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State of college newspapers

If college newspapers aren’t going digital lately, they seem to battling heavily involved college officials or the demise of the paper altogether. Here’s a general state of affairs based on recent headlines:

  • According to San Francisco Peninsula Press Club, students from the San Mateo Daily Journal at the College of San Mateo have launched a petition to save the student publication. The paper ceased publication after the college canceled all journalism classes that support the newspaper due to low enrollment. As a result, faculty adviser to the paper Ed Remitz announced his retirement, noting officials told him the paper “contained too many typographical errors and didn’t present a positive image of the tax-supported San Mateo County Community College District,” reported the Palo Alto Daily Post.
  • Over at the University of Memphis, funding for the student-run newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, was cut by $25,000, reported the Memphis Flyer. Controversy abounds between students and administration, who have disagreed in the past on coverage of issues, including a recent campus rape. According to the Flyer’s report, members of the activity fee committee, which provide a majority of the paper’s funding, complained the paper should devote more space to campus events. Apparently, contention between college officials and student journalists isn’t anything new. In the past, students claim the administration has made it clear they would like students to cover lighter fare over hard news.
  • Meanwhile, the student newspaper at the University of Georgia has lost its right to be called student-run. NorthJersey.com recently reported students at The Red & Black newspaper walked out when officials announced editorial director Ed Morales was given editorial control of the newspaper. In addition to Morales’ appointment to newspaper head, nonstudent marketing and product managers, a multimedia director, business manager, and a creative director have been hired. (As an aside, this is a student paper that had already switched its focus to digital in 2011.)
  • Lately, when student journalists aren’t fighting for the integrity of their paper or its very existence, they’ve been going the digital route. Texas Christian University’s student media will reportedly go digital-first this fall, with five student leaders directing coverage. Initially, stories will go up on TCU 360, which is the college’s online news source, then published in The Skiff, the student paper, or released as a newscast.
  • Similar to many papers in mainstream media, the University of Oregon’s student paper, The Daily Emerald, is cutting its frequency. According to The Daily Illini, the paper announced in June it would only produce two print editions a week. But where many papers decide to cut print editions due to finances, Daily Emerald publisher Ryan Frank informed Nieman Journalism Lab they have no debt, but are merely evolving alongside an increasingly digital industry. “We are making this change to deliver on our mission to serve our community and prepare our student staff for the professional world,” he told Nieman.
  • The University of Oklahoma’s Oklahoma Daily had big ideas to go digital for the summer, and planned to go online-only this past July with normal print publication resuming in August. In an article earlier this summer, students reported that transferring the summer publication schedule to online would save the department money, and also help them keep up with digital news-consumption trends. Alas, after receiving extra funds, the publishing board reversed the decision and opted to publish in print. “We tried to go digital, but there was some pushback from our board of publishers and the administration,” said Chase Cook, assistant news editor at the Oklahoma Daily. Although cutting frequency in mainstream media is often met with some amount of discontent from readers and the general industry at large, college papers pushing in the digital direction have often been considered progressive. In Cook’s opinion, going digital this summer would have been a perfect opportunity to take advantage of technology and social media. In fact, he believes cutting the paper down to a publishing schedule of four times a week during the year, while focusing on digital, would be a good next step. But that’s apparently not an option quite yet, especially since the print product is what brings in the advertising revenue, he noted.

Although these six papers merely represent a small percentage of the greater student newspaper industry, the trends are hardly isolated. Controversy is often prevalent among the ranks of journalists and the papers’ owners. Meanwhile, issues the papers face often mirror mainstream media’s own publishing woes, including the necessity to go digital. That’s not to say plenty of student papers aren’t surviving just fine in print, but across the board a digital focus seems to be key. 

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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