CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 18: ‘The Secret in the Sauce’

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 18: ‘The Secret in the Sauce’

By Joey Stipek, University of Oklahoma

Spring 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I believe there is a two-part solution to getting the student audience to care more about your campus newscast or publication.

First, everyone in the newsroom must care themselves about what they are doing. During the five years I have been working in student media, the semesters I considered the biggest successes were the ones when every editor and staffer bought in to what the student in charge wanted to do. To build that level of excitement and investment, let younger staffers work on big stories early on to provide them with on-the-job training. Communicate with staffers in a constructive manner. And include all staffers at group events or parties. These may sound like trivial things on spec, but it’s the little things that add up in the big picture. The key is getting everyone to care, and care equally, about the content you are creating and the ethos you are attempting to project.

Second, go for broke on original content. Student newscasts and publications must be producing more, and more insightful, original reports that their audiences cannot get anywhere else. Dive into data. Produce great enterprise work. And have fun with feature stories. No matter the storytelling style, always aim to hook in the student audience to what you’re doing. One example: OU Nightly’s Bijan Hosseini and Maci Smith put together a strong report about the use — and police confiscation — of fake IDs.

A second example: a data-driven enterprise report Paighten Harkins, Blayklee Buchanan and I crafted last fall for The Oklahoma Daily on a taxi controversy involving the university. We created related video, audio clips and graphics — all focused on a story we knew our audience would be deeply interested in.

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Student outlets should focus more on these relatable issues sporting student impact and intrigue — from sexual assault and student-athlete concussions to campus parking tickets and student marijuana use. The student press stories I have read via CMM or when scrolling through ACP Story of the Year entries that made me really care were the ones that I could most relate to as a student reader. To me, that’s the secret in the sauce.

Joey Stipek is a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma, where he majored in journalism. In student media circles, he most recently served as assignment editor and webmaster for the OU Nightly student newscast. He was also a spring 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

Part 14‘Involving the Community in the Process’ by Nicole Brown, New York University

Part 15‘Trying to Be People’s First Stop for News’ by Olivia Krauth, University of Louisville

Part 16: ‘The Lessons I Learned About Audience’ by Claire Dodson, University of Tennessee

Part 17: ‘Face the Uncertain Future of Journalism Head-On’ by Angela Christaldi, Saint Joseph’s University

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