In an interesting new post for MediaShift, Bryan Murley summarizes the bitter truthiness of the economic downturn for college newspapers. At least for the biggies, the dailies, the pubs that actually have an advertising team and non-student staff with fancy titles like general manager, times are tougher than ever.
The portion of the post that most intrigued me focused on the identity of visitors trolling student papers’ Web sites. Who is reading student newspapers online? Apparently, it’s not students, at least according to the two sources cited. First, the general manager of Syracuse’s Daily Orange: “Students read the print edition, not the online edition anyway. Online is for parents, alumni, sports fans not in our distribution area for the most part, so they would not be reading the print edition.”
Similarly, Andrew Sawyer, “executive vice president for media services at Alloy Media+Marketing, a company that sells national advertising in the college newspaper market”: “Online college newspaper readership hasn’t really been proven to me that it is a college student.”
Hmmmmm. How does one prove he or she is a student (or non-student) reader of the sites? There is no registration required for most (if any?). As President Bartlet told Mrs. Landingham on “The West Wing”: “If you want to convince me of something, show me numbers!” (And I mean that: Any eds. or researchers have actual data/memories of a related research presentation they once saw that might prove this?)
The claim that there is a student-nonstudent divide online for student papers is startling, and one that if true should impact student pubs’ Web presence, one way or the other. Either papers can push for a greater mix of online content and services that will draw in more students or they can accept that students still love the print version most and instead cater to the non-student demographic who apparently are the ones eating up the online offerings. Add an alumni news section? Features on parents of students? A special, non-administration-approved guide to the school for prospective students and family?