CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 12: ‘Focusing on Quality Rather Than Quantity’

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 12: ‘Focusing on Quality Rather Than Quantity’

By Alicia Keene, Texas Tech University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

It saddens me to confirm how true Jenny’s perspective is concerning the news habits of the current millennial generation. As student journalists, we all work so hard to produce content of interest and importance to our target audience — our peers. I don’t think their lack of engagement in return is because they aren’t interested in the news. I think it’s because they are too caught up in their own day-to-day activities and they put off becoming informed because — quite honestly — it takes a lot of time.

Even though I am in the news business, it is often hard to keep up with news on the campus, local, national and international levels — especially with how quickly the news can change — while also balancing my schoolwork and other responsibilities. The news also battles the endless, mindless content competing for our attention on smartphone apps and the Internet.

In respect to these challenges, when it comes to college media, my theory has been to provide a mix of content our audience will find entertaining, interesting and informative. One way The Hub@TTU is accomplishing all those things, and better reaching our student audience, is through longform journalism with a multimedia kick.

An example is our West Texas Water microsite, where we broke down problems connected to a recent drought and how it was putting the area around us in debt. As the About page reads, “The site showcases several stories and photos related to drought, has links to daily-updated water data and numerous visuals that explain statistics.” I am a big fan of visualizations, which is something we are striving to get a grip on. Interactive graphics, as well as infographics, can be nifty tools to help student readers really grasp what you are talking about.

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We are lucky to be online-only, so we don’t have the extra struggle of print deadlines. We can exhaust more efforts in promoting our stories via social media and building a loyal audience. We spend time focusing on quality rather than quantity, pursuing stories we think are imperative for us to cover, as well as ones we think would be of interest to our audience.

We also try to enterprise stories rather than be another daily source for news that readers can get elsewhere. If we are sure another outlet will be covering a story or is already covering a story, we try to find a different or unique angle or perspective.

During a recent podcast, Keene discussed the Hub’s editorial aims and secrets to success. She also offered some tips for student journalists similarly interested in launching and running a full-blown news start-up.

Longform journalism can enhance an important investigative piece, and multimedia aspects can add an extra level of interest for the audience and help shepherd them through a more complex issue. Since we adopted a multimedia-enriched longform approach, our audience has more than tripled.

Alicia Keene is a graduate student at Texas Tech University, pursuing a dual master’s in mass communications and business. She is graduate executive director of The Hub@TTU. 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

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

Part 10‘Why We Report What We Do’ by Gary Grumbach, Elon University

Part 11‘Do the Best You Can With What You Have’ by Louis Oprisa, City College of New York

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