Pomona College Magazine
Volume 45, No. 3
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Pomona's student paper, The Student Life, adapts to the online world.
By Vanessa Hua

Campus news arrives at golf-cart speed early on a Friday morning, as a staffer drives from building to building dropping off bundles of The Student Life. By lunchtime, the paper’s broad-sheet pages are spread across the sturdy tables of Frary Dining Hall while students indulge in what has become an increasingly rare pastime beyond campus: reading the print newspaper.

Under a mellow light shining in from high windows, students chuckle at the humorously-written security briefs (which chalk up the loss of unlocked bikes to “natural selection”) and groan over the headline for a story on Professor Justin Crowe leaving for Williams (“Say It Ain’t Crowe”). Laughs aside, these readers seem to appreciate TSL most for the hard-news reporting.

“Someone has to ask the questions. And [TSL] asks good questions,” says Christopher Wienberg ’10, a computer science major, pointing to a story about the Neuroscience Program’s struggle to become a department.

With this weekly scene, old-fashioned, wait-for-the-paper-to-arrive journalism carries on at Pomona, even as newspapers in the wider world watch their profits shrink and print editions wither. It helps, of course, that TSL, billed as Southern California’s oldest college paper, gets most of its funding through Pomona sources such as student fees, insulating it from some—but not all—real-world financial pressures. And, until deep into the spring semester, TSL’s online presence had been limited to posting PDF files of each issue the same day they arrive in print, the consequence of a system crash last year that forced the paper to patch together a temporary Web.

Although the new site soft-launched in April—along with an editor’s blog—the online version still primarily consists of Friday-midnight postings of stories that will arrive in the print edition later that morning. But the new site also allows TSL to move more quickly. When the Pomona-Pitzer baseball team beat Cal Lutheran for the conference championship on a Saturday in April, TSL was able to post a story that very day instead of waiting an entire week to deliver the news in print.

Reporters “already have their plates full with a few days to produce articles,’’ says Trevor Hunnicutt ’10, the spring semester editor-in-chief. “That said, I think this is going to have to change, and we’re going to need to better differentiate between breaking news content and analytical, second-day stories.” The paper has plans to further upgrade its online content by fall, with the addition of the newly-created position of Web editor to oversee more frequent updates.

For now, though, Pomona news coverage unfolds much the same way it did in decades past. TSL’s student editors must consider the Web-based future while still carrying out the time-consuming work of getting the paper out each week, and all the attendant concerns: assigning and editing stories and photos, laying out and printing and delivering.

At their last weekly story meeting of the fall semester, a circle of editors sits on battered couches and loveseats, part of the office’s tag-sale, 1970s décor, which contrasts with the brand-new flat-screen monitors recently purchased by the College, along with layout and editing software.

“Any big stories?” asks Rylan Stewart ’10, the paper’s editor-in-chief for that semester. Editors ticked off an article about California’s same-sex marriage ban, another about the Obama Administration, and a professor running for a planning commission. There’s also a review of a LACMA show and the latest from the sex columnist.

They toss around story ideas. Winter sport training exercise? Something about the signing of Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers? Photos, what about photos? The moon, Jupiter and Venus in close alignment? Or students celebrating Thanksgiving dinner together?

Stewart and his two managing editors stay afterward to discuss whether they could write a story about a faculty hiring decision. They had information off-the-record, but the department wouldn’t confirm the news, probably not until after TSL went to press. If editors ran with what they knew, they risked angering sources.

“It’s hard. It’s six degrees of separation, or less than that, in a school so small,” says Andrea Kretchmer ’09, a managing editor for fall semester. “Especially when there’s a controversy and you have to talk to both sides.”

But that sometimes awkward proximity to their audience gives college papers some advantages over real-world ones. For the most part, campus newspapers remain insulated from economic woes because of their local coverage and loyal readership base, says Carlo DiMarco, vice president of University Relations for mtvU, whose College Media Network hosts more than 600 college publications online.

And love it or hate it, people on campus pay attention to TSL. Emily Aamodt ’09 criticizes its attempts to cover world affairs instead of sticking to school issues: “They take themselves too seriously.” Still, she reads the paper regularly.

“I’m on the softball team, and I want to see what they wrote about me,” says Aamodt, a philosophy, politics and economics major.

Even so, many college newspapers are struggling to remake themselves, just like “real-world” newspapers, magazines, and television stations. At UC Davis and the University of Minnesota, the daily student newspapers ceased publication on Fridays to save money. “We need to help our students and advisors be better prepared for what’s going on out there,” says Ron Spielberger, executive director of College Media Advisers, which has begun offering multimedia classes at its annual student conventions. “It’s easier now that the technology has changed.”

At Pomona, after TSL goes back fully online, the staff plans to experiment with multimedia features such as photo slide shows and podcasts (Internet radio segments), map mashups, audio slideshows, video, interactive graphics, databases, podcasts, and real-time feedback. “We need to fully invest ourselves in developing online,” says Hunnicutt. “Doing so will liberate us from the artificial weekly deadline, allowing us to produce news on demand.”

Maribel Gonzalez ’10, who was reading newspapers during Friday lunch in Frary Hall, says that’s the only day she reads print editions. The rest of the week she is “scrambling” with work, and takes in her news in bites and snatches, from feeds such as Reddit and Digg—news aggregators—which cull stories from around the Web.

Hunnicutt also acknowledges that “a number of readers have clearly expressed a preference for the print edition.” Consider the cautionary tale of Asclepius—a health journal funded by the College’s Office of the President. It started out online, then received funding for print because there was virtually no online readership, according to Neil Gerard, associate dean of students.

Print is pricey, though, and TSL recently added a mail subscription program for alumni and parents in an effort to boost revenues. Ad sales cover roughly 10 percent of the paper’s budget, and Business Manager David Apfel ’09 has tried to make TSL more visible by going door-to-door with retailers in Claremont, presenting at the chamber of commerce and being more responsive to advertisers and national media buyers. But, he says, advertisers can be slow to pay.

With printing bills accounting for more than 90 percent of non-payroll costs, TSL editors say they might consider going online-only someday. “It’s amazing that real newspapers exist at all,” says Apfel.

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