CoPress, We Hardly Knew Ye: Web Service Shutting Down

College media’s backbone has cracked.  CoPress, the student-run Web hosting service and all-purpose journalism think-tank, has folded a bit more than a year after its much-heralded arrival within collegemediatopia.

In the closure announcement posted on its site earlier this week, founder Daniel Bachhuber writes with elegance and appreciable candor about the realities of running an organization high on idealism but low on profit and with hard-working staff stretched beyond their breaking point.  As Bachhuber admitted, “[W]ithout the revenue to pay our team full-time, we’ve become dependent on the generosity of committed students to offer our 24/7 support. In addition, the nature of our hosting and support business is such that we encouraged publications to tinker as much as they want with their site. What this ultimately meant was a rapidly growing number of emails for us to answer. Needless to say, it’s become difficult to make this scale in any meaningful way.”

Did the team, which called themselves from the start “college media’s backbone,” try to tackle too many clients and offer too many services and tinkering options, too soon?  Yes, possibly. Did the down economy play a huge part re: profitability?  Absolutely.  Is CoPress another victim of what I have previously dubbed the MOD (move-on disease), in which students’ school-time efforts fall prey to separate post-grad plans?  My guess would be yes.

Yet, amid the flaws and hard realities, CoPress still goes down as a major new media success in my book/blog.  The venture, while short-lived, shows that a single student’s frustration (in this case, Bacchuber’s disenchantment with the lack of options for college media Web sites) can be transformed into a positive, impacting call-to-arms.  It shows that a team of students in separate corners of the country can connect online, balance their studies and other commitments, and provide a meaningful service.  It shows that all j-students are not simply beholden to the way-things-are gloomy J&MC forecast and instead are pushing to try something, anything, to reinvent and prolong the industry.

There is no failure in the CoPress closure.  The failure would have been to not have started it up at all.  In Bachhuber’s words: “We think that [the] story of CoPress highlights some of the most important needs for college media, and the news industry in general. Primarily, this is a willingness to experiment, iterate, and try new things.”

Admirably, CoPress will not go quietly into the new media abyss.  In the near future, the CoPress crew will publicly dissect the ups and downs of the org’s ultimately abbreviated lifespan, searching for lessons that might help the next student with a frustration, a sense of innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit. As Bachhuber once said in his famous “Future of Journalism” video: “Onward and forward, let’s make a better world.”

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