The Experiment: How one college journalism program said goodbye to all that

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Our journalism program has won awards spanning over many years for its print publications, including General Excellence, Best College Magazine, and first place design, photography and writing awards from organizations like the JACC, CCMA, CMA, ACP, and the Western Publishing Association.

And we’re very proud of those awards, but awards do not produce the student media; students do. As the adviser of these publications, I’ve witnessed a shift in my students’ interest that was clearly seen in their lack of motivation. While they used to like putting out the print newspaper, they began to loathe it and the long hours and late production nights it took to produce it.

You know there’s a problem when the editor-in-chief yells, “Go to hell and take the print newspaper with you” and half the room walks out.

Maybe if the student population was reading the paper they might have felt differently. Each semester they would go out on campus and take a survey: “Do you read the student print newspaper?” The answer was a resounding “NO.”

The worst part was that they were defeated. They began to realize they were putting out the newspaper for the administration and faculty, and not for the student population. It’s hard to spend endless hours on a publication, only to walk by a campus news kiosk to see the newspaper’s crusty edges from hours of sitting in a pile under the sun, or on a windy day blowing all over the campus. And on those days when they set up tables to hand out the paper, they found themselves begging people to take it. They may have just as well been handing out free VHS tapes. Something had to change.

I’m no dummy. Each semester I take a poll of my student’s media consumption. When asked if they read a print newspaper, there would always be a few hands slowly raised. As the years passed, the raised hands decreased. I always ask, “ Where do you get your news?” “Online!” they would all respond. But last year, the responses changed. “Where do you get your news?” “Twitter! “Instagram!” and some various apps I’ve never heard of. And it’s not just the newspaper. I don’t know one student who has moved into an apartment and ordered cable. “Why should I get cable? they say. “I have Netflix!” It’s a different world out there and the sooner advisers realize it, the sooner our students will be able to one day find employment.

So what exactly have we done that’s so different? We stopped publishing all of our print publications and have moved our newsroom over to Medium.We will be writing stories that go beyond the Inverted Pyramid. We will dig deep and write well, and hopefully make you laugh and sometimes cry. We will put up stories weekly that are well researched and that cover topics important to college students. We have kept our online newspaper,mountiewire.com, for breaking campus news stories, live sports coverage, and general campus updates. The site is being redesigned, but we have big plans for mountiewire that do not include a WordPress site.

A big concern when moving over to Medium was the loss of advertising revenue. This is one of the biggest challenges of all college online student media. Advisers and students are terrified of losing advertising dollars. How will they afford those bonding trips to student media conferences? Who will pay for the end-of-the year banquet? And most importantly, who will pay for pizza on production nights? We have some answers and we hope to show you that there is revenue to be made outside of a print newspaper that students aren’t reading anyway.

From now on, we only move forward and if it isn’t new and innovative, we are not considering it.

Why Medium? Because it is an awesome platform and visually appealing. And the people behind it gave us a chance. When they heard about our idea to move the newsroom over to Medium, they were excited. There has not been a college that has ever attempted something like this. They have taken the time to meet with us, offer their support, and give input on everything from advertising and sponsorship, to what works and doesn’t work, and they even provided us our own tech support person.

This is the perfect merge of tech and college journalism. How exciting is that?

So why is this different than any other collection on Medium? Medium has two publications under their umbrella: Matter and Re-form. They also have numerous collections that are just wonderful, like the one my son Andy Baiocontributes to: The Message. But unlike the other collections on Medium, they allowed us to have a one word title like their other two publications. And that makes us feel pretty darn lucky and special.

We’re going about things very different than we have in the past and we will be sharing all of this with you, the reader. The students will be documenting this experiment here, and I will document it from an adviser’s standpointhere. There will be a lot of challenges to face and hurdles to jump over.

And to all the student media advisers who stay in the newsroom until 2 a.m. while their students fix that last mistake or add that last photo caption, I feel your pain. But since this new endeavor, I’ve been pain free. It’s like someone came in the newsroom and pumped a bunch of oxygen through the vents. I can feel it. The students can feel it. It can be seen in their smiles and new found enthusiasm. They actually like each other again and aren’t arguing about what someone did or didn’t do. They are filled with story ideas that they want to write and visuals they want to create. And they don’t want to leave the newsroom. And that, my friends, is a first.

I’ll leave you with the words of our content editor Albert Serna: “I’m so scared and excited I could pee my pants.”

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