College Newspapers: Still Teaching Obsolescence

In casual online conversation, I recently saw reference to a daily print newspaper at Oregon State University. At first I recalled stories of college papers, and then it hit me: why the hell are college newspapers still being printed on paper?

This guy is going, going... how long until this is but history?For years we’ve watched and talked about the implosion of traditional media outlets including the dead-tree newspaper. Whereas newspapers once served as the cornerstone of news both local and global, they’re now viewed as an ineffective means for delivering the news. The logistics of the print newspaper cycle, coupled with the economic realities of a world in which global news travels at the speed of the internet, make the traditional print distribution model obsolete and financially unsustainable.

Note that I differentiate between the print newspaper and journalism. Journalism is a practice; newspapers are a delivery mechanism.

Colleges ought to be focusing on teaching journalism and doing so in an appropriate manner which will best prepare students for life in the post-university “real world”. Teaching students how to produce a print newspaper is teaching them to be obsolete. Students should be learning electronic distribution through modern content management systems.

Future journalistic success won’t come from print newspapers; the reporters who will become notable will be those who can publish quality work rapidly through electronic means while using social media tools for two-way relationships with their audience. That is what should be taught at colleges.

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  1. says

    There is still a job market for college grads in old media such as newspapers. I run one and it’s profitable and I don’t think it’s going away tomorrow. Maybe in a decade or so possibly, but even then, who really knows. If college students are only taught new media skills and none of the old, they will miss out on a big number of jobs that are there despite all the doom and gloom that has overstated the obsolescence of old media. Now I’m not saying they shouldn’t get a large dose of all available methods of information distribution. I hire a lot of college grads and if they knew nothing about paper-borne media, I’d hire someone else who did. We’ve still got a few years in us. Many of my customers, even young ones, like to read a paper community newspaper. As Mark Twain said prophetically about the newspaper industry, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

  2. Nathan Powell says

    I wish. Print deadlines are the bane of my life. Achieving the freshest content is any journalist or marketers only care. That in itself is a good lesson from that industry. Learning how to push and squeeze all the best you can into that next issue without blowing up. When you are holding up a press waiting on that last plate, stress ensues. That causes lag between too much of the machine. The internet is different in that it has a sort of perpetual motion effect. You are either waiting for content, consuming it, or creating it.

  3. says

    College newspapers sponsored by journalism departments or created by journalism classes are often behind the times, but you’d be surprised how many college newspapers are web-first. There are also a few departments that are truly excelling. I’ve always liked the Golden Gate Xpress (SFSU) which for a long time was one of the finest purveyors of multimedia in collegiate journalism. Though I can’t speak for them now, me/my paper shared an online pacemaker award with them in 2008. (They’ve recently moved to WordPress, to boot.)

    Print remains in the picture due to revenues. And that goes for nonprofit, independent college newspapers especially. But, print isn’t dying on campus. Not yet, anyway. Hyperlocal news backed by local deals and advertising remains a strong recipe for success.

  4. says

    Sounds like a lot of crap I read these days.

    I’ve done surveys of newspaper publishers all over the U.S. and Canada in the past 4 months and learned that, surprise, newspapers overall are doing very well this year.

    So perhaps “Obsolete” my be the word used to describe Aaron’s thinking.

    Perhaps, Aaron, instead of “listening” to what you hear about the death of newspapers, you should look to see what’s really happening.

    And don’t give me the line about newspapers closing in the U.S. The number of newspapers in the U.S. is over 20,000. The number that closed last year you can count on your fingers. More gas stations, banks, tv stations and, yes, online companies closed than newspapers. Way more.

    It sounds like it should make sense, though.

    • says

      I’m basing my comments on the groups of folks I know that have been laid off by newspapers, and stories I hear from those who still work in the industry. But I’m willing to entertain the idea that I’m wrong and that newspapers are doing great and paper is the future.

      Could you point me towards some stats that talk about the financial health of the newspaper industry?

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