honest, it was a PR stunt. I wanted to garner some attention of The Phoenix’s website. On the site are dozens of pieces which are absolutely positive—awesome film reviews, news pieces on important events on campus, and profiles of incredibly talented and prolific student artists. Furthermore, the purpose of a news source is to spark conversation, to let a community know what’s going on and open up a dialogue about that. Even if only a few students felt the same way that the author felt, it was still important to get those viewpoints out there and let the community have a chance to discuss them.

Though some people were divided by this piece and the issues raised, many were brought together. In the past few days, I have overheard countless students talking about how they disagree with her and how they love the SLC community. Though her piece was harsh and criticized community, it’s effects served to bolster community feeling and bring people together.

The fact that this topic was able to be discussed on an online forum is so important. Users were able to respond to each and communicate within the SLC network in a way that they haven’t before, separate from typical social media sites. The official public forum gave students a platform to write long, detailed responses that were respectful and intelligent. Had this article simply appeared on Facebook, the types of comments would have been much different and I suspect much less positive and helpful.

Though this is only a start, the community is starting to engage with our publication, and with each other, in new and powerful ways. I’m exciting to see what happens next, and what conversations brew in the comments section of the site.

Beta Version Blues

I launched The Phoenix website when I did because I had accrued a ton of content that was quickly becoming irrelevant. While working on fine tuning the details, my team and I had to cut corners in order to make our launch deadline, which had already been extended more than once. As I said in an earlier post, most of the issues that arose were of human origin, not machine. While much of our labor time was spent working with the squarespace software, we were inhibited by our writers and photographers, who were slow in getting us what we needed. This is when it became clearest to me not only that web media is a human product, but that it is also a community effort. While I sometimes like to think that I can do everything, I can’t. It would be impossible for one person to write every story, take every photograph, design each page on the site, and continue to update each page over time. While I was sometimes dissatisfied with others’ work, I had to acknowledge that for an online public forum such as this one it was imperative that content from many different individuals create the whole. A public forum is not the product of one but the product of a community, and this helped me to re-evaluate my role in the structure of the project.

Unlike machines which are fairly predictable, humans are unfortunately very unpredictable and sometimes even unreliable. After our initial launch, Spring Break began and our contributors (who are obviously not as invested in the project as myself or my co-editors) began to lose steam. I received less than half of the content that I was expecting, leaving us high and dry. It’s a strange thing to come to terms with that despite having the labor time available, online media access, and technological know how, our progress was completely halted without our contributors’ information.

So, with two weeks of dead time where there was little news to report and we were waiting for content to come in from our contributors, we decided to upgrade the site from the tentative Beta version that we had set up. Prior to our revisions, each section page on the site was set up like a blog feed with articles presented in chronological order with the most recent at the top. While this made sense for the short term, the design was fairly basic. Readers could scroll through the most recent news updates, but the layout did not allow for thorough exploration of the content. We got feedback from a few site visitors, and most said that they disliked this design because they were forced to look at news that was uninteresting to them. I feared that by leaving this feed-style layout up on the site, our readers would lose interest. Not only that, but this style did not allow us to graphically display content in a stimulating way.

In order to change each section page so that they were easier to explore and navigate, we had to do a complete overhaul of the site. This involved altering almost all of the page pathways – the ways that the different section pages appeared and where they were located within the architecture of the site. In class we read about e-literature from a literary theory standpoint, so I knew the importance and nuance of the architecture of and pathway design of e-lit, but I had no idea how to actually implement or change layout to be radically different from print versions of the same content. Moreover, I had no idea which was would be “best.”

This is where I really started to pay a lot of attention to praxis, because truly what I was doing here was exploring uncharted territory. While many other news sources have made the transition to online and have created new and innovative ways of displaying their content, I had to come up with a way that made the most sense for our specific kind of content and for our specific audience. Moreover, we were constrained by the specific limitations of squarespace. Neither of us are versed in computer code, and thus had to use the tools available to us.

In English classes, I had always been taught that content dictates form: but is that actually true? To answer this question, I began to truly play. My co-editor and I dove right in, altering site architecture, redesigning pages, and changing and re-changing page layouts over and over again until we found the cleanest, easiest to use designs that we liked the best. Now, the site’s structure functions in a multiple home page fashion. When you visit SarahLawrencePhoenix.com, there is a main home page which showcases our biggest story (accompanied with a giant and very stimulating graphic) followed by a smaller headline and image from each of our main sections. At the very top of this main page is a horizontal menu of all of the different pages on the site: features, editorials, campus, city, about, and staff. We revamped each of these sections to feature a main home page for the section, where similar to the home page main stories plus images and presented in a graphically stimulating way. Instead of scrolling through a feed of all section stories, viewers can go to the section main page, look at the top 5 or so headlines, and explore them. If the reader wants to read older news, they can click a link at the bottom of the page which then directs them to a feed of all of the articles in that section which is similar to our originals layout designed but a bit more sophisticated and organized. Additionally, at the top of every page on the site is now a search bar where site viewers can search for whatever content they want. This was a crucial addition: there are no professional news sites on the web which do not include a search function. This was necessary for improving our legitimacy and user-friendliness.

