Much like commercial newspapers, college newsrooms are facing obstacles when it comes to covering print costs and venturing into the digital world.
Earlier this month, University of Oklahoma officials announced The Oklahoma Daily would stop printing a paper during the summer and focus on its website.
The last summer break print edition will be published June 27, but the paper will resume printing in August.
“We have been talking about going to more of a digital first philosophy for awhile. Summer is just a really great time for us to try new things,” said Anne Richard, OU associate director for student media.
Richard said it costs $300 per issue to print the paper in the summer, and the university hopes to save money by scaling back.
“It is costly to print during the summer, and there are fewer students on campus,” she said. “I definitely think the goal is always to save money and do what makes sense for both our readers and advertisers.”
Richard said the university plans to conduct a yearlong study to generate reader feedback and recommendations.
The study will consist of focus groups that will have a chance to discuss new digital products and how to improve the paper.
“Often times, those people are the ones who can offer the best recommendations for what they'd like to see, what we should be offering,” she said.
The study will include discussions about social media and mobile news consumption, she said.
The staff also will work on the newspaper's website, OUDaily.com, and possibly redesign the site, Richard said. She said the staff has noticed a steady increase in online advertising and will continue to explore that option.
As more analytics become available and people begin to understand the measurements, Richard thinks online advertising will continue to grow.
Daily Editor Chris Lusk, 27, said he hopes the digital initiative will get staff into the rhythm of a constant news cycle and find a better way to tell stories in print.
“It's really a move that we made with an eye on the future,” he said.
Ronna Austin, lab director for The Pioneer at Oklahoma City Community College, said her staff recently revamped the website and has encouraged professors to stress that online storytelling is as vital as print writing.
“We take both very seriously,” Austin said.
Mark Thomas, executive vice president for the Oklahoma Press Association, said digital storytelling has a place in journalism, but college papers shouldn't focus solely on online content or advertising.
“I think it's a mistake for OU to cut back,” he said. “People should be learning how to run a business, and how people make money, too.”
“It's not going to pay the bills.”
Paying for content
The pay wall model has been one option newspapers have tried to turn a profit online. Some have shunned the idea of charging for content, while others have adopted it.
At the college level, it was something students knew about but hadn't tried in their own newsrooms until the Oklahoma State University student publication rolled out its online pay wall in March 2011.
General Manager Ray Catalino said the paper has earned $1,915 for content subscriptions to date. He said content is free to students with a university email and those living within a 25-mile radius of the area.
“We certainly did better than we expected with the willingness for people to pay for it,” he said. “We tried to make the operation of this paper similar to what students are going to run into when they graduate and get into this profession.”
So far, The Daily O'Collegian has exceeded its goal for subscribers and has expanded its online presence with a mobile app, Catalino said.
“We're looking at everything. We realize we have to have more of it. The hardest part is trying to figure out how to make money on it,” he said.