College papers cutting back on print editions

At least three college newspapers announced this month that they’re going to cut their print schedules — the University of Illinois’ Daily Illini, the University of Missouri’s The Maneater and San Diego State University’s The Aztec. They join other college newspapers, including Duke University’s The Chronicle, that have been cutting back on their print editions.

The Daily Illini will publish four days a week instead of five as a cost-cutting measure, editor-in-chief Darshan Patel told the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette. Digital technology also played into the decision. “What we noticed on our website and now on the mobile site is that more students go to that than pick up our papers,” Patel said.

The Maneater, Mizzou’s independent newspaper, will publish once a week instead of twice a week. Editor-in-chief Ted Noelker said in a phone interview that the move is being made to free up staff to expand digital operations.

“Before all of our copy editors were centered on print operations and not available for breaking online news,” he said. “We’re redefining ourselves as a publication and not just a newspaper.”

The Maneater focuses on campus news, while Mizzou-affiliated The Missourian remains a community newspaper managed by professional journalists and staffed by journalism students. The Missourian cut its print frequency from seven to five days a week in 2009.

“We’ve been digital-first for some time,” Missourian Executive Editor Tom Warhover said by phone. He worked for several years at the Virginian-Pilot before joining Mizzou’s faculty. “We’re not talking about any more changes to the print operation right now.”

At San Diego State University, The Daily Aztec is rebranding itself as “The Aztec” and cutting newspaper publication from four days a week to two, according to a post by Innovation in College Media’s Bryan Murley.

At the same time, the newspaper plans to launch a Spanish-language section, Mundo Azteca, which managing editor Arturo Garcia hopes will one day be a stand-alone paper, KRWG reports. Spanish-language stories already appear on the publication’s website.

Logan Aimone, former executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association, which included oversight of the Associated Collegiate Press, said technology’s impact on college newspapers is hard to measure.

“We can’t quantify the impact of the changing times on college newspapers in the same way as community newspapers,” Aimone said in a phone interview. “We know that advertisers aren’t pursing college newspapers like they once did, yet print is still where the money is made.”

Correction: The original version of this story misspelled Champaign.

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  • Iris M. Gross

    Maybe kids won’t read either version because there won’t be any news they haven’t already heard through text message

  • Robert Knilands

    Just to follow up: I found a comment at Gannett Blog that applies to this situation.

    “Well, you can deliver manure in a trailer, or you can deliver it in the back of a Mercedes, it’s still manure. In case you missed my analogy, Gannett has stripped its newsrooms of vital news-gathering resources, so dressing up its websites isn’t going to help much if they’re still shoveling manure into them.”
    The news organizations that think a “good-looking” site with little content will keep people coming back are living in a fool’s paradise.
    This is a problem at college papers, too. Already we have too many people whose sole goal is to do a redesign. Web sites should be as modern and appealing as possible, but those innovations shouldn’t happen at the expense of providing information.
    To follow up on the shipwrecked discussion above: It’s always a problem to try to analyze newspapers’ business decisions when they provide so few specifics about their financial details. Without those specifics, we’re left with comparing situations that might be similar. There is a case where a newspaper dropped a publication day and now claims it didn’t lose revenue, but that happened because the weekend edition was expanded. Just dropping a revenue-producing publication day, with no expansion elsewhere, makes sense only if the newspaper is taking a loss on that day.

  • Robert Knilands

    No links or substantive evidence, I assume.
    If you want to take the Stuart Smalley approach of “Gosh darn it, people should like this!” and disregard evidence, then go ahead. I wouldn’t expect success, though. Right now, you have no suggestions, no evidence, no alternatives, no plan for how to fix anything. Yet you just keep insisting that I don’t know anything about this.
    I think you have given us a great example of why college papers are declining. If people aren’t getting good, timely content, they’re going to see through that approach pretty quickly.

  • Bryan M.

    I don’t have the time or the energy to explain to you how college newspapers work. It’s pretty clear this is your hobby horse and you’re going to ride it despite my simple points that you are looking at something you have next to no knowledge of and making blanket statements contra any firsthand observations I might make.

    This is my final comment on this issue. If you want to read more, I’ve written more than enough at the blog linked above. You can read it there.

    Good day.

  • Robert Knilands

    You can keep claiming “misunderstanding” to every point, but until there’s some evidence behind it — showing specifically that increased resources lead to equal or better gains in readership and circulation and that said gains are sustained for a period of at least 3-5 years — it’s hard to give much cred to those claims.
    Whether it’s a volunteer staff or not, the staff positions and tasks should still reflect the values of a newspaper that wants to provide solid content. Having several presentation editors and no CCE is not a reflection of that goal.
    Just to help you out: I put in some time on the college paper. It was paid work, although not very much. Basically we were making money for a full-time staff of people, some of whom did little to promote what we were doing. That was probably an education in itself.
    If your argument is that a person working for free is not a resource, then I have to wonder what your point is. I guarantee that if I had a project and had people willing to work for free, I would very much consider those people to be a resource and would want to capitalize on what they could offer.* If anything, having a volunteer staff should make it more likely that college papers would want to publish a print edition as many days as they could.
    * Purely a hypothetical. No one should EVER work for free, including internships.

