CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 13: ‘The Ways We Organically Attract Readers’

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 13: ‘The Ways We Organically Attract Readers’

By Sean Feverston, Otterbein University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Jenny’s concerns about relevancy and profit ring true for nearly every student and professional media outlet. There is unending speculation and hope centered on a mythical cure-all for these obstacles and many others, but I honestly don’t believe there is a single method to bottle the proverbial lightning. If there was, The New York Times and The Washington Post would have captured it years ago. Instead, the silver bullet that saves the news industry will be a steady spray of smaller slugs.

One starter slug: evolving the ways we organically attract readers. To that end, one thing the Otterbein360.com team put in place this past year was a guest blog program. The program has been invaluable in increasing awareness for our publication as well as furthering our ongoing goal of bringing student voices center stage.

It invites the student body to editorialize on our platform and on our dime. More specifically, we approach prominent students whom we know are well-informed and invite them to write about topics of interest or importance.

An example: A guest blog written this past October in response to an Otterbein program which womens’ groups on campus were describing as victim-blaming. The writer is a prominent women’s, gender and sexuality studies major involved in Greek life and various womens’ issues groups. She also more recently became the first Otterbein student government president. Given her prominence, the power of her insights and the hot-button focus area, this post performed amazingly well.

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An example of a post published through the Otterbein360.com guest blog program.

Now some may label it and others like it as simply op-eds, and I guess in many ways they are. But their power, and the spirit of innovation behind them, center less on what gets written than in how we promote it.

I had our analytics and engagement officer draw some interesting facts from our analytics suite. They tell us the following: When we publish a guest blog, we see a 25 percent increase in traffic. I asked him if he thought this was significant and he captured the sentiments surely shared by editors worldwide in response: “I consider anything that gives us more pageviews significant.”

Another interesting fact he uncovered was that when the guest blogs perform well, so does our other content. Bottom line, what the numbers seem to be saying: People love reading about themselves, and friends like reading about their friends. They consume it. They comment on it. And they share it — all to our benefit.

Needless to say, it’s not lightning in a bottle, but it comes pretty close.

Sean Feverston is a senior public relations major at Otterbein University. He is editor-in-chief of Otterbein360.com. 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

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

Part 12‘Focusing on Quality Rather Than Quantity’ by Alicia Keene, Texas Tech University

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