Awards
Technology Innovations: University of Chicago - Bronze Medal

Category 12: Technology Innovations
University of Chicago, University of Chicago Magazine – UChiBLOGo

Contact: Amy Puma, managing editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 5801 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637, Phone: (773) 702-2162, e-mail: apuma@uchicago.edu


Description: Three times a week since January 2004, The University of Chicago Magazine’s Web log, UChiBLOGo, has reported on campus news, events, and sights that might not otherwise get printed in the magazine’s bimonthly pages. With stories and (usually amateur) photos covering breaking news, activities, lectures, protests, and exhibits, UChiBLOGo gives readers a taste of daily life on campus. Despite the faster deadline, blog stories (usually fewer than 300 words) go through about three editing rounds before posting, keeping standards on par with the magazine. One staff editor maintains the blog, and all editors and interns contribute.

Planning and objectives: We began UChiBLOGo after hearing Michael Stoner speak at a CASE Editors Forum about how to generate fresh content on a Web site. Because our magazine publishes six times a year, we wanted to bring readers back more often. A blog also would provide a forum to cover some events we miss between print issues, while getting our staff out and about on a weekly basis. The result has turned out to be even more useful than we hoped: not only do we attend and cover more events, but we’ve also been able to use some blog stories for the magazine and vice versa. It’s also provided a forum for breaking news: our blog for March 10, 2006, for instance, featured that morning’s press conference announcing the university’s new president.

How the media fits in with departmental/institutional goals: Year after year, our surveys tell us that the University of Chicago Magazine is the venue through which most alumni get their news about the University. Therefore, we see the magazine—and its online counterparts—as essential links between alumni and campus. Publishing three times a week, the blog connects readers on a visceral level, providing both literal and figurative snapshots of their alma mater. In addition to the brief stories, we link to three campus Web cams, so viewers can watch centers of campus in action.

Innovation: When we began UChiBLOGo in early 2004, we were one of a handful of institutions to blog. We received phone calls from several other schools and gladly shared how we did it, what programs we used, how much time we spent on it, etc. Those phone calls told us we were doing something new and noteworthy. About 90 percent of the stories are Web-exclusive, and our photography helps give the blog an in-the-moment feel, different from our bimonthly magazine, which doesn’t have the same immediacy. We carefully chose a project we could maintain on a regular basis to keep readers coming back. We offer other Web exclusives that are one-time-only features, but this is an online presence we’ve kept up for three years, taking breaks only for holidays and sometimes the CASE Editors Forum.

Evaluation: In August 2006 we began using Google Analytics to evaluate blog visits. We’ve discovered which stories are most read, peak times for readers to log-on, and who else links to our site. We’ve used these statistics to our advantage: for example, we’ll plan a particularly engaging blog story for the same day our monthly e-bulletin goes out. Because the e-bulletin includes a link to UChiBLOGo, our numbers soar those days.

Audience: Our audience is mostly University of Chicago alumni, current students, staff, and faculty. Our “subscriber” audience includes 66,000 alumni who receive a monthly e-bulletin that links to the blog. In 2006 we had 22 percent returning visitors and 78 percent new visitors. More than 40 percent came to the blog directly, about 30 percent came through Google, and 10 percent came from the magazine’s Web site (http://magazine.uchicago.edu) - Illinois, California, and New York provide our main readership, but UChiBLOGo also reaches the UK, Canada, India, Germany, Australia, Singapore, France, Japan, and China.

Resources: We have one staff person dedicated as blog editor, in addition to her print-magazine and managerial duties. The other three staff members and student interns contribute reporting, writing, and photography (sometimes the magazine’s photographer contributes as well). We use Movable Type publishing platform and have our own dedicated server.

Responses: Before we tracked UChiBLOGo’s stats (the blog’s dedicated server isn’t linked to the university’s Web-stats program), we went by anecdotal evidence. One strong reaction came in May 2006, when one of the Web cams we linked to was taken offline. “Where is Camera 4?” one alumnus e-mailed. “I cannot exist without it and I must exist!” It turned out the network services department deactivated the camera because our blog’s link had overworked its server.

Since August 2006 we’ve used Google Analytics to track UChiBLOGo’s usage, and we know that viewers read the site and know it well. Page views rise about 50 percent on publishing days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). And on days when we point readers to the blog through our monthly e-bulletin, the increase is even greater. For example, when the December e-bulletin’s blog teaser was about students protesting a switch to the Common Application, our one-day blog readership reached an all-time high (618 visits and 836 page views).

Samples: UChiBLOGo looks better on screen than on paper. Here are some URLs featuring some of our best work. Click on thumbnails to see the full image.

Front page:
http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/

“Uncommon Protest”:
http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/archives/2006/12/uncommon_protes.html

“Welcome to Bollywood”:
http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/archives/2006/11/welcome_to_boll_1.html

“Presidential Celebration”:
http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/archives/2006/10/presidential_we.html

“Snow Days”:
http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/archives/2007/02/snow_days_1.html

“Parchment Mystery”:
http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/archives/2005/01/parchment_myste.html

“Hey, Mr. Postman, is there a letter for me?”
http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/archives/2004/03/hey_mr_postman.html

“No cold feet”:
http://uchiblogo.uchicago.edu/archives/2004/01/no_cold_feet.html