Dinosaurs like Quinnipiac’s President…

September 7: The Quad News debuted recently at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, committed to “the free flow of information on campus.”  It is an ideal to which Quinnipiac administrators failed to adhere.

 

 

Specifically, the independent online student newspaper sprang to life in the wake of increasingly combative administrative stances against the previously unchallenged university newspaper of record, The Quinnipiac Chronicle.  Over the past two years, Quinnipiac bigwigs, led by a president with an abhorrence of student journalism, have instituted a number of policies aimed at controlling or suppressing Chronicle content.  Among the most jaw-dropping: forcing the newspaper to contact all university staffers through the school’s public affairs office; asserting control over the selection of incoming editors; discouraging Chronicle staffers from attending public events at which university administrators spoke so that the events wouldn’t become “a press conference to the world”; threatening the newspaper’s editor in chief after he criticized various administrative limitations; and restricting editors from posting breaking news online prior to the paper’s print edition.

 

In respect to the latter, John Lahey, university president, said “so at least dinosaurs like me who read the hard copy version get an opportunity to read it before the external world hears about it.”  Hmm, the statement is detestable, but the dinosaur metaphor for Lahey and Quinnipiac administrators in respect to their handling of The Chronicle is apt.

 

Chronicle staffers rightly protested the restrictions and then last May finally bolted en masse, many straight to the Quad News start-up.  The new paper has an experienced staff in place, funding (some from the Connecticut Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists), and quality content already available for consumption online.

 

The Chronicle meanwhile, according to The Yale Daily News, “may now be in shambles,” lacking an editorial hierarchy and the institutional memory of past staffers.  It’s a sad situation, made worse by the fact that it was entirely preventable by adminstrators who should have simply let interested students be the journalists that they ultimately had to fight to be.

Like a Fast Forward Film of a Flower in Bloom

September 6- Is it the start of an epidemic, a hiccup at fall semester’s start or an opportunity in the making? 

 

Recently, a few higher-profile student newspapers have announced cutbacks from five to four print issues per week, in large part to save money.  Among the publications attempting to cash in on the four-for-five plan: The Daily Cal at the University of California Berkeley, dropping its Wednesday edition (and paying staffers a bit less); The Spartan Daily at San Jose State University, shedding its regular Friday issue (and cutting the newspaper’s physical size); and The Daily Orange at Syracuse University, also losing its Friday installment (in part to shore up funds to fight a pending lawsuit and to restore the coffers from the publication of an overly-expensive weekend insert). 

 

You won't see this on Wednesdays for awhile at UC Berkeley.

 

The Lantern at Ohio State University also made news recently in the print news cutback department after announcing it was ceasing publication of all print summer issues.  The paper has suffered an almost 50 percent circulation decline in the past two years (from 28,000 to 15,000) and projects losses of $150,000 this year alone (!). 

 

Are these papers’ print-unfriendly practices arbiters of a larger trend?  In late August, after The Daily Cal’s announcement, Editor & Publisher’s Joe Strupp wrote, “Apparently today’s newspaper cost-cutting problems are not only affecting commercial dailies.” 

 

I’m not so sure the papers’ moves are really as intricately linked to the professional print press spiral as Strupp and others have noted.  For example, as the Oakland Tribune reported, The Daily Cal has been in dire financial straits before, even on the verge of bankruptcy in the late 1990s.  The current Cal editor also classifies the problem as “a one-year fix to get us through the next year. . . . [I]t’s my hope that we can restore publication as soon as possible.”

 

The Daily Tar Heel also wants to make sure the journalism community knows: “Unlike the Daily Cal, we’re doing great.  Our advertising staff regularly is recognized for its talent. . . . The Daily Tar Heel continues to play an active role in this community, even as the (Raleigh) News & Observer offered buyouts in April followed by job cuts in June.”

