The way students on college campuses consume media is changing – leading college publications to ask the question: how can we keep the audience engaged? This panel of university-based journalists came to argue that the problem is in the print.
“Things have changed, and we need to change also,” said panelist David Simpson of Georgia Southern University.
It is no secret that there is a steady decline in print journalism engagement, especially on college campuses. Instead, the panel claimed, students choose to get their news from social media platforms.
But college publications do not reflect this generational shift away from print.
As panelist Simpson says, the goal of your newsroom should be “trying to understand how they [your audience] come to you, and how they consume information.”
Attempting to maintain a print publication that no longer serves a campus is hindering student engagement, the panel said. They said modernizing is essential to crafting college news that students will engage with.
“We don’t want to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. The iceberg is going to come either way,” said panelist Simpson.
To do this effectively, the panel agreed, student organizations must look at audience engagement data — which is not as hard to find as one might believe. On-campus advertising majors can be a resource that publications can work with to collect engagement data, the panel said.
Advertising majors study public engagement, so collecting this research is right up their alley. Combining forces, publications and student advertisers can collect and utilize campus information, which can then be applied in college newsrooms to determine the best publishing platform for their campus.
“All that means is going where our audience is and doing what we do best: telling stories,” said Panelist Tamara Buck of Southeast Missouri State University.
The shift away from print can be overwhelming because it breaks away from collegiate print publication traditions. It can feel vast to student publications because there’s no legacy to look back on for advice; these students are pioneering a whole new form of media at their university, the panelists said.
But panelist Jim Rodenbush of Indiana University talked about how it’s not as big of a leap as it looks on the outside. “It’s really not that complicated,” Rodenbush said, “you’re the audience.”
College journalists should not only be looking at the collected engagement data but should be looking at each other to see what platforms are most engaging. “They know what apps they and their friends are using,” Rodenbush said. so it’s as simple as finding ways to get their publication onto the apps and mediums their peers interact with the most.
As the world of college journalism is shifting away from print, these panelists say that, although it might look different on the surface, the inspired soul of student journalism will remain.
As panelist Buck said, “We’re storytellers. And I don’t care what app you’re on, you’re still telling stories.”
Hillary Warren of Otterbein University was also on the panel.