Unfortunately, we didn’t get this effort launched for 2009, but we need to make sure that we start early enough to make it happen for the Class of 2010.
Newspapers spend a fair amount of time and ink (and pixels) in our core products on graduation coverage, sending photographers and reporters to ceremonies and printing up special sections with names and photos of grads. As newsprint prices have risen, we can’t afford to devote as much space to all the photos and lists of names as we used to. But we can devise a better way to recognize the achievements of graduates, who spend much of their lives in the digital world anyway.
Newspaper staffs can channel that work of gathering photos and names into more valuable uses and put the users to work making graduation coverage deeper and richer. We should get the lists and photos of area seniors at the start of the spring semester, and turn them into a database of the Class of 2010. Each student gets his or her own page, where we invite them to add college or career plans, school activities, parents’ names, favorite teachers, high school highlights and their own photos, videos and stories of their high school days. We make each site interactive, with a place for friends and families to add their reminiscences and best wishes.
This can be a tremendous audience-builder as proud parents send links out across the country, bringing grandparents, relatives and friends to our graduation pages.
Are there possibilities for mischief here? Of course. High school seniors and their friends are a mischievous lot. Some friends (or adversaries) will want to add their true, wished-for, exaggerated or maliciously false stories of drunkenness, drug use and sexual exploits to the sentimental memories on the site. We can control this (here and in other interactive parts of the network) in at least a couple ways:
- Require verified registration before allowing comments or posting of photos or videos. Mischief is much more likely to happen anonymously. With verified registration, we not only deter the mischief, we can block the undeterred mischief makers from posting again. (And in the registration process, we collect information about our users that will be valuable in targeting ads or in generating leads for advertisers.
- Enable users to call our attention to objectionable content, so mischief will be removed promptly.
Beyond the immediate audience-building value of making coverage of the Class of 2010 memorable and interactive, this approach will give us a chance to identify our network as the place for these graduates (many of whom are scattering but will always have an emotional connection to the community) to reconnect with their hometown.
Each senior’s web site will include a gift registry, from which area merchants can sell gifts directly to distant grandparents, aunts and uncles. We’ll need to contact university book stores and other merchants in Iowa City, Ames, Cedar Falls and perhaps other college towns and sell them targeted advertising on the pages of seniors heading to their schools. When a student fills in the “college plans” field on his page, ads from businesses around the school appear on the senior’s page. We mght be able to sell the college-town merchants leads, emailing them a link each time a senior lists their college as his or her destination or asking families if we can forward contact information to campus-area businesses and services.
If the senior isn’t going to college, but fills in the “career plans” field, we’ll ask whether the student wants to receive email alerts, RSS feeds or text alerts when recruitment ads in the field are posted.
We need to let relatives visiting for commencement book lodging and rental cars from local hotels and agencies. We offer parents, graduates and others a chance to order a DVD or print version of the graduation photo gallery. Or maybe we can offer a personalized four-page newspaper about their graduate, using material they submit under our masthead.