Regardless of how you pronounce its name, a new Web magazine known as Routes may be the path to the future of student journalism.
That’s what the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication hopes to achieve when it officially launches its Webzine this week during Saturday’s “Immigration in the Heartland” conference at OU.
Named after the famous pathways associated with the state, like Route 66 and the Trail of Tears, Routes is one of the only student-produced online magazines in the country to be launched without financial contribution from grants or outside donors. Advisers for the publication say what it comes down to is good, old-fashioned hard work by students and faculty who oversee the projects, which doesn’t cost a dime.
Peter Gade, an OU associate professor of journalism, is one of the faculty members who oversees the online mag-azine. He believes students should have an opportunity to publish their work beyond the classroom, instead of seeing their stories end at the professor’s desk.
“Formally, students had reporting assignments. They pitched the idea, the professor graded it and that was the end,” he said. “Students never got a sense of audience, and their stories seldom saw the light of day. They never could polish them and reach the potential they could be.”
Now that Routes is available to these students, Gade thinks their stories will progress and be read by a large audience around the state.
“It inspires them to do better work,” said Gade, a Gaylord Family Endowed Professor. “They can see that if they really work at it and do a great job, it can be published in a way they can be very proud of it.”
The stories published on the Webzine fall into four categories: culture, history, politics and sports. In addition, these categories will center around a new theme each month. In March, during the testing phases of the Web site, students produced stories pertaining to the Works Progress Administration, in celebration of the Great Depression-era organization’s 75th anniversary. Students wrote about the life and times of Oklahomans during the 1930s, from members of Roosevelt’s Tree Army to musicians in the Oklahoma City Orchestra.
The stories are coordinated and created by students in 10 different classes in the Gaylord College. Students pitch and receive assignments in a newsroom-like setting with the help of graduate student advisers. Faculty who oversee the production include Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Schmeltzer and CNN foreign correspondent Mike Boettcher.
One of these students, Hailey Branson, said Routes allows students to get a more real-world experience.
“It’s really nice to have a product where all disciplines of the college work together,” she said. “There are video students working with writing students, and PR students promoting us.”
Branson, a contributor to Oklahoma Gazette, recently published a story about the small town of Picher. In her story, she describes the town’s exodus. Rising toxicity levels created from mine waste has made the town one of the most toxic cities in the U.S., forcing many from their homes. Her story vividly describes the situation in Picher and is accompanied by a video featuring the desolate city and its remaining citizens.
Her work on the story earned her a nomination in YouTube’s Community Awards, which recognize videos conveying unique stories that capture the spirit of the community. Because of the online format of Routes, she believes there are less restrictions and better opportunities to create content.
“I really do like the format of the online magazine,” she said. “We can write longer stories. You’re not limited by space in a paper.”
But Routes isn’t the only source of information on campus. Across from Gaylord Hall, the offices for Student Media produce The Oklahoma Daily and Sooner Yearbook, two student-led publications. However, worries of competition don’t concern Brian Ringer, director of Student Media, who thinks the new online magazine can be a great teaching tool.
“With the implementation of Routes, students can now cover everything from campus news to national news,” he said. “Having it in a classroom setting in very valuable. It’s a great teaching mechanism.”
Ringer thinks the students need all of the experience they can get, especially in the job market current students face.
“It’s one more thing to get experience in,” he said. “You never know where you’ll end up in this market. You may be online or you may be in print.”
Gaylord College faculty members hope this outlet will be the premier resource for the best work produce by the students. Gade said he thinks it will excite students for new experiences while it teaches them lessons from the past.
“This is the future of journalism,” Gade said. “What we’re trying to do here is take the enduring values of the past ” enterprise, investigation, storytelling ” and combine it in a multimedia platform that looks to the future.”
Routes is available online at routes.ou.edu and updates the second Friday of every month. “Luke Atkinson
photo Peter Gade is an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. photo/Luke Atkinson