Zero to launch in just three months

[Editor’s note: Two weeks ago I introduced a collection of news sites published this semester by my online journalism students at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism. Today, the student spotlight turns on to Allan Richards’ Online News Reporting class at Florida International University, in North Miami.]

Our Online News Reporting class is the capstone course in our print journalism track. (The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University has approx. 2000 students, equally divided between the journalism dept. and PR/advertising dept. The journalism dept. breaks down into print, broadcast, TV production and management.)

I have taught our Online News Reporting class since 2002 and have charged each class to develop its own newsmagazine and/or blog sites. Increasingly, because of the accessibility to free software — and because of tech-savvy students in the class — I have been able to assign the class a project and advise and guide more than teach.

I ran this class as a start-up magazine. Because I teach other writing courses in our track, I knew that this particular class had some of the finest writers I had seen pass through the school. (Our journalism department has a unique internship program with The Miami Herald — these are paid internships and 15-20 students write on a regular basis for local sections. About half the class wrote for The Herald.)

First day of class I gave them the project: produce a newsmagazine before the end of the semester — in three months. There was mild panic. These kids could write, and a few were excellent photographers, but they really didn’t have much tech experience. They thought I’d run a tech course.

I had them set up a message board, told them they had 15 minutes to create blog sites, and that the word Google was a verb as well as a noun. Apart from teaching the online class, I am the lead instructor in our language skills/grammar course (our journalism department embedded grammar into all the skills courses) — about half the class had been in my grammar section and understood what I meant.

Once they created their blogs — several students, especially two from South America who are interested in politics, already had blog sites — they developed a bit of confidence. We then created the newsmagazine staff — editors, writers, techies, photographers, etc. — and developed an editorial policy.

We used the message board all semester to augment class time, and the students communicated with each other as the project evolved. The message board also gave them the feel of working on a 24/7 cycle.

Reviewing their messages I see that their first instinct was to name the newsmagazine. They put that on ice when they couldn’t and then did what was familiar to them: developed story ideas. They pretty much worked as print journalists until I brought in an article from New York Magazine about The Blog Establishment — about how young bloggers were making money. They got pretty aggressive after that. I also invited in a webmaster who had developed a newsmagazine for one of my earlier classes — he offered to help… at a price.

The following message by Angie Hargot on the student message board really tells the rest of the story:

“Now that we have the domain name I was starting to think about hosting and bandwidth and such. I talked to a couple of the editors already, I really can’t see the need for paying a professional web development team. I think we were all pretty gung ho about a clean look so why not do it ourselves? So here’s what I’m thinking…

“The editors should get together soon and first look into our flash and bandwidth needs. We’ll create a mockup front page on actual paper. We can print out the photos and lay them out on graph paper with file sizes written down (flashback to high school newspaper design!) and then use a formula like the one below to determine what level of hosting we will need.

“Just for reference purposes, Yahoo Business is offering 500GB for $40 per year. (

“The fact that our site will have audio, video, and will be image heavy will factor in, but still doesn’t even seem like a problem. We all have site building software on our hard drives right now (if you have MS Office, you have Frontpage, so do the labs). SQL is just a standard programming language that anyone can use. So why not? I just think if we’re willing to put the time into developing the site ourselves, we shouldn’t have to pay someone to do those things for us. Maybe I’m wrong. What’s everyone’s thoughts?”

The final project:

Journalism educators: Do you have a student project or research you’d like to see featured on OJR? E-mail OJR editor Robert Niles at rniles(at)

About Allan Richards

Allan Richards, M.A., Associate Dean and Associate Professor, Florida International University,
School of Journalism and Mass Communication, N. Miami. [email protected]


  1. I commend their efforts to invest their time and get result.That is what achievers do. I feel also that it will be good to use other peoples work, and pay something, if it will add excellent touch to the final outcome.