Building off of a coral reef – a Whitman blog network

In the most recent episode of Dave Winer and Jay Rosen’s tremendous podcast titled “Rebooting the News” Dave mentions the metaphor of treating journalism like a coral reef. Basically the gist of the metaphor, as I understand it, is this: if you can put in the initial work to start covering many different aspects of a community then pretty soon that community will become involved in building and giving life to that local news site.

Daniel Bachhuber posted his thoughts on this a couple nights ago and expanded upon the concept in terms of data and information. This all got me thinking about how this concept could be applied to a small college paper like the Whitman Pioneer. As part of my work this summer on redesigning The Pioneer’s site I’m working to create a foundation from which the paper can build features in the coming years. Part of this involves creating a framework that can integrate and inspire community engagement. What better method of doing this than creating a “coral reef.”

Here’s what I’m thinking: Right now we have a few various blogs that are written by staff writers. Most of them are not updated all that frequently and those that we have essentially serve as beat blogs and expand the coverage of events and topics that The Pioneer already covers. What we don’t have that I think could prove to be incredibly interesting and engaging is a network of blogs written by other members of the Whitman community.

I know there’s other students, professors, etc. that have blogs but I have no idea what the urls are; consequently I have no easy way to find out what they’re writing about. What I’m envisioning is creating a Pioneer blog network where we do two main things:

  1. Aggregate the content from personal blogs – This could be anything from someone’s Tumblr to a WordPress or Blogger site. They would just go about posting content in the normal way and we would aggregate it on our site and provide links and some information so that The Pioneer’s readers would be able to get a better sense of what “regular” Whitman students are thinking.
  2. Provide a framework for additional blogs – Not all students are tech-savvy enough to have their own personal domain, or motivated enough to start their own blog on WordPress.com or Blogger. What I would propose here is that The Pioneer provides a blog for any student interested. These could be hosted on our domain and run custom installs of WordPress. I would put together a collection of themes (both self-designed and from the WordPress community) and they would be able to install any of those (or anything else they find) and all the plugins the want. Their blog could then be hosted at a sub-domain of The Pioneer’s site (something like http://blogs.whitmanpioneer.com/joeblogger).

What I see this as accomplishing is twofold.

For one, students (both prospective and enrolled) would have a place to turn to find the recent views of their classmates. We currently feature columns from students studying abroad but there are far more that keep blogs during their time in various countries. How cool would it be to have a place that aggregates all of this information about the Whitman experience?

Second, I see this as providing a forum through which both parents and the community in general can become more involved in the views expressed and discussed. There’s always a lot of talk about how Whitman students go to school in a bubble and I think this could help to combat that perception. It would provide a well-trafficked site through which they could express their opinions on issues spanning sports, politics, community service, crime, etc. It would also give a direct line for community members to interact with students. They would have a place to turn to find what Whitman students are saying and consequently would be able to easily add comments and their own perspectives.

Anyway, those are just my quick and very much rough draft thoughts on the matter. I’m sure the idea will grow the more I think about it in the coming days. I’ll also be working on posting a wireframe for the page in the coming weeks and we’ll see how feasible that is. What I’m wondering is what you think: Sound like a good idea? Think it’s awful and a waste of time? Do you know of any schools or news organizations that are attempting something similar?