Inmates hold charity run for at-risk youth

Collegian: Prisoners run, walk for charity. Probably the coolest story I’ll read all day – the prisoners at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Rockview organized an 8-hour run to raise money to counsel at risk youth. Run annually for 29 years, the event has raised nearly half a million dollars. The whole thing really changes your perspective on people.

The Paper on PBS Tonight at 10pm

Last Collegian post for a while hopefully. During my sophomore year a documentary filmmaker followed the students at the Collegian around to make a movie about the American media. Tonight it’s premiering on PBS’ Independent Lens at 10pm. I’m not in the movie (I actually took a semester off from the Collegian that year), but I worked with a lot of the people who were featured in it. I saw the film this spring and its pretty well done so if you get a chance tonight, check it out.

My Baby Is Growing Up

The Daily Collegian Online launched a new redesign with wider pages and improved navigation. It was a little bittersweet to see my original design fall by the way side but its great to see that they’re constantly improving the site. They’re really upped the ante with their multimedia features and sports blogs. I’m very proud to see how far we’ve come since we started in 2005 and since the new guys took over this summer. Kudos to Ryan, Dan, and the rest of the staff.

Launch Pad Takes Off

Collegian: Company aids student entrepreneurs. Consultant, entrepreneur, and college roommate extraordinaire Rob Shedd is interviewed about his Lion Launch Pad. Besides my obvious bias of being a friend of Rob’s, I think its a neat project because its offering student entrepreneurs an environment that seems similar to the type of environment the Collegian offers student journalists.

Thank You (My 1st Song)

Originally posted on the Facebook.

Me at the Lion ShrineIn my senior column for the Collegian I said “Thank you to all the students, professors, bosses, colleagues, friends and family who made my college experience an experience. When I look back on my years at Penn State I will think of you, not Old Main.” I originally wrote that as a little dig at Penn State’s administration, but I realize now it’s actually very meaningful. I spent the last week on a half-dead campus and realized that Penn State is just a place on a map with a lot of buildings that probably won’t be there in 15 years (let the fundraising begin for IST II Building). College has been more about the people who shared these four years with me. So without further ado, shout outs to the people who made my college years special. (Feel free to skim – this is ridiculously long)

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Senior's investment at college worth more than just tuition

Originally published in The Daily Collegian. This is my senior column.

Last fall I spent my first night back in State College watching the movie Accepted.

Given that I spend most weekends in a movie theater with my friends, it seemed like the appropriate start to the school year.

In case you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a bunch of lovable losers, led by the “I’m a Mac” guy from those commercials, who accidentally form their own college.

And much to their surprise, students start showing up and, beyond all logic, start paying the founders’ tuition.

After the initial shock, the founders do something that’s actually quite extraordinary.

They take the students’ tuition money and invest it in equipment for their area of study.

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Internet campaigns the way of the future

Originally published in The Daily Collegian.

Last week several politicians announced their intention to run for the presidency in 2008. Besides talking about their hopes for the future and trying to rally momentum for an election almost two years away, the announcements had something else in common.

None of them did it through a press conference, a Sunday morning talk show or even Jon Stewart’s chair. Instead they all chose to make their announcements directly to their supporters through online videos.

The medium of the Mentos and Diet Coke video has finally come of age. Campaigning on the Internet is no longer a novelty, it’s a standard that every campaign is rushing to embrace.

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Statistics, Blogs, and the Long Tail

Cross-posted on the Collegian: Web Wire blog.

Earlier this month our wonderful systems manager, Rick Simpson, began providing us with daily statistics information about our site. In the past, statistics were tabulated at the end of the month and didn’t give us a good idea about what are visitors were looking at on a day-to-day basis. Our statistics reports are publicly available, so if you’re curious you can see what I’m talking about. I try to avoid getting too worked up over some details, because statistics can be lies with numbers. But I did want to focus on a couple areas of interest – blogs and the long tail.

