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MARGIN NOTES

Print is dead. Long live print

More universities are dropping the print editions of their campus newspapers, but that doesn't mean print no longer has a place in publishing

By LÉO CHARBONNEAU | APR 13 2015

Université de Montréal’s Forum becomes the latest weekly, tabloid-sized, campus newspaper to do away with its print edition, come September. It follows other campus newspapers such as University of Toronto’s Bulletin, which ceased its print publication in 2011; and University of British Columbia’s UBC News and University of Manitoba’s The Bulletin, both scrapped in 2013.

Note that these are newspapers published by universities’ communications teams, not student newspapers. And while I call them weeklies – most are published weekly at certain times during the year – the majority in fact publish only about 18 to 20 issues per annum. In each case with a paper’s demise, all content has shifted to a bolstered online news site, if it wasn’t all there already.

UBC, when it went fully digital, noted that this “offers new opportunities, allowing for more stories every week, new multimedia ways to tell them, more reader interaction and global reach.” Likewise, U of Manitoba said the primary reason for its change to a digital news site “is the overall shift in the nature of news media itself. Today’s news sites operate on an up-to-the-minute publishing schedule, are comprised of multiple types of media and include a variety of options for social interaction and engagement.”

Paule des Rivières, director of publications in U de Montréal’s office of communications and public relations, and a former daily journalist at Le Devoir, admits it’s with a twinge of sorrow that she oversees the demise of the print edition – “to deny it would be lying,” she writes. I share those emotions, but it is also undeniable that these types of print newspapers, in most cases, have outlived their usefulness.

Already, back in 2011 when I last wrote about the “disappearing university newspaper,” I observed that when I get the actual printed version of U de Montreal’s Forum, I only give it a cursory glance: “Why? Because I already received an e-newsletter … days before in my e-mail inbox with links to the full content online. I must admit, I like receiving university news in that way.” Indeed, most universities now do send out a weekly, or even daily, electronic newsletter with all the latest news and campus updates.

Not all university newspapers have heeded the siren song of digital, although it may just be a matter of time. Among those still publishing a print paper on a semi-regular basis include Memorial University’s Gazette, Université Laval’s Le Fil, the Queen’s University Gazette, University of Saskatchewan’s On Campus News and Western University’s Western News. That last one, Western News, is a special case in that it is the only Canadian university newspaper, to my knowledge, that regularly features paid advertising, which obviously helps the bottom line.

What about University Affairs magazine, you may ask? We still print 10 issues a year, enjoy doing it and have no plans to stop. I do wish to emphasize, as well, that a magazine is a much different product than a weekly newspaper. Reading the latter is more a purely informational or transactional experience, whereas reading a magazine – with its greater emphasis on design, better paper quality and better use of visuals – is meant to be more of a luxury experience. As one editor recently put it, “Print is not dead. Rather, it … has become a luxury good.” There is even a new book out this month, entitled Print is Dead. Long Live Print, that makes a similar case. In this regard, I consider University Affairs more like an alumni magazine.

ABOUT LÉO CHARBONNEAU
Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau has been the deputy editor of University Affairs since 2003. He started the Margin Notes blog in 2009 and it has gone on to win several awards, including Best Blog at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.
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