While there are still many improvements that could be made, we were definitely limited by the platform of squarespace. Because we were not writing the code ourselves, we coulda not create incredibly complicated and specific page layouts like you might find on CNN.com or NYTimes.com. It would be amazing to develop our site to the level of complexity of one of those news sites, but it is just not feasible given 1. Our technological limitations 2. Our manpower/labor limitations and 3. Our content limitations (we simply do not have the volume, quality, and diversity of content yet to create an intricate site).

I am very satisfied with where we have come. One of the biggest initial reasons for creating this site was so that we could showcase more graphical instead of textual content. This new structure does that: each headline is accompanied by one main image of the story which helps to qualify the article and draw readers in. Not only does this allow us to showcase more content and improve readership, but it gives our audience something more interesting to look at. It is easier for them to explore and find content to read that they might not have found otherwise. It also gives more airtime to photographers and graphic designers. This not only serves aesthetic and content purposes, but also helps to market us. Artists whose work is featured on our site tell generate hype and interest from their friends and community members, as well as attracts new artists who might want to submit their content eventually.

We also incorporated a new type of news post on the site that we are calling photo story. These are stories which are especially effectively told through image, and include way way way more photos than a regular story would. With photostories we play with shape, size, placement, and color. Photostories incorporate digital galleries and slide shows as well as images placed throughout the text of the article. These pieces are exciting, immersive, and playful, giving our site the complexity that we cannot obtain through site architecture.

Though we were set back by a lack of new content, I think that these revisions were absolutely necessary. These major overhauls were implemented quickly and efficiently, instead of slowly and painstakingly as we would have had we not had this down time. I was originally upset by our loss of momentum, I think these changes will improve the overall longevity, legitimacy, and efficacy of our news source as a whole and will allow us to jump right in after the break on a regular news update schedule.

Finally, after months of work, stress, and setbacks, things are solidifying. For a while, the site and project in general felt almost weak and wishy washy, like a kids project that might be brilliant or might be a hot mess. Now, the site feels permanent and real, a feeling which is directly correlated I think to the fact that I’ve been able to sleep at night of late.

After Much Ado…

After Much Ado…

Here it is! The initial product of this project, the launch that I have been dreaming of for weeks and that at times I felt like would never happen. This link will take you to the letter from the editor that I wrote. I have fragmented the explanation of my praxis on this project into multiple spaces—the NML blog, this blog, and my personal social media accounts. I think that this letter takes the ideas behind “why” that I have been grasping at trying to explain and clearly relates them to The Phoenix’s present and future audience.

Please let me know what you think! And, if you get the chance, explore the site a bit!

Here is a link to the site’s homepage


Labor of Love — Curation and Birth

Saying that you are going to make a website and actually creating an webpage are two very different things. You can blather on about ideas for layout, collect new pieces, and take hundreds of photographs, but actually uploading them to the infosphere is a whole other process. 

Thus far, I had hand-selected a stellar staff (adding a third cook to the kitchen, Ellie Brumbaum became my newest/first Photo Editor), harassed writers and photographers into generating a respectable amount of text and images for the site, and planned the general aesthetic of what we wanted the page to be. Now, our task became breaking through the semi-permeable membrane of the screen—taking that content and those ideas and translating them into (another form of) digital media. It was time to do the heavy lifting, the coding that would take us from idea to product.

Before we began this process, I had an interesting philosophical debate in my head. Here, our class and group conference conversations about code really came in to play. It was weird to think about coding, because at the end of the day our content was not going to change very much once it was put on the site. All of the articles existed in e-mails, word documents, and Facebook messages. All of the photographs were taken on digital cameras and were stored in .JPEG and .IMG files. When we first started in on this project, it felt like we were taking physical paper media things and transcribing them into digital space. In truth, we were simply changing the organization of digital files, taking them out of private digital spaces and then displaying them in one public digital space. I realized that what we were doing was much less complicated and revolutionary that what our other team members do every two weeks for The Phoenix’s print edition. They take the same digital files that we use and transform them into physical media—a task that I realized was way more conceptually daunting than what we were doing.

The platform that we chose to host our media made our lives incredibly easy. Squarespace is designed with all of the tools that a web developer needs to create a user-friendly, graphically stimulating site. The fluidity with which the content was uploaded was relieving to say the least. Once we had designed the base framework of the site and had implemented basic digital infrastructures, it was a no brainer to copy and paste text, drag and drop photos, re-size and reformat text boxes and image galleries. We were not creating, truly, but curating.