 

OK, now regardless of whether these moves represent the start of a full-blown trend or simply an aberration, could they actually be a positive?  In announcing the print reductions, editors at all papers cited a continuing and in some cases increased Web and multimedia presence.  For example, according to a Daily Texan report, “The Spartan’s cutback [at San Jose State] comes at a time when the newspaper’s staff is developing new ways to reach its audience.  Faculty advisor Tim Hendrick said the publication has a cellphone-accessible edition of the paper and a changing online edition that includes video and podcasts.”  A somewhat less-burdensome print publication schedule may enable staffers and advisers to devote more time and energy into conceiving more innovative new media initiatives, upping the quality of the overall news product housed under the newspapers’ brand names.

 

The other truth is that this sudden print-shedding is simply one further evolution in a student media universe whose lifeforce has long been spurred by change.  A 1976 Change magazine article declared: ”Like a fast forward film of a flower in bloom, the campus press has passed rapidly through an antiwar phase, a drug phase, an apathetic phase, a lingering sex and pornography phase, and a revolutionary phase.”  A more modern reference, this one by Dan McDonald, Ohio State University School of Communication professor, speaking about The Lantern evolution specifically: “If you look at the Lantern, it’s got a 125 year history, and it’s done all sorts of things.  During WWII it was an afternoon paper with an all female staff.  It’s gone through periods where it was a weekly and periods where it was a monthly. . . . It’s just at another point in history where it changes.”

Should The Bulldog Be Put to Bed?

September 5: The fate of The Bulldog Weekly hangs in the balance. 

 

The student newspaper at the University of Redlands in California currently has no editor, no faculty adviser, waning interest from student readers, and a call by the head of the school’s Associated Students group to cut funding.  The university’s vice-president and dean of student life stated publicly in response that funding would not be pulled completely and that the paper would not simply be left to perish, if the school can help it.  “The Bulldog was an award-winning paper in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” the VP said.  “We want it to be excellent again.”

  

The paper’s fate-in-the-balance raises an interesting larger question: What’s the best way to turn around an ailing student media outlet?  Is it through a visionary, inspiring adviser at the faculty level?  Through the development of related journalism courses or a fully-established program focused on producing media content (something a news report points out that Redlands is considering)?  Through the installation of a can’t-miss chain of command among student editors that ensures a motivated, knowledgeable EIC will take the reins each fall?  Or maybe the key is to think outside the box: Give students total control.  Open source it.  Place it on Facebook.  Make it a once-a-year event that anyone who’s anyone on campus wants to be seen reading.  You get the drift… 

 

Of course, the toughest question: Is it ever best to simply let a sleeping Bulldog lie?  In plainer language, how far should a school go to save a student newspaper that no one wants to help run and apparently not many want to read?

 

My opinion: Universities, like governments, are always better when quality news media are in place to keep them in check.  Quality is what counts.  Having an inferior media outlet remain in existence simply because it can may be great for first amendment advocates, but what good does it actually serve student journalists or their audience? 

 

Best bet for The Bulldog: Take a step back.  Scale back expectations.  Re-motivate.  And re-launch with a fresh vision that will live up to the excellence of the past.

“Do Your Campus Newspapers Ignore the Issues and the Diversity of Student Voices?”

September 4: An announcement touting Campus Progress recently caught my eye.  In a press release, Campus Progress, a liberal-oriented political venture “helping young progressives come together, win the battle of ideas, and turn their ideas into action” announced that 10 new progressive student news outlets have joined their network of more than 50 publications operating at campuses nationwide.

 

 

Two of the 10 that are touted: The Fine Print at the University of Florida, which is “looking to break stories and talk about issues in-depth where the campus daily just doesn’t cut it.”; and The Bottom Line at the University of California Santa Barbara, aiming to serve “as a critical voice for students from covering LGBT rallies to talking about race issues at the school.”

 

In a promo poster enticing liberal-minded students to join this network, the organization asks: Do your campus newspapers ignore the issues and the diversity of student voices? Run your own paper or magazine and get money from Campus Progress to cover expenses. You’ll also be eligible to host a free journalism training ses­sion, bring nationally renowned journalists to your campus, and tap into our online publications network.”

