What is Project Allotrope?
The Innovation News Center is undertaking a strategic vision process as we re-orient from a primary focus on simply feeding the heritage, terrestrial broadcast properties to becoming a multi-platform, multi-brand news and information organization. This project includes a mobile-first rebuild of our digital publishing platform, an examination of our local news identity, launching new psychographic-oriented brand channels (such as a focus on millennial student health), building on our Spanish-language and sports verticals, and integration of new technologies and platforms (such as Yik Yak) into our daily workflow.
An allotrope is a property of some chemical elements to exist in two or more different forms. Just as the base element carbon can form both diamonds and graphite, so too will the operations of our INC go into different content channels targeting different communities.
- A Refreshed Digital Platform — Like many newsrooms before us, we are pivoting from a model of terrestrial-first (with a focus that the TV news product drives the day), to one where we are able to share information as soon as we vet it editorially, primarily on our digital and radio platforms. While this is building beyond “digital first,” it is still one of the best ways to describe our new SOP. As such, we are spending a few months early in the Project rebuilding our WordPress-based digital infrastructure from the ground up with a mobile-first mentality. We expect to launch phase one of this project in May.
- Growth Beyond Geography — Our terrestrial signals cover 19 counties in North Central Florida. And our digital focus has largely been on those areas, and centered on the cities of Gainesville and Ocala. Now with the growth of the INC, and the opportunities presented with our new digital platform, we are looking to expand beyond simply our immediate coverage area. We’re looking to grow particular topical niches (more of a psychographic focus) such as a new site on 18–24 year-old health.
- A Look at our Local News Identity — For many years we have based our news identity around the call letters of our terrestrial signals. We’re fortunate that our public stations share the call letters WUFT (TV and FM), but when we add in weather (WRUF-TV / GatorWeather / UF Weather Center) and sports (ESPN 850 WRUF-AM) compounded with our digital operations (wuft.org, wruf.com, ufweather.org, @wuftnews, @espn850wruf) we quickly create an alphabet soup of identity. Working with students and a consultant, we’re spending the summer examining how we publicly position ourselves as an integrated, multi-channel local news organization.
- Optimizing TV News — Fourteen months ago we launched a second half-hour evening newscast to supplement our long-standing live, daily training show at 5 p.m. that is broadcast on our high-power PBS signal. The new “WUFT News at Six” was designed as a “flagship” show companion to the “opportunity” show at 5 p.m. Now nearly a year and a half into the experiment, we’re shifting our resources in another direction. While the show created fantastic student opportunities, and led to some award winning work, we have made the determination to consolidate to one half-hour show a day. This is in response both to the market demand and a need to re-allocate our energies and resources to move from simply feeding the beasts to being much more strategic about what our students are learning (i.e. increased focus on digital) and what we produce.
- Spotlight on Sports — As a major SEC school, sports is a critical component of how our community identifies. And it’s been a strong part of our history as well. WRUF-AM signed on air in 1928, and since then has been a critical training ground for our students, most recently with an ESPN affiliation and sports focus. But the world of sports coverage is shifting rapidly. We share our building and engineering personnel with both GatorVision and Florida’s hub of the SEC Network. In a world where the teams have just as much authority and media reach as what we used to call “the media,” how does a news organization compete? We’ll explore what it means to “cover sports” in the next year.
- Spanish — Florida has many Spanish-language communities, which span many different geographic regions and socio-economic statuses. The public stations are committed to serving this critical part of our community and we will examine how to build on our Noticias WUFT operations, particularly on the mobile-based platforms. A critical exploration of this opportunity will launch in the fall term.
- Explorations in Engagement — The science and art of engaging audiences has long been a focus of our public relations and advertising disciplines. Much of their success was directly measured on the effects and metrics of the messages they created. Now those skills are becoming increasingly important in the news industries. Following examples and lessons learned from national media organizations, we are launching an experimental course this summer where a public relations capstone will be integrated into the INC operations working with our editing team/students focused on audience engagement, measurement and growth.
- Embracing New Platforms — We are committed to engaging with our community where and when they are. Toward that end, we are constantly evaluating and experimenting with new tools and platforms. From the Meerkat/Periscope battle to our ground-breaking partnership with Yik Yak, we are constantly testing how these new tools can integrate into and expand our coverage and community.
- Building a ‘Brand Studio’ — The College is dedicated to experiential opportunities for all our students with the INC and The Agency. However, both are focused primarily on traditional models, in isolation from each other and both maintain a one-to-many model of distribution. In this process, we want to explore where a newsroom and an agency can work hand-in-hand, and where students from all four of disciplines — advertising, journalism, public relations and telecommunication — can build multi-functional teams and cross-train. The brand studio will be modeled after (and can help inform emerging operations) at some of the nation’s leading content companies.
- Constant Evolutions of Our Curriculum — Running through all of our operations is our core mission to serve as a “teaching hospital” for our College of Journalism and Communications. The experiential opportunities are the academic equivalent of the farm-to-table movement — we see first-hand the outcome of what we sow. Throughout this process, and daily operations of the INC, we’ve used lessons learned to make continual curriculum tweaks in the last two years, identify strengths and vulnerabilities of what our students are learning, and inform our next cycle of our holistic curricular review set to launch next academic year.
We’ll continue to chronicle the process of our evolutions in the INC on our Medium publication, Innovation News.