abandoned newspaper
Credit: Unsplash

It is not just regional and national newspapers that are turning away from print and towards digital - student publications are also struggling.

In a front-page editorial last month, the outgoing editor of Edinburgh’s student publication, The Student, said that Europe’s oldest student newspaper was a "sinking ship"; its readers increasingly turn to university-related Facebook pages and better-resourced competitors like The Tab.

Another student publication, The Falmouth Anchor, nearly had to shut down when its funding ended and it failed to raise more money.

However, three years on, the publication has managed to triple its reach through its website - from 25,000 in 2017 to 75,000 yearly views.

"There’s much more potential for multimedia content and we’ve had a big focus on doing video reports and interviews," says Matt Solomons, deputy editor of The Falmouth Anchor.

Multimedia formats worked particularly well during last year's European elections, and the paper even broke a story about a controversial UKIP candidate being hit with a fish that attracted national attention. It is these 'big wins' that Solomons sees as vital for growing its audience, which is easier online.

Another advantage of going online-only is the opportunity to publish the stories as they break instead of sitting on them for a month before the issue goes to print.

However, this also means the Anchor has to compete with university-related Facebook pages, where students can post news and gossip anonymously.

Producing multimedia content is more time-consuming, the final product is also more engaging. But not having a physical issue available on campus also means students are less likely to discover the publication and send their contributions.

Owain Evans, chair of the Student Publication Association, said this was a major reason why student papers are hesitant to end their print run, adding that there was also a prestige related to print journalism that online journalism just did not have.

"The editorial staff behind student publications, typically serving for at most a year, are reluctant for their legacy to be that they axed the print product."

Evans was also worried that scrapping a publication’s print presence could give financially constrained students’ unions an excuse to slash funding and force the papers to close down.

Although going fully digital poses challenges in the short term, Evans is optimistic that student publications will continue to survive.

"We are seeing a growth in online-only student publications, and that isn’t surprising given the low barriers to entry. As an organisation, it’s likely that supporting publications that make similar transitions will become a priority in the coming years."

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