Two weeks and hundreds of hours of uploading, copying, pasting, tweaking, shrinking, stretching, and re-configuring later, we had put up all of the content that we had spent so much time finding. Though the site was far from perfect (we still have a long way to go before it will be the publication that this campus deserves), it was ready to launch. As a last finishing touch, I wrote a letter to the student body explaining what the site was and why we made it. Writing this later felt like the last few, and the hardest, pushes of our labor. It was done. We had given birth to something brand new and uniquely ours. The only thing left to do was paste a link and hit “tweet.”

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…

Getting Started

The hardest part of creating something, for me at least, is getting the process started. For weeks the question running through my mind was “how the hell am I going to do this?” As someone with 0 web design knowledge, I was daunted by the task of figuring out how to take the print publication that we have and transform it into content displayed on a web page.

This issue ended up being the first lesson that I learned as a part of this project. It became clear to me that you can’t do everything on your own—this is why I enlisted the help of Nabila Wirakusumah, a graphic designer and first-year student at SLC.

We decided that before us were two options: we could either enlist the help of a professional to design us a web page entirely from scratch, or, we could use some other platform and do the layout design work ourselves. While the first option would give us more creative control and a more unique graphical layout, it would be costly. For our purposes, it would require an investment of upwards of $750 to pay someone to create a page for us. While more limiting, we opted for the second approach and chose commercial web host Squarespace.com for our site. This would allow us to be able to directly change layout ourselves and upload content (articles, graphics, and links) more efficiently. Squarespace offers clean, generic, basic layouts for augmentation and use. While these sample layouts were quite elementary, we decided that the minimalist aesthetic and ease of access would be our best option.

While I wanted the site to be the best that it could be, I conceded that it would be more worthwhile to get the site up and running as fast as possible. I made the executive decision to choose speed and efficiency over perfecting content design. To me, it was more important that the framework of the site was established and publicized to start generating hype than to have a site that was immaculate down to the last photo caption.

This was a really nerve-wracking decision for me to make. The Phoenix has received negative commentary on its print page layouts for a long time. They are generally poorly crafted and make our newspaper look unprofessional. My biggest fear in creating this site was that it would look just as poor as the print paper does, and thus would continue to drag the publication down rather than bring it back to life as was my main goal. As an editor, I decided that a more important use of mental resources would be generating powerful, well-written, well-researched, relevant news pieces.

But as I was about to discover, trying to accrue strong writers is, as my mother would say, like trying to herd kittens…

New Beginnings

My name is Wade and I am a first-year student at Sarah Lawrence College.

In high school, I was the editor-in-chief of my school’s newspaper: a 20 page monthly publication which covered all aspects of student life as well as local, national, and world news. We underwent an extensive press cycle and editing process to ensure high-quality writing and immaculate graphical layouts.

Upon beginning my academic career at SLC, I decided that I couldn’t let my journalistic talents die—I wanted to be a part of a publication again. I joined The Phoenix my first week here, despite warnings from every upperclassman that I ran into that “The Phoenix is a sinking ship.” How could this be? I thought. Sarah Lawrence is a school renowned the world over for its student writers; its official newspaper should reflect that. Why don’t people care? Every other person you talk to at SLC says that they are interested in studying journalism—shouldn’t the aspiring journalists be writing for the school newspaper? Even in this class, a media class, I am the only student who is actively involved in the school newspaper.

With further investigation, I figured out why the newspaper was dying: the internal editing structure of the publication was lacking. The leaders of The Phoenix were uninspired and unwilling to go above and beyond to create a graphically stimulating, well-written, well-edited, relevant publication. Because of the paper’s bad reputation, students were unwilling to attach their name to it. 

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I marched into my first meeting determined to make a change. It is ridiculous and unacceptable to me that a writing school as prolific as SLC does not have a reputable print news publication. It seemed to me that there would only be one way to bring this dying news source back to life: by giving it a new life online. And thus my role as Online Editor was born.

Today, most people get their news online. Many simply hear about current events on twitter and that seems to be enough for them. The only way to bring the Phoenix back would be to get with the times and provide news in the way that innovative young want to consume it. Students don’t want to walk all the way to the library or the dining hall to pick up an outdated copy of the Phoenix in order to get campus news—they want it instantly, anywhere. Thus, the Phoenix Online project was born, with me spearheading the project and attempting to drag our paper into the 21st century.

This blog is my space to document the process of creating an online community publication. I want to show my praxis in creating a new medium, a news site, that will act as a public forum and fount of community knowledge. Newspapers are a place where people can find out more about the space that they live in, and hear voices of all kinds throughout the community. While we live in a globalized network, that does not mean that the local network has been eliminated: it’s still there, we just haven’t been paying as much attention to it. Here, on this wordpress, I will detail how I create and maintain this site, publicize it, advertise it, generate content for it, and organize the student body around it. Whether I fail to create a meaningful forum or make something amazing that lasts at SLC for years and years to come, the ultimate purpose of this project is to chronicle the birth of a new medium.Phoenix Header