‘Web-First’ vs. ‘Digital Oblivion’: Columbia Spectator Trustee Resigns Over Reinvention

John MacArthur, president of Harper’s magazine, has resigned from The Columbia Daily Spectator Board of Trustees, declaring he does not “want to be associated with the disappearance of Spectator into digital oblivion.” Yowza. Bridge … burned.

The reason for MacArthur’s sudden resignation and strong parting words (more to come): The decision by the current leadership to reinvent the Columbia University student newspaper into a web-first news outlet. Among other changes, as I previously posted, the paper will be published weekly instead of daily in print starting this fall. According to Spectator publisher Michael Ouimette, “We are not doing the best journalism we can do if we’re devoting so many hours to print.”

The 11-member Spectator trustees board devoted a portion of this past Sunday to debating and ultimately approving the web-first plan by a vote of 7-4. Any guess which way MacArthur voted?


Here is a portion of his resignation email. It includes some doomsday prophesizing mixed with snarky putdowns of current Spectator staffers:

“[K]illing the daily paper is a foolish mistake from both a financial and philosophical standpoint. Advertising revenue will plummet and the loss will not be offset by online income. I cringed at the marketing speak expressed by the managing editor, publisher and some other trustees in favor of a “greater digital focus,” since they certainly are aware that ‘greater digital focus’ has lost many billions of dollars for newspapers and magazines over the last ten years, and will continue to bleed them as they pour more resources into a bottomless pit. …

Saying that ‘really cool interactive graphics’ constitutes serious journalism at an Ivy League newspaper is a sad commentary on an already impoverished landscape. Youth must be served, but not indulged, coddled and condescended to. I didn’t get the sense that the two Spectator people present were even interested in actual journalism, that is, telling people something they don’t know, rocking the boat and confronting the powerful on behalf of the less powerful. “


Columbia Spectator Shifting to Weekly in Print, First Student Paper in Ivy League to Drop Daily


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