Awards
Web-Based or Electronic HTML Internal Audience Periodicals: Duke University - Bronze Medal

Category 22C: Web-Based or Electronic HTML Internal Audience Periodicals
Duke University, Duke Today (www.duke.edu/today)

Contact: Geoffrey Mock, editor, Office of News and Communications, Box 90565, 615 Chapel Dr., Durham, NC 27708-0565, Phone: (919) 681-4514, e-mail: geoffrey.mock@duke.edu

Objectives: Duke Today’s mission is to provide a convenient and entertaining daily electronic newspaper that serves the internal Duke University community, furthering the community’s needs for information to help them with their jobs and their lives, helping them understand and be advocates for the university’s vision and strengthening the impression of Duke as a well-run organization.

It was launched in March 2006 after more than two years of conversation on campus about internal communications. The assessment was simply that employees were overwhelmed with information and uninformed about important information. We eliminated Dialogue, our 20-year-old weekly internal newspaper, and created three new items: Working@Duke, a monthly publication for employees focusing on staff issues, features and policies; This Month at Duke, a monthly publication for internal and external audiences focusing on coming events; and Duke Today, an online daily newspaper. At the same time, we redesigned the university’s homepage, www.duke.edu, to focus on external audiences, its main users. Internal audiences were meant to use Duke Today.

Our intention is to find those elements that different employees find essential – whether it’s the latest research, the day’s special at a favorite dining hall, or the ability to get quick navigation to favorite Web sites. We also want it to be a useful commons for employees to get updated information during alert situations, particularly on severe weather days. Once on the site, we hope to hold the employee’s interest with a variety of interesting information.

In addition to providing news and information, we wanted Duke Today to be an interactive place for the university community, a place where the community can share comments on issues important to the university. We wanted Duke Today to include some space for employees to submit questions, gets answers to benefit questions and to provoke discussion.

Design: The key elements of the site includes:

  • Feature stories and multimedia presentations on research, classroom study, the university’s role in the community, and other topics of general interest
  • A daily listing of the major news clips about Duke
  • A daily listing of that day’s public events on campus and selected upcoming events
  • Information of value to employees’ work and daily lives – from parking to discount tickets, health benefits to dining options
  • A prominent search box that would provide the same result as searches using the university’s homepage’s search box.

Duke Example

 

Our design highlights a new top story every day (example above). We attempt to select a story of wide interest that also has an engaging image to go with it. The top story then rotates to one of three side thumbnails to maintain its place for several days before going into the Top Story archive. The purpose of this top story is to provide a single eye-catching image to grab attention. The rest of the design flows from that. A middle “Working at Duke” section provides headlines to campus news, daily dining menus, information about special campus sales and employee discounts, tips on lifestyle and health information, and resources and a range of alerts from parking and traffic to computer service disruptions. A third priority was to provide easy access to daily electronic news clips about Duke and a calendar of daily items. This came out of the internal communications discussions that underscored the value of the clips and the need to better publicize university events of general interest.

Audience: Primary: University faculty and staff. Secondary: Graduate and undergraduate students, members of the local community and alumni, friends and parents of Duke.

Staffing: One editor responsible for posting content, and one Web designer responsible for producing the daily top story image as well as occasional multi-media material.

Total Budget: Our main costs are photography and freelance writing. To the best that we can track, we spent $3,000 for freelance DT stories and $21,000 for photography for a total estimated cost of $24,000. The photographs were used by other sources as well, but we paid the bill.

Evaluation: We use Webtrends, a Web tracking program to determine daily hits and usage of the site – where people came from, where they went and what they used on the site. In addition we are establishing an advisory board of staff and faculty that will meet bimonthly.

Response/Results: Duke Today has an interesting story. It officially launched March 15, two days after a lacrosse party projected the university into its biggest crisis since the late ‘60s, which has taken much of the energy and attention of the university for the past year and in large ways shaped the development of Duke Today.

We launched it with some elements not present – particularly on the interactive side. We were pleased with what we had, but we knew it could be better and assumed we would have time to integrate new elements shortly after the launch. We were wrong. A year later, we are a month away from launching Duke Today 2.0, which will address some of the problems we’ve seen in feedback from users. The Working at Duke section is too hard to read, with its long list of headlines. The good material at the bottom is lost – we’re finding few people are scrolling down, and nothing beneath the top story image has any impact on the eye. And because Duke Today is not a “true” online newspaper – it gets its content from Web sites from all over the university – once a reader leaves the page to a news story, it’s not easy to get back.

But Duke Today’s greatest problem is a marketing one. Our marketing plans for the rollout got put on hold while we put more energy into the lacrosse situation. The bottom line is that the people who use Duke Today regularly like it a lot, but we need to attract more readers.

The Webtrends data we get for Duke Today are far more accurate and precise than we ever got from any survey for the printed publication. Here’s a brief summary of what we’re finding:

We get on a weekly basis between 4,000-7,500 unique visitors. That compares with a printed circulation of 10,000 Dialogues, but we never had good numbers on how many of them were read. Two-thirds of the visitors have duke.edu IP addresses, and 70 -75 percent of the total daily traffic is direct traffic, meaning homepages.

The biggest single daily usage of the site came on a recent severe weather day, when we had 5,362 unique visitors, 7,810 total visitors. That week, we had more than 9,000 unique visitors, well above the average. Not to get too complicated, but on that day, a majority of traffic wasn’t direct, as is the norm, but came from duke.edu, which sent employees to Duke Today to get updated information.

Finally, it’s clear that despite our hopes, Duke employees aren’t using Duke Today as its search box, but are using the old standby of the university homepage, despite the lack of information for them. We feel we could significantly boost DT readership by simply getting employees to stop using the Duke homepage search box and using Duke Today’s. Our advisory panel makes it clear that few people understand the two boxes will bring the same results. But that is a marketing issue, not one of the actual functions of Duke Today.