Student Media revives The Daily's summer print editions
James Corley, The Oklahoma Daily
A university department is giving $4,000 in funding to Student Media in response to protests about The Oklahoma Daily’s decision to cancel its July print editions — and the newspaper has agreed to reverse its original decision as a result.
The money, provided by Student Affairs, will help fund a yearlong study Student Media plans to conduct concerning the future of The Daily’s news presentation. In light of the unexpected funding, the department has decided to renew the July print editions.
Student Media announced on June 14 that it would transition The Daily into an online-only organization for the end of the summer.
University officials heard from “a significant number of people” who were concerned about The Daily’s decision to drop the last four print editions of the summer, said Susan Sasso, associate vice president of Student Affairs and associate dean of students.
Student Media should wait until its study is completed before making any changes, Sasso said.
“Really, it’s mostly about the student experience and how not publishing The Daily will affect the student experience,” she said. “I think there was just a lot of people concerned about it and saying, ‘Gosh, you know, could we get more input before we make a decision this major?’”
The money, which will come from funds donated by parents, is generally used to support programs that serve a broad base of students and impact the student experience, Sasso said.
“Boy, what’s happening in Student Media and the campus newspaper, that’s just a perfect kind of activity (for the money),” she said.
WRONG DECISION, EDITOR SAYS
The Daily did not directly receive negative feedback about the cancelation from readers, editor in chief Chris Lusk said.
Lusk said he is upset Student Media officials agreed to reverse its decision just because they were offered extra funding.
“You know, the department’s financial concerns were only one small reason why the idea to cancel the summer paper gained traction — at least with me, anyway,” he said. "It just seems like we're being paid off to change our minds just because a few people didn't like the idea."
The digital-only experimentation was designed to push Student Media into the future and to learn how The Daily could better serve its readers, Lusk said.
“I’m disappointed because I thought we were taking some steps to really challenge ourselves and our department to think bigger, to think into the future, to think visionary,” he said.
Newspaper leaders wanted to try the initiative in hopes of gathering information about if the organization was built to exist as a digital-only product — an important first step of the yearlong study, Lusk said.
The summer initiative was a small step that only canceled four papers and would have allowed the department to learn how it would operate in a digital environment, including digital-advertising solutions and improvements to the newsroom’s current Web mindset, Lusk said.
“I think there’s great value in the print product, but I thought this was a perfect time to really go away from that and test what we’re doing — not just inside the newsroom and how we approach our coverage but the entire department,” he said. “I think that’s what’s being missed in this sudden move to reverse our decision.”
Faculty adviser Judy Gibbs Robinson said reviving the print edition won’t change much for The Daily. Lusk had already designed a summer newsroom that was Web-first and focused the staff’s attention on its online product, Robinson said.
The staff meets five days a week to plan content for OUDaily.com, and only after those meetings are there addition discussions about what, of everything already planned for online, should be repurposed or updated for the print edition, Robinson said.
“All (the return to print) means is that on four days in July that we weren’t going to do a print edition, we now have a couple of key students who will need to come in and repurpose that content,” she said. “It doesn’t really change that much of what we were going to do.”
DEPARTMENT HOPES TO LEARN
In August, the department plans to launch the yearlong study of its operation to measure readership and advertising support for a digital-first initiative, Student Media Director Brian Ringer said.
Officials hope the study can help determine what The Daily's future will be, whether that means dropping some print editions each week or maintaining the paper's five-day-a-week schedule while emphasizing OUDaily.com, Ringer said.
The department wants to learn what’s working for the whole operation, Ringer said.
“What do people think of us? With all the devices students have these days, are they going to pick up the paper less and less? Is that how they’re going to read us in the future? That’s what we hope to find out,” he said.
Operating for an entire month without producing a print edition would have forced the department to examine how it responds to being digital-only, which would be different from how it already operates, Lusk said.
The one-month trial would have armed the department with a month’s worth of valuable information heading into the study in August, Lusk said.
Nonetheless, Student Media should strive to sharpen its digital focus, he said.
“I don’t think we have really pushed ourselves as a department as a whole to honestly commit to thinking about being a digital-only product,” Lusk said. “The ultimate goal is to create a better version of The Daily — and I know all of Student Media is on board with that.
“Hopefully we maximize this $4,000 gift.”
With any policy change, there is a variety of perspectives, said Joe Foote, dean of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
“The Daily is important for the university and has been for many years,” Foote said. “It’s not surprising that it’s a journalism organization people care about and value. Strong feedback is validation of its importance as a communication vehicle and as a training ground for journalists.”
Hillary McLain contributed to this report.