I began conducting monthly surveys of all HBCU Websites about ten years ago, back in 2003, but increased the frequency of my efforts to weekly surveys shortly thereafter. I estimated that there were about 20,000 senior administrators, faculty, staff, students, alums, and managers of external funding sources who might be interested in a service that provided headlines that were linked to the full stories about the academic achievements on the HBCUs' own Websites. In other words, I created an academic headline service that allowed HBCUs to tell their success stories in their own words to a relatively small audience of 20,000 potential readers -- small by Internet standards.
The last few years also produced a surge in the number of Web-based media that focused on HBCUs. I would have stopped conducting my weekly, time-consuming surveys of the 106 HBCU Websites sooner had I observed that the new media were providing equivalent coverage. Unfortunately, for reasons noted in the next paragraphs, they weren't, still aren't, nor are they likely to do so now that the Gateway's coverage of HBCUs' academic announcements has ended.
Two Lessons Learned From Ten Years' Effort ... 2003 to 2013
Ten years is a long time to do anything for a few hours every week, week after week after week. Not surprisingly, the discipline of this weekly exercise yielded many useful insights. However, the following bullets highlight two that I think should serve as particularly useful reminders to HBCU Webmasters and directors of communications. I have presented extensive discussions of additional insights in the previous entries on this blog that are listed in the "Related Notes" section at the bottom of this page:
- No Announcements ==> No Gateway Headlines & No Coverage by Other Media
From one year to the next, only 15 to 20 HBCUs seemed to recognize the importance of using their Websites to tell the world about their academic achievements; the vast majority did not seem to understand that in today's highly networked, knowledge-based, global economy, most people tend to think that you are no more than what they see on your Website.
Indeed, once I introduced the weekly "Top 10 Academic Newsmakers" feature that listed the HBCUs that reported the most academic news stories in the previous week, month, or year, I noticed that the same HBCUs appeared on these lists time after time after time. Nor was it a matter of size and resources. Some small HBCUs with limited resources consistently reported their academic achievements; whereas some larger HBCUs with more extensive resources were consistently silent.
My own academic commitment to examining every HBCU Website, every week was part of my methodology, a methodology that regarded my finding "no news" as important data; but for the commercial Web-based media, no news was not good news because no news means no readers, and no readers means no advertising revenue to meet the media's payroll obligations. Indeed, when I discovered news nuggets on Websites that rarely made announcements, I often found that other Web-based media with much larger readerships followed my lead and wrote their own versions of these announcements. That's the good news; the bad news is that profit-oriented, Web-based media cannot afford to go fishing in dry news holes the way I did, week after week after week ... :-(
- No Announcements + No Searchable Archives ==> No Opportunities
Even when HBCUs posted articles about their achievements, most did not keep old articles in archives that could be searched by their readers for more than a few previous weeks or months. On the other hand, for the first nine years, the Gateway provided a searchable archive database for its linked headlines. This allowed readers who were interested in the previous announcements by HBCUs to search the Gateway's archives. Of course, they would only find announcements that I had entered into the Gateway's database rather than all of the announcements published by the HBCUs. But for whatever reasons, only a few readers searched the Gateway's archives each week; so I removed the searchable database page in 2012.
Long Question: Now that the Gateway's searchable database is closed forever, how do corporations and funding agencies who are looking for HBCUs with specific experience and notable achievements determine whether a particular HBCU has completed significant initiatives in previous months or years that would make it an ideal business partner or the qualified recipient of an innovative grant if the HBCU doesn't post its success stories on its own Website and store them in searchable archives?
Short Answer: They can't ... :-(