To paraphrase Shakespeare, “To print or not to print?” has become the question of late for campus newspapers published by university communications departments. The University of British Columbia is just the latest to ponder the dilemma, deciding earlier this year to end the print edition of its monthly newspaper, UBC Reports, and shift all of its news content online starting in April. The newspaper has been published regularly since 1955.
“It was a tough decision, but we’ve finally come to it,” says Lucie McNeill, the director of public affairs for UBC. “[The newspaper] was just one more piece of paper in an office or in a waiting room or stacked up in an entrance of a building. It wasn’t really fulfilling its purpose.”
Sustainability, relevance and trends in the newspaper industry were just some of the factors discussed in reaching the final verdict, she says. “This is a 24/7 news-cycle world we’re in and the artificial cycling of a whole bunch of news stories once a month is restrictive. If you’re posting online as the stories emerge – as they’re fresh, as they’re compelling – you have a way better chance of having more impact.”
A similar decision was made at the University of Toronto in September 2011 when it ceased the print edition of its newspaper, The Bulletin, and transferred everything to a dedicated news website and a biweekly electronic newsletter. “Part of the idea of moving from print to a fully digital channel was to broaden our external focus so that we had stories posted for essentially people around the world about the University of Toronto,” says Kelly Rankin, editor of The Bulletin.
The online portal gives access to elements that print media cannot provide, she adds, such as videos, audio clips and hyperlinks. Since the change, Ms. Rankin says she has not considered going back to print on a regular basis.
At Western University, meanwhile, people still seem to value their weekly Western News, 10,000 copies of which are distributed around campus and in the community every Thursday. “There’s still a real loyal print base on campus that would probably start rebelling if we ever pulled it away from them,” says the newspaper’s editor, Jason Winders.
Feelings of comfort and nostalgia are just a few of the reasons, he says, that keep readers attached to their hard copies. In addition, the print publication attracts a slew of community advertisers, which is a vital source of revenue.
Ms. McNeill at UBC says her department has not received any criticism so far for its decision to kill the print edition. “It’s possible that some people will regret it,” she says. “But I hope that what we will offer in terms of a dynamic, compelling news site will be immensely appealing not only to the university community, but to the general public.”