 

Campus Progress is a project of the Center for American Progress, begun in 20003 by John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Clinton.  Here is an interactive map showing the publication’s locations nationwide.  At first glance, as expected, it seems to boast a mostly East Coast-West Coast presence, sans Middle America and the flyover states.

 

A few examples:

 

  

 

What do you think?  Is there a progressive publication on your home campus?  Are they editorially impacting or just professionally funded?  Are there any similar conservative counterparts of note?  Certainly, any student press network boasting so many outlets deserves closer inspection.  From a free press angle, kudos to any organization willing to help student media exist and expand (as long as content is not being controlled in any way).

We’re Not JUST a Student Newspaper!

September 4: Below is a portion of a spirited editorial in The Daily Egyptian at the University of Southern Illinois Carbondale that fights back against apparent misconceptions held about the paper.

 

 

While the piece explains that the newspaper is financially independent and does not provide negative coverage for its own sake, my favorite clarification comes in response to what is labeled: “Misconception No. 4: ‘The Daily Egyptian is just a student newspaper.’”   

 

 

The editorial states: “This is half true.  The DE is a student newspaper. We are working on a learning curve. Student journalists work here for a few years at most, hit their peaks, graduate and move on to sunnier pastures and bigger papers.  But the DE is definitely not ‘just’ a student newspaper, at least not to almost everyone who works here. Don’t believe me?  Ask the delivery people for any local restaurant what they see when they bring food to our newsroom (which happens multiple times a night). There are people laughing, fighting, debating, helping each other, doing homework, playing music, watching TV, talking about politics and sports and pop culture, and occasionally sleeping on top of some filing cabinets.  None of us are here because of the paycheck, which hardly covers the cost of all the food we have delivered.  All of us are here because we love what we do, which is bringing the news to you.” 

 

Well put!

Student-Run ABC News Bureaus to Open on Five Campuses

September 2: ABC News is providing broadcast journalism students at five leading j-schools with the opportunity for some network news exposure.

 

ABC News on Campus bureaus will open at five universities this month: Arizona State, Syracuse University, the University of Florida, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas.   According to a Daily Texan report, the schools were chosen for their “stellar journalism programs” and location in or near large television markets.

 

Students will create all the news produced in the bureaus and content may appear on ABC News staples such as “Good Morning America,” “Nightline” or mtvU.

Diamondback Scales Back Print Run

September 2: Five hundred fewer copies of The Diamondback student newspaper at the University of Maryland are being printed this semester, a move that the paper’s editor in chief attributes to the “declining advertisement revenues that relentlessly rattle the entire journalism industry.” 

 

 

In an editorial published today, EIC Steven Overly writes, “I have had to begrudgingly accept the idea that our print readers will have fewer opportunities to gather the information I consider vital to the campus community.

 

In this print reduction’s wake, Overly promises a greater emphasis on online and multimedia content and continued improvement of the hard copy paper’s visual appeal.  “[O]ur largest push will be to bolster the portion of The Diamondback that transcends both mediums: our content,” he writes.  “As newspapers nationwide shrink in size, it’s more important than ever that remaining content is insightful and relevant.  Through dogged reporting, we plan to not only uncover the news, but also highlight its impact on your daily life.”

Progress in Police Report Access Fight

September 1- The Progress is making progress in its free speech fight.

 

The student newspaper at Eastern Kentucky University celebrated a bit of a breakthrough in its efforts to obtain access to full versions of university police reports. Currently, university police deliver reports weekly and withhold key information, including arrestees’ addresses, claiming invasion of privacy concerns. According to the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Kentucky Attorney General recently stated that such expunging was overly censorious and not in line with state law.

 

Questions remain about the impact of the AG’s legal analysis and the battle continues, but it is a step in the right direction for unfettered access to information the public and the press has a right to know.

 

Kudos to The Progress for standing up to the powers-that-be.

A Presidential Visit to the Newsroom

August 31- Indiana Daily Student staffers questioned their president today, and the kicker: He came to them.

