is Doing its job – and Well

By Dave Nimmer started a new feature last month that seems smart, strategic and savvy: sending twice-weekly updates directly to subscribers’ e-mail inboxes, featuring the five newest stories on the website.

It’s apparent, from what I have read on the site during the last six months, that I’ve been missing other stories worth reading. Too often, I forget to check the site, and now I’ll have a regular prompt.

In my opinion, has mostly lived up to the expectations of the Communication and Journalism Department, which helped to launch it: The reporters and photographers seem enterprising and energetic, turning stories around quickly. The site is neither a lap dog nor a pit bull, showing a basic adherence to accuracy, fairness and balance.

A story about the College of Business hiring seven full-time faculty members during a time when St. Thomas faces budget constraints demonstrates that balance. The story raises an obvious concern about the short-term cost of having a business school that seeks to play with the big dog (the U of M’s Carlson School of Management). But the story goes on to say that hiring the full-time faculty is necessary to gain accreditation from the American Association of Colleges and Schools of Business, and that getting accredited is essential to compete with other options students have. I believe the reporter bent over backwards to be fair to all the players in the game.

TommieMedia was quick to spot people at St. Thomas who mirrored the findings in a Pew Research Center study of how people get their news these days. The reporter got the “local angle,” quoting UST students who regularly check their iPhones and surf the Internet to get their daily news – everything from weather updates to sports scores to stock market quotes.

Since TommieMedia is essentially for students, its reporters ought to be hustling for stories that affect their lives – stories they can’t get anywhere else. That’s why the story about a proposal to charge residents students to do laundry beginning this fall was a nice hit, and it produced plenty of comments which were posted to the website. (St. Thomas has decided to build laundry fees into residence hall rates and not charge specifically for each time a student uses a washing machine or dryer.)

Another example of TommieMedia hustle was the story that students who graduate before the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center opens may have to pay to use the facility as alumni. Again, the story seemed fair – not a cheap shot at the administration or athletic department because it quoted Athletic Director Steve Fritz saying the university’s first obligation is to provide free use to students and pointing out that alumni paid to use the old facilities.

In addition to covering news, TommieMedia offered some provocative opinion, including a piece calling for a ban on laptops in classrooms “to help students stay focused.”  In her column, opinions editor Katie Broadwell said she doesn’t have to bring her own laptop “to class to distract myself. I can look around the room and get sidetracked by what everyone else is looking at on their computers.”

In a report on its sixth-month anniversary, TommieMedia reported it has attracted 34,738 unique visitors, and about 1,000 come to the site each day.

“We are improving steadily since the site was launched,” senior director Shane Delaney said. “We’re doing a lot of sports coverage and trying to post stories and video quickly, sometimes while the game is still in progress.”

Delaney said he’s especially proud of efforts to get stories – hard news and features alike – that directly affect the student audience.

Now, one of the next steps ought to be getting roll-in video to go along with the anchor reads in the 90-second news updates.