In Video Chat, Top NYU Student Newspaper Editors Debate Future of Journalism

In a recent recorded debate, the top two editors of The Washington Square News at New York University sparred amiably over an increasingly buzzworthy topic in student press circles: print vs. online.

The tête-à-tête is part of the paper’s “Op Ed Live” series. The regular video feature — appearing on the WSN website and YouTube channel — shows short “debates and discussions about issues and controversies that matter both around campus and beyond.”

Past episodes have focused on drone strikes, Internet hacktivism, the Chris Christie Bridge-gate scandal, dorm prices, student-athlete compensation and the legacy of NYU’s longtime president. The guests are typically a mix of WSN editors and relevant NYU student and faculty representatives — such as the president of the NYU College Republicans sticking up for Christie in February.

The current edition is unique for pitting the WSN editor-in-chief against her own managing editor — with nothing less than the future of journalism at stake.

The principal questions being wrangled over during the nearly eight-minute chat: Should print remain the primary engine for student newspapers for many semesters to come? Or should digital, mobile and other emerging platforms provoke a news-production-and-distribution revolution on par with what The Columbia Daily Spectator, The Daily Nebraskan, The Daily O’Collegian and other pubs have recently announced?

WSN editor-in-chief Nicole Brown argues the pro-print side, while confirming “I don’t think we should be left behind and not focused on the website.” Partially echoing the recent sentiments of longtime Daily Tar Heel general manager Kevin Schwartz, Brown tells WSN deputy editor Omar Etman — the debate’s moderator — that print’s appeal is both emotional and financial:

My heart is with print. I think I just have a sort of personal attachment to print. It’s really cool to have a physical copy of the hard work we do every night. Being able to see it in print is just a lot more exciting to me . . . than just looking at it online. . . . Being able to pick that up every day is really amazing to me. . . . For us, currently right now, we couldn’t really afford to not have a print paper. The majority of our revenue comes from print ads. If we cut back on that, we would lose a lot of advertisers and the ads on our website are just not as profitable. So, in the state we are right now, it would be very challenging to suddenly switch to online-only.”

In response, WSN managing editor Michael Domanico passionately promotes the new media movement. As he contends, an all-in online-only push empowers the paper to act as a better staff training and audience consumption vehicle:

“For me, if we’re trying to train student journalists to be the next generation of journalists, we should really be focusing on online-only. Because when these students graduate the reality is that a lot of them will be working in online-only or multimedia or something that’s more conducive to online journalism. . . . So, right now, the way we run production is we create a print paper and we post all the articles online. That’s how our mindset is. Instead of looking at the stories that we’re planning to run and saying, ‘How can we make this more exciting for an online audience?’ . . . So the online audience can really engage with our content.”

Ultimately, the pair appear to favor compromise, at least for now. They confirm on camera the WSN will continue its daily print edition in the fall, while also working to build a stronger web team. As the moderator Etman sums things up at the end, “It’s an exciting time, here and for all journalists everywhere.”

What do you think?

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