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MARGIN NOTES

The disappearing university newspaper

U of T’s Bulletin is the latest to cease its printed publication.

By LÉO CHARBONNEAU | SEP 27 2011

I got a surprise yesterday in my inbox (the actual physical inbox on my desk – made of wood! – not the virtual e-mail one): the Bulletin newspaper, published by the University of Toronto since 1943, announced on its front page that it was ceasing publication after this issue, dated Sept. 20. In its stead, U of T has launched a new online news site, U of T News. U of T will also continue to send out an e-newsletter twice a week. That newsletter was called the eBulletin, but has been rechristened simply The Bulletin.

Michael Kurts, U of T’s assistant vice-president, strategic communications and marketing, said the move was based on reader feedback: “Last spring’s readership survey indicated that our readers overwhelmingly prefer to receive their university news online, so we’re taking this advice.”

Having spent most of my career in print journalism, I’m always a bit sad to see a print publication disappear, but I understand the logic and rationale for such a move. Publishing online-only is obviously cheaper, saves trees, and is timelier. Plus, since you’re online, it’s easier to connect the reader with the university’s whole range of social media.

This is not, of course, a new trend. Five years ago I conducted an informal survey of directors of communications at Canada’s universities, which included the question: “Has your department recently considered or is considering moving the newspaper (for university faculty, staff and the external community) to an online-only publication?” Nine responded they were not considering such a move, three did consider it but decided against it, nine were considering it, and six said they’d already made the move to online-only. Today, I suspect all would say they’re now considering it or have done so.

I am curious about one thing, however: like most other university newspapers, U of T’s Bulletin carried advertising. In the final print issue, there were what appeared to be at least a dozen paid ads for such things as local restaurants and other services. That advertising has not migrated to the U of T website, and indeed such advertising might be considered out of place on an institutional site. I suppose the loss of revenue is more than offset by the reduction in costs by no longer having to print the publication.

There are still universities that publish very good tabloid newspapers, such as University of British Columbia’s UBC Reports and Université de Montreal’s Forum, to cite just two fine examples. But many others, especially at the smaller universities whose publications more resembled 8½ x 11 newsletters, have slowly faded away. Years ago, I received more than 50 regular university campus publications, but now that has dwindled to perhaps a couple dozen, at best.

And here’s the thing: when I get the actual printed version of U of Montreal’s Forum, I only give it a cursory glance. Why? Because, I already received an e-newsletter (example here) 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. Most major universities do send out a weekly or semi-regular electronic newsletter featuring all the latest news and campus updates, and I do think that’s the way to go. Your thoughts?

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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