CMM Special Series: What Do Student Journalists Want to Learn More About Journalism? (Part 5)

During his recent efforts to help plan programming for the fall 2015 ACP/CMA National College Media Convention — the world’s largest annual gathering of student journalists and their advisers and profs — David Simpson wanted to hear more from the students themselves. Specifically, he was curious: In these changing times, what do potential student attendees want to get most from a journalism conference experience? So Simpson, a revered veteran journalist and director of student media at Georgia Southern University, reached out to me with his student-first query. I in turn reached out to the summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellows — an elite crew of current and recent student journalists.

For this CMM special series, 14 Fellows offer their perspectives, ideas and advice centered on a single question: What topic, tech tool, news beat, skill-set or current event would you love to learn more about, lead a session on or help debate during a journalism convention? Their answers run the gamut — touching on everything from science journalism and Snapchat to sexual assault coverage and workflow management.

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What Do Student Journalists Want to Learn More About Journalism?
Part 5: ‘So You Want to Make a Tabloid Newspaper?’

By Claire Dodson, University of Tennessee

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

The title for my proposed convention session: “So You Want to Make a Tabloid Newspaper?”

Here’s my pitch: Maybe you want to freshen up an historic campus newspaper. Maybe you hope the magazine-lite format will better attract your student readership. Maybe you see how unwieldy it is for students to sneakily read your large broadsheet paper in class. Whatever the reason, you’ve ditched your classic New York Times-style newspaper and all of its old-media charm and replaced it with, uh, a horizontal version. And whether you realized it or not, everything has changed.

When The Daily Beacon switched formats in January, we did it for all of the above reasons. More than anything, we just wanted the paper to be more attractive to the University of Tennessee community — and it seems to have worked.

But not before we changed almost everything about how we worked as a staff and what we put in our paper. College newspapers around the country are looking for ways to raise advertising revenue, cut costs and increase readership. They are taking drastic measures like cutting days of print, going online-only and making tabloid print products.

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The first tabloid issue of The Daily Beacon, published in January.

The beauty — and greatest challenge — of tabloid lies in the collaboration of design and content. Suddenly, the front pages aren’t stuffed with campus news items. Instead, they are comprised of a single, powerful picture and some teasers. The 500-word event write-up is dead. Everything has to be more dramatic. The average story becomes punchy and concise, around 200 to 300 words full of only the most relevant and interesting info — what students most want and need to know. The in-depth investigative and feature stories, by comparison, get longer — easily passing 1,000 words with photos, graphs and pull-out boxes. And your design, photo and editorial teams must actually plan ahead, a trying task, especially for a daily newspaper.

The potential for tab is limitless and stunning. So are the hardships. In respect to the latter, we definitely had some days last semester when we had to cobble together a front page and run stories that could have used a few more rounds of editing. A journalism workshop on this difficult transition could include a conversion project. For example, take all the content from the first two pages of a broadsheet paper and turn them into a four-page tabloid – including allotment for the new placement of ads (because, yeah, that changes too).

It’s part team-building and part feasibility analysis: Do your staffers have the numbers and time in design and photo for them to play the major role required at a tabloid newspaper? Is your entire staff willing to try, fail and try and fail several more times throughout the conversion process? Is your adviser ready to challenge and encourage the staff even when tab seems like the worst idea you could have had?

Find out at the stellar session, “So You Want to Make a Tabloid Newspaper?”

Claire Dodson is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee, where she worked as editor-in-chief of The Daily Beacon. She is segueing into a full-time editorial assistant position with the magazine Fast Company in New York City. She is also a summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow.

Check out other parts of this CMM special series

Part 1: ‘The Interesting Important & the Important Interesting’ by Danielle Klein, University of Toronto

Part 2: ‘Best Practices, Pros, Cons & Even Some Mistakes’ by Emma Discher, Tulane University

Part 3: ‘Fresh Ideas & Fresh Blood’ by Sami Edge, University of Oregon

Part 4: ‘The Way We Edit & Upload Stories’ by Ali Swenson

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