CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 10: ‘Why We Report What We Do’

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 10: ‘Why We Report What We Do’

By Gary Grumbach, Elon University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Local news is not dead. Everyone wants to know whats going on in their community, in their schools and with their local government. The real-time aspect of it is what student news organizations are struggling with.

For example, Elon Local News, the organization where I am news director, does not have an iPhone app. So if students want our news, they have to go to social media or our website. That’s apparently more and more “an inconvenience” for them — meaning if they can find a story in an easier way, they will.

Similarly, regarding this real-time struggle, Jenny Surane wrote about the challenge of accuracy vs. delivery time. From my perspective, it is so much more important to be right than to be first. One name misspelled or one quote attributed to the wrong person and credibility instantly vanishes for that article, reporter and news outlet. It’s where being a journalist comes into play. Get information confirmed. Nail down details 100 percent. Triple check your story. Then air, post or publish it, accurately. If you’re first, awesome. But again, being right is what really matters in the end.

A recent Elon Local News full broadcast.

So how can we get students to care more about college media content? Shoving it down their throats is not the answer. They don’t need us to tweet more than we already do or to further clog their already stuffed email inboxes with daily updates.

Here are some of my ideas:

Coffee and conversations. Host informal events at local small businesses. Say, a coffee shop. Pick a topic that is affecting your campus and host a forum of sorts. What are people thinking? Get the pulse of the student body. This will not only help get out the word about your outlet, but will also let students realize these topics are important and that discussing them is what can lead to real change. (If it also conjures up some great story ideas for your next issue or broadcast, that’s a plus.)

Everyone loves free stuff. Things as simple as pens and small notepads can get the word out about your newspaper, magazine, site or news broadcast. Pick a central location on campus, promote and pass out the goods and be ready to answer questions about student media.

Find a way to explain to the average student why we report what we do. No, we are not reporting on this drug bust because we enjoy posting a mugshot of your friend’s face online. We are doing it because it is relevant news to the community. A few times each month, I receive emails from folks who ask us to take down images or articles about their DUI four years ago or their recent drunken tirade against a campus police officer. I have to explain to fellow students and recent alumni: That is not how journalism works. We need more transparency and direct connections to our audience so everyone can read, hear or view these types of explanations — and the rationales behind them — more frequently.

At student news organizations, we are reporting the news that matters to the student body and at times the local community — the good, the bad, the exciting and the ugly. The sooner audiences realize that, the more wiling they will hopefully be to pick up a copy of the newspaper or tune into the live broadcast of the newscast and receive the news which matters to them.

Gary Grumbach is a senior broadcast journalism major at Elon University. He is news director of Elon Local News. 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

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

Part 7: ‘News the Way Our Readers Want to Consume It’ by Sami Edge, University of Oregon

Part 8‘Go Out and Play Scientist’ by Nizia Alam, University of Texas at Tyler

Part 9‘The Generation Changing the News’ by Emma Discher, Tulane University

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