College Media & the Newsroom: ‘Why Do We Need Face Time When We Can Just FaceTime?’

Roughly a week ago, the University of Tampa planned to kick The Minaret student newspaper out of its longtime newsroom — relocating the staff to a nearby office that is much smaller and without a few current amenities. The school’s rationale: A separate administrative team needs the newsroom space more than the paper nowadays.

Fortunately, in the face of mounting internal, social media and outside press pushback, UT administrators quickly caved and said the Minaret staff could stay in its current spot. But the larger question of newsroom relevancy lingers.

1In her recent farewell column, Hannah Jeffrey, outgoing editor-in-chief of The Daily Gamecock at the University of South Carolina, wrote, “I go to the newsroom like most people go home. I’ve screwed up there. I’ve cried hard and laughed way harder there. I’ve gotten and delivered the best and worst news there. I’ve moved on there.”

Do most collegiate journalists share Jeffrey’s sentiments? Is the student press newsroom still like home to them? Or have they moved on to a more anywhere-everywhere platform-based journalism existence?

To dig into these questions, I reached out like usual to the spring 2015 CMM Fellows — an elite crew of top editors and reporters at student media across the U.S. and in Europe — to get their perspectives on a main question prompt: In the digital-mobile era, how important is a permanent newsroom space for your news outlet? Or as one of the Fellows puts it: “Why do we need face time when we can just FaceTime?”

Depending on the direction they wanted to take things from there, I also threw out a few quick follow-up prompts: How often are you and the staff in your outlet’s newsroom nowadays? What are the benefits of still having a physical newsroom at a time when of course we can all communicate and submit content from anywhere? And how do you feel you and the staff utilize your newsroom differently than past staffs — especially maybe those who worked there in the pre-Internet days?

The most prominent theme weaving through students’ answers: Even with daily production nights disappearing, a central newsroom space is still crucial to enhance staff communication, motivate greater productivity, mobilize when big news breaks and bond between classes and during downtime.

A few choice quotes backing that up:

“Our workflow is a million times more effective when the parties involved are all in one place and easily located.”

“More bodies in the newsroom means less time to track down an available journalist who’s not in class or at another job. Managers will be able to look at reporters and say, ‘Go.’”

“It’s great when your energy is starting to flag and you need a little boost because you don’t want to look like the slacker in the newsroom. There’s no such pressure if you’re working in your pajamas from the dorm room.”

“Beyond packaging content, what’s most important to me about a permanent newsroom is a safe space for the staff to speak privately about sensitive issues.”

“Maybe most importantly, it’s a social space where our team can meet and bounce ideas off each other in a free-flowing, casual way that can’t be done online.”

Here is a full rundown of their responses.

Sami Edge, editor-in-chief, The Emerald, University of Oregon

1The Emerald newsroom is critical for our team. We’re lucky enough to have a space at the top of our student union with a bird’s-eye view of campus. Not only does that make it a perfect central gathering place for all of our employees, it also is a prime location for spotting emergency vehicles heading onto campus, hearing protests and uploading multimedia posts quickly after campus events.

All of our staff uses it for meetings, interviews and working and we hold our all-staff meetings in there weekly on Sundays. I wasn’t ever around when we used the space to produce our daily paper [in 2012 the Emerald switched to twice-weekly in print], but I would guess that it still gets just as much use — it’s heavily trafficked.

Though our digital focus makes it possible to do things remotely, we still require that copy editors come into the newsroom for their shifts throughout the day — they’re scheduled in two-hour shifts from 10 to 6. And we’ve recently reverted to a breaking news system where reporters have to do the same. Our workflow is a million times more effective when the parties involved are all in one place and easily located.

In addition to structure, having a newsroom helps us foster community. Not including the management team and myself — who staff the office for at least 12 hours a day — there are probably 20 to 30 different employees who come in for meetings and interviews, to ask questions, use a computer, or just hang out and watch TV between classes on any given day. It’s those people who get the most out of the Emerald experience. In the newsroom, they learn aspects of the job they might not otherwise have been exposed to, simply through observation. But they also get to know one another and make friends — something that strengthens the newsroom dynamic and leads to new ideas and collaboration.

