CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 1: ‘A Makeshift Umbrella During a Rainy Day’

In a recent farewell column published on Quartz, outgoing Daily Tar Heel editor-in-chief Jenny Surane at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wrote, “[I]t’s humbling to realize that the newspaper I spend so many hours working on isn’t really beloved by my peers in the same way. … My peers are interested in reading news, but they have no loyalties whatsoever about where it comes from. … Even some of my closest friends refused to pick up the newspaper I spent dozens of hours on each week.”

Her sentiments have been echoed in recent semesters by many students and educators connected to college media. Audience engagement is of course always an issue when undergraduates are involved. But the challenge of getting students to regularly check out their campus news outlets is exponentially increasing in an era cluttered with evermore competitors and platforms and bereft of old-media brand loyalty.

For this CMM special series, 20 current and recent top student journalists in the U.S. and Canada offer their perspectives, ideas and advice centered on a single question at the heart of college media’s future: How do we get students to care more about the student press?

The Future of College Media: How Do We Get Students to Care More?
Part 1: ‘A Makeshift Umbrella During a Rainy Day’

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By Matt LemasUniversity of Southern California

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I have seen my student newspaper used in a variety of creative ways: a makeshift umbrella during an unusually rainy day in Los Angeles, a type of ‘artisan’ tissue paper for a birthday gift, a paper towel substitute to soak up a spilled caramel macchiato. Rarely, however, do I find students sitting down and perusing its pages.

Thus, I empathize with Jenny on many of her points. I, too, know for a fact that my closest friends hardly even glance at the newsstand, let alone pick a paper up and read an article. And it’s surely no secret why. It’s the deadly combination of a populace with spotty interest in campus activity and little affinity for a print product.

I wish I could sit students down and convince them in earnest that our pages matter, that your student newspaper matters. But today’s college media landscape truly is a buyers’ market — and as virtuous peddlers of a student publication we have to meet the readers the best we can.

For The Daily Trojan, it meant in the past year completely redesigning our website, making it much more friendly on both mobile and desktop devices. It meant greatly expanding multimedia coverage, showcasing campus stories through detailed video and photography that leapt far beyond mere print and landed more in line with millennial media consumption habits. And in the future, it will mean providing content that is more than just printed stenography on campus news, but instead offers greater in-depth analysis and investigations.

An example of a spring 2015 Daily Trojan video report

Don’t get me wrong, I love my school newspaper’s print edition — the dusty stacks of weeks-old issues in my apartment will attest to that. But Jenny is right. Her job as a newspaper heroine doesn’t exist anymore. In reality, college newspapers now serve as a form of life support for a journalism niche that is quickly being snuffed out in the real world.

Thankfully, however, both the desire and need for impactful journalism will live on, and that invaluable skill is often born and bred in college newsrooms.

Matt Lemas is a rising junior majoring in journalism and political science at the University of Southern California. This spring, he served as managing editor of The Daily Trojan. He is also a summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow.

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