It’s not just mainstream newspapers that are struggling with the future of their print operations: universities and colleges are also dealing with many of the same factors that have led to a decline in the newspaper business. So the journalism school at one college has given up on print and plans to put everything online — but instead of running its own website, the school has formed a partnership with Medium, the media platform run by Blogger and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.
In a post on Medium announcing the move, Toni Albertson — a journalism professor and student advisor at Mount San Antonio College near Los Angeles, and the architect of the plan — described how despondent the student journalists often got when they thought about their print newspaper and how no one at the school ever seemed to read it or even care that it existed:
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.
Teaching digital media by doing
Every time she asked students whether they ever looked at the school’s print newspaper they would say no, Albertson writes, and most said they never looked at newspapers outside of school either. So why was the college continuing to publish one? In a post on her personal blog about the decision to stop printing and start using Medium, Albertson describes how she had been tracking the evolution of journalism programs for years — and taking part in panels at media events about how to reinvent them for a digital age.
After someone at a journalism conference in Montreal earlier this year mentioned Matter, a Kickstarter-funded online magazine that was later acquired by Medium, Albertson says she looked it up and was struck by how fantastic it looked, and how good the stories were that were being published there. It was exactly what she wanted from her journalism students, she says:
Everything I’d been teaching my students was in front of me. I refuse to believe that the death of print means the death of good journalism. I hammer into my students’ heads that we can do some really great work; that while the method of delivery has changed, the core of journalism doesn’t have to. The stories on Matter are some of the finest I’ve ever read. I was inspired.
An experiment in journalism and publishing
Albertson was also inspired by Medium’s design, and as it turned out she had a connection: her son is Andy Baio, who runs a well-regarded blog at Waxy.org and also writes pieces for a Medium magazine known as The Message. So Albertson made contact with Medium, and the site proposed a partnership — they created a kind of collection or magazine for the school called Substance, and the two are collaborating on potential revenue-generating methods such as advertising and possibly sponsorship of some articles on the site.
Some, including journalism professor Dan Kennedy, have expressed concern about the school handing over its content to a proprietary platform like Medium, but Albertson notes in her post that the college will continue publishing on its own site — including breaking news about the campus, live sports, etc.
The Medium partnership is an experiment, Albertson says, and the students will be tracking its success or failure on a separate Tumblr blog — where the editor noted that a piece he wrote about the struggles of gay men growing up in macho Latino culture had gotten more hits than the journalism school’s website has received in its entire existence. And his instructor notes that for the first time in a long time, her students are excited about journalism again:
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.
Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Brian A. Jackson