Student Newspapers *Still* More Popular in Print

Since the dawn of time, and through the rise of online, one immutable truth remains, ink-stained: The student newspaper is popular in print.

In recent years, at least once a semester, a new trend piece emerges to confirm that the hard-copy campus pub is *still* outshining its online counterpart.  (Bryan Murley and I even once enjoyed an international chat about it.)  The latest print-rocks report comes via Poynter Online.  The piece begins with the tried-and-true ironic anecdote of print thriving among the young, mobile, and tech-obsessed:

Students have returned to college campuses armed with laptops, smart phones and countless other electronic gadgets. Yet most still turn to a print newspaper for their campus news.  The printed versions of college newspapers continue to thrive, with students grabbing copies as they go from one class to another.  It’s not unusual to see students reading about the latest campus news while eating a quick lunch or taking a break on the lawn.

Why does the print paper reign supreme within higher ed. 2.0?  According to the distinguished mix of people cited by Poynter, the reasons seem to remain the same- its convenience for a grab-and-scan; its relevance to student readers and the unique hyperlocal coverage area it serves; its quality reporting and “fun” content (sex columns, Sudoku puzzles, police blotters, student editorial cartoons, etc.); and its free price tag.

More innovative web editions and related mobile apps are discussed briefly in the Poynter piece.  They are nice extras or complements, but let’s be honest: In the near future at least, nothing digital will usurp the print paper’s dominance.  Until all students are equipped with iPad-type devices or enjoy accessing the Internet via cafeteria tables and classroom desks, they will continue to be old school in their news reading habits. And the bottom line: Regardless of all the pontificating, the ultimate reason why is magically inexplicable.

As I first noted in November 2008: College newspapers are just different. In recent semesters, I’ve taken to asking students in my classes the cliched question all of us profs and instructors have asked to show we’re “with it”: How many of you actually regularly read a print newspaper? The answer of course is invariably low to none. Students’ hands, again predictably, raise more passionately when YouTubePerezHilton, and, among j-students, sites like MediaBistro enter the mix.

My last question, as a counter to the seeming online-print divide among the young: OK, so how many of you read the student print paper? A majority of hands normally go up. There seems to be some subsequent confusion when I point out that the college newspaper is a print newspaper also, so their initial lack of hand-raising was erroneous. Students don’t seem to have as much of an awareness that reading their college print paper is indulging in the very old media their generation is supposed to be avoiding. As a student said to me last year, “The college paper is just different.”

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  1. [...] over the past few years by a number of news outlets and marketing surveys– including a fall 2010 Poynter Online piece (screenshot below) and a Washington Post Magazine feature published in [...]



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