“As the college grows, we hope that Comments may expand and broaden with it until it one day covers the same scope as the dailies of the larger colleges. With proper care, it will — and the best wishes of the present staff are with those who in the future will see it through the formative stages of its, I hope, long career.” – Unknown student, 1925 Bluestocking
Entrusted with the high hopes of generations of Mary Baldwin students , today’s editors of Campus Comments aim to live up to those expectations and keep the campus news source relevant in a move unimaginable 86 years ago.
Starting this semester, Campus Comments is only available in digital format, online at www.campuscomments.org . The news staff created the website in May, and officially launched the site Tuesday to coincide with the campus’ annual Apple Day celebration.
The decision to eliminate newspaper printing is something college newspapers across the country are making. For Campus Comments co-editors Shannon Harris ’12 and Lisa Hebert ’13, the move was largely based on the ability to constantly and quickly deliver news. Previous editions were printed once a month.
“Our plan is to update the site as pieces are written, so that we can get news and other information to students in a timely fashion and be a truly up-to-date source,” Hebert said.” Last year, we noticed it was becoming more and more difficult to keep current, as people are turning to the Internet for so many of their information needs.”
The students noted the widespread use of online news, social networking, and mobile communications the college employs.
“Taking Campus Comments online just made sense,” Hebert said. “Mary Baldwin is learning about how students access information and communicate with each other and the college is adapting accordingly. The college has a consistent Facebook presence now, a Twitter presence. There’s a mobile-optimized version of the college website. The Cupola stopped printing issues around the same time that we did.”
As Campus Comments‘ business manager Sophia Stone ’14 explained, the paper will save money by eliminating printing costs.
Each year, print issues of the student paper cost in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $2,000 from Student Activity Funds. By contrast, Comments staffers report spending only about $120 on the website at the end of the spring semester 2011, which paid for 24 months of web hosting and storage, as well as tools like site analytics, which will help gauge readership.
Campus Comments staff has also seen a rising interest from off-campus advertisers since going digital. Publishing more frequently and running different types of material brings more advertising opportunities, they say. One goal is to support enrichment — netting enough funds to help pay for staff members to attend out-of-town conferences.
The biggest motivation behind the change, Stone said, is even simpler.
“We made the switch to an online format hoping that we will get greater reader response from students. Everyone is online,” she said.
The student newspaper will continue to face another dilemma that almost all traditional papers around the country grapple with: the lack of young news consumers. Bruce Dorries, associate professor of communication, reads and teaches about the phenomena. More tellingly, the practicing journalist has seen it play out on campus and in Staunton.
“These days, many people begin to truly follow news only when they start to work full time, pay taxes, and have kids — age 24 and up,” Dorries said.
An even more formidable challenge for news organizations is adapting to the Internet habits of users of all ages.
“I know a dozen friends and neighbors who’ve recently dropped their subscription to the local paper, too,” said Dorries, who references in his class reports from the Nielsen Company and the Poynter Institute to show students that older demographics are dwindling in online news consumption.
“The preferred platform for news is TV. People turn to the Internet principally for entertainment and shopping, but not news,” he said. “Porn appears still to be No. 1 on the net.”
Bethany Zaiman, a freshman from New York and one of Dorries’ students, said Campus Comments is on the right track, by following a trend among news organizations that want to stay relevant in a fast-paced world.
“People are moving faster; they are expecting their news sources to, as well,” Zaiman said. “College students generally don’t take the time to read a newspaper but they will definitely take the time to check the news in the same way that they check their email or Facebook. I think Campus Comments going digital will increase the audience and maybe even attract people that it never has before. To have more people reading and digesting the news is a great thing.”