2014 College Media Year in Review, Part 1: ‘Go to Hell & Take the Print Newspaper with You’

Roughly a month ago, Kyle Plantz agreed to shout strangers’ names in a newsroom for only $5.

Plantz, 20, a junior journalism major at Boston University, is not crazy. He’s passionate — about The Daily Free Press. In early November, the FreeP, the 45-year-old independent student newspaper at BU, launched a fundraising campaign to pay off a $70,000 debt and maintain some semblance of a print presence.

So what’s with all the shouting? As the paper’s editor-in-chief, Plantz promised to scream the names of everyone who donated at least $5 to the campaign — at random moments during production nights.

Kyle Plantz is editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press at Boston University. Courtesy of Plantz.

Kyle Plantz is editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press at BU.

In the end, although Plantz temporarily lost his voice, the paper’s pleas were heard. The crowdfunding effort, hosted on GoFundMe, raced past its goal and beyond the editorial board’s wildest dreams in less than 48 hours. More than 300 people contributed, including prominent BU and FreeP alumnus Bill O’Reilly and auto magnate Ernie Boch Jr.

As Plantz wrote a week later in USA TODAY College, “Student journalism isn’t dead and neither are newspapers … but just like other media outlets, we are learning from our mistakes and we are figuring out how our old print model can adapt to the digital world.”

This print-to-digital adaptation — and the innovative leaps, funding crises and shouts of joy and despair it spurred — is the central theme of college media’s journey in 2014.

‘The Perfect Merge of Tech & College Journalism’

This past April, John MacArthur, president of Harper’s magazine, 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.”

The reason for MacArthur’s sudden resignation and strong parting words: The decision by other trustees and the editorial board to reinvent the Columbia University student newspaper into a web-first news outlet. Among other changes instituted this fall, the paper began publishing weekly instead of daily in print.

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.”

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It was a common sentiment shared by student press publishers, editors, advisers and business managers in 2014. If not quite a tipping point, this past year definitely represented a turning point in college media’s relationship with print.

A growing number of campus newspapers and magazines cut or considered cutting the amount of print editions they publish each week or month. Others trimmed their page sizes or reduced the number of copies or pages produced for each issue. A few outlets dropped print entirely, opting to reboot as online-only enterprises.

For example, The State Press at Arizona State University announced in July it would no longer publish its weekly print issue, operating instead as an “all-digital publication.”

In a related press release, ASU student media director Jason Manning confirmed, “We are no longer a so-called ‘digital-first’ media organization — we are a media organization in the digital age. Our audience and our advertisers are highly mobile and social and the legacy print product does not serve their needs.”

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The Daily O’Collegian also veered from its legacy. In the fall, the 119-year-old student newspaper at Oklahoma State University adopted a new format, publishing schedule and digital focus. It even changed its name to the O’Colly, the pub’s longtime nickname.

According to Kyle Hinchey, the paper’s editor-in-chief in 2013-’14, “By making this change, we are transitioning from a five-day-a-week newspaper to a 24/7 media company.”

By comparison, student journalists at California’s Mt. San Antonio College went for revolution more than transition. In September, Mt. SAC’s campus newspaper dropped its print edition, changed its name (from The Mountaineer to Substance) and switched its web host. It is the first college media outlet to operate primarily on the publishing platform Medium.

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Substance adviser and Mt. SAC journalism professor Toni Albertson described the arrangement as “the perfect merge of tech and college journalism.”

As she explained about the impetus behind this merger, “While [staffers] used to like putting out the print newspaper, they began to loathe it and the long hours and late production nights it took to produce it. You know there’s a problem when the editor-in-chief yells, ‘Go to hell and take the print newspaper with you’ and half the room walks out. Maybe if the student population was reading the paper they might have felt differently. Each semester they would go out on campus and take a survey: ‘Do you read the student print newspaper?’ The answer was a resounding ‘NO.'”

To read my full 2014 year in review, click here or on the screenshot below.

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Related

College Media Geeks: Kyle Plantz, Editor-in-Chief, The Daily Free Press, Boston University

State Press at ASU Shifting from ‘Digital-First’ to ‘All-Digital,’ Dropping Print Newspaper in Fall

O’Colly Reinvention at OK State is Part of Biggest Shift in College Media in a Century

College Newspaper Drops Print, First to Operate Primarily on Publishing Platform Medium

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