Making the newsroom a place where people feel like home is an important part of sustaining the cheerful, collaborative family dynamic we have at The Emerald. Giving out free donuts on Fridays helps, too.

Emma LeGault, special projects editor, The Kansan, Univ. of Kansas

1My aunt actually asked this question about a month ago, and I didn’t have a solid response. It’s a valid question — why do we need face time when we can just FaceTime? Reported.ly is successful, even though editors are spread across the globe and can’t meet in real time. But, much like interviewing a source, I think there’s something you miss on the phone or through Skype — something you miss without a human connection.

I didn’t have a response when my aunt asked. But since writing and publishing a comprehensive plan for the fall at The University Daily Kansan, I realized that a physical location is crucial to covering the news. We plan on creating shifts for reporters and editors, who will be in the newsroom starting at 9:30 a.m. Although our journalists can — and are expected to — file from anywhere, more bodies in the newsroom means less time to track down an available journalist who’s not in class or at another job. Managers will be able to look at reporters and say, “Go.”

Ultimately though, it boils down to how effectively we communicate, whether it’s digitally or in person. Each student media newsroom is different, and each news staff has its own method of communication. But a physical newsroom facilitates a human connection that can’t be matched from behind a screen.

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Riley Brands, editor-in-chief, The Daily Texan, University of Texas

1We’re in our newsroom all the time. It’s our home base. It’s where reporters come after doing their work in the field to write their stories and it’s where all the editing happens, too. The physical space is absolutely invaluable.

I was actually just thinking of this the other day when I was sitting down for in-person edits with one of my associate editors on a complicated piece. There was no way I could’ve managed edits with her over the phone or even text or Facebook chat. I speak from experience — it’s a disaster with anything complicated.

Aside from facilitating complex news coverage discussions, it’s also just so valuable to be surrounded by similarly energetic reporters and editors who are all working toward a common goal. It’s great when your energy is starting to flag and you need a little boost because you don’t want to look like the slacker in the newsroom. There’s no such pressure if you’re working in your pajamas from the dorm room. I absolutely love our newsroom. It’s an indispensable part of our operation.

Natalie Daher, editor-in-chief, The Pitt News, University of Pittsburgh

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Even as news outlets emphasize “digital,” a permanent newsroom is essential for more than just archive storage or space for cubicles. As newspapers adapt both their decades-old culture and work ethic to the web, I imagine the purpose of the office will change. At this point, I believe there’s no tried-and-true model on how to optimize an office for what’s increasingly become teamwork journalism.

At The Pitt News, in-office work shifts for the editorial staff have traditionally extended from early in the morning to the nightly 1 a.m. deadline for print. Beyond editing and production, editors meet at least twice daily about the next-day editorial and page layout (the latter a work in progress), plus sporadic round-ups for breaking news. As newspapers become less print-focused, the potentially more demanding agendas — but not the existence — of these meetings will change.

Instead of discussing character counts for print, we’ll discuss data visualization for the Internet. We won’t just talk about headlines for print, but punchy taglines for Twitter, Tumblr, the website’s homepage and respective article page — you name it.

Beyond packaging content, what’s most important to me about a permanent newsroom is a safe space for the staff to speak privately about sensitive issues. Student journalists aren’t just reporting on the latest on-campus bash. They’re keeping administrators and student leaders in check. It’s absolutely imperative that student editors can discuss more controversial news with one another or relevant sources ASAP.

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A pair of staffers at The Pitt News enjoy a moment of mental and mobile reflection in the newsroom during production night.

Joey Stipek, assignment editor, OU Nightly, University of Oklahoma

1A permanent newsroom space is important in regards to communication between staffers and the overall scheme of an organizational workflow. For a smaller, non-profit journalism organization, a newsroom isn’t essential. However, if you have more than 40 staffers in your organization, I believe a newsroom is vital to your organization humming along like a well-oiled machine.

Personally speaking, I was in the newsroom five days a week this semester as the assignment editor. But the way OU Nightly works is that there is usually a different crew every day, including anchors, crew members and producers. A lot of the communication between myself and reporters is through emails, phone calls and texts.

I believe one of the benefits of having a newsroom is when breaking news occurs, you can rally staffers and devise a workflow chart to determine what needs to be covered and what interviews reporters need to get. For example, having access to a newsroom was useful when Lauren King, OU Nightly’s executive producer, helped plot our coverage the night the OU Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter was thrown off campus.

