The Kansan and student journalism in the digital age

The Chi Omega Fountain at the University of Kansas. Its student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, has embraced a digital first model.  (Photo: InaMaka/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

The Chi Omega Fountain at the University of Kansas. Its student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, has embraced a digital first model.
(Photo: InaMaka/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

In this Net Worked guest post, Emma LeGault and Brian Hillix of the University Daily Kansan student newspaper at the University of Kansas reflect on their decision to go digital first and what student media will be in the digital age.

On Feb. 4, the University Daily Kansan announced it will print two days per week instead of four, beginning in fall 2015. A desire to be digital-first and capitalize on an industry movement was at the heart of the decision.

Once we announced the decision, the general response was positive. While many were sad to see the change, they understood why it was necessary.

The response from former Kansan alumni, however, was not as encouraging. Some said they don’t think the switch to digital news will adequately prepare students for future jobs in journalism, saying that working under pressure on deadlines nights was invaluable. Others said the flexibility of being digital will make us complacent with stories.

More than anything, it seems they are rooted in the tradition of the print product. The Kansan has been the student voice for 110 years, and for as long as they can remember, we’ve printed the paper at least four times per week. They hold fond memories of working for — and reading — The Kansan this way.

We thought former students — many who are professional journalists — would understand the decision, because they were a part of the continually changing culture of digital journalism not so long ago.

That being said, a student media organization should never do something just because it has been done that way in the past. Journalists must continue to ask questions and adapt when necessary. If not, we become disconnected to our audience and what it needs from us. Today’s student journalists should always be thinking ahead to the future and how to best connect with their audience. They shouldn’t fear change, but welcome it.

From an advertising perspective, The Kansan’s decision makes sense. Clients want their ads to appear in editions that preview and recap the weekend, and our Monday and Thursday editions are fuller. With fewer clients wanting to advertise mid-week, turning a profit for those papers has become increasingly difficult. By not printing and distributing papers two days a week, we will have more money for new and improved technology such as cameras, servers and computers. We imagine newspapers across the country experience this, too.

At The Kansan, we take pride in preparing our student workers for careers in journalism and business. Our journalists are slowly understanding that their job goes beyond doing a little research, completing a couple interviews and writing a 500-word story. With the focus on digital content, they will learn to cover breaking news, update stories, post on social media and take pictures and video — skills that employers are looking for in a job candidate.

With a focus on digital content, we can tell a better story. Journalists can now incorporate photos, galleries, videos, Vines, social media posts, polls and other digital elements in a story. Articles with only words are becoming a thing of the past, and we’re learning that, too.

Timeliness will become a bigger priority. Instead of a midnight deadline for the print product, the deadline is right now. In the past, our readers might not have seen certain content until it was in print the next morning. Now, the news can reach our audience instantly. By posting articles immediately, reporters will be forced to be more accurate. Without a three-stage editing process, the importance of fact-checking is more critical than ever.

We know that this is a major change. Many of our students pick up the paper on a daily basis, whether it is to glance at the headlines, complete the puzzles, look at the free-for-alls or read a story or two. Whether they pick up a paper every day or not, there’s a sense of comfort knowing that The Kansan is there.

Some may be worried that we’re declining, fading or even dying. We’re not going anywhere. Instead, we’re changing, adapting and evolving.

The Kansan will still cover news that affects KU students — we will still be the student voice. The information will just be communicated in a different way, one that will better connect us to our readers.

We are behind this 100 percent. All we ask is that our readers and supporters join us, and watch what happens next. The Kansan will not disappoint.

Emma LeGault is the Special Projects Editor of The University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper of the University of Kansas. Brian Hillix is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kansan. You can interact with LeGault and Hillix on Twitter.

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