Reconnecting with campus media

Online discussion of campus issues is vibrant, but more web development is needed to make campus media relevant

The Journal received its $3.00 fee increase at the AMS General Meeting last month, but fee increases for many other campus publications were voted down at the winter referendum.
The Journal received its $3.00 fee increase at the AMS General Meeting last month, but fee increases for many other campus publications were voted down at the winter referendum.
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An interesting thing happened on Queen’s campus in 2008. If you were a student then, you’d likely remember the controversy about former ASUS President Jacob Mantle. I don’t know him, I wasn’t there and I haven’t read every stitch of coverage. But regardless of your position on the issue, it was an interesting chapter in the digital history of the University.

A student politician was taken to task for a comment he made on a Facebook photo. In and of itself, that’s not rare—lots of employees have been taken to task for blogs, tweets and Facebook posts. The Journal reported on it, posted it online with a photo, and allowed comments on the story (123 in total).

The first comment called the Journal’s coverage “ridiculously biased and misleading.” Kudos to the editors for posting the comment—many editors wouldn’t have. The comments really did turn into a debate—about the issue at hand, the Journal’s coverage and ASUS’s response. One reader said the Journal was just propping up the AMS, another chimed in that if they were a regular reader, they’d understand the Journal is the AMS’s biggest foe.

One student even did a bit of citizen journalism, posting what happened inside the ASUS Special General Assembly in Nov. 2008.

In this instance, it seemed like campus media was playing a central role in the lives of students. It was reporting, hosting a debate and allowing opinion and commentary—exactly what you would hope for.

People were clearly engaged in the story and in the content the Journal was providing. That’s great news for the Journal.

Fast-forward to February 2010, and you’ll see every campus media that requested a pay increase, including Diatribe, Konekt and Ultraviolet got denied. Meanwhile, the Journal got its $3.00 fee increase at the AMS Annual General Meeting in March—an interesting juxtaposition.

Campus media is, like media everywhere else, seeing advertising drop along with readership. Advertisers, more and more, aren’t looking for mass market eyeballs—they want specific ones. That has meant, to a large degree in Canada, smaller-market papers have not been as hurt as large multi-market newspapers.

The inevitable slide has started. But do students care? Does it matter?

Queen’s is fortunate to have so many print publications. I was at Queen’s when Ultraviolet took shape and filled a niche no one else was filling.

But does it still have a purpose? I don’t think any of us alumni can say from a distance. But I do think students should be engaged in the discussion now, not when the campus media start folding.

I would argue the Journal’s coverage of the Mantle case could have done more. Where was the video of the ASUS Special General Assembly? Why not live stream it using free web services? Where was a live Q&A session with some/any of the players using live blogging software like CoveritLive? Even if there’d been a person there, live blogging in text, it would have served a purpose because there was limited space at the meeting.

I know first hand, having been the editor in chief of the Journal, that it’s hard to get enough bodies. But there’s also something else I’ve learned—when you have big news people care about, go big. Drop everything else and put all your bodies on the one story.

I was at the Journal the year we stopped using wax—yes, hot wax—to attach printed ads we had cut out using exacto knives to put into the empty holes on the page. Back then, we would send the pages with the ads pasted on to the printer in a taxi. I was also there when we got the first type of “high speed” Internet connection, called the Wave, to send our paper to the printers. Eric Morris, the Journal’s first web editor, turned into my co-editor-in-chief—he’s now at Google. It was the days of Alta Vista. The first time I ever surfed the Internet was in the production room of the old Queen’s Journal building at 272 Earl St.

We were also there during the famous ice storm of 1998. We carried our computers, including massive computer monitors, across the ice to the JDUC and set up a new network in that building as it was the only one with power. When we actually got the printed issues back, we stapled notices to the front page of the Journal—all 9,000 copies—one by one with the Journal’s phone number on it so people could call for the latest updates. It took more than a day to do all the stapling.

It’s that kind of idealism and energy all campus publications have. It’s a passion to get information out any way they can or know how.

I hope university campuses will be where people in the media, like me, can turn to for inspiration.

It was interesting to read the March 19 article in the Journal about e-readers and how they may or may not transform universities. Queen’s Research Chair and English professor Frederick Lock said he isn’t opposed to the idea of this technology but relegated its potential to the annals of “casual consultation” not fit—actually dangerous—for formal criticism.

Uh huh. And Craigslist will never take off, right?

I’m always shocked at how conservative academe can be, when they don’t have shareholders knocking on their doors. They should be out in front of the rest of us, leading the way. Academics and students should be pilgrims of innovation.

It’s no wonder, then, in this milieu that students aren’t innovating in their own publications.

Someone has to take the lead—either the academics or the students—and they need to do it now. Start the discussion, start the debate, ask students what they need from the campus media and then the student journalists should flock there.
Marissa Nelson, ArtSci ’99, is the Senior Editor, digital news for the Toronto Star. She was editor in chief of the Journal in 1997-98.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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