Monday, June 23, 2008

Mississippi student paper goes online only

The Spectator, the weekly student newspaper at Mississippi University for Women, plans to abandon its print edition and go online only in the fall, according to a news report.

"We want to make our students more employable," Dr. Marty Hatton, chair of the Department of Communication, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Hanson said the online newspaper would use video and audio to enhance still pictures and text and that the paper might print a paper edition for "special occasions."

Eric Harlan, instructor and Spectator technical adviser, told the Daily Journal that moving from print to online publication will save the university money.

A number of student newspapers are considering Web-only publishing as a way to cut costs and keep up with a changing industry. However, at many schools print student newspapers remain financially stable and well read, even as community papers are losing readers and advertisers.

In a survey released earlier this month, Alloy Media + Marketing reported that more than three-quarters, or 76 percent, of college students surveyed had read their college newspaper in the past month. (Read more about the Alloy Media + Marketing survey in this June 3 post.)

In addition, online advertising revenues still doesn't come close to print advertising at most student newspapers, as well as community papers. On Monday The New York Times reported that The Internet accounts for less than 10 percent of newspaper ad revenue.

Hat tip to Venise Wagner of San Francisco State for passing along this news.

Will The Spectator and the MUW community benefit from Web-only publishing? How do staff members feel about the change? Is your newspaper considering a shift from print to online-only? Post a comment below.


jacobs said...

For most -- I certainly can't speak for all -- college newspapers, dropping print and going online-only is a bad choice at this time. It's alluring because the costs of printing and distribution disappear, but neither the readers nor the advertisers exist to support such a decision for most papers.

The other piece of that Alloy survey you referenced is HOW FEW students read their college newspaper's web sites. This isn't -- or shouldn't be -- a surprise to most of us in college media; we've known for years that college newspaper web sites are generally most read by people who don't see the print edition on campus: parents and/or alumni.

Alloy's study showed that only 27% of students had EVER visited their campus newspaper's web site, and only 10% did so in the past week. 59% of students read their campus newspaper's print edition only; only 2% read only the online version, a 16% said they read both. These are national average numbers, so conditions at a particular school may be different, but most of just can't look at those numbers and say, "hey, let's publish online only."

If the goal of the campus paper is primarily to train and educate students, then going online-only can probably be justified. But if the goal is also to serve the campus community, the printed paper is far, far more well-read than the web site. (Even if you figure some print readers will start looking online if the publication goes online-only, you can't assume they all will.) And if part of the paper's goal is to generate advertising -- for revenue and/or education of staff -- then online-only is definitely ahead of its time, because no one in college media is making substantial money from a web site.

-- Eric Jacobs

Anonymous said...

I work for an online-only news site at Swarthmore College. We compete with a print weekly.

While Swarthmore is rather small (~1450 students) we find that a *lot* of students read our work, especially because we provide a ton of content that has no parallel in the print paper.

While online stats are a tricky business, we get at least 70% of our student body reading our bigger stories.

Maggie said...

what is the name of your site? i work for a company that buys and manages media space in college newspapers. we are always looking for ways to expand and reach new audiences, and online-only publications are something we haven't really done much with but would like to.