CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 2: ‘That Hip, Instagram-Worthy Quality’

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 2: ‘That Hip, Instagram-Worthy Quality’

By Danielle KleinUniversity of Toronto

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Jenny articulated several critical realities currently facing student news outlets. Her words echoed conversations I had with members of The Varsitys masthead throughout the past year. Particularly, how do we better engage our student audience? How can we grab their attention? And how do we get them to keep coming back to us online and — ever the illusive question — in print?

In my years at the paper, we answered these questions through trial-and-error. We’ve introduced new podcasts and blogs, increased our video output, redesigned our website time and time again and changed our approach to social media.

The most effective approach to student engagement I’ve seen has been our magazines. They’re twice-yearly editions which are anchored by a central theme. They feature our best writers doing in-depth long-form content and our designers and visuals team at their finest. During my year as features editor, we revamped the magazines, creating a new visuals-heavy microsite to house them and transitioning them out of newsprint and into a staple-bound 40-page publication.

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A partial screenshot of the microsite for The Varsity Magazine

Our magazines aren’t glossy and they’re quite short, giving them a pamphlet-like feel. But both online and in print, our student audience has responded with great enthusiasm to the changes. I think this is mostly because, put simply, the magazines are really pretty. They have that hip, Instagram-worthy quality that makes students want to pick them up and covet them; maybe tear out a page and tack it their bulletin board; or, online, to click on the link for a photo and then stay for the words.

The energy around the magazines continues to bring new readers to our weekly publication and to our main site and social media feeds. The newspaper doesn’t have the same shelf appeal. It looks like a newspaper, and the articles look like newspaper articles, all of which, as Jennifer points out, isn’t necessarily of interest to the average student.

The magazines not only let us show off what we can do outside the daily news cycle. They also connect students to our brand, showing them where they can find additional content that interests them and hopefully convincing them to become regular readers.

Danielle Klein is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, where she will soon be pursuing her master’s studies focused on culture, technology and knowledge and information management. This past year, she served as editor-in-chief of The Varsity, Canada’s largest student newspaper. She is also a summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow.

Check out other parts of this CMM special series

Part 1: ‘A Makeshift Umbrella During a Rainy Day’ by Matt Lemas, University of Southern California

 

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