Johanna Thompson decided her senior year at Southern Oregon University would be about more than earning a degree — it would also be about saving a newspaper.

Johanna Thompson decided her senior year at Southern Oregon University would be about more than earning a degree. It would also be about saving a newspaper.

The 2009 graduate spent the entire year renovating the Web site for her student paper, The Siskiyou.

"The Siskiyou, like any paper, has had its ups and downs in terms of reputation," Thompson said. As the 2008-09 editor-in-chief, she guided the paper through a breakthrough year, winning six first-place awards at the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association collegiate newspaper competition.

But her communications courses taught her to understand how media is evolving. She knew her success could not be sustained without an online presence to match the print edition.

"The way journalism is going, it's very digitally oriented and very fast," she said. "We live in an age where the fastest to the information wins."

The Siskiyou's previous Web site was developed several years ago by university technical staff. But its dated software prohibited staff members from changing the layout online, and the site's small size kept photos and other multimedia at a minimum.

"It was very limited," Thompson said, "so I got the idea for a change."

Hours of work over the course of an entire school year would be needed to bring about that change. So Thompson worked with university administrators, who wanted to know if the project would be cost-sustainable.

She worked with the online publishing company College Media Network. Phone calls were made, designs drawn up, and after nine months, Thompson finished the Web site just as her undergraduate career was coming to a close

"I am disappointed that it took so long to get done," she said, "but I think it is beautiful, and I worked really hard on it."

The culmination of her work is now ready for viewing. Siskiyouonline.com features links to videos taken by reporters, image galleries by photographers, as well as news reports and opinion columns.

Thompson may not get to enjoy the fruits of her labor firsthand, but her dedication has caught the attention of SOU faculty, including Student Publicity Director Karen Finnegan. One of the paper's two staff advisers, she watched Thompson progress each step of the way.

"She did a wonderful job. She's an incredible woman," Finnegan said.

The official premiere of Siskiyou Online is slated for fall term, and the paper's next editor-in-chief, Dwight Melton, will oversee operations from there. But Thompson has pledged to check in from time to time, and help around the office when needed. She sees the whole project as a learning experience, one that put both her technological and leadership skills to the test.

"I think I put my communications degree to good use," she said.