By now you’ve all noticed that there was no print edition of The Aggie last Friday. Hopefully all those notes on the front page prepared you for the shock. You’ve also probably read our reasoning behind the cuts (if you haven’t you can check them out online at theaggie.org/article/2474). I’m also pretty sure a lot of you are wondering what this means for The Aggie and other college newspapers down the road.
Looking for some outside perspectives, I talked to Bryan Thomas, the editor in chief of UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian.
“I’m of the firm belief that a newspaper will have a home at the college campus for the next several decades at minimum,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Our audience is unique, and our ability to captivate an important market segment is invaluable.“
This belief is probably a safe bet, for the most part. College newspapers have it easy in that, unlike a metropolitan newspaper or community publication, they have relatively large circulations in a very small area. Furthermore, college newspaper readership is generally engaged and interested in the articles appearing in their university‘s publication.
Until the last two or three years when the economy started to nosedive (it varies depending on which part of the country you ask), advertising revenue for college newspapers was relatively stable. Think about it: what advertiser wouldn’t want to buy ad space in a publication read almost exclusively by people within the 18 to 35 year old demographic?
Because of this and the eventual repair of the economy (knock on wood), I am inclined to agree with Bryan. What form the newspaper will be in, however, is something nobody‘s really sure of.
Newspapers will be partially online (as they are now). Newspapers will be completely online. Newspapers as we know them won’t even exist and there will be a series of news gathering blogs (or something) to which people subscribe.
All of these are possibilities and all have their pros and cons. The print edition of a newspaper is certainly nice, as most people find it easier to read books and articles in a paper format rather than an electronic one. Many people will wax nostalgic for hours about reading their Sunday morning papers if you give them the chance (Hi Dad!). That said, the printing costs of a newspaper are incredibly inefficient. Putting articles online allows readers to see today’s news rather than yesterday’s and at absolutely no cost to them.
The downside of publishing online only, at least from a business perspective, is that ad space is much less plentiful. You must also be more careful about your advertisements; online advertising has a much more personal, “in-your-face” quality which, if we’re being honest, is really obnoxious. As for blogs… who knows? Some have been very successful but the majority tend to reinforce the belief that maybe not everyone should be allowed access to a computer.
The fact that this discussion is even taking place represents how far the field has come in such a short time.
“Journalism has become much faster and [more] diverse,” Thomas said. “When I started [at The Daily Californian] four years ago, our one focus was to put out the paper by our midnight press deadline. Now we focus on updating content throughout the day, producing podcasts, slideshows and videos and keeping our blogs current.“
But is that a good thing?
“It’s hard to say whether these changes are entirely negative or positive,” he said. “Certainly the increased demands are more stressful and reduce the time that we can focus on longer-term and investigative reporting. Yet we are also accomplishing our core mission of providing important information to the community in a timely manner much more efficiently.“
The tendency among college newspapers to attempt to turn their websites into multimedia information portals is not unexpected. Ever since the advent of YouTube, the pressure to have online video reporting has increased, primarily because it’s much easier now (ditto for podcasts and audio content). The multitude of information mediums also allows college newspapers to compensate for any reductions to their traditional output.
What this means to you is that in the next few years you should probably expect to get more of your news online, even from your college newspaper. The Aggie, along with other dailies, will obviously print for as many days a week as it can for as long as it can.
But you’d be well advised to check out our website.
RICHARD PROCTER wants to thank Bryan Thomas for chatting with him, all the Aggie hoops fans for showing up to the game against Pacific on Saturday and the NFL for giving us an unofficial national holiday. Ask him why you didn’t make this list at firstname.lastname@example.org.