I’m Really Starting to Hate the Whole ‘Best College Newspapers’ Clickbait Phenomenon

Fake exciting news! There is a new vomitous list online purporting to spotlight the “Top 50 College Newspapers” in the U.S. The list-makers offer no methodology as to how the list was created. If I’m reading it right, they simply admit they plagiarized from other eye-roll-worthy lists. They also provide no timeline for the selections. Apparently, these are just the best papers EVER, in the past and in perpetuity — cause, you know, college pubs with those pesky high staff turnover rates and lots of reinventions never change that much from year to year, right?

Look, I love almost every pop culture mention or representation of college media, including Onion spoof articles and that so-bad-it’s-funny “Fifty Shades of Grey” student newspaper interview scene.

But I’m officially over the whole “Best College Newspapers” clickbait phenomenon. I mean, yes, I get it. You want to drag in readers with words like Best and Top and expand your site’s journalism or college-focused cred. But anyone who actually knows anything about college or journalism just laughs at this stuff or gets angry with the woeful descriptions and related factual errors.

1Princeton Review is the worst at all this (picking the best student papers based on their perceived popularity), but there are now others vying for the prize. This particular list, shared on something called CollegeChoice.net, literally lost me in the first sentence. It then went downhill from there. First, it uses % instead of percent. :) It also doesn’t name or link  to an outside study it cites in the intro. (Not a good sign.) And, most off-base, it notes that the best student papers are apparently only those that regularly delve into world affairs along with campus issues and are “‘must reads’ for those residents who live near campus.” Umm, no.

Do many student pubs provide student perspectives on global issues? Sure. And do some have impassioned off-campus reader bases? Yup. But to label those characteristics as among the most important components of a college media outlet is painfully out of touch.

For example, The University Daily Kansan team — led at the moment by a brilliant editorial board including Katie Kutsko, Emma LeGault and Allison Kite — have determined via soul-searching and analytics deep-diving that they are doubling down this year on their core student audience at the University of Kansas. Does that make the paper less worthy of “best” or “top” status? Absolutely not. (But what about world affairs and townies??!)

Oh, and by the way, the Kansan is still on the list (meaning the fake criteria laid out in the intro is pure BS) — even though the description for the outlet’s entry notes “Its distribution is currently only within the university’s campus.” Like that’s a huge pockmark on the Kansan’s A+ print-digital-mobile-social operations? Nope, it’s just another sign of this list’s uninformed nonsensicalness.

One more example. This is the entry for The Cornell Daily Sun at Cornell University, popping up at number three on the list: “The Cornell Daily Sun was founded in 1880 and is independent from the university. Kurt Vonnegut was the associate editor in 1944 and the paper is published Monday through Friday.”

So the amount of time it’s been around, the fact someone famous worked on it near the end of WWII and how often it comes out in print are the three reasons it’s on the list. Great work, CollegeChoice. It’s like a Wikipedia entry is throwing up or a six-year-old is reciting random facts about his cat.

To be clear, there are some amazing college newspapers on the list. Of course there are. That’s the easy part of lists like these. Pick a high number. Corral a bunch of known student papers from big and “elite” schools. Toss them up online in random and descending order and call it a day. (Awkward pause.) Surely we can do better.

How about creating, vetting and fully sharing some sound criteria for determining the best of the best among student media? Or simply cop to your listicle assessment being purely opinion-based? If neither option is a go, then just stop. Please stop before hitting Publish. Spare us the uninformed pablum that serves only to secure a few more clicks.

By the way, I bet you didn’t know this about The Wagnerian at Wagner College… “Stories in The Wagnerian help Wagner students make useful decisions that will enhance the quality of their lives. The paper’s news-gathering process and presentation is balanced, thorough, sensitive and accurate.”

Amazing. My perspective on college media is changed forever. I’ve never known a news outlet, student or professional, that has strived to do those things, ever.

Sigh.

I’m over it, 100 percent.

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