CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 3: ‘Initiating a Complete Culture Shift’
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 3: ‘Initiating a Complete Culture Shift’
By Katie Kutsko, University of Kansas
I recently met with the University Daily Kansan’s fall business manager, managing editor and advisers. One point of our conversation was the Kansan’s readership — what it actually is vs. what we want it to be.
For the past eight months, our out-of-state web traffic and our in-state traffic have been about 50/50. This is relevant to both sales and editorial because that means half our readers are most likely alumni and parents of students. Knowing that, we can pitch digital advertising to alumni bars and other relevant organizations. And, for editorial, it compels us to decide what we want to cover and to which audience we want to cater. Our alumni base and our student base consume news differently, and both come to Kansan.com for different types of news and information.
We are in the midst of a gigantic overhaul at the Kansan. We’re reducing our printing days from four days per week to two days, and I’m initiating a complete culture shift as well. Since we’re overhauling from top to bottom, we must answer these questions: Which audience do we want to serve? Do we want to prioritize the students or the alumni? How are we going to do it?
In April, Kutsko laid out her vision for the Kansan’s future in a public post on Medium
The consensus we have come to so far is this: The Kansan has been the student voice of the University of Kansas since 1904, so let’s own it. Let’s fill the gaps local and national news can’t fill. Let’s cover Kansas basketball better than the pros. Let’s drive the conversation about sexual assault. Let’s hold our administration accountable for the money we pay with our student fees. Let’s be the voice for students and the KU community.
Yes, we understand our peers don’t love the Kansan like we do. (Mainly, because we’re freaks of newsie nature and are weirdly obsessed with news and information, especially public records.) And, yes, we understand they can go literally anywhere other than Kansan.com for updates.
But we have decided exactly who our audience is, and we will tell its stories better than anyone else can because we are the audience. I think that’s the key — understanding who your audience is and understanding exactly what it wants. Then you can own the stories that no one else can.
Katie Kutsko is a rising senior journalism major at the University of Kansas. Come fall, she will officially begin her second stint as editor-in-chief of The University Daily Kansan. 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
Part 2: ‘That Hip, Instagram-Worthy Quality’ by Danielle Klein, University of Toronto