Students Read Print, Non-Students Go Online: Go Figure!

In an interesting new post for MediaShift, Bryan Murley summarizes the bitter truthiness of the economic downturn for college newspapers.  At least for the biggies, the dailies, the pubs that actually have an advertising team and non-student staff with fancy titles like general manager, times are tougher than ever.

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The portion of the post that most intrigued me focused on the identity of visitors trolling student papers’ Web sites.  Who is reading student newspapers online? Apparently, it’s not students, at least according to the two sources cited.  First, the general manager of Syracuse’s Daily Orange: “Students read the print edition, not the online edition anyway.  Online is for parents, alumni, sports fans not in our distribution area for the most part, so they would not be reading the print edition.”

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Similarly, Andrew Sawyer, “executive vice president for media services at Alloy Media+Marketing, a company that sells national advertising in the college newspaper market”:  “Online college newspaper readership hasn’t really been proven to me that it is a college student.”

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Hmmmmm.  How does one prove he or she is a student (or non-student) reader of the sites?  There is no registration required for most (if any?).  As President Bartlet told Mrs. Landingham on “The West Wing”: “If you want to convince me of something, show me numbers!”  (And I mean that: Any eds. or researchers have actual data/memories of a related research presentation they once saw that might prove this?)

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The claim that there is a student-nonstudent divide online for student papers is startling, and one that if true should impact student pubs’ Web presence, one way or the other.  Either papers can push for a greater mix of online content and services that will draw in more students or they can accept that students still love the print version most and instead cater to the non-student demographic who apparently are the ones eating up the online offerings.  Add an alumni news section?  Features on parents of students?  A special, non-administration-approved guide to the school for prospective students and family?

Comments
10 Responses to “Students Read Print, Non-Students Go Online: Go Figure!”
  1. Bryan Murley says:

    There is a combination of factors that show the readership of online college sites. first is IP address. a site which has analytics will show how many are coming from on campus (I can see who’s reading my blog from our building at EIU), and the rest is from various surveys that have been done over the past several years. I’ve linked to a few on the ICM weblog – from CP and also Alloy. Also, larger campus pubs do readership surveys that show similar numbers.

  2. As the Web editor of The Eagle at American University, I can attest that Mr. Sawyer’s comments are incorrect. As Mr. Murley stated, we are able to look at IP address traffic via Google Analytics. Visits originating from our campus network easily outnumber the external visits.

    Additionally, many people come to me and inform me that they don’t read our paper in print — they prefer to visit our Web site. Some people have the habit of checking our site right before they go to bed in the early morning hours of the days we publish.

    Yes, it’s a bit of a niche audience, but we generate plenty of internal traffic to refute Mr. Sawyer’s comments.

    -Ethan Klapper
    American University
    Washington, D.C.

  3. Dan Reimold says:

    It’s truly an interesting debate! And even stepping back from determining the relative percentage of student-nonstudent readership online, just the fact that there apparently is a large sizable chunk of off-campus readers should be influencing online content. If these “outsiders” are visiting student press sites, it seems worthwhile to gauge their opinions on content and presentation and potentially use the findings to deliver a product that enables even more traffic/outside interest. The days of a student newspaper being a closed campus shop are over.

  4. We see just the opposite of Mr. Klapper’s findings. Most of our traffic (up to two-thirds, in fact) is coming from outside of the university. There are always exceptions and each campus is going to have its own variations, but overall, I think Mr. Sawyer is correct. It’s also important to keep in mind that just because traffic is coming from a campus IP address doesn’t necessarily mean it’s students. We find that a lot of our faculty and staff read the paper online.

    It’s definitely an interesting debate. And I don’t disagree with Dan, but the challenge is finding enough manpower and hours in the day to provide additional coverage. For many of us, we’re working with roughly the same size staff as a decade or so ago when there was no online site. It’s already a stretch to get a print edition out with relevant content that students will read, let alone producing additional content for alumni, parents, prospective students, community members, etc.

  5. Dan Reimold says:

    Andrew,

    Well put. So maybe maybe maybe, amid all the push for change/updating/Webifying, student papers are actually already giving people exactly what they want. Students/interested on-campus parties happily gobble up the print. People elsewhere and certain faculty/staff get what they want/need from the Web version. Case closed?

  6. This all being said, we have yet to sell a single Web ad this year. All of our revenue comes from print ads.

    The only ads on our site are national ads that the college media network inserts as part of the ad trade associated with that CMS.

  7. I’m not sure I’d say case closed, but I’m not convinced that print is dead quite yet. Will print change and evolve? Absolutely. And I think many college newspapers are probably serving their audiences better than commercial media, but that’s no reason to sit back and do nothing.

  8. A good informative blog with lots of new idea and approaches keep on doing the hard work…..

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