This is an article I wrote to my campus newspaper, The Campus Lantern, in response to a current situation going on between them and the Student Government Association. In brief, the newspaper, which has been in print for about 45 years, recently made the decision to switch from a traditional print paper to an entirely online version. This article tries not to take a political position in the matter, but instead explains my views on the future of print news.
Ever since I became aware of the ongoing battle between The Campus Lantern and SGA, I’ve been trying to figure out how I wanted to respond to the matter, because I knew I had to write something about it. Had I responded right after the first articles appeared in the Lantern, it probably would have ended up being something about my political views over who has the right to decide the Lantern’s direction. However, since I now have the whole story from both sides (I think), I have decided not to take a particular position on who is right and who is wrong in that matter. I’ll leave that up to those who know best about what’s going on, The Lantern and SGA. Rather, I want to explain where I feel the genre of print news is headed, and how my feelings apply to the Lantern. I will take a position on this subject, so feel free to agree or disagree.
It is hard to deny that the Internet age has arrived. Whether the activity is research for a paper, or simply checking Facebook, if you’re reading this article, you probably use the Internet to some extent everyday. With the rise in Internet usage over the past few years, it’s hardly surprising that more and more people would use it as their primary source of news. Don’t take my word for it, just look at the numbers. According to a study by the Newspaper Association of America (via Reuters), the number of unique visitors to newspaper websites for the first half of 2006 was 55.5 million, compared to 42.2 million a year earlier, about 52%. In the same period, some of the top newspapers have seen some pretty impressive drops in readership. The New York Times went down 5.8% to 4.7 million readers and USA Today is now down 3% to about 6.9 million readers. You can check the figures out at the Reuters website. While there is still a significant number of newspaper readers, it would seem that more and more people are using the abundantly available websites on the Internet to get their daily news, rather than the newspapers. I think the continuing rise of visitors to these websites represents a trend that will continue as more people gain access to the Internet.
In my own personal experience, I know my day isn’t complete without my usual rounds to the news websites: CNN, BBC News, and occasionally Fox News and some of the others as well. That isn’t to say that I don’t read printed newspapers anymore, quite the contrary. The thing I do most in Hurley Hall, besides eating, is read the Hartford Courant. I feel that the printed media, among others mediums like television, it still the best way to catch up on local news. On the other hand, I can’t deny that most of my news no longer comes from the traditional printed newspaper. I’m more likely to get it from one of the sources mentioned earlier. Hey, what can I say? I like my news when it first becomes news. I like to know what’s going on in the world when it happens, and not the next day. Sure, there are some issues with such instantaneous news, but that’s another topic.
The fact is that getting your news from the Internet can provide more interactivity with that news, so to speak. With a printed newspaper, you get text and some pictures, and that’s about it. On the other hand, a website can give you both of those, and in addition, can provide video and/or audio from just about anywhere. Also, commentary has been made easier as a reader no longer has to submit a letter to the editor to say something about an article. Instead, they can leave a short blurb of one or two sentences to express their feelings. With some systems, you can discuss an article or issue in a forum-like setting. Finally, all of this can be updated twenty-four hours a day, so there is no delay, no waiting to see what has developed since the last time you’ve read the paper. I think I’m right in saying that most people like seeing so many ways they can interact with the news, which is probably one of the reasons newspaper websites have risen so quickly.
So, what does any of this have to do with The Campus Lantern? Well, by going online, the Lantern is able to reach a wider audience than they ever have. Not only will Eastern students and staff be able to get the news and other content, but anybody who knows the web address, say, Willimantic or Windham residents, will also be able to see what is happening at Eastern. This means that people who may not usually read the Lantern will now have access to do so. Earlier, I provided some figures on the changing landscape of news reading for some of the national papers. While thecampuslantern.com has only been up for a few weeks, it will be interesting to see what happens to readership once the word has spread a bit more. Therefore, I hope they’ll continue to provide periodical updates on how many people are visiting the website. So, this is one reason I like the change, since I’m all for more people able to gain access to the paper. After all, I know I’m more likely to read the Lantern if it’s on the Internet, something I already use a lot, anyway.