A New Medium

MARC ALLAN | PUBLIC EDITOR

Butler University was located in Irvington and Grover Cleveland was president of the United States the first time The Butler Collegian was printed nearly 130 years ago. The newspaper predates most of Butler’s history.

So seeing the print version phased out is—for me, anyway—like watching a piece of the university die.

As you know by now, the weekly paper is about to become a relic. In its place will be a much greater “digital-first” emphasis (see thebutlercollegian.com) and a monthly print edition that will focus on campus happenings like homecoming and an NCAA tournament preview.

The editors made the decision largely for financial reasons—printing 1,000 copies of the paper costs $743, which is money the newspaper and the School of Journalism doesn’t have. (I could present you with a long list of reasons that student activity fees should be allocated for printing the paper, but that’s not going to happen.) The evolution also is occurring because digital is the way of the world.

“The digital-first strategy adopted by The Collegian is a response to that change that will better prepare our students for the professional environment they are about to enter,” Nancy Whitmore, chair of the School of Journalism, said. “The digital-first focus encourages students to see a story as something beyond a single-day article or news package and, in the process, to develop new and innovative approaches to the gathering, production and distribution of news content.”

The Collegian has plenty of company in moving online. Dozens of college newspapers are now online-only, as are magazines such as U.S. News and World Report (which hasn’t had a print edition since 2010). Some cities, including New Orleans, have newspapers that only print three days a week.

So The Collegian is left, like every other print publication, to figure out how to survive. Among the things the staff will have to grapple with is how to earn money from digital advertising, which brings in far less revenue than print.

Then there’s the matter of getting readers to pay attention. When the paper is distributed all over campus, it’s easy to pick up. Now that it’ll be out of sight, the staff will have to work that much harder to stay front of mind.

On the plus side, digital allows The Collegian to constantly update stories and provides all the space the staff needs for as many stories, photos and videos as it can produce.

“I will be surprised if we ever go back to a weekly print product,” editor Matthew VanTryon told me. “You’re not going to go back to gas lamps in a house. We’re not going to go backwards. Anything we do from this point forward will be to evolve our digital presence.”

I’ve always looked forward to picking up the paper on Wednesdays to see what the staff had come up with. But if the students can figure out how to make journalism prosper in the digital age, it won’t matter how the information is delivered. The medium is less important than the content.

To put it another way, all that’s left of the original Butler is a sign at 13th Street and College Avenue. There’s one Butler building left on the Irvington campus.

Times change.

 

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