Possible Chronicle Closure Prompts Reflection on State of College Media

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Student newspapers around the country have been cutting staff and numbers of issues this year, just as professional newspapers have been doing on a much grander scale. But while the Hearst Corporation’s announcement on Feb. 24 that the San Francisco Chronicle is in jeopardy of closing within weeks if the paper cannot recover savings by cutting employees comes as no surprise to the thousands of college newspapers that have already implemented cost-cutting techniques, there have not been any significant blows to college newspapers across the country. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the student newspaper of the University of California at Berkeley, the Daily Californian, cut its publication from four to five days in August 2008 when they reported an economic downturn.

This method has worked for the Daily Cal, and college newspapers in different parts of the country like the Daily Orange at Syracuse University, and the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have taken similar steps and have been successful.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, it has taken a much longer time for a decline in advertisement revenue to hit student newspapers as opposed to profession newspapers. College newspapers are one of the last places companies are cutting ad expenditures because the college student is an important demographic for consumption and college newspapers are still one of the best ways to reach this demographic.

According to Logan Aimone, president of the National Scholastic Press Association, college newspapers circulate effectively around smaller schools with students living on campus. These schools tend to value their student newspaper, and those papers are sought after by advertisers.

The divergence in fortunes between college and professional papers has changed the way professional papers cover college campuses in their area. When a professional paper experiences economic turmoil, many of the first reporters to be let go are higher-education reports, according to anonymous media-relations officers who spoke with both the Chronicle of Higher Education and PBS. This makes student newspapers even stronger, as they become the only source for university news.

However, state budget cutbacks and a weak economy have started to take their toll on the revenue of many student newspapers this year, according to Henry Montevideo, publisher of the Red and Black at the University of Georgia.

The economic downturn for newspapers in recent years has not stopped students from pursuing journalism degrees. According to the Albany Times-Union, the number of undergraduate students in the U.S. studying journalism increased to nearly 200,000 in 2007 and is even higher now. In 1995, there were 130,000 students studying journalism nationwide.

Judy VanSlyke Turk, president of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, told the Albany Times-Union that students do not understand how competitive the job market is right now and how grim the situation is in the field professionally.

But the “journalism major” title can be misleading. According to the Albany Times-Union, many students are studying news as a liberal arts subject and then going to law school or taking jobs in public relations firms after journalism graduate school.

Students studying journalism to become reporters are being prepared for a professional life in news media without the newspaper. According to studyworld.com, there are 29 college newspapers online in California alone and thousands nationwide, with the majority having multimedia features like photo essays, slide shows, videos, and podcasts.

Even if the 144-year-old San Francisco Chronicle restructures and stays alive, the possibility of such a paper going under proves that the future of journalism lies online. It is not only the company that will be restructured, but the way we produce news on a daily basis. Likewise, the number of journalism students in our country, regardless of what they do with their degrees, proves that our generation still values journalistic integrity while simultaneously embracing the challenge of remaking the news.

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