CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 4: ‘For Me, Adaptability is Key’

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 4: ‘For Me, Adaptability is Key’

By Ali Swenson, Loyola Marymount University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

College media traditionally lends itself to a small group of student journalists spending an obscene number of hours together in the newsroom. Of course, this kind of dedication can lead to brilliant work. But in my promotion to editor-in-chief this year, I’ve noticed that similar-minded people spending so much time together can also give rise to a false notion that the whole student body loves and understands our publication the same way we do. And I have to agree with Jenny — they don’t.

This is the challenge of modern college media. As platforms change and more news outlets flood the web and social media, people opt for the stories that seize their attention, whether or not they come from their campus news source. Students are clicking directly on articles they see shared on social media, not typing in our URL and checking our homepage each day. Facebook’s new Instant Articles product is a testament to that — people are looking for news that’s instant, interactive and embedded in social media.

As student journalists, we may think our reporting on a topic is better than any of the competition’s coverage. But unless we show that to student readers by being relevant and convenient in their lives, it won’t matter.

So how has the Loyolan started to tackle this problem? This year, we cut our print product from twice a week to once a week and increased our digital emphasis — coming out with digital content every day. Second, we’ve differentiated our digital and print products.

Digitally, news is reported in real time on our Twitter and Facebook feeds. We’ve heightened our focus on social in other ways as well, such as ensuring that every article is accompanied by an image and a relevant caption for social media. We also have a few exciting digital products in the works — including a mobile app and a video series featuring members of the LMU community.

The video series is called “100 Lions.” As the official description states, it’s “a digital glimpse into the people that make up our university. Throughout the coming year, the Loyolan will present a series of videos highlighting the people that make LMU what it is. 100 Lions will showcase the diversity of backgrounds and talents that make our university special.”

The first “100 Lions” video featured LMU’s outgoing president during one of his well-known campus walks.

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The video series is something I wanted to do coming into the position of editor-in-chief. We hadn’t done much with video in the past year or so and I wanted to do something that would engage students in a visual and interactive way online.

Our print product has also become longer and more graphics-heavy. It still includes important articles from the week’s web content, but also regularly hosts special sections and feature pieces. In addition, this past spring, we produced several special print issues. One focused on sexual assault. Another introduced our new university president.

Our special sections give students on campus a reason to pick up the print edition, offering unique, detailed and visually appealing stories about what’s happening in our community.

Ultimately, for me, adaptability is key in getting students to care about college media. Staying relevant to students is our responsibility to them. We just have to be open to it.

Ali Swenson is a rising senior at Loyola Marymount University. She is editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Loyolan, where she is overseeing the completion of a three-year transition to digital-first reporting. She is also a summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow.

Check out other parts of this CMM special series

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

Part 3: ‘Initiating a Complete Culture Shift’ by Katie Kutsko, University of Kansas

 

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