CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 7: ‘News the Way Our Readers Want to Consume It’

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 7: ‘News the Way Our Readers Want to Consume It’

By Sami Edge, University of Oregon

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I think Jenny is dead-on with the realization that her peers don’t care as much about the news or the newspaper as she does. As an editor, the newspaper is her life. She does her job because she has a passion for journalism and for informing her community. As journalists, that passion drives our professional efforts, but it’s not always a passion or an understanding that is shared by our audience. 

Though we might not always be able to make anyone care as much about news as we do, I do think college journalists can build a relationship with a student audience in a way that creates recognition (so they know what services we can provide for them), loyalty (so they come to us for news) and ease of access (the easier it is for our news to get to them, the more influence we have).

Three years ago, The Emerald’s redesign created a catchy logo for the newspaper to brand itself by. This was the first step in creating a product students could easily recognize. We also started an in-house marketing team — then called Emerald Presents — to educate students on what The Emerald is all about and to host events that encourage them to come to us for news.

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PhotoBooth, an Emerald Presents project, is “a fun service to make memories at campus events.”

This year, we discovered that a large majority of students on campus weren’t aware that we have a website — a shocking realization considering the entire purpose of our “revolution” three years ago was to drive traffic online where we publish about five times more than we do in our biweekly print issues. So, we launched a team called Emerald Extras comprised of former newsroom reporters who would rather focus on educating their peers about what The Emerald does, and inspiring them to join our community.

Starting in the fall, Emerald Extras will host weekly events on campus to interface with students, spread the word about the Emerald and collect feedback on what our audience likes and dislikes about our paper. We believe this on-the-ground interaction and entertainment is the next step to increasing relationships and loyalties with the University of Oregon student body.

We’ve also started to make our news the way our readers want to consume it. This year, we launched a podcast. We redesigned our website to be more user-friendly. We started producing digital-first immersive longform stories. And we launched a new mobile app. These developments have been marketed by the Emerald Extras team and will continue to be broadcast into next year.

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Screenshots from the Emerald mobile and iPad app.

The role of journalists in communities has changed. We no longer provide information for our audience. In fact, they are inundated with information and can find what they need online with a quick Google search. Instead, it’s become our responsibility to regulate that information — to tell our audience what’s true, what’s important and how it relates to them. We give them what they want, and what they need, reliably.

Since that’s a new role — and it can be confusing for journalists and non-journalists alike — it falls on the media to do what we do best: Inform our community, and to let them know why we’re still important and how we can help them. To do that, we have to work on building trust and personal connection with our audience and increasing the ease of access of our content as much as possible.

Sami Edge is a senior journalism and international studies double major at the University of Oregon. She is editor-in-chief of The Emerald. 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

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

Part 6‘An Edge in the Algorithms’ by Alex Bitter, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

 

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One Response to “CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 7: ‘News the Way Our Readers Want to Consume It’”
  1. Eric Jacobs says:

    Sami’s comments touch on a few things I’ve been wondering about, and we’ve talked a bit about at my college news organization. She writes:

    “We’ve also started to make our news the way our readers want to consume it. This year, we launched a podcast. We redesigned our website to be more user-friendly. We started producing digital-first immersive longform stories. And we launched a new mobile app.”

    A more user-friendly website? Yeah, that’s a no-brainer. A mobile app? Makes sense, although it’s no a slam-dunk; some college media organizations have done well with an app while others have found more traction with a responsive website due to social media driving so much traffic.

    But the other two items are the ones I’m curious about. Podcasts? Is this really “news the way our readers want to consume it?” Most of the students I talk to at my school don’t regularly listen to podcasts. What research did the Emerald do that revealed the community wanted podcasts? Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s great training for students to learn how to do, and it’s yet another piece for a complete multi-media 21st century college media organization — but it this really what readers/users are clamoring for?

    And I’d ask the same question about longform stories. Again, it’s great training for students on the staff, an almost necessary piece of portfolio-building for those interested in pursuing a journalism career — but how do we know this is what our *audience* is craving? As an overly broad generalization, millennial students often tend to prefer short, quick hits rather than magazine-type longform features. Do the analytics for your longform stories (not counting something that gets outside media attention and lots of external traffic) soar past your regular news stories? (I haven’t seen that in the stats for our longform content, but perhaps the Emerald has hit upon the right sauce of topics, design, length, promotion, etc. to build a larger audience.) Do you have analytics tools that show you how far down in a long article readers continue to read?

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