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May 31, 2010: Under the microscope — gauging the success of Cougar News Online, the web-based news publication of College of the Canyons

microscope

This web site has been on the sidelines during the Spring 2010 semester while the Media Entertainment Arts Department at College of the Canyons gradually rolled out Cougar News Online, a news publication of MEA 225, the college’s Advanced News Media Production class.

We are happy to report that MEA has made considerable strides in offering an alternative to the now-defunct Canyon Call, the former student newspaper.

Cougar News Online’s site utilizes WordPress software and is comprised of separate sections for Arts & EntertainmentNews, Sports, a Photo Archive, a Video Archive and an Opinion section. In addition, it has an archive of stories filed by students enrolled in MEA 125, the school’s News Reporting and Anchoring class.

And of particular interest is a collection of blogs by students enrolled in Introduction to Broadcast Journalism.

The written and broadcast stories under Arts & Entertainment, News and Sports focus primarily on events that occurred either on campus or in the local community. Savethecanyoncall.com was on record as being concerned about the emphasis that would be placed on writing skills in classes weighted more heavily toward broadcast journalism. In general, we found the quality of the writing to be at a commensurate level with what was historically published in the Canyon Call.

The MEA 125 stories were primarily teacher features, where students would interview a COC instructor and then file both a 500-word story and 3-minute broadcast piece. Jon Gonzalez’s story on COC print journalism instructor Jim Burns is a good example of how students are drawing from traditional and modern journalism techniques in the construction of their stories.

The musings of 14 Introduction to Broadcast Journalism students comprise the Blog section and, as one would expect, the topics have a wide swing.

Jeffrey Cox, a self-proclaimed “sports professor,” rants about “everything that is wrong in sports,” taking on such national institutions as ESPN, CBS Sports and the NCAA. He also tackles the absurdity of a recent promotion at Anaheim Stadium that had Angels fans wearing red fleece blankets en masse for a chance at a Guinness World Record.

One could argue that for Cougar News Online to have maximum relevancy to COC students and Santa Clarita at large, Cox ought to be blogging about the goings-on within the Cougar Athletic Department. But Cox and his fellow students have a wider view, and they express it with various degrees of skill and urgency, on the mark more often than not.

Regarding the Opinion section, first some background: On Sept. 25, 2009, a representative from the coalition to save the Canyon Call met with Media Entertainment Arts Department Chair David Brill to discuss his plans to turn Cougar News Online into more comprehensive news site that would include an Opinion section. For the record, Brill has made good on that promise. The Opinion topics are broad, and readers have the opportunity to challenge the editorial staff and weigh in with their own views.

In summation, the Canyon Call, the college’s student newspaper established in 1969 when the school first opened its doors, is likely dead and buried. But the challenge of providing a student First Amendment voice on campus has been amply met by the Media Entertainment Arts Department.

Savethecanyoncall.com will continue to express the view that in a perfect journalism world, print and online versions walk hand-in-hand. There is ample evidence up and down the state that combining print and online versions of a student newspaper is an effective way to educate journalism students.

The Canyon Call had a way of intangibly connecting the student body and giving those who attended the college a sense of community. The reality is it’s going to take some time to assess whether Cougar News Online can ultimately provide this.

At an absolute minimum, Brill and his staff must continue to be vigilant in ensuring that Cougar News Online remains a First Amendment institution and not a publicity vehicle of the college’s administration.

Number of days COC has been without a school newspaper: 281