Reducing print days is detrimental to a newspaper’s financial health
June 9, 2014
By Kevin Slimp
I asked my new friend, Kevin Schwartz, to coauthor a column about the trend of college newspapers toward reducing print days or moving away from print to digital. Kevin is going to hate that I told you this, but College Media Matters recently referred to Kevin as “Dean of the College Media Business.” He knows his stuff.
You can read for yourself what Kevin, who was general manager of The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper at the University of North Carolina for 20 years, thinks about this trend.
I’d like to address another related topic: the trend for university journalism programs to dismiss print altogether.
I asked my friend, Bill Elmore, chief operating officer of a large utility company, a question: “If the business college at the local university taught courses and practices which didn’t fit in with your corporate thinking, how would you handle that situation?”
His answer didn’t surprise me, “We’d simply hire graduates from other universities. There are plenty out there.”
Journalism and communications programs should take note. In the Annual Survey of Journalism & Mass Communication Graduates released in August 2013, I found a lot of interesting information. Jobs are up, slightly for graduates. Salaries are up and most graduates find jobs in the journalism world.
I found a couple of statements regarding work activities of 2012 graduates especially interesting:
“Writing, reporting and editing for print remains the dominant of these activities.
“Given the prominence of mobile communication, it is surprising that more graduates do not report that type of activity.”
I don’t have much space this month, so let me pose a couple of questions:
• If writing, reporting and editing for print are the prominent activities for graduates of journalism and communications schools, doesn’t it seem reasonable that those should be important parts of an undergraduate education?
• Isn’t it time that journalism and communications programs stopped perpetuating the myth that “print is dead?” Obviously, it’s still a dominant medium and will be for some time.
I speak at a lot of universities. I spoke at one recently. Students are easy to influence. They will pretty much believe whatever their instructors tell them. I know that gadgets, phones, cameras and digital tools are cool. But if they want employment, they’ll probably be working for print publications. I suggest we begin telling them the truth about this.
Kevin Slimp, “The News Guru,” speaks internationally to newspaper audiences. His columns can be found at kevinslimp.com.
College papers derive most of their revenue from their print editions
By Kevin Schwartz
Media Consultant | St. Petersburg, FL
Student or professional managers of a number of collegiate daily newspapers have provided various reasons the past few years for the decision to cut back a day of their print production or, more drastically, cut to weekly or go completely digital.
Unfortunately, in most cases, it has simply been the most expedient way to deal with the twin challenges of dwindling advertising and circulation—a deadly combination at the nation’s commercial dailies but a totally fixable issue at campus shops. The changes taking place are for all the wrong reasons and make no economic sense. It is not going to save the organizations and will likely just quicken their eventual demise.
Most collegiate daily newspapers—and there are about 100 of them—derive 85 percent-100 percent of their generated revenue from their print editions (absent of any school subsidy), which for most papers are published every day there is class.
In fact, a detailed financial survey of dailies in one group for the school year ending in 2012 and extrapolated over all dailies at that time show nearly $70 million generated from the sale of all print advertising (campus, local, national, classified and inserts) and less than $4 million in sales from all online and digital efforts.
So if you were the manager of one of these organizations, what should you do?
I would do anything in my power to run a platform-neutral news gathering and dissemination operation with the intent of keeping the print edition relevant, which is not an impossible task, although it certainly must seem like it to any group of eager students untested in the business world.
The truth is that today’s college students—with all of the mobility devices at their disposal—will read their printed campus newspaper if it provides relevant content, is easy to obtain and remains free of charge.
There is not a generational barrier—there is a transactional barrier. It is simply harder to close the deal each morning because college dailies have not sufficiently modernized their distribution networks or focused enough on marketing to the reader.
Yes, the free newspaper needs to be marketed using the principles of single-copy distribution that the commercial newspaper industry has used forever. If you haven’t been on a campus in a while, it might shock you that college students read printed things. And there is little local merchant budget available for untested digital options that may be developed and deployed by a collegiate newspaper staff.
Add to all that the fact that content quality has slipped overall as journalism schools produce far fewer news majors, while today’s student wants more things on her checklist by graduation besides a four-year stint at the daily, and the ones still entrenched are asked to do more and more as digital responsibilities grow.
Publish quality content in every way you can—especially in the format that pays the bills.
Kevin Schwartz is the former general manager of The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and now is a media consultant in St. Petersburg, FL. Find him at SchwartzMediaSolutions.com.