THE PUBLIC EDITOR: October Review: making The News-Letter a better resource, in print and online

By JACOB TOOK | November 7, 2019

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I’ve written a lot in the last month about the importance of print journalism — the tactile pleasure of turning fine pages over beneath your fingers, the permanence (and accountability) of seeing words enshrined in ink on paper.

Well, the paper’s new webmaster Niharika Desiraju has thoughts for me. She might agree with the first point (it seems we can all agree that there’s something irreplaceably satisfying about the soft feel, musky smell and physical weight of reading on paper). On the permanence of print, though, she respectfully disagrees.

“Things online are much more permanent than things on paper,” she said, although she added with a laugh that she is a defender of print journalism — funny as that may sound, given her position.

As webmaster, Desiraju said her main goal is encouraging readers to use The News-Letter website as a resource, so that it’s easier for readers to learn more about the subject of an article or understand the processes behind the reporting and writing. Desiraju plans to tackle that on several levels.

At the baseline, she wants to implement small aesthetic changes to make the site more readable — this might include varying online article layouts to break up text with more diverse elements, unifying image sizes or removing the article preview blurbs which currently show the first paragraph of the piece (called the ‘lede’ in industry slang). Desiraju questioned whether the space is useful when readers mostly look over headlines. Rather than erase this preview text entirely, though, why not consider more intentional ways to tease the content of an article, such as including more information about the students (or groups) referenced within?

On another level, she wants The News-Letter website to serve as a hub for student engagement, where readers can check in on how other students feel about issues on campus. Particularly on sensitive stories on polarizing topics, Desiraju said the site could help build constructive student discourse.

“It’s really important that if a student is interested in what’s going on, they’re able to quickly click on links and perhaps either refine their own argument as to what’s going on or perhaps really change their opinion,” she said.

She referenced the paper’s coverage of the Office of Institutional Equity, which I touched on earlier this month in a piece on how The News-Letter represents survivors of sexual violence. A newly imagined site could link to relevant editorials beneath an article, or connect to a range of student op-eds on the issue. In addition, it could include more information about the reporting process, a level of transparency that’s especially important with sensitive or anonymous sources.

Desiraju also touched on increasing the site’s capacity for online advertising — indeed, in my column a few weeks ago, News-Letter Chief Business Officer Victoria de Castro told me that she’s seen a spike of interest in online advertising. It doesn’t seem to bode well for the longevity of the print issue, although I don’t think print advertising will go away any time soon. Another nail in the print coffin? Desiraju has plans for an app — that’s right, a News-Letter app.

Speaking as a Writing Seminars major, Desiraju’s plan to spend intersession just casually creating an entire app blows my mind. But that’s the plan. All in the name of increasing accessibility so that The News-Letter reaches more readers, and so that those readers get more out of the paper.

In the meantime, Desiraju encouraged students to check out the site so that they can discover what interests their fellow students. In her role, she wants to highlight the work that editors and writers do to pack each issue with the best content. A starting point? Check out the Editor’s Picks, a (relatively new) feature of the site that lists a selection of articles from the Editors-in-Chief.

“Here at Hopkins we tend to get sucked into our bubble of grinding — going to Brody and drinking dirty chais,” she told me at the end of our interview. “Every once in awhile, you should just look at the Editor's Picks and see what they recommend you read.”


“Where can I even find a copy of The News-Letter?”

It’s a dreaded question, and yet it comes up distressingly often. It’s a reminder that most readers are probably more familiar with our online presence. The paper doesn’t have exact data on the breakdown of readership online and in print, but little moments like this remind me that the print issue — which was once published twice weekly as a hub of on-campus happenings — no longer commands the same prominence in students’ minds.

Part of my role as Managing Editor was to oversee distribution, which editors handle for on-campus stacks and outsource to a courier service for drop-offs at the med campus and around Baltimore. I can rattle off all 15 or 20 locations around campus faster than my phone number. So I made a map.

Now, when anyone asks me where to get a print issue, I’ll direct them here. Maybe I’ll get the map tattooed to save energy. Either way, check this bad boy out, and I guarantee you’ll start to notice the stacks around campus. Every week, the managing editors take leftover issues to be recycled and drop in a fresh stack hot off the presses. I encourage you to pick one of these up, read any part of it and then email me to share your thoughts.


Who did The News-Letter feature in October?

 Shout out to the October 3 issue for featuring the highest number of perspectives this year so far, with almost 80 undergraduates. On average, though, it seems like about 60 undergraduates a week is a sweet spot, although I still see plenty of room to include more. And last week’s community representation slipped a bit, with all three Baltimoreans appearing in a single arts article. Check out the rest of October’s data:

Who did The News-Letter feature in October?
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