CMM Special Series: How Do We Get Students to Care More About College Media?

In a farewell column published in spring 2015 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 — including Surane herself — offered 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? 

Part 1: ‘A Makeshift Umbrella During a Rainy Day’


By Matt LemasUniversity of Southern California

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I have seen my student newspaper used in a variety of creative ways: a makeshift umbrella during an unusually rainy day in Los Angeles, a type of ‘artisan’ tissue paper for a birthday gift, a paper towel substitute to soak up a spilled caramel macchiato. Rarely, however, do I find students sitting down and perusing its pages. Read More

Part 2: ‘That Hip, Instagram-Worthy Quality’

By Danielle KleinUniversity of Toronto

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Jenny articulated several critical realities currently facing student news outlets. Her words echoed conversations I had with members of The Varsitys masthead throughout the past year. Particularly, how do we better engage our student audience? How can we grab their attention? And how do we get them to keep coming back to us online and — ever the illusive question — in print? Read More

Part 3: ‘Initiating a Complete Culture Shift’

By Katie KutskoUniversity of Kansas

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I recently met with the University Daily Kansan’s fall business manager, managing editor and advisers. One point of our conversation was the Kansan’s readership — what it actually is vs. what we want it to be. For the past eight months, our out-of-state web traffic and our in-state traffic have been about 50/50. This is relevant to both sales and editorial because that means half our readers are most likely alumni and parents of students. Read More

Part 4: ‘For Me, Adaptability is Key’

By Ali Swenson, Loyola Marymount University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

College media traditionally lends itself to a small group of student journalists spending an obscene number of hours together in the newsroom. Of course, this kind of dedication can lead to brilliant work. But in my promotion to editor-in-chief this year, I’ve noticed that similar-minded people spending so much time together can also give rise to a false notion that the whole student body loves and understands our publication the same way we do. And I have to agree with Jenny — they don’t. Read More

Part 5: ‘The Job I’m Training for Will Always Exist’

By Kyle Walker, University of Tulsa

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I don’t take seriously the doom-and-gloom perspective on journalism that seems so popular these days, not to mention the usual accompanying generalizations about the reading habits of so-called ‘millennials.’ So I have a difficult time wrapping my head around the claim that the jobs for which student journalists are training no longer exist. I say it depends on how you define the job. Read More

Part 6: ‘An Edge in the Algorithms’

By Alex Bitter, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Several of the changes Ka Leo has made over the last year have attracted more attention to our print and digital editions. Among the most successful strategies have been videos on social media and a redesign of the print paper.Our web editor and his team have been particularly insistent that we upload videos, even short ones, with story teases, especially on Facebook. Not only does that give us an edge in the algorithms these platforms use, but I think it does a better job of grabbing the reader’s attention as they scroll through their news feeds. Read More

Part 7: ‘News the Way Our Readers Want to Consume It’

By Sami Edge, University of Oregon

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I think Jenny is dead-on with the realization that her peers don’t care as much about the news or the newspaper as she does. As an editor, the newspaper is her life. She does her job because she has a passion for journalism and for informing her community. As journalists, that passion drives our professional efforts, but it’s not always a passion or an understanding that is shared by our audience. Read More

Part 8: ‘Go Out and Play Scientist’

By Nizia Alam, University of Texas at Tyler

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

College media have an advantage because our audience is so specific: students, faculty, staff and the local community. Where else will these readers consistently receive information specific to campus? Local media cannot dedicate all their time to university issues. So the most important questions for us to tackle: How do we create compelling content our audience can relate to? And how do we engage and serve our readers? Read More

Part 9: ‘The Generation Changing the News’

By Emma Discher, Tulane University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

I have felt the same frustration as Jenny with the lack of student interest in our print newspaper at times. Even though it’s easy to be disappointed in the stacks of papers that stay on the racks despite all-nighters in the newsroom, I think student papers do reach their readers in other ways. This is where we should focus.For example, The Daily Tar Heel, Jenny’s paper, has 29,000+ followers on Twitter and 25,000 likes on Facebook. Even though many people might not pick up a print copy, they show their interest and loyalty to the DTH brand through their social media allegiance. Read More

Part 10: ‘Why We Report What We Do’

By Gary Grumbach, Elon University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Local news is not dead. Everyone wants to know whats going on in their community, in their schools and with their local government. The real-time aspect of it is what student news organizations are struggling with.For example, Elon Local News, the organization where I am news director, does not have an iPhone app. So if students want our news, they have to go to social media or our website. That’s apparently more and more “an inconvenience” for them — meaning if they can find a story in an easier way, they will. Read More

Part 11: ‘Do the Best You Can With What You Have’

By Louis Oprisa, City College of New York

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Early in my tenure as an editor, it hurt my pride when students on campus said they never heard of our publication. I wondered if it meant anything negative about my own work or skills as a journalist. But eventually I learned to accept their lack of awareness as a challenge related to my ability to recruit new staffers. Read 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. Read 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. Read 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.) Read More

Part 15: ‘Trying to Be People’s First Stop for News’

By Olivia Krauth, University of Louisville

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

My initial reaction to Jenny’s perspective was something along the lines of “Preach it, girl!” One of the pet peeves I’ve developed over the past semester as editor-in-chief has been seeing friends of mine share links to articles produced by one of the larger news outlets in town when I spent time creating similar stories.Like Jennifer, some of my closest friends don’t read the paper and won’t follow us on Twitter or like our Facebook page. It’s irritating to say the least, knowing people, especially college students, prefer to get their news from places other than their friend — meaning, in this situation, me. Read More

Part 16: ‘The Lessons I Learned About Audience’

By Claire Dodson, University of Tennessee

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Every college newspaper staffer can relate to Jenny’s words — and the kind of hopelessness that comes from dwelling on the fact that maybe the single biggest expenditure of your time during college goes mostly unnoticed and unappreciated.That’s really why any newspaper staff that wants to be productive — especially if you’re making a daily product like my staff at The Daily Beacon — has to, on some level, suspend awareness of an apathetic student body. But that’s the problem: They aren’t apathetic, not really. Read More

Part 17: ‘Face the Uncertain Future of Journalism Head-On’

By Angela Christaldi, Saint Joseph’s University

Summer 2015 CMM Editorial Fellow

Jenny Surane’s column throws into sharp relief the latent fear we all feel as student journalists. We work for hours on each issue, scrutinizing every sentence of every article, making sure everything is perfect. Well, as perfect as possible. There is always bound to be something overlooked in the later hours of a production night, some word you wish you’d been able to replace or a headline that could’ve been better. Read 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. Read More

Part 19: ‘Dedicated to Reporting Social Justice Happenings’

By Petra Zarah Jarrar, The New School

Founder, The Antithesis

When I entered my sophomore year of college last fall, I made a promise to myself to find a way to become more involved in the community at our university. However, finding out how to become a part of different on­-campus organizations was more difficult than I anticipated. Finding organizations and people to contact was harder than I thought. Yet, early in the semester, I received an email from my university to run for a position as a student representative on the social justice committee. Read More

Part 20: 6 Things I Learned About Journalism from Jenny Surane

Jenny Surane recently wrapped up a year-long stint as editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The million-dollar media company boasts more than 250 staffers and over the past two semesters delivered a bevy of breaking news reports, special editions, impassioned editorials and large-scale investigations. But did student readers notice? Read More

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