Three years ago, The College Reporter's editor-in-chief, Tim Jackson, knew he and his team had some tough decisions to make. He had just taken over leadership of Franklin & Marshall College's student-run newspaper and learned that his staff was struggling to secure enough advertising and subscriptions to pay the publication's bills. Like other newspapers nationwide, the student weekly also was fighting to keep readers who increasingly were finding their news online.
"Tim found a business manager and developed a new business plan to keep The College Reporter afloat," recalled Sloane Markley, who now shares editor-in-chief responsibilities with fellow senior Justin Kozloski. "The plan was to go exclusively online. We made some changes to the website, and this gave us a basis for digital transition."
That six-semester transition was completed this month. The College Reporter, which is editorially independent of the College, printed its last newspaper on Feb. 3 and concurrently unveiled enhancements to its website and weekly emails. Through social media and in a story posted on its website, the editors informed readers and subscribers that instead of printing a weekly edition, The College Reporter staff will now post articles only online and offer an electronic PDF for download.
"This content will be distributed weekly, just like the regular paper, but instead of picking up the newspaper at a few locations on campus, students and faculty can find the newspaper in their email inboxes," the editors announced in the news story.
The move from print to digital is one that many other newspapers -- commercial and student-run alike -- are making nationwide.
"This is not a temporary fix," Markley said. "We had an outdated platform for business and for our primary audience, which is college students who read everything online."
Jackson, who graduated in 2012 and now works as a research analyst in the technology division at WinterWyman in Boston, recalled his struggles with the print model and its inability to immediately respond to reader interest.
"Our primary readers, students, were used to getting their news right away," he said. "If news broke on a Wednesday or a Thursday, we couldn't publish a story about it until the following Monday. By that time, it was old news."
Kozloski and Markley said they and their colleagues are excited about the full-digital transition and the opportunities it provides, allowing The Reporter to move along with the transition to online media occurring across the entire field of journalism.
"We now have the opportunity to make our content more interesting, provide video, audio, slideshows, and we can publish all of our photos in color," Kozloski said. "This allows us more time to focus on getting good stories, producing good layouts and bringing The Reporter up to standard we want it to be."
Plus, a digital edition is more environmentally sustainable than a print edition, he said.
Many of the Reporter's readers and subscribers have told the editors they support the digital conversion. Markley noted that the student weekly has gone through many transitions. According to the masthead, "The College Reporter was formed in 1964 as a successor to The Student Weekly, which was formed in 1915 by the union of The F&M Weekly, founded 1891, and The College Student, founded 1881." The College Reporter Online was launched in 2009, revamped in 2012 and revised again with the digital transition.
"An important thing to keep in mind is that while the paper has changed, the tradition is that students are coming together to deliver the news and get a pulse on campus," Markley said.
The editors hope their new format will allow them to recruit and offer real-life experience to more students who are interested in building skills not only in news and feature writing, but also video production, social media and web optimization.
"For students who want to get publishing experience, this is the journalistic world they will be entering," Markley said.
The Reporter will continue to publish its primary content Monday nights and distribute weekly emails on Tuesday mornings. The editors also will post breaking news on the website and via the publication's Facebook page. Students, faculty and staff with F&M emails may sign up for free. Alumni and others may subscribe for $15 per year.