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Columbia Daily Spectator Might Cut Back on Print Newspaper

The Columbia Daily Spectator  has been printing since 1877.

The Columbia Daily Spectator has been printing since 1877.

The Columbia Daily Spectator may become the first Ivy League university to do away with a daily, student-run print newspaper.

Based in the Harlem Morningside Heights neighborhood, the staff of the Spectator, established in 1877, says it plans to cut back to weekly papers. Editor-in-chief Abby Abrams told Capital New York‘s Peter Sterne that the new printing schedule would “allow all our writers and editors to produce the best content possible.”

Although the decision must be officially approved by the Spec‘s 11-member board, it can’t be argued that the paper’s print product lost money for the first time this year. Still, despite the well-known difficulties print publishers have with generating revenue, Abrams told Capital that reducing print output isn’t based on desperation.

“This is not something that we have to do,” she said. “It’s a choice.”

So, you could assume that these 18-22-year-olds grew up in a world when print never really thrived and want more time to dabble in data, multimedia and video journalism. Considering they’re unpaid reporters living in New York City and attending a rather pricy university, the staff of the Spec probably wants to do journalism that they know their classmates are more likely to read and share. And as this New York Times piece reported, students aren’t picking up the paper — they’re on their phones.

A college newsroom is supposed to be a journalist’s primary training headquarters. It’s where you take your first baby steps as a reporter before heading out into the newsrooms of the world. That means you should be preparing in college for the jobs you’re likely going to be applying for. Pew reported this year that 5,000 jobs were created by digitally-native publications, and that number will only rise. Jobs at print operations continue to decline, however. Young journalists need to be in environments that embrace that reality. I’m all for tradition, and I do love print (I graduated college in 2012, and in the years I spent on the college newspaper staff from 2009-2011, we were still very much married to print, and our web and social presence was very weak), but if college newsrooms want to prepare their reporters and photographers for what’s ahead, they have to care about technology and digital tools for doing journalism.

The Spec would be wise to train its journalists to code CMS/HTML rather than master Quark and design double trucks. It would be smart to teach young reporters how to effectively live-blog, live-stream and live-tweet rather than pen facts in a reporter’s notebook. And it would be prudent to ingrain deeply a web-/social-/video-/wearable-first attitude instead of slaving away over a print newspaper that eventually gets dumped in the trash.

What do you think about the Spectator cutting back its print edition? Should we sacrifice relevance for tradition?

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