 

Indiana University President Michael McRobbie visited the IDS newsroom and answered questions from editors. I just really like the precedent here. More university presidents should follow McRobbie’s lead. What do you think–once a semester or once every academic year?

 

College Yearbooks: Things of the Past?

August 30- The Corolla is on “the brink of extinction.”

 

According to a story in today’s Tuscaloosa News, the University of Alabama yearbook is simply not considered relevant enough to students to pay the $70 cover charge. (Only 344 students in a school of 25,500 bought one last year.) “It is in a precarious financial situation,” the university president said. “It’s safe for this year, but if students are telling us they don’t value it, we may have to look at other options.” Other schools have seen their yearbooks disappear, the Tuscaloosa News notes, including the University of Tennessee, Mississippi State University and Purdue University.

 

 

OK, so the trend is confirmed. In the age of Facebook and cell phone cameras, traditional yearbooks are like TV antennas, and Blockbuster Video: Cute for their quaintness but otherwise entirely outdated. And let’s be honest, they also tend to cost too darn much.

 

One of the students involved with The Corolla proclaimed in its defense: “It’s about making history.” My problem is not with the sentiment. Certainly, yearbooks have historical value. But you cannot expect students to want to pay big bucks for something whose presentation style, along with its content, is a thing of the past.

 

Are some yearbooks bucking the trend or thinking outside the box in terms of presentation? Let me know!

Will They Literally Use Mace, Pepper Spray or Police to Subdue Him?

August 29: University News editors at St. Louis University in Missouri have weighed in via an editorial about the sad, intriguing, ongoing dispute between the newspaper’s former adviser and the university’s administration.

 

It is a complicated back-and-forth. The basics: Administrators have ordered longtime University News adviser, faculty member Avis Meyer, to stay out of the newsroom. According to a July St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, Meyer has no plans to back down, citing physical force might be necessary to keep him from entering the News base of operations. The fight seems to center on an administrative decision last spring to rewrite the paper’s charter. The administrators said it was to create a better newspaper. Some student journalists worried at the time it was an attempt to control content. So Meyer set up a nonprofit corporation using the names The University News and SLU just in case student editors wanted or needed to move off-campus to continue publishing. Students eventually decided to accept the school-mandated charter changes and Meyer disbanded the corporation. But the school filed a copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit in October 2007 ensuring its registered names would not be used.

 

It has gotten nastier from there. Meyer even charges that his removal stems, at least in part, from the critical coverage the newspaper has given in the past to the administration and the university president specifically.

 

Now a new adviser is in place and administrators have become concerned Meyer’s sometimes-conflicting comments are creating tension and confusing student reporters and editors. In an e-mail to Meyer, the university provost wrote, “I will be forced to take actions to block your access to the newsroom.”

 

Wow. This is a tough situation, and one that undoubtedly runs deeper and is more complicated than what the press is reporting. For their part, University News editors stated in an editorial in their first issue: “We welcome Meyer to the newsroom. We value his wisdom and perspective. We relish his knowledge and connections. We enjoy his presence and camaraderie. We respect the time that he contributes and his editing skills. We are proud of his insight and fearlessness. . . . The administration might be able to keep Meyer from the newsroom while the paper is being produced, but they cannot keep his ever-present spirit from continuing to inspire us.”

Were they really going to call it The Trumpet??!

August 27- Truly, what’s in a name? Would a student newspaper by any name be printed on ink just as sweet?

 

At Ashworth University in Georgia, the name of choice: The Chronicle. In an online contest, students selected Chronicle as the official moniker for the school’s first student paper set to debut this fall. The other two finalists: Post and Trumpet.

 

Regardless of the name, the real achievement is the founding of the paper itself, doubly impressive considering it grew from student interest expressed in online forums and will publish at a distance-learning university. As a press release announced, “Initially to be hosted on the University website, content will be peer-to-peer and include program and course reviews, student and faculty profiles, events and student organizations, as well student advocacy.”

