CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 6: ‘An Edge in the Algorithms’

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 6: ‘An Edge in the Algorithms’

By Alex Bitter, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Several of the changes Ka Leo has made over the last year have attracted more attention to our print and digital editions. Among the most successful strategies have been videos on social media and a redesign of the print paper.

Our web editor and his team have been particularly insistent that we upload videos, even short ones, with story teases, especially on Facebook. Not only does that give us an edge in the algorithms these platforms use, but I think it does a better job of grabbing the reader’s attention as they scroll through their news feeds.

Cafeteria munchies: ‘Diabetes sandwich’ Have a cafeteria recipe? If you do, leave your recipe in the comment section.

Posted by Ka Leo on Friday, April 17, 2015

An example of a recent Ka Leo video posted on its Facebook page.

On the print front, we revamped our layout in an attempt to create a cleaner look — compare an issue from last year to one from this year (see related screenshots below). We believe this redesign is one of the reasons our print pick-up rates have increased from the mid-50 percent range to the high-60s.


On the left is a May 2014 Ka Leo front page. On the right is an April 2015 Ka Leo front page.

When I was reading Jenny’s piece, her comment about students turning away from opinion sections and wanting to form their own opinions on the news especially caught my attention. While I think there are many intelligent people who read our publication, I know from experience that getting readers to engage in a thoughtful way with Ka Leo has been difficult.

I’m convinced a lot of students have trouble telling the difference between news and opinion. For example, we’ve received comments on some of our opinion pieces asking why our news stories were so “biased.” Increasingly, our readers don’t recognize the traditional boundaries between fact and opinion, but journalists make it part of their job to separate the two.

How well we can cater to this changing audience while still keeping the boundaries that maintain journalistic integrity will determine the success of future efforts to engage students.

Alex Bitter is a rising senior journalism and political science major at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. He is the outgoing editor-in-chief of Ka Leo O Hawaiʻi. He 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

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

Part 4‘For Me, Adaptability is Key’ by Ali Swenson, Loyola Marymount University

Part 5‘The Job I’m Training for Will Always Exist’ by Kyle Walker, University of Tulsa


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