CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 14: ‘Involving the Community in the Process’

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 14: ‘Involving the Community in the Process’

By Nicole Brown, New York University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I can easily relate to what Jenny wrote in her farewell column. I can’t even count the number of times my peers have asked me if our school has a print student newspaper and where they could pick one up. (Hint: They are in every NYU building.)

There is no denying that the majority of millennials are not reading newspapers, but they do care about what is happening at their schools. From my experience, the news stories about issues and problems on campus, profiles of students doing something extraordinary and commentary on pop culture or politics receive the most attention. Still, most of that attention is definitely online.

The most popular print editions are our special issues. Having annual editions that students know about is one of the best ways to remind them about the newspaper in general. The best example of this is the WSN’s annual Most Influential Students edition. This edition is well-known across campus, in part for involving the community in the process. Specifically, the students featured in the issue each year are selected based on nominations from other students, faculty and university staff. This interaction between the students working on the newspaper and their peers, as well as the rest of the university community, is a great way to increase readership and make students care more about what is published.

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The Washington Square News 2014 Most Influential Students online edition.

A teaser video for the 2014 Most Influential Students edition.

Along with a profile, each Influential Student is featured in a complementary video answering a single question about the nature of their influence, their personal motivations or NYU’s connection to their success.

Separately, for the print edition, we try to change up the cover when there is something unique in the paper or in response to some especially big breaking news. For example, last September, after the People’s Climate March, we had a full page picture as the front page and we dedicated a full spread inside the issue to pictures and coverage of the event. The staff last semester took a similar approach to covering the protests in New York after the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Changing up how the paper looks, as well as making sure we utilize video and audio on our website, have proved to be successful ways to bring attention to our coverage. I think any time we do something new with layouts or start a new video series or make an interesting graphic, we make students a bit more interested in the stories we’re telling.

An April 2015 WSN edition covering New York City’s response to the Freddie Gray killing.

Jenny’s point at the end of her column is also key to this discussion. She writes, “What makes college newspapers great is the fact that they aren’t run by journalists. They are run by students who love journalism.”

We may not have all the answers for how to make our peers more interested in college media or how to make a profit from publishing. But we care about what we are doing and we have the opportunity to try new approaches and learn from our failures and successes.

Nicole Brown is a rising senior journalism and politics major at New York University. She served as editor-in-chief of Washington Square News in 2014. 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

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

Part 13‘The Ways We Organically Attract Readers’ by Sean Feverston, Otterbein University

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