I’m emerging from my guilt complex about not using this blog very often, or just using it as a photo album or diary unrelated to the “Other Journalism” title I gave it 20 years ago. Here’s an actual journalism question for a change: How do you revive a student newspaper that has fallen on hard times?
Specific case in point, the Radford University Tartan. Each semester for the past several years it has appeared to have to smaller staff. I’m sure the COVID pandemic hasn’t helped. And there may have been problems with the software or hosting of its website, which is full of stories that are a year old, or older. (One is about me, of all people, based on a Zoom talk I had with a friend’s journalism class a couple of years ago.)
I don’t see the print newspaper often because I’m not on campus regularly. But I’m told it still publishes weekly during the fall and spring semesters. I’ve been noticing other colleges where student journalists take a “digital first” approach and publish daily or weekly online, then do a “best of” version in print, presumably showing off their skills at page design and digital editing, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
A confession: When I was teaching at Radford I stayed away from The Tartan. My intentions were good, based on other colleges I have known where the student newspaper was proud of its independence from the journalism department. My undergraduate alma mater even bought its own off-campus building, although that was long ago and far away.
When I was there, the University of Connecticut journalism department consisted of two professors, teaching only a handful of courses. The department policy statement said students should not “major” in journalism, but in something that gave them knowledge to write from: Political science, economics, history, business, maybe even music or sociology — if they took enough journalism courses to escape the horrors of academic writing, understand news style, and write clearly for a general audience.
After those four or five news writing and editing classes, my professor felt his job was to turn graduates over to one of the newspapers in the state, where a wise city or state editor would teach them the newspaper business. Sadly, that doesn’t work in this century, when most of the wise old city editors and state editors have taken buy-outs, retired, or been fired. To fill the gap, UConn now has a fully accredited journalism major, the only one in New England. Accreditation is a hoop not many programs want to jump through. Sometimes it gets complicated, as in Chapel Hill. There are only three accredited journalism majors in Virginia, not including Radford. In fact, this fall I hear the university down to one long-suffering journalism professor.
Some of those laid-off newspaper journalists took a leap of faith into the new world of independent publishing on platforms like Medium, Substack and WordPress (which I use for this blog). I like the not-for-profit Cardinal News here in southwestern Virginia. Some former newspaper reporters have gone it on their own and hope to pay the bills with subscriber fees, tip jars or grants, or their own funds.
I was able to take an even easier way out after roughly 20 years as a reporter or editor, and a dozen years as a teacher (with a lot of grad school and indecisiveness in between), I decided to live cheaply on my retirement funds and give up entirely on the idea of making money. I write intermittently on Facebook and three blogs. On this one, I let WordPress post ads (which I don’t even see) and keep the revenue in exchange for my “free” webspace, while their team of engineers deal with software updates and security issues. When I really think I have something to say, I post it in more than one place and use Facebook and Twitter to alert anyone who might be interested. I’m a little more productive writing about old radio shows at JHeroes.com
Anyway… For the editors of The Tartan to browse and be inspired, here are some other student newspapers, including the ones on other campuses where I have gone to school or worked, plus a few others. The first three are dailies at large state universities with substantial journalism programs. Quoted passages in some of the longer entries are from “about us” pages at the websites in question. I’ve added bold italics on passages I think student editors should think about.
UNC Chapel Hill: https://www.dailytarheel.com/
UT Knoxville: https://www.utdailybeacon.com/
These next two student papers are at colleges more Radford’s size. Emerson has a large journalism department, larger than it was when I taught there; Wesleyan has none, but there were two Pulitzer Prize winners on the English and History faculty when I was a grad student there, starting with my employer paying the tuition while I took courses part-time.
“The Berkeley Beacon is Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper. Founded in 1947, the paper publishes content online daily and in print on Thursdays throughout the academic year. The paper is a chronicle of life at Emerson — covering student government politics, on- and off-campus events, and administrative initiatives and policies.”
The Berkeley Beacon is my favorite newspaper name, because the paper is not in Berkeley or at an institution called Berkeley — it is at Emerson College in Boston. Its name reflects the old location of the journalism department, on the corner of Berkeley and Beacon Streets, but the college sold that building and moved journalism to the other side of the Boston Common almost 20 years ago, the same year I left for Tennessee!
“The Wesleyan Argus is published by the undergraduates of Wesleyan University. The Wesleyan Argus was founded in 1868 and is the country’s oldest twice-weekly printed college newspaper. The Argus was named after the hundred-eyed, all-seeing giant from Greek mythology.”
Wesleyan (the oldest of many unrelated schools with that word in their name) is not as well-known here as it is in the Northeast, but here’s the weekly at a small Virginia university comparable to Wesleyan in relatively high selectivity and faculty salaries:
“It is the mission of The Ring-tum Phi to accurately, truthfully and thoroughly report news affecting the Washington and Lee community for students, faculty, parents and alumni. Our goal is to look deeper into news affecting campus life and hold those in positions of power accountable… published Mondays during the undergraduate school year.”
South of Radford, Ferrum College’s Iron Blade has a simple but quite up-to-date WordPress website, and print-images of past papers are archived on the university-controlled website.
“The Iron Blade covers the daily life and culture of Ferrum College. We publish one print issue per month and distribute it to campus. After every print, we publish all of our articles in the online edition.”
Farther up I-81, here’s a state university with a larger journalism program than Radford’s…
“The Breeze has been James Madison University’s student-run newspaper since 1922. Since then, the newspaper has provided news and information to the university community.
“The Breeze publishes every Thursday. The Breeze has been named the best mid-sized non-daily newspaper in the state of Virginia by the Virginia Press Association, and it has received national honors from the Associated Collegiate Press.”
And a bit farther south, here’s a North Carolina university twice the size of Radford with a news site that has undergone some changes during the past two COVID years… going all-web-daily, then returning to print monthly.
“The Appalachian has been Appalachian State University’s student-run news publication since 1934. We publish a print publication monthly. We are the recipient of the ACP Pacemaker Award, the CMA Pinnacle Award and the NC College Media Association Best of Show award…
“Continuing off of the changes made last year, during the 2022-23 academic year, we will continue to print monthly and send out a fresh, staff-curated newsletter every week, along with new content on our website posted daily. “
Last, but not necessarily least, here’s a Connecticut college paper that I haven’t read in 40 years. I started my professional newspaper career in the small city where it is published, Willimantic, Conn. Since moving to Radford I’ve been amused by similarities between Radford University and Eastern Connecticut State University, formerly Willimantic State U. Both are in small cities and both were once state “normal schools,” predominantly teacher-education and only for women. Each had a bigger men-only state agriculture and engineering college 10 or 12 miles up the road, but all four eventually went co-ed. The former men’s colleges are Virginia Tech and UConn.
And now, adding to the comparison, both have student newspaper websites that appear to have problems this fall. I haven’t found an article where either site explains why. I suspect that COVID has been hard on all kinds of student organizations, but that things will improve with face-to-face meetings possible once again. Maybe, like The Tartan, Eastern’s Campus Lantern is putting more of its energy into the print newspaper than the website. Radford now has more than twice the enrollment of Eastern, so maybe its paper has more resources to draw upon. I’ll look back in a few months.
“Established in 1945, The Campus Lantern is the student-run campus newspaper for Eastern Connecticut State University. We publish bi-weekly, with issues coming out every other Thursday.”