It's hard to pick up a newspaper or read the news online without being reminded of how journalism is changing.
Adjunct English Professor Tom O'Boyle, senior manager of audience and associated strategies at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, structured a professional writing project course to encourage students to pay attention to the changes.
O'Boyle posed a problem to his six students, five Master of Arts in Professional Writing (MAPW) students and one undergraduate English major: figure out a way that the Post-Gazette can extend its audience and how they can do it by using social media.
The students spent the semester building the blueprints for PGPlate.com. They began by researching the newspaper's coverage and audiences and decided that their focus would be on food.
"Food seemed smaller and more manageable than something having to do with sports or the Steelers but still has a very wide appeal," said James Berndt (A'13), who is expecting to finish his MAPW this semester.
O'Boyle added, "I would joke in class that the number of people who eat in Pittsburgh is greater even than the number of Steelers' fans, though perhaps by a narrow margin, so the choice of food as a blogger category made sense."
Veronica Kawka (A'12), who considers herself a foodie, believed that there was a strong food community forming in Pittsburgh that they could take advantage of. "We started researching food bloggers in the area and found 50," she said. "That only escalated our idea."
The team thought that if they could convince existing Pittsburgh food bloggers to partner with the Post-Gazette for the new site, it would be a win-win.
"Most of the local bloggers weren't making any money and had a limited audience," said Kawka, who received her master's degree in May. "We proposed to them the possibility of teaming up with a respected brand to create a food blogging community that would benefit from the Post-Gazette's readership and reach. Almost everyone that we talked to wanted to participate."
In addition to identifying and reaching out to prospective bloggers, the team also laid out detailed plans for the website, including the site's functionality, features and look and feel.
"We gave the Post-Gazette a plan to slowly implement more technically advanced features," said Berndt. "Future phases will have more gaming elements to help readers determine the credibility of the bloggers. Bloggers will get points for things like testing recipes, uploading pictures and submitting restaurant reviews."
Students correctly predicted that both advertisers and the blogging community would welcome the new site.
"As the sun sets on legacy media, it's imperative that newspapers like the Post-Gazette find new audiences and new revenue streams," O'Boyle said.
"I think partnerships such as this one with Carnegie Mellon can be a great vehicle for hands-on student instruction while helping us cultivate new audiences and create new value."