First, let’s talk about blogs. I’ve been checking Technorati, a blog search engine, a lot to see who is linking to the Daily Collegian Online. According to Technorati the answer is a handful of real blogs and a lot of spam blogs (blogs that just steal content and links to attract more hits). After checking out the referring URLs in our statistics I realized that we get linked a lot more often than I realized. College Humor currently has Friday’s Bundy story linked on its home page, as did FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). Bundy, by the way, gathered more page views than our home page yeterday. Yesterday Fark tagged our story about a creationism/evolution lecture from Sept. 29 as “sad”. Those are just some examples of the bigger sites linking to us.

This all leads into my second point – the long tail. Those two “hot” stories from yesterday’s statistics are ones that did not appear in yesterday’s paper. In fact, a look at our statistics reports will show that only about a third of our traffic is for that day’s news. The long tail is a concept introduced in a Wired magazine article that has later been expanded into a book. It suggests that the Internet has started a shift in business from selling a small number of popular items to using technology to sell small quantities of many smaller items. Think of sites like and Netflix, whose selection is a big selling point. Julia Turner demonstrated last month how the long tail works for Slate magazine.

Seeing information like this shows the significance of maintaining archives and not putting them behind a pay wall. Some people may think it bad that a significant amount of our traffic goes to our archives, but from an advertisers’ perspective we’re still delivering them eyeballs. There may be some issues revolving around what sort of audience comes from outside our site. One way we don’t capitalize on this currently is that our archives don’t bring people back into the site well. Our navigation isn’t consistent across the site and we don’t have any “fresh” content on our archive pages. So most people who come to our site from a direct link to a story don’t necessarily to see what else we have going on.

The long tail is a valuable lesson for a lot of businesses including newspapers. Its unfortunate that more news sites do not embrace this philosophy and leverage their archives better.

News on the March

Cross-posted on the Collegian: Web Wire blog.

Blogging regularly is more difficult than you would think. I’m not sure what keeps the Kottke’s, Scoble’s and Jarvis’ of the world going. People have been asking me to post more, so I thought I would outline how we currently post stories on our Web site.

Our process is designed for stories to come right off the print pages. All the pages of the print newspaper are designed in a program called QuarkXPress. It seems most people around have a love-hate relationship with the program, which makes design easier but has a lot of annoying little quirks. I don’t design the paper, so I am often indifferent. I do need it to get stories onto the Web though and here I have a beef with the software. Quark has a nice feature where it lets you copy the formatted text in HTML format. This is both beautiful and troublesome though, since its HTML is often poorly formatted and includes some bizarre characters.

Next we copy the text from Quark into the Collegian Web Generator (Da Da Dah!). The Web Generator is sophisticated, simple, and only occasionally buggy. It was created by Joseph Shimkus in 2000 with the best wisdom from that time. At its best, it pareses Quark-speak into more readable HTML. It also lets us add headlines, photos, and shadow boxes to the stories and spits it out in our Web site’s standard template. It also includes different formats for things like columns and editorials. After all the stories are done it creates the section pages for news, sports, etc.

One hang up with the Web Generator is that it spits out static files, only slightly souped up HTML pages that aren’t very different from your ePortfolio site. This means that we have to move these files around on the site and create links to a lot of things by hand. And while this may work OK for your Dane Cook fan site, it gets more complicated when you have more than 100,000 articles to maintain.

We can’t really update the Web site until the last page of the paper is sent off to our printers, which is around 1 a.m. on a good night. We also have to go through most of this process whenever we do a Web update mid-day, which is a hassle. One advantage we have on the Web, as compared to the print, is that we can always go back and fix our mistakes. Fixing stories requires someone to go in and edit the actual HTML, so its not really made for the tech-queasy. All this is handled by a couple students and our systems staff who perform some of the more thankless on the site.

If all this sounds ugly to you, you’re right. We’re not quite on the cutting edge yet. Still we’re different than most other newspaper’s, who just outsource their Web site work. We like to think by keeping things in house we’re able to give the site the extra love and care that makes our site better than the rest. We are actively looking for ways to improve the site though, so you’re welcome to send me your thoughts. And I promise I’ll write again sooner rather than later.