Across the country, some college newspapers are shutting down their printing presses.
From the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Post to the Daily Athenaeum at West Virginia University to the paper at Ohio University, student-run publications are reducing the frequency of their printed product or ditching it all together.
Editors at these papers offer a variety of reasons. Some say it is a cost-cutting measure. Others say they want to focus exclusively on their digital product and not be distracted by the hassle of producing a printed paper.
I think this is a bad idea, and I’ll tell you why.
First, a lot of college journalism students have been sold on the idea that print journalism is dead. The problem is, this just isn’t true – at least not yet.
Since practically the dawn of the Internet in the 1990s, a group of people that I call the digital zealots have been predicting that the brave new digital world would kill off newspapers.
But more than two decades later, there are still roughly 1,300 professional newspapers across the country. Why haven’t newspapers disappeared the way the digital zealots predicted? Because they still make money. Indeed, most newspaper publishers still reap the majority of their revenue from the display advertising that appears in print. Online advertising still accounts for a relatively small slice of the revenue pie.
Now, are newspapers experiencing tough times? Absolutely. Both circulation and ad revenue are declining at papers nationwide. But as long as publishers continue to make money from newspapers, newspapers will continue to be printed.
Will newspapers still be around in, say, 20 years? Who knows? But it seems highly unlikely that they will vanish any time soon.
This brings me to my next point. Newspapers need staffers who have the skills associated with producing a print product – layout, typography and so on. Journalism students at colleges without printed papers won’t be getting that kind of work experience, which means they’ll be at a disadvantage in the post-graduation job market.
I’m always telling my students that they should arm themselves with as many technical skills as possible. Learn to run a website. Keep a blog. Become adept at shooting and editing digital video.
And, given how many newspapers are out there, there is absolutely no reason journalism students shouldn’t also learn how to do layout.
Now, producing a newspaper is a lot of work. Layout is a real skill, and even editors who are experienced at using the software will tell you that it is a painstaking and time-consuming process.
But the editors at the student newspaper where I teach journalism will also tell you they get a lot more satisfaction out of producing the printed paper than from simply loading stories onto the website.
And when they walk around campus and see students actually reading the paper, that’s the kind of satisfaction they’ll never get if everyone is just glancing at an app on a smart phone.
Indeed, there’s something to be said for seeing the paper on newsstands around campus. It’s something tangible and real, and in an age when so many things have been reduced to pixels and bytes, it’s just, well, cool.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons