PHOENIX — Starting in January, Arizona State University students will no longer arrive to news racks carrying daily copies of The State Press, the student-run newspaper.
Joining some mainstream journalism counterparts, the independent newspaper serving the nation’s largest university is cutting back on print – in this case, one edition per week – and offering a greater focus on its website and news delivered by smartphone and tablet apps.
“We have a three-pronged mission,” ASU Student Media Director Jason Manning said. “No. 1 is to serve the ASU community; No. 2, to train media professionals; No. 3, to succeed as a business. And we didn’t think we could do any of those by continuing on the same path.”
While The State Press is one of the first university news organizations to drop a daily paper, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune and Ann Arbor (Mich.) News are among professional organizations that have cut back on print editions in recent years.
Retha Hill, director of the New Media Innovation Lab at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, expects more university newspapers to follow.
“You have people who have grown up with digital products, so it’s not a shift for them,” Hill said. “It’s more difficult of course for mainstream publication to make this move because you still have the older baby boomers … who still like the feel of a newspaper in their hands.”
The State Press will distribute a print edition each Thursday not just to news racks on ASU’s four campuses but to about 7,500 doors in residence halls and in off-campus housing managed by the university.
Delivery to dorm rooms, made possible through an agreement with the university, has long been sought by advertisers, Manning said.
Meanwhile, The State Press is reorganizing its operation to deliver more real-time news online and update apps for smartphones and tablets.
“It’s a strategic decision, and we really did follow the readership,” Manning said. “We want to go where the readers are – literally.”
The University of Oregon made a similar transition this fall when its newspaper switched from daily to twice-weekly publication, along with a stronger digital focus.
“It’s exactly what we’re seeing in the professional world,” said Ryan Frank, publisher of the Oregon Daily Emerald. “That’s a big driver for us, and I’m sure for Arizona State.”
The University of Georgia’s independent student newspaper, The Red and Black, shifted from a daily to a weekly edition in August of last year.
Frank said his news operation has achieved higher revenues and readership compared with this time last year.
“It’s not a bad thing,” Frank said. “Having schools like Arizona State or Georgia being upfront and having the courage to change and adapt their business model to fit the demands of the audience should be celebrated.”
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., said an emphasis on digital skills is key to training today’s journalism students for tomorrow’s journalism jobs.
“While these new skills are important, some of the basics and some of the traditional things remain,” Edmonds said. “There’s a common traditional element that stays there.”
Dan Pacheco, the Peter A. Horvitz Chair of Journalism Innovation at the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, said the primary focus of students should be digital publishing and audience engagement.
“I do think it’s smart that they’re maintaining a weekly print edition,” Pacheco said in an email. “A smarter strategy would be to create a magazine-like experience for tablets, especially cheaper ones such as Google Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire, that college students can afford.”
Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, said the paper delivery to dorm room doors will serve as a reminder to check out the website. It also makes sense to maintain the print format, at least for now, because it is still the primary source of revenue, he said.
“There’s going to be a point when no one’s reading a daily print newspaper,” Benton added. “We don’t know when that point is.”