Reporters at OU Nightly, the student-produced newscast at the University of Oklahoma, brave recent snowy weather conditions to gather for a regular 12:30 p.m. editorial meeting.

Reporters at OU Nightly, the student-produced newscast at the University of Oklahoma, brave recent snowy weather conditions to gather for a regular 12:30 p.m. editorial meeting.

Nicole Brown, former editor-in-chief, Washington Square News, NYU

1Our newsroom is incredibly important to the staff. We meet in the newsroom five days a week to start production. We have our daily meetings and pitch meetings in the office, and we have rows of computers set up to edit and work on layout. While most of our work is online and can be sent from anywhere, having a permanent newsroom increases efficiency during production and creates a motivating environment.

It is much easier to talk to someone about a piece in a newsroom than over the phone or by email. Being in a newsroom creates a collaborative atmosphere where all editors are able to voice their opinions. Additionally, working in a newsroom with the rest of staff is very inspiring. When I was editor-in-chief, my favorite moments were when everyone was working together and motivating each other to create the best publication we could. That kind of atmosphere would not be possible without our newsroom.

Having a nice space to work and collaborate makes working at Washington Square News that much better. While the reason we joined the staff was not because of the newsroom, the environment we experience there is often the reason people stay. Our staff is entirely volunteer-based, and if we did not have a central location where editors and writers knew they were always welcome, I definitely believe our staff would decrease.

Courtney Jacquin, editor-in-chief, The DePaulia, DePaul University

1For The DePaulia, since we’re still putting out a weekly print product, our office is still very essential. We meet in our office Thursday evenings, Fridays and Sundays to produce our paper — which comes out each Monday. Throughout the week, we’re running the online portion of our publication from our dorms, apartments, coffee shops, wherever. But the physical meeting space gives us all a time to meet face-to-face, understand what everyone’s working on and also to have some accountability to The DePaulia by, at minimum, showing up to our 6 p.m. Thursday editorial meetings. Without an office space, there’s no way the DePaulia in its current state could function.

That being said, our office is less than ideal. We’re stashed in the back of the basement of a freshman residence hall. We need ID swipe access — two levels of it — just to get into our workspace. As you can imagine, this makes it near impossible to have meetings for anyone who’s not an editor. (At DePaul, you need to sign someone in at the front desk of each dorm, and there’s a two-guest-per-ID rule). People often say to us, “Oh my god, I had no idea you were down there!” Oh, and did I mention we don’t have windows? Yeah, it’s a cinderblock trap. Great for inclement weather protection, bad for cell phone service.

Because of the growth of our digital presence, our staff has also grown over the years, meaning we’ve outgrown the space given to us. A converged newsroom in our College of Communication building in the Chicago Loop is in the very early planning stages. It would be great to work with our TV station, radio station and new digital magazine that’s launching next year. But with all the funding needed to create the space, the DePaul/DePaulia converged newsroom won’t happen until I’m in my 30s, and who knows where college media will be then.

Jacquin speaks with managing editor Grant Myatt in The DePaulia newsroom.

Jacquin speaks with managing editor Grant Myatt in The DePaulia newsroom.

Stephen Koenigsfeld, editor-in-chief, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State

1The physical space of a newsroom is extremely crucial for a daily publication. We still print five days a week and in order for us to do that, we need a place to write, edit and produce the news. Yes, we do double what’s in the paper online, but having a newsroom gives us a physical space to get things done.

It’s also extremely important when it comes to a sense of home or community. At a college news organization, we spend 55 to 60 hours per week working in our newsroom. We also spend a lot of time in between classes in here, because a majority of our classes are in the same building as our newsroom. Next year, that may get a bit more difficult with our new newsroom off campus.

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A trio of Iowa State Daily editors excitedly break in the newsroom’s new water cooler.

