News comes in all shapes, sizes, and platforms in the multimedia digital age. A recent study conducted by the American Press Institute found that “among all adult Americans, 56 percent reported using a cell phone and 29 percent reported using a tablet to access news.” The growth of the smart device trend has been pushing news providers to improve global communication and delivery. Viewing news on smart devices is also a trend that Principia College is trying to utilize effectively.

As it currently stands, the main source of news from and about the College is through the Principia email distribution system. This system sends news alerts to Principia email addresses and lets community members know about emergency alerts or important upcoming dates. “In fact, the system itself is pretty boring,” stated Marketing and Communications Director Laurel Walters.  

While this system has worked for the distribution of regular Principia news, the untimeliness and ineffectiveness of email communication can negatively affect the community if a serious issue occurs. “In my experience, it doesn’t matter how you format an email,” Walters stated. “People read it if they want to and don’t read it if they don’t.”

A potentially hazardous situation played out last month when residents of Principia College experienced a water boil order for drinking and cooking with water on campus. The extended period of time between the initial news break and when campus residents knew of the issue called attention to the need for a revamp of the chain of communication.

“There was not a system in place to have [the water company] alert someone on the weekend, like me, with a distribution email,” said Walters. “So that [issue] has been corrected.”

A handful of water boil orders have been issued on previous occasions on campus that have been dealt with in an effective manner. This particular order was fixed within 36 hours. But the efficiency in informing the campus of this issue through the medium of email was too slow. Attempts to fix it include the exploration of a new medium of communication: texting.

In an effort to increase the speed of its news distribution, Principia developer Greg Kuhn administers the new Broadcast Notification System (BNS) as a communication system designed for emergency broadcasts to be sent through text, phone call, email, or all media at once. It was used for the first time during the water boil order when a text was sent out to the students of Principia informing them of the information before the distribution email was released.

Though it is still in its developmental stage, Kuhn believes that the BNS system will play a more important role at Principia in the future. “Overall, I think it has been working great,” he stated, “I think it will allow for a more efficient way to get that news out to people. Only time will tell if we choose to use it for other things, like getting word out about a special campus activity, besides just having critical informational updates.”

Principia residents will continue to see informative emails pop-up in their inboxes for some time to come, though not without some potential changes.

A successful model for the distribution email system to look at is the electronic bulletin board system, Watercooler, which is used by the faculty at Principia to receive instant notices on Principia news in a structured daily format. “[Faculty are] really happy with getting one email in the morning as a digest,” Walters said, “And what we have found is that these people are choosing to read what is of interest to them.”

A system like Watercooler is a potential option for students as well, but currently unlikely due to its large investment. “It is something that we are open to,” said Walters, “but I can’t promise that it would happen quickly because it is a project. Yet, it is something we would consider doing if enough students were interested.”