Philadelphia Inquirer Copy Desk Chief: Students Live on Campus, Not Online Universe

This is a guest post written by David Sullivan, an assistant managing editor and the copy desk chief at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where I worked briefly while earning my journalism master’s degree at Temple University.  He is weighing in with a few thoughts related to the recent exchange between Steve Buttry and I regarding the advantages and challenges embedded within student press innovation efforts.

I was reading your exchange with the prolific Steve Buttry and I came again to that phrase “where they live.”  [For example, Buttry begins his Nieman Journalism Lab piece by stating, “Students live digital-first lives.  Student media need to become digital-first.”]  Now, my son is 24 and so while I am of AARP age I am not personally unaware of how differently younger adults and college students access media than I do.  Yet at the same time, through my son I have met many who, while they communicate with their friends on Facebook and the like and find restaurants on Yelp, do not “live there.”

Not to shave the onion too closely, but in college, they “live” on campus.  My son “lives” in New York City.  He “lives” at the financial firm where he works.  While he reads the Wall Street Journal online, he does not “live” online.  My niece is 27, lives in Grand Rapids, and doesn’t even have an Internet connection at home.  (Not that this makes her subscribe to the Grand Rapids Press.)

What struck me is, when you look at the vast number of posts, tweets, and the like, it is someone like Steve Buttry– all of us in media know people like him– who “lives” online. And so much of media writing today has always seemed to be based on, “The world is like me”– whether it’s electronic-media junkies or print diehards.  Whereas for most people, media– print, electronic, digital, whatever– is something they check in with from time to time, but they don’t “live” digitally any more than they “live” analogally (if there is such a word).

In Philadelphia, where I work, tons of younger people read the Metro newspaper daily because it’s 1) free, 2) written in short bites, 3) written about things they are interested in, and 4) easily foldable.  The fact that it’s in print is no more an impediment than it is for a college daily.  I realize that downsizing dailies has not saved them across Europe from financial trauma.  But there’s this assumption that every college student is intrinsically living in some online universe, when a lot of what they’re doing is just the equivalent of passing notes in class, or watching a video instead of daydreaming.

A person like Steve Buttry– who when he was at the Cedar Rapids Gazette probably read his own paper, and the Des Moines Register, and the Times, and the Journal, and watched CNN, etc.–  “lives” in media online because before there was online he “lived” in media offline.  Nothing wrong with that.  But a lot of young people don’t live there.


Advantages, Disadvantages to Student Media Digital Experimentation: My Response to Steve Buttry Report

2 Responses to “Philadelphia Inquirer Copy Desk Chief: Students Live on Campus, Not Online Universe”
  1. Steve Buttry says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, David. I visit quite a few campuses and I see countless students looking into their phones, tablets or laptops, even as they converse, work and attend classes and events. I don’t say that critically (you accurately note that I spend a fair amount of time there, too). Students are multitaskers who can simultaneously live on campus and in the digital world. They do occasionally visit print, but I think student media will have a better future where students visit than where they live.

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