The Editorial Strategy Behind Urbana Today

Our storyboard for Urbana Today (totally posed ... thanks, Pauline)

I put a lot of thought into the editorial strategy for the Urbana Today newspaper. Publishing the newspaper felt like a huge responsibility. We had limited space and a huge conference to draw from. We couldn't include everything. How would we decide what made it into the paper?

I wanted our content to resonate with what God was doing.
I wanted the paper to be creative and fun to create.
I wanted students to pick it up and read the paper.

So, I came up with a few editorial guidelines. These principles helped me decide what went into the paper and what didn't. Here are 3 phrases I landed on to guide Urbana Today.

"We see you"

In a big conference, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle and distracted by the crowd. What's more important: that 16,000 people gathered in the Edward Jones Dome or that Chelcea from Wisconsin took a risk to engage a worship culture that was new to her? For Urbana Today, the small story was the big story.

And we went out of our way to communicate to small groups of participants that we knew they were at the conference and that we were glad they were there. Canadian students. High school students. Non-InterVarsity students. Deaf students. International students. Athletes. Alumni participants. Pastors. Spanish-speaking participants. Over and over again, we worked on angles of the stories so that Urbana Today would be an inclusive space.

This is a big value for InterVarsity generally. We lean in this direction all the time. Community colleges. Schools where there is no ministry. Ethnic minority students. Greek students. Students who are far from God. We leave the 99 to go after these, one at a time, one by one.

At times, I know that this meant we ignored major parts of the conference. We passed over most of the seminars. We didn't give a blow-by-blow of every speaker and every morning and evening session. When we did cover these elements, we focused on individual stories and personal elements. We focused on the small.

"Did you see that?"

We made an effort to communicate visually. Jimmy Long convinced me that this generation is a highly visual generation. They take in a ton of data. They are adept at scanning and scrolling. A glance may be all of their attention you get.

As a result, we worked hard on the front page. We always had a vibrant picture above the fold. We had headlines that popped. We worked hard on the teasers that would direct people to content inside the paper. We wanted to make the paper look like something you would want to pick up.

We also worked hard to keep our stories short. We rarely broke the 300 word mark. We only went to a second page once. Most paragraphs had one or two sentences. Everything was brutally edited. Everything was to the point. Everything was scannable.

Lastly, we made awesome use of infographics. 2100, InterVarsity's Multimedia Communications team, is well known for their infographic creations. They float one out on Facebook every week. For Urbana Today, we had an infographic to share demographics and another to feature the exhibitor hall and another for lost and found. We communicated about the bus schedule via infographic and stirred up some social media buzz. The infographics were funny and fun and made people want to pick up the paper. It gave them something to anticipate.

"Make sure you ... "

Urbana Today had a slim window to shine a spotlight on elements of the conference. A slim, slim window. Too much and the paper wouldn't be interesting. But we did have a little bit of push power. And we used it.

We nudged people toward Launch Labs, hoping to encourage entrepreneurship. We nudged people toward the Poverty Track's virtual experiences because we thought they were one of the most innovative things happening at the conference. We nudged toward athletes' gatherings and ethnic-specific lounges. We nudged toward a deeper experience of musical worship.

And that was it.

How would you make editorial decisions if you were running a newspaper like Urbana Today? What would you prioritize?

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