Does print journalism have a future?

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | October 10, 2019

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On Monday, Sept. 30, The Diamondback — the University of Maryland’s independent, student-run newspaper — announced that it would exclusively publish content online starting in March 2020. The decision to discontinue The Diamondback’s print publications comes 110 years after the paper was first founded and just 47 years after it became financially independent in 1971. 

Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult for newspapers to fund their print publications. At the same time, readers are increasingly getting their news online. The editors of The Diamondback and the board of its overseeing company, Maryland Media Inc., are optimistic about the transition to online journalism for this reason. According to The Diamondback’s Editor-in-Chief Leah Brennan, the change will “meet [the overwhelming majority of readers] where they are.” 

It is imperative that we address concerns regarding our own print publication. As editors of The News-Letter, we understand the struggles that The Diamondback and other print papers face. Printing is expensive and not sustainable in the long run. Print adverts used to be the primary source of income for newspapers. Now that online ads have become increasingly prominent, this is no longer the case. 

However, we believe in a commitment to both print and digital mediums. Not only do we find it difficult to imagine a school without the ink-scented copies that make their way to the distribution racks each week, but we also find it difficult to neglect the integral role that physicality has for a student-run paper like The News-Letter. Our print issues serve as a meaningful historical record for the Hopkins community. Online archives simply do not have the same tangible impact as our print records, in the same way that online editions of novels do not do justice to the experience of reading a bound book. Accountability is also key. Having physical copies of our paper keeps us accountable for the things we publish and makes us all the more careful in our work. We and our writers are proud to have our articles permanently spelled out in ink, word for word.

We recognize that online accessibility is important, but what is unique about print journalism is the way in which we can guide our readers to the most important news. Whether that is by placing articles on A1 — the front page — or by curating a layout that is reader friendly, through print we can sculpt the experience of reading the news to a far greater extent. 

With regards to The News-Letter’s own readership, it is also worth acknowledging that our readership includes more than just students. Undergraduate readers typically find the latest issue of The News-Letter in Gilman Atrium, Brody Learning Commons or one of the other 31 locations around Homewood campus. But the paper’s physical reach extends outside of the Hopkins Bubble. More than 500 copies of The News-Letter are distributed in various coffee shops, theaters and Hopkins-affiliated organizations in Station North, Downtown Baltimore, Inner Harbor and Fell’s Point. Copies are also available in more than 10 locations around the med campus and at Peabody. 

Those papers reach potential readers who pick up a copy when the front page catches their eye. If The News-Letter were only available online, then readers would have to actively seek out the latest articles either through a search engine or by following a link from another source.  

That being said, our decision to continue publishing in print does not mean that we at The News-Letter have not considered making changes to our distribution strategies. 

Let’s consider the statistics regarding our digital presence. In the past week alone, more than 11,000 users have visited our website. This past week we averaged about 2,000 users each day. Over 70 percent of visitors to our site are based in the United States, but we have other visitors based in Canada, the United Kingdom, France and India. If we limited ourselves to our print copies, international readership would not be possible. 

We know that our digital presence is crucial. That’s why we’ve revamped our Instagram. We’ve hired a new webmaster, who will help with redesigning our website and developing an app for The News-Letter. We are glad to see that readers are engaging online, whether they’re liking our Instagram posts or sharing their thoughts on our Facebook page.

With our print copies, we are trying to strike a delicate balance: maximizing our readership while distributing more efficiently. As a result, we are planning on adding more circulation points, such as the Center for Social Concern and the AMRs. Ultimately, our goal both online and in print is to reach as many people as possible.

Going out of print is not something we plan to do this year. We regret that student newspapers like The Diamondback have become online only. We regret the closing of newsrooms nationwide, though we understand the reasons for such changes. 

Many print publications struggle with a lack of financial security. The News-Letter is no exception. Currently, the majority of our revenue is from advertisements and occasional donations. We will also be hosting monthly fundraisers to drive financial support beginning this month. 

That being said, we are also grappling with the reality that we may need to make a transition in the coming years. With an uncertain future, we are doing the best we can to safeguard this institution. For as long as possible, we will continue to be a print newspaper, as we have been for 123 years.

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