Laying out the unique reader-driven content of campus media
When you pick up a mainstream newspaper, you’ll find the words and thoughts of writers and editors who are paid to bring you the news every day, week or month. When you read a campus publication, you’ll see that there too — but what you’ll also find is the voice of the public and readers in the form of reader driven content.
With every community, university and city publication trying to engage its readers more and more, some have started to reach out to their audiences and include them in the news making process. In the world of campus media, this often means taking to the streets to distribute surveys, ask “Streeters” questions that will appear in print, holding contests that readers can enter and publishing article comments and letters to the editor. But no matter what form it takes, it’s content that can’t happen without the voluntary involvement of readers, and is a form of reader engagement that campus publications across the country have strongly embraced.
With few mainstream media outlets willing or able to take the time to listen to their readers, campus media is striving to change that. Publications like The Eyeopener at Ryerson University have gone beyond their usual Streeters column by distributing an annual survey for their Love & Sex issue, and the results are later revealed in print. They also had their third Arts Top 10 issue this year, wherein promising Arts students at Ryerson are nominated and then voted on by their peers. Both of these projects, which received hundreds to thousands of responses, made for an eye opening experience for Editor-in-Chief Sean Tepper, who’s come to realize the power of reader engagement.
“…People want to know what other people on campus are doing or what they think on a subject. Whether or not they’re really invested in it, I think Streeters are a good way to get them invested in it because you put your one question and it kind of sums up an issue that people have a general knowledge of and it gets diverse opinions,” Tepper says.
“On the flip side, everyone likes seeing themselves in print, whether they helped put the newspaper together or are in it, and I think in that case it’s very important to put [reader driven content] in there because it helps your circulation, your pickup, your clicks.”
Surveys and columns like Streeters are just a small taste of some of the student engagement that campus media has begun to foster. From province to province, there’s no lack of reader driven content in campus media, whether in the form of columns like “A Week in Tweets” in the University of Toronto’s The Varsity or public submissions for literary contests at the University of Victoria’s independent newspaper, The Martlet. The Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Alberta, has found great success with the reintroduction of their “3 Lines Free” column, which allows students to send in a few opinionated sentences on any topic they’d like. The response to the column has been substantial since it was reinstated three years ago, to the point where The Gateway now features a 3LF submission on the cover of each issue.
These types of reader driven columns and features have become commonplace in campus media, and they’re partly responsible for a rise in readership at some papers. Campus media has created an opportunity for relevant and interactive relationships between the media and their audience, and as they attempt to compete with larger citywide publications, it’s what ultimately sets them apart.
“Being in downtown Toronto, we have racks right next to the Toronto Star, we have boxes that are right next to The Grid or Now Magazine… and on the internet, obviously you’re competing with the entire internet,” explains Joshua Oliver, Editor-in-Chief of The Varsity at the University of Toronto. “We’ve come to realize increasingly over the past years that the only way to make a campus paper competitive in our particular environment, where we’re competing with so much other media, is to leverage the fact that we know students better, we know what they care about and we can talk about issues that no one else is talking about.”
Of course, nowadays, this type of interaction with media outlets has become more of an expectation than anything else. With the rise of social media and the ever-growing presence of the internet, today’s students are no longer content to just sit back and receive the news. Instead, they want — and even expect — to interact with media outlets in one way or another. This is especially true of campus publications, where the news hits home particularly hard and affects almost every reader in some way.
“There’s no more of this veil that media organizations, whether it be campus or mainstream, are untouchable,” Tepper says. “In journalism school we study the history of journalism, and at a certain point, whatever a paper said went; you didn’t question it. They reported on it and you either liked and believed their coverage or you didn’t. Now it’s much more of a forum for discussion, and generating these comments and discussion is a way to stimulate your readership.
“We’re in an era now where [website] clicks are king. And I think getting your stuff out there more and getting your readers involved more [is] helping us get those clicks, which is extremely important to us as a campus and a community newspaper.”
While competition in the newspaper industry is undeniably high, campus media will always have the home court advantage when it comes to universities and colleges. And by getting the readers involved through reader driven content, they’re taking the idea of creating news “for students, by students” to another level.