Tuesday, August 04, 2009
My college, like so many others, has a student newspaper. It's published on newsprint, it comes out twice a semester, and it sometimes gets facts right. (I always enjoy the man-on-the-street parts the most.)
Our local daily newspaper, meanwhile, is in a death spiral. That's a common enough phenomenon that I can say that without really revealing my location.
Between craigslist and google news, it's increasingly unclear just how local journalism will support itself. Yet colleges keep blithely producing student journalists trained in newsprint, as if it were still 1950 and the major competitor was radio.
Why do we do this?
I'll admit some affection for any project that gets students writing readable non-fiction. The ability to assemble a coherent narrative out of a swirl of rapidly-changing facts is useful in all kinds of contexts, certainly including business. But it's not clear to me why that needs to happen in the context of a newspaper.
In my youth, the future of journalism was assumed to be television. (For a wild time capsule, watch the movie Broadcast News.) "Real" journalists wrung their hands at the prospect of pretty faces reading from teleprompters.
Now, both newspapers and pretty faces with teleprompters are suffering. While the number of people producing 'content' of one form or another -- hi! -- seems to be climbing, the number who can actually support themselves this way on a full-time basis seems to be shrinking. (I'll admit not having a clear sense of the number of full-time professional bloggers, but I doubt that it would compare to the number of people who used to work for newspapers.) News aggregators and popular blogs build collages of information from many sources, with little regard to how, or if, those sources are paid.
I'm all for training students in fact-gathering, clear writing, and getting a sense of the outside world. But I'm wondering if the time-honored student newspaper is still the best way to do that.
Has your campus found a more contemporary way to get students the benefits that newspapers used to offer? Maybe a way that doesn't automatically doom them to the ashbin of history?
Meaning the owners fired all the employees, sold the historic building off and the presses for scrap, and started "one of those there blogs".
Of course we already have a half-dozen or dozen blogs, some of which have become better and more appropriate sources of actual news and journalism than the newspaper ever was.
So maybe (as Dave Askins, the Chronicle's editor suggests, there are just going to be more, smaller places. Again.
I'd say train the kids to write more, and better, and more reasonably (though please not more "rationally"), and brace yourself for the fun.
For national and international news, I think some consolidation is likely, so the number of reporting and editing jobsis likely to decline.
And I think local newspapers, covering local news are likely to survive in some form. Mostly, no one cares about this except locally. The issue will become how to get it paid for. (And if I knew the answer to that...)
What doc misses is the key question: How will the AP pay for its worldwide group of reporters if its only outlet is Google? Will the Huffington Post join AP and give away its stories so AP can give them to Google?
As for our CC paper, which publishes on a schedule like at DD's college, it has at times turned a collection of coherent facts into an incoherent swirl not unlike what you get when you buy your word processor from Cuisinart. But that is usually the first issue of the semester. I enjoy it because it reminds me why I'm glad I don't teach composition. I see enough 3-page paragraphs in lab reports.
There is no journalism program at my institution (although it graduated some famous journalists), but take a look at the enrollment rates for journalism at Texas A&M sometime for a surprise. Apparently it isn't all about the cows!
-I'm accounting as fast as I can
Only if the written communication skills claim is true ... otherwise the online publishing is a serious problem!
I'm now doing a stint at a CC, and the situation is similar. The student run paper publishes a tabloid-format paper every month, and there's a broadcast format studio.
One challenge of broadcast is reaching the target audience you'd expect from a student organization. Student papers distribute to students by way of copious paper on stands throughout campus, competing with sometimes dry lectures and the downtimes between (or during!) classes.
In contrast, student broadcasting has to reach students in the home, and competes with homework, television, jobs, video games, movies, the internet and so on. And it's much harder to reach students through the filter of TV broadcasting, cable companies and so on. You wind up occupying the marginal slots people skip over.
I guess what I'm saying is, student papers bring in tons of ad revenue and support themselves, while student TV news has yet to find that path.
Journalism schools are doing the same thing. In my experiences, some journalism schools are even adapting much better than “professional” publications. College newspapers are doing incredible things online that rival the most experienced newsroom staffs. Online journalism is where all media outlets have to adapt; even broadcast journalism is having to figure out how to operate online. It is not about TV stations and newspapers anymore, it is about information sharing, for which there will always be a need.
If you, as a dean, approach the student newspaper as a dying entity, then you are not fostering the education necessary to help revitalize the information industry. I sincerely hope that you encourage your newspaper staff to experiment online, look what other papers are doing and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Otherwise you are simply closing your mind to what you've heard reported instead of finding a way to make your program successful in the digital age.
My alma mater was a predominantly science/engineering school. One of my college friends was an editor at the paper, and this experience writing eventually caused him to make the leap from engineering to editing a trade publication for engineers, and eventually a job switch to editing other trade publications not even related to engineering. Good writing skills are always in demand, and student papers help develop those skills.
But where I teach, EMU's student newspaper also publishes on the web, and figuring how the web aspect works is part of the work/learning experience there. So besides the writing skills, people are getting that experience too.
I find that especially disappointing since the school also had a program that included web design. It would have been interesting to see the two programs work together.
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