Editors say over and over that students get news by stumbling across their college newspaper and flipping through it casually, or seeking out their friend who might be in a picture or mentioned in a story. It’s not a regular habit to seek it out on a website or like it on Facebook.
In my interviews with some Boston college paper editors, they say they’re still experimenting with online strategies. But their hands may be forced soon as university budgets make newspapers a costly proposition.
USA Today posted a story Sunday about the dire straits college newspapers are in nationally. Some schools are in tens of thousands of dollars of debt, others have had their Intro to Journalism classes cut, eliminating a crucial gateway into the paper’s staff.
As a staffer for three semesters at both The Channels at Santa Barbara City College and The Huntington News at Northeastern University, I say college newspapers (in print) are a critical part of a campus. The Channels, propped up by the college but dependent on local ad sales, was way more effective in print than it was online. Most students had no idea the paper had a website, even though it was only in print every other week and had exclusive Web content such as photo galleries and Slideshows.
The Huntington News, running without university support (and in desperate need of new computers), published in print every week during the regular school year and does so on a shoestring budget. It’s able to do this thanks to section editors working out of the goodness of their hearts, editors-in-chief willing to gray the hair on their heads and everyone’s devotion to journalism.
I have no idea how long that will last, but both require some journalism-minded students on campus. On some campuses, tweeting about current events sometimes has more of an impact than something appearing in a student newspaper. But as a historical record of campus news, nothing beats a paper.
Colleges should not be cutting journalism courses or doing everything they can to kill their student newspapers financially. Yes, the migration to digital platforms is important and should continue. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and kill the way most students read campus news.
In my four years of college, nothing has done more to grow my abilities as a journalist than the programs at SBCC and Northeastern. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today and probably not pursued the profession seriously. There are countless other students who entered college without a path and were put on one thanks to journalism. If there’s a way to fail more students, it’s by slicing student journalism.
Photo: James Sinclair