This post is the ninth in a series of 10 about the future of collegiate journalism, focusing on specific projects undertaken by members of college journalists around the country. This post goes over how to retain a collegiate audience and how to keep their respect.
There’s a of trust between media outlets and their audiences. Polling data clearly shows that since the 1970’s, the public has continued in greater numbers to believe that most stories are inaccurate, favorable to one political side and are highly influenced by other organizations and people. Questions over why the decline happened and potential solutions to this quandary have been discussed in great detail by media critics such like Jay Rosen and Poynter’s Craig Silverman (They also engaged in a live chat about the topic). While Rosen comes up with a list of possible reasons for the lack of trust, Silverman focuses on one issue: the lack of a connection between journalistic entities and regular readers; it’s no longer ‘our newspaper,’ but ‘the newspaper.’
Though there isn’t any polling data regarding the trust between college newspapers and their readers, it’s apparent that there should be a stronger connection between college newspapers and their readers. For one, the writers and editors of a college papers are on average more similar demographically (18-24-year-old college students) to their readers than regular professional newspapers, which grab a wide variety of people from different ages and places to cover a single area. Additionally, the ratio of writer-to-audience number is usually much better for college newspapers, even those with a smaller staff, so ideally one should be able to relate to and connect with a wider percentage of the audience. Because college papers are so much closer to students, shouldn’t they enjoy a great amount of respect and trust from their audience?
It lack’s not often the case. While it’d be easy to bring up the numerous complaints people have brought against the Nevada Sagebrush this past semester, it’s an issue that spreads far beyond the University of Nevada campus. One recent example came when The Appalachian Online (the student newspaper of Appalachian State University) incorrectly tweeted that a popular Mexican restaurant was closing, and corrected itself after outcry from students. The resulting editorial made the mistake of essentially telling readers that readers should care more about other issues, leading to angry commenters railing against what they perceived to be the paper’s faulty values and apparent lack of respect for their readers.
The story (which was picked up by Jim Romenesko and PR Daily) is a classic example of the divide that can easily exist and be perpetuated by college newspapers and their respective audiences. Although it’s important for college papers to remain completely separate and independent of non-journalistic influences, papers cannot survive if they promote hostility with their readers. So what’s the solution? Here’s a list of four things college papers can do to improve relations with their readers:
- Creating a social media community: The comments section on any news website, especially local news affiliates, are usually filled with either attacks on journalists or straight political propaganda; the antithesis of a community. Social media is different, especially on Facebook, as more people are comfortable with commenting and writing through the familiar Facebook system than through a cumbersome commenting program. Thus, it’s incredibly important for journalists to be on top of their social media, and to put time aside to address concerns and speak to audience members. Even if it’s just joking around, like David Weigel does often on his twitter feed, it’s a way to form an instant connection to readers and to let them know that you are human too.
- Connections around campus: This is an extremely fine line to tread, but it’s important to have a wide variety of different groups represented on a college newspaper staff. It’s extremely easy to form an ‘us v. them’ mentality when one spends all of their time in the company of fellow staff members. Branch out, join other clubs and organizations (and Greek life!) to avoid the echo chamber of a college newsroom.
- Be active in the community: The best way to advertise a college paper is to be an active member of the college community. It’s one thing to publish a story about a campus event- it’s another thing entirely to go out and actually participate. Putting faces to a masthead is important if a college paper needs to combat negative stereotypes and false beliefs.
- Own up to mistakes, and move on: If you make a mistake, address it, apologize and move on. Dwelling on something that went wrong will automatically make you appear less professional, and distracts from more important work and stories that need to be dealt with. As Nicole Dion writes in a blog post about dealing with social media crisises, “Don’t justify your actions, just apologize. Explain the situation, if necessary, and nip the talk in the bud. If you don’t say anything, people will assume the worst and it will become even bigger than it already is.”