Alex Bitter, editor-in-chief, Ka Leo O Hawai’i, U. of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

1Here’s what’s happening in the Ka Leo newsroom as I write this:

  • Sports editor Nick Huth is working with web editors Alden Alayvilla and Jeremy Nitta to critique video coverage of a recent water polo match and figure out the best way to promote similar videos on social media.
  • Special issue editors Nicolyn Charlot and Christina Yan are editing content for the final issue of the school year, which will hit stands and our website at the beginning of finals week.
  • I’ve just finished a conversation with incoming editor-in-chief Noelle Fujii about some new beats we want to add to the features desk starting in the summer.

Each of these tasks would be possible, although much harder, to conduct in a completely digital setting. While our digital infrastructure is key to the way we submit, edit and publish content, there are some tasks that are better done in person. Try waiting for clarification on an upcoming article via email instead of asking the writer or editor when you see them in person, and you realize how convenient it is to have your staff pass through the same room once each day.

There are also some tasks that simply cannot be handled digitally. Whenever they give their writers substantial feedback, my editors always meet in person with them. As editor-in-chief, I handle all significant management tasks — hirings, firings, interventions and so on — in-person. Part of our job as a student publication is to help staffers learn from their mistakes and improve their work.

Just as many educators say that online college courses don’t offer the same learning opportunities as traditional classes, I argue that conducting all the business of a college newsroom online would deprive students of valuable management experiences, leaving them less prepared for the professional world. People who master those skills can successfully manage a staff and motivate them to produce great content. Consequently, they will be valuable to any publication, digital or print.

Editors at Ka Leo O Hawaiʻi vote on ideas for the cover of a recent weekly print issue.

Editors at Ka Leo O Hawaiʻi vote on ideas for the cover of a recent weekly print issue.

Ric Sanchez, editor-in-chief, Montana Kaimin, University of Montana

1One would hope a physical newsroom wouldn’t be necessary to file stories, but it sure as hell makes it easier. At the Montana Kaimin, little writing goes on in the newsroom, but it is where almost all the paper’s production takes place. Having a set space for reporters, editors, photographers and designers is crucial to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Our newsroom typically grows more crowded the closer it gets to deadline. That’s when reporters file their final drafts and editors and designers budget the pages for that night’s paper. At night, as we go through page proofs, our newsroom is filled with stories and jokes and music blasting through small, portable speakers.

As my daily paper transitions now to a weekly print issue, we’ve started to address a grave concern: How do we keep newsroom culture alive? Even though it’s possible to file our online daily stories remotely — which happens often with breaking news — we still want reporters to experience sitting down with an editor and designer to discuss the best way to present each story. News writing can be done remotely, but it’s done better with a collaborative group.

When I look back on my years at the Kaimin, I don’t always remember specific issues. I do remember nights in the newsroom.

Jordyn Reiland, editor-in-chief, The Daily Iowan, University of Iowa

1Even in a digital-mobile era, I think having a permanent newsroom is still extremely important. I’ve come to find that a large percentage of the job of editor-in-chief and any section editor is communicating amongst each other. In-person communication is by far the easiest way to do so and the most effective. Communication over email, text and even over the phone can be misconstrued in so many different ways, and can lead to unseen issues or unnecessary drama.

Building off the idea of communication, I think a permanent newsroom builds camaraderie. The Daily Iowan staff spends a lot of time in the newsroom working, but they also spend a lot of time socializing, studying, etc. It’s so important to have that common space because that’s where the friendships and solid management teams are built. It also stresses the importance of in-person edits and critiques, which the DI requires on a daily basis.

Cormac Duffy, editor, University Observer, University College Dublin

1Just because it’s possible to run a student newspaper without a newsroom, it doesn’t mean you should. Our newsroom remains an invaluable part of our paper’s day-to-day activity. It’s a place where our contributors know they can always find an editor. It’s a private space where we can securely meet sources, conduct interviews or safely store documents. It’s also much easier to correct your designer by pointing directly at their screen.

Maybe most importantly, it’s a social space where our team can meet and bounce ideas off each other in a free-flowing, casual way that can’t be done online. At the University Observer, I’ve found that having a strong sense of collegiality and friendship among staff members is one of the key factors in a successful student paper. Having a space that is our own contributes greatly to this.

This isn’t exclusive to student papers. In our university, many of the student buildings have been incorporated as private businesses separate to the main university. There’s little say given to the students themselves, and clubs and societies regularly struggle to access resources and spaces they need to thrive.

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