Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 1, 2022

PUBLIC EDITOR: The merits and pitfalls of returning to print

By ANJU FELIX | November 3, 2022

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If you’re reading this, you probably already know The News-Letter is back in print! For many Hopkins students, this is the first time they are seen a physical edition of their school’s newspaper. It’s also the first time many of The News-Letter’s staff have produced a newspaper or seen their work in ink, myself included. 

And let’s just say, print production is no simple feat. 

Though exciting, the return to print is a culmination of lots of work and effort by section editors and staff. I applaud members for their ability to learn new skills, meet deadlines and execute their roles to make print possible.

In correspondence with Editors-In-Chiefs Molly Gahagen and Michelle Limpe, they also recognized the challenges of print production and the work staff completed. 

“Taking on the additional responsibilities of preparing for a print paper and training our staff on how to layout the pages were definitely the biggest challenges, but everyone’s enthusiasm and commitment to bringing the tradition of a print paper back was very fulfilling and made the extra hours of work worth it,” they said. 

Because hundreds of copies are printed and promptly circulated to the Hopkins community, a whole new standard of perfectionism is applied to print editions to avoid errors, prioritize important stories and maintain The News-Letters integrity. Familiarity with Adobe InDesign, a publishing layout software, became necessary, pages needed to be promptly approved and printing time had to be factored into the mix. It’s certainly a steep learning curve. 

News and Features Editor Yana Mulani shared her thoughts on future print editions in an interview.

“Seeing our effort physically manifest in something that looks so cool makes me really excited for the next couple of print newspapers we have coming out,” she said. 

I’m happy to see that some members are hopeful that producing future editions will be easier, and I’m sure it will work out. But some are not as optimistic. Although many members of The News-Letter were aware that a return to print this semester was hoped for, many felt unprepared for the paper's ambitious plans. 

Limpe and Gahagen, however, believe adequate time was provided. 

“We established our goal to return to print during our first general meeting as chiefs at the end of April and solicited feedback from staff members then,” they wrote. “We wanted to ensure that staff were excited about and aware of this transition. We scheduled check-ins with each section over the summer where we reiterated our plans and gave editors the opportunity to voice questions and concerns.”

Additionally, some worry that the paper itself might not be in the best position to take on such an endeavor so soon. In an interview with Christopher Xiao, sports editor, he emphasized a roadblock in the process that could prevent a successful return to print. 

“You have a bunch of people who have no experience whatsoever with print. There's no institutionalized knowledge,” he said. 

If there is a lack of knowledge and experience using new software and print production at many levels of the paper, it’s unfair to expect the machine to seamlessly run when components are missing. 

Limpe and Gahagen highlight that at least eight staff members already carried relevant knowledge and experience for print production. 

“Some members of the current staff had experience with publishing the print paper before the pandemic, and others had prior training with Adobe InDesign,” they wrote. “It was not an expectation that staff came in knowing InDesign, and we offered weekly training sessions for over a month, plus optional one-on-one office hours.”

Given all this extra trouble to produce print editions, what are the merits of bringing it back? 

To some, a return to print might seem like a step backwards. In an era where we are constantly connected to each other and the rest of the world through our back pockets, reading a print newspaper isn’t always the first choice when it comes to media consumption. Xiao raises similar thoughts with regards to the evolution of sports media.  

“If you look at successful sports media outlets, it’s all podcasts, video formats and online articles. They’ve been extremely successful at adapting to the new online space,” he said.

Given the fact that a lot of journalism does take place digitally, and The News-Letter successfully transitioned to daily publishing online during the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift back to print is an interesting choice. 

As a result, to some staff members, the additional training, time, money and paper spent returning to print might not seem worth it. In an interview, sports editor Cynthia Hu weighed in on the pros and cons of print discussion. 

“I get the sentiment of having things back in print, but I don’t think that's the most effective way to spread news, which is what The News-Letter is for,” she said.

I agree that such a strong emphasis and push towards returning to print isn’t necessary for The News-Letter. The American Press Institute shares this point of view, for news at large, that we should be meeting our readers where they prefer to be: digital platforms. 

Gahagen and Limpe emphasized that the return to print is meant to increase the paper's visibility on campus. 

“Print comes as an extension of the paper’s continued online, daily coverage, and we know that with this we will be able to reach different audiences,” they wrote. “Readers no longer have to seek out our website, but now have the opportunity to pick up a copy of the paper at one of our many distribution locations on campus.”

I do recognize there is some value in having stories in print, and The News-Letter’s wishes to return to it. Social media and news posts can quickly be accessed, but they can also disappear just as fast and be easily changed. Print media is unique because it seems much more permanent and therefore credible compared to digital media.

News and Features Editor Shirlene John shared her views on what makes print valuable. 

“It makes us be very intentional about what pieces we’re putting into print…you don’t have as much space as you would if you were just publishing it online,” she said.  

Alongside this bolstering of credibility and intention, physical paper editions on and around campus help the school paper appear more present.

In an interview with Science and Technology editor Ellie Rose Mattoon, she emphasized this point.

“I remember giving a copy of The News-Letter to my roommate, and she looked at the leisure section and thought ‘Oh my gosh, I was at this concert,’” she said. It made me think that she probably wouldn’t have known that we had even written about that if she wasn’t flipping through a print copy.” 

On top of that, a case can be made that copies of the paper are somewhat helpful to writers. For writers, it can be extremely impactful seeing your work in ink and being able to physically show others. At the same time, functionally, the same could be done digitally through sharing links. 

Nevertheless, if The News-Letter is interested in putting out print editions, I’m supportive of its attempts to bring it back. However, there ought to be more leniency and consideration of the difficulty associated with print production. Considering that most of the staff, including myself, have only known online publishing up to this point or are completely new to being an editor in general, I certainly hope a more flexible production plan will be adopted in the future. 

I aim to meet with more editors and writers, in communications with the editors-in-chief of The News-Letter to facilitate a more dynamic student organization that is responsive to the needs of its members, not just its readers. 

Thank you for reading. The Public Editor would love to hear from readers like you about all things related to The News-Letter and its coverage and practices. If you would like to get in contact with the Public Editor about something raised in this column or anything else, email her at publiceditor@jhunewsletter.com. 

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