The future of college newspapers: Print or online?

Student newspaper staff pictured in the librar...

Student newspaper staff pictured in the library, Burgaw High School, 1959 (Photo credit: North Carolina Digital Heritage Center)

When you want to read about the latest news on campus, where do you turn? Do you go online in search of the news or do you pick up a printed copy on the way to class? Perhaps your college doesn’t have a printed version anymore. With the progressive demise of print journalism, college newspapers, too, have not been immune. Some schools are threatened by such heavy budget woes that the existence of their newspaper could collapse altogether. College newspapers have played a crucial role in their university’s history, reporting the news that is by and for the students. While the future of college newspapers is at a crossroads, we look at the various challenges facing them.

Turning to peers for support

One model that some colleges are considering is a fee-based system. The University of California at Irvine’s newspaper staff is down to one full-time staff member and has been functioning on a shoestring budget for the past three years. The newspaper, New University, is now asking university students to vote on a proposed $.99 cent fee to keep it afloat.

In an interview with the newspaper’s features editor, Logan Payne, in “The 99 Cent Solution? UC Irvine Students to Vote on Future of Campus Newspaper,” an April 23, 2013 post to College Media Matters, writer, Daniel (Dan) Reimold quotes Payne, who fears the effects the end of print journalism could have on campus.

‘“With a lack of a published paper, helping spread the death of print journalism all the way to our college campus, it would make us the only UC school without a paper and would take away our voices– as students, as writers, as curious minds, as engaged members on campus, the list could go on,”’ Payne said.

Going online

Like many metropolitan newspapers have done, several college newspapers have turned to an online presence. The Red and Black, the student-run newspaper at the University of Georgia, which was one of the first major university’s to change to online in 2011, defends its shift in focus by saying advertisers have also supported the move, thus securing its financial security.

Ryan Frank, publisher of The Emerald, the 92-year-old University of Oregon student newspaper, concurred in a June 18, 2012 post, “College newspapers moving toward digital future,” by Kyle Milnamow on UWire.

“‘What they want is audience, they want eyeballs, they want results,'” said Frank. “‘They don’t care if we print on tree bark, they want someone to see their message, absorb their message and take action, and if we’re doing stuff that does that in a positive way, they are going to support that.”’

Focusing on the future

Whether you are a fan of print newspapers or digital, the reality is that in order to stay relevant in today’s technologically-driven world, college publications need to stay connected. That means social media will continue to play a large part in maintaining and growing a readership. We all want easy access to the news and most of us expect to have it 24/7. With this in mind, writer Gil Asakawa in a July/August 2012 post, “’Digital First’ training begins on campus,” to The Quill, says social media has become critical in transitioning to the new online world of college newspapers.

“Social media drives lots of traffic to your website, no doubt,” Asakawa wrote. “The CU Independent’s Facebook page is the source of half the page views to its website. But don’t treat social media as merely a marketing tool. That’s how newspapers thought of their websites in the early years, parking their online staff in their marketing departments or libraries. Since not everyone will click through to your website, be sure your social media presence has its own following.”

No doubt, how students and college newspaper staff adapt to ongoing changes and demands will remain open for debate for the foreseeable future.

How do you prefer to read about campus news – in a printed newspaper or online? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.

To find out more about college newspapers and journalism, check out Questia’s Communication topic page.

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