 

Kudos to Ashworth for its efforts and best of luck to The Chronicle. It is already off to a strong start, even if it is in name only. Trumpet just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Please Let Us Know If You’ll Be Producing News This Weekend…

August 26- Over the weekend, Northern Light student newspaper staffers at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) were locked out of their newsroom.

 

 

The cause was not a censorious administration or an angry reader stunt. It was due to a university policy, one that limits access to the school’s student union (where the newsroom is headquartered) once it is shut down, unless 24 hours notice is given.

 

As a Northern Light editorial explained, “This past weekend, The Northern Light slipped up and did not give notice until late on Friday and thus the permission for staff to access the office over the weekend was originally denied. . . . While we understand and take full responcibility [sic] for our mistake, it makes us wonder what would happen if things weren’t running as smoothly between TNL and the UAA administration.”

 

My opinion: Either the policy, or the newsroom’s location, should be changed–whatever will allow the staffers to have access to their outlets’ base of operations at any and all times. I understand extra costs and security concerns, but those should be secondary to the primary purpose for which the newsroom was provided for students in the first place: to produce news. News is now a 24-hour business. A newsroom is no good to students if they don’t have access to use it when they need it. And lessons on freedom of the press ring hollow when news can only be produced with 24 hours advance notice.

Sex, Dirty Loos, and a Rat in the Canteen

August 24- The newspaper is still less than a year old, but it is already making a difference.

The DU Beat, an independent student newspaper begun in December 2007 at Delhi University in India, has the school’s students and staffers talking with a range of innovative, in-your-face content. The most popular offering: “Ask Sex Amma,” a regular sex and health column. Another positive initiative: the paper’s “Dirty Loo contest” exposing especially unsavory school restroom facilities, leading to renovations.

The popularity of the eight-page weekly publishing 2,500 copies, only recently in color, is growing and its short-term impact can even be described as mouthwatering. According to the paper’s student editor, “Our stories get a good response. There was one story that I did on the unhygienic conditions in college canteens in Delhi University, complete with a photograph of a rat sitting on a plate in a canteen’s kitchen. That created a huge uproar and it landed me in a soup . . . the good thing however was, after that the conditions in the canteens have improved.”

In the editor’s words, the paper can be summed up as “self generated, non-opinionated and embodying freedom of expression.” Sounds like a good start to me.

The One U@MQ Doesn’t Want Me to Blog About

August 22: A sex guide presented by the Pope. A photograph of half-naked women in a bathtub with tubas. A description of childbirth as “excruciating.”

 

 

 

These items are only a few examples of what caused an apparently drawn-out fight between the Speculum student newspaper and the controller of their purse-strings, the U@MQ student services organization, at Macquarie University Australia. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, U@MQ wanted more extreme or possibly offensive content to be toned down or labeled as satire. Speculum editors fought the restrictions and at the beginning of the month, resigned in protest. “Many don’t realise that in our former roles as editors of this mystery publication, collecting, editing and laying out articles was only half our job,” the final Speculum editorial noted. “The other half was fighting an endless tug-of-war with our kind benefactors.”

 

Check out the final issue at www.specnews.org, labeled “The issue U@MQ didn’t want you to see.”

 

From PR Tool to Actual News Outlet

August 20: In a recent interview, Peter Arrabal, incoming editor of The Minaret student newspaper at the University of Tampa, shared the secrets of the paper’s transformation from “PR tool” to “actual news” outlet.

 

A portion of the Q&A:

 

How did students receive The Minaret when you first joined the newspaper?

 

Arrabal: It really wasn’t picked up all that much. I mean, we probably printed 1,500-2,000 copies a week, and there would always be newspapers laying around. We didn’t write about anything people cared about. It was like we were like a PR tool for the school. We never had anything interesting; we just said, “Oh, this happened. That happened.” Event reviews, sports write-ups — there was nothing that made you want to pick up the newspaper.

 

How has that changed?

