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J-School Confidential: State of The Campus Paper

In light of all the news students find online, a journo in college takes stock of campus papers

By Eric Kuhn - September 21, 2007
Welcome to our new series, J-School Confidential, filed by media experts in the making. Our rotating cast of emerging journos will take on that great media debate -- to j-school or not to j-school -- while chronicling their tales of learning the craft both in the academic settling and on the ground.

In this week's edition, Hamilton junior Eric Kuhn explores the future of the college newspaper. He finds that while online sources for disseminating campus news are increasing opportunities for new journalists, there will always be a place for the ink and paper version.


COLLEGE, USA - From inside the bathroom stall, to the table of the cafeteria, a hard copy of a campus newspaper lies wide open. Like many things that don't resemble the real world, on a college campus literally everyone reads their college newspaper. Yes, that old-fashioned ink and paper edition where your fingers get smudged by just flipping its pages.

College journalism and papers "have a captive audience with no competitors," says Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader at Poynter Institute and an ad-hoc advisor to college newspapers around the country. "The local daily isn't going to investigate failing security systems in the dorms or document the plague of sex abuse on college campuses." But while most newspapers are struggling, are college papers in trouble? Probably not, according to McBride -- "Sure the college newsroom is as relevant as ever. But the system for delivering the news should be changing." And by "changing" she means going online.

Of course, going online opens a can of worms: blogs, freelancing, online publications, heck, really anything (as a senior in high school I started co-editing an international photography magazine). Why would a student want to write for their college newspaper, when there is a world of other things to write for and about?

Take, for example, The Campus Word, a Web site that, according to co-founder Chase Gabarino, "provides college journalists and students a platform to freely voice their opinions on anything to do with college life." Expect two things if you write for the Campus Word (unlike many college newspapers): a paycheck and a chance to be uncensored.

"There [is] an issue with freedom of press at colleges and universities across the country," Gabarino says. "We saw this issue in the Hosty v. Carter case in 2005. If something truly offends you, you can comment on the item voicing your displeasure. That is the beauty of the Internet, not just freedom of speech."

Whether it be via the Internet or simply on (literally) the editorial page of the paper, opinions are what college students love to read. Of course, a paper's Web site can help bring out the best of both worlds. "The editorial section is frequently the most-read section of a college newspaper and the online edition enables readers to respond, fostering a dialogue around issues that matter most on campus," says College Media Network director Paul Pennelli.

But David A. Klatell, Vice Dean and Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia's School of Journalism recommends that while "there is no single 'right' way to do journalism...students [should] act as general assignment reporters, covering a wide range of stories and subjecting their work to editing, rather than the tendency to write opinion columns, blogs, or other outlets for personal opinions."

There is something about the college culture that allows the actual paper (finger smudges and all) to flourish.

Herein lies the key to a campus paper: community. "Working on a college newspaper is to learn how to work with people and work in a creative environment," says Ben French, the former editor-in-chief of the Indiana Daily Student (University of Indiana Bloomington) and now the general manager of UWire.com, the leading aggregator and distributor of student-generated content. "The creative process is tricky, but a college paper is a good way to cut your teeth." French believes that the Internet offers a new level of collaboration because everyone is navigating new waters on the same boat.

Campus papers do offer benefits that keeping a blog does not. "The great thing about writing for your college paper is that you should get some editing," McBride says. But she warns that sometimes fledgling journalists receive bad advice. At any campus news organization, bad editors, colleagues, or just overall bad papers can exist. "Those realities are present at many college papers."

"College Paper 2.0" is now easier then ever. In 1999 everyone in "the real world" become a blogger with the launch of Blogger.com. In that same year, three Emerson College alumni teamed up to create a product allowing college papers to easily place their content online. College Publisher, Inc. was created and quickly spread. The company was soon bought by Y2M: Youth Media and Marketing Networks, which mtvU (part of MTV Networks) acquired in 2006. College Publisher, according to their Web site, "soon became one of the most influential organizations in the world of college media," covering over 500 diverse schools such as Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Boston College, the University of Texas, Arizona State University, and Stanford University.

College Publisher allows journalists to be read outside his or her campus. It costs nothing for a paper to have its content on College Publisher -- advertisements support the site -- the often difficult campus-wide search for a tech-whiz is eliminated, and fellow newspapers can band together for services ranging from free AP content to a private-label broadband player. The site gives aspiring journalists an invaluable opportunity to play with "new media."

Pennelli, who oversees the College Publisher software, says that with its creation, "The biggest change is we've eliminated a whole set of factors college newspapers used to have to worry about when establishing or maintaining an online presence. Recent research shows that approximately 75 percent of college students regularly read their college newspapers -- at least twice the rate with which they read national newspapers." He believes that the near future will still include print papers on campuses and the content will not solely live online.

Of course, campus papers will continue to grow on the Internet. However, there is something about the college culture that allows the actual paper (finger smudges and all) to flourish. It is a safe bet that everyone who lives in the campus bubble will take some time out of their busy day to grab the college paper on the way to the bathroom or while sitting down in the dinning hall.


Eric Kuhn is a junior at Hamilton College, majoring in Government, but has already made a name for himself in print, television, radio, and podcasts. He is a Huffington Post contributor, the co-editor of PBase Magazine, an international online magazine, host of the radio show and podcast Kuhn & Company, and the editor-at-large of his school newspaper. Eric has interned for NBC News Digital Media, MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, and The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and has published numerous articles and blog posts on MSNBC.com and CBSNews.com. To find out more, visit him online.



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