  • Bryan M.

    “When I see a staff box with 2-3 “presentation” editors, whether Web or print, and no chief copy editor, I assume the resources are not being used well.” – Many newspapers operate with volunteer staffs.

    My point with the linked article (from 2007!) is that I’ve been aware of the economic pressures facing college news media for a long time.

    I’d also point out that college media operate in a wide variety of funding mixes, many have one or two professional advisers (or a faculty adviser who advises part-time) and students who put in long hours (often unpaid) in addition to their class work and studies. Assuming that they are not “using their resources wisely” with little knowledge of the actual landscape of college media is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation.

    In my conversations with various media advisers in College Media Association and student editors about these issues over the past 10 years, the *overwhelming majority* of students and advisers have resisted cutting print publication days until financial considerations absolutely demanded it.

  • Robert Knilands

    Straight from the link you provided:

    “The Daily 49er derives most of its operating income from print advertising. Less than 1 percent of income ($500) came from web advertising last year, according to their business manager.”
    I assume you mean you aren’t arguing WITH the concept I mentioned.
    Funding is definitely a problem, but are these papers using their resources wisely? When I see a staff box with 2-3 “presentation” editors, whether Web or print, and no chief copy editor, I assume the resources are not being used well. I know some of today’s journalism professors like to mislead students into thinking “today’s busy readers only care about visuals” or that “articles live and die on their presentation,” but those are unproved concepts that have no place in reputable classrooms.
    In one case, a paper received student fees for the first time and then dropped a day of publication. That’s a poor way to build trust among your readership.

  • Bryan M.

    Here’s one report:

    Also, just for the record, not all college newspapers have the same funding sources. Some have considerably less advertising funding and are mostly funded through student fees. University funding cuts also drive college media online more.

    And *nobody* has argued that “most papers make way more money with print than online.” Especially not me:

  • Robert Knilands

    Where are these current reports? For what papers? Link? Anything to substantiate what you claim?
    Any “mistaken impression” comes from the information in this article, as well as the several years of data that show most papers make way more money with print than online.

  • Bryan M.

    Current reports are that the papers are making enough on the other days to make up for the advertising losses. You’re under the mistaken impression that those extra days of print were helping the bottom line.

  • Robert Knilands

    I agree with some of this (doesn’t happen often with Hats In Reverse members like Mr. Thornton), but the idea that site appearance should trump timely information is the true kiss of death for news organizations.
    IMO, the DI’s move to drop the Friday edition is not the best choice. If a day has to be dropped, something in the middle of the week would be a better choice. Also, the paper can still use its resources on that day by instead printing a small draw sheet to what is on the Web site. No need to obsess wastefully about the appearance of said draw sheet, as that is the concept that has drained many precious resources at too many newspapers. Utilize the content-oriented staffers — if those still exist — to summarize articles and to write said summaries for the draw sheet. Then the draw sheet can go into the vendor boxes — those are already free to access.

  • Robert Knilands

    I noticed that, too, but I thought it was more amusing the way it was.

  • Patrick Thornton

    Students won’t blindly go to a digital-first product. Most student news organizations — just like the pros — have terrible websites. Student news organizations need to make products that appeal to their peers.

    Editors should look to Vox Media and some other new media companies for inspiration on how to make a modern news product. A really good website and mobile experience combined with good, timely news, will do well, but I’ve seen only a few student news organizations that do this well.

    In general, I would say student news organizations are further behind than professional news organizations with regards to digital products, despite the fact that student news organizations are largely trying to connect with audiences that never had a print habit.

  • Barry Hollander

    A couple of years ago The Red & Black at Georgia went from five days a week to once a week, with little thought to transition, swerving dangerously into irrelevancy for most students. Good stuff was being done online — that few saw. It’s still once-a-week print but with the mobile app and web and a magazine, it seems to be clawing it’s way back into some student lives. You’d think students with a digital-first mindset would shift seamlessly to a digital-first news product. Not necessarily so.

  • Martin Langeveld

    Needs another correction: “digital-first” not “digital-fist”. Although, digital fist is worth thinking about, too.

  • Poynter

    Thanks, Robert. We’ve corrected the spelling of Champaign.

    ~Mallary Tenore

  • JTFloore

    “We know that advertisers aren’t pursing college newspapers like they once did, YET PRINT IS STILL WHERE THE MONEY IS.” [emphasis added]

    not only is cutting days of profitable print editions an awful idea, it is glaringly stupid — and worse. the people producing these newspapers are supposed to be smart? no, they group think and just want to follow the leader — over the cliff as they “rebrand” and “emphasize digital.” incredible.

  • SFMH57

    Yes, Robert on both points. I’m also Illini and cannot fathom how the
    misspelling of “Champaign” continues to be made and made and made.
    I do believe all the copy editors in the universe have been laid off.

  • Robert Knilands

    It’s Champaign-Urbana. Not Champagne-Urbana.

    Cutting the days of print editions that make money is an awful idea.