Saturday, May 17, 2014

Student newspapers in Texas struggle to move online

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project from Spring 2014.

By Bobby Blanchard and Becca Gamache 

Even as student newspapers across the state face declines and cuts in their print product, an analysis of every student newspaper in Texas shows that student media outlets are still slowly adapting to the digital age of journalism — if at all in some cases.

Just one third of student newspapers in Texas are updating their websites every weekday, according to authors’ analysis of the 37 public four-year universities in Texas. Thirty-six percent of student newspapers in Texas are updating their social media platforms everyday, and only 21 percent of student newspapers in Texas do both. This analysis did not include weekends, and only counted weekdays.

UT journalism senior lecturer Robert Quigley said these newspapers should be updating their websites and social media accounts daily, because it’s the same practice professionals have.

“They’re missing a teaching opportunity for their students — an educational opportunity for their students,” Quigley said. “Any university newspaper that is not using all of the digital tools that professional organizations are doing, they’re not giving the full experience of what students are going to be facing.”

Quigley, who is the former social media editor for the Austin American-Statesman and teaches a class on social media at UT, said it is surprising to him that so few student newspapers are digital on a daily basis.

“You would think that college newspapers would be ahead of professional ones, in this regard,” Quigley said.  “I think it’s kind of sad as a long-time journalist looking back, that we have a whole new generation of journalists that are coming up that are not getting much of any kind of modern experience at their colleges. That’s really disconcerting.”

Midwestern State University assistant professor and director of student media Bradley Wilson says some student media outlets in Texas can sometimes struggle to recruit a large staff.

“While sometimes it's a hard sell for students who repeatedly beat over the head with the demise of the mass media, to me it's a great time to be involved in the mass media,” Wilson said in an email.

At The Wichitan, the student newspaper Wilson advises, Wilson said the paper prints an average between eight and ten pages weekly, though he said they could probably print 12 pages if they had a bigger staff.

There are four universities in Texas who do not have a student newspaper at all.  University of Houston-Victoria Provost Jeffery Cass said there is not a call for one on their campus right now.

“There wasn’t a call for a student publication and we don’t currently have a journalism program, but that doesn’t mean that we are not interested in one day starting one,” Cass said. “Student newspapers and publications require resources and programs. We recently downgraded our campus, and right now, there’s not enough of what we need to get that up and running.”

Previously, the university has had several newspapers spanning through the 1970s to the 1990s. There was also an online student publication from 2001-2008. Cass said there could be demand for a student newspaper to return again in the future.

“Interestingly enough, when I worked at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, the kids voted on whether they wanted to maintain a printed publication and it turns out that they wanted the printed paper over the digital copy,” Cass said. “The problem is it’s just too hard to maintain all of that. We can’t start a publication without expertise and putting in the resources up front.”


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