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November 2012

English Students Behind PGPlate.com, the Post-Gazette’s Latest Blog Site

It is hard to pick up a newspaper – or read the news online – without being reminded of how journalism is changing. Last fall, adjunct English Professor Tom O’Boyle, who is the 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, who is expected 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, 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. “The version of PGPlate.com that launched was phase one. 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. One member of that community, blogger Dana Cizmas, was recruited to assist PG Food Editor Bob Batz with the launching of the site.

Further refinements are planned, including enhancement of the recipe-search function and its PG Tested label, which the students thought had unused utility due to the authority it conveys.

One of the most challenging aspects of the projects was the team’s immersion into the business of new media – something entirely new for the students.

“As writers, we had to expand our repertoire to do business and marketing,” Kawka said. “We had to present the big picture to the Post-Gazette –the feasibility of the project, the marketing plan, where the financial resources would come from and the design and functionality of the product.”

She added, “It was great to learn it all by doing a real project.”

For O’Boyle, he sees the joint cooperation between Carnegie Mellon students and the Post-Gazette as a great example of how media companies can evolve.

“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.”

In addition to Berndt and Kawka, Meela Dudley, Jennifer Dorsey, Wendy Scott and Georgia Schumacher were on the project team.

Kawka will get to continue working on PGPlate.com’s evolution. She is now working for the Post-Gazette as a freelance contractor.

Check out PGPlate.com at http://www.pgplate.com/.

Watch and listen to Dietrich College faculty, staff and alumni talk about the college’s excellence in the humanities in this video.

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Other sources of Carnegie Mellon news include the university news service website and the Carnegie Mellon Today magazine.

Contact Shilo Rea, Director of Public Relations at shilo@cmu.edu or (412) 268-6094.

 

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