 

Arrabal: We shifted toward having people do actual news and having people on beats. We have a Facebook account, and we get all kinds of story ideas that come through that. That’s probably been one of our biggest tools for recruiting and getting people registered to our website, and getting story ideas and stuff. People screw around on Facebook all day, and they see our name on there, and we’re always adding people and putting out questions to people and grab sources through that. People send us messages like, “Hey, you should look into this.” It used to be we would just take a story and assign it to a reporter. Half the time they wouldn’t do anything with it. Now we’ve got an investigative team and all kinds of different ways to go after these stories. Now we have stuff people care about.

 

To read more, click here.

“A Wand to Conduct Some Thunder”

August 20: The modern student newspaper is both a “haven from the tempest” and “a wand to conduct some thunder.”

 

So says Washington City Paper at the start of an amusing, more-comprehensive-than-normal profile of six student newspapers in greater Washington D.C. One other portion worth sharing: “Real newspapers are losing readers by the minute, especially those labeled ‘college-aged.’  Yet amid the industry death march its farm system thrives. . . . [T]here’s still no better place for the misfit freshman yearning to be relevant and ‘make a difference.’  Take a closer look at those freshmen, and you see the character of journalism at its formative stage. You see future staffers of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or, if they prefer poverty, Washington City Paper.”

 

Keanu Reeves Would Be Pissed

Aug. 19, 2008- The Matrix is not appearing right now at Macon State College in Georgia.

 

 

The ban is not on the Keanu Reeves movie (or its crappy sequels). The Matrix is the college’s student newspaper, shut down by administrators eager to create a media advisory board in the wake of tensions between student staffers and the publications coordinator that in May resulted in the resignation of the entire editorial board. In response to the newspaper shutdown, student journalists at the school who still want an avenue for newsy expression launched their own publication, aptly named The Student Free Press, a biweekly indy.

 

In the “About Us” section on the paper’s Web site, it reads, “Ever since Macon State College stopped printing its newspaper we could not take a passive role. We choose to be active with this issue. We believe in our First Amendment Rights. We believe that MSC students have a right to publish a College newspaper. We are actively seeking and negotiating a solution to our colleges choice to stop publishing. Please be aware and take an active role on issues at Macon State College. Stand up for what you believe. Get involved. Stand up. Speak out. Above all, do something positive.”

To Save or Delete? That is the Question

Aug. 19, 2008 – A Shakespeare-level drama is unfolding at Seattle Pacific University–minus an s.

 

About 10 years ago, SPU student Shakespear Farwythian was arrested for alleged sexual assault. He was suspended from school. The Falcon, the student newspaper, published a story about the incident. The charge was later dropped. The original Falcon story remains in the paper’s online archives.

 

Currently, it is that story, not the original assault allegation, which is making news. Farwythian wants the story removed from the paper’s Web site, saying the Google-able item has marred his reputation, both for its reporting on his arrest and its inclusion of a quote in which he compares the school to the Ku Klux Klan. SPU administrators agree, ordering the newspaper to remove the story. So far, the student journalists have held their ground and Shakeapear’s story remains.

 

What do you think? Are archival rules changing in our Google-alert age? And do administrators have the right to get involved in student newspaper content, new or old, online or in print? Here is a Seattle Times story on the situation.

Will They Harvest Blogs and Webcasts?

August 18- Even the name just sounds cutting-edge: the Center for Media Innovation and Research.

 

The Center debuts this fall at the University of Florida, under the direction of veteran journalist David Carlson. And Carlson and administrators describe it using a different moniker: a media farm. “We won’t raise vegetables,” Carlson told a university PR publication. “We will be a farm for new forms of journalism and strategic communication. . . . We will germinate the seeds of future media and propagate innovative ways of disseminating news and information. Then we will nurse those tiny seedlings to maturity in the market of ideas.”

 

OK, so the metaphor becomes overextended but the foundation behind it seems to hold merit, including a 21st-century newsroom, a strategic communications laboratory, and a digital media-focused think thank.

 

It is not clear how this might exactly relate to college media endeavors but it holds promise as a place where staff workshops, editors’ retreats or annual seminars might happen.

 

If you build it…