Will college publications all be digital in 25 years?

Robert Kuttner, columnist for the Boston Globe, predicts in the Columbia Journalism Review that newspapers will all be digital within 25 years. Despite gloomy forecasts and a late start, most newspapers have engaged into a viable transition to digital.

An easy prediction to make. If he’s wrong, who 25 years from now will remember that he predicted it?

But it is an interesting notion.

Will college publications all be digital in 25 years? There’s a good chance. Maybe sooner.

Bigger universities seem to be having luck in drawing large student audiences to their current web sites. For California community colleges it seems to be a bigger challenge. Sure, we can build an audience and it IS true that students spend a lot of time online. That doesn’t mean that community college students are gravitating to online student publications. I still maintain that one of the real reasons many of our publications exist is that schools want to give students a way to communicate. Our biggest number of campus readers probably comes from pass-by readership. That is, the students who read our print edition most often DON’T seek out the publication, it is just handy as they are walking by the many distribution points we have on campus. We haven’t learned yet how to get them pass by our web sites out there on the whole World Wide Web.

Of course, I have some thoughts. If we could just campus computer labs to set our sites to set the default URL of browsers to the campus publication, that would jump start things. But college are more likely to set the college web site as the URL.

The bigger answer, of course, is that we have to stop simply repeating the print edition and put new content on the web site that students WANT to seek out, something they can’t elsewhere.

What makes the prospect of all digital publications at colleges most likely is the cost that is involved in printing. As school budgets shrink and print advertising shrinks, the inexpensive printing of paper-based publications is going to rack up the pressure to go online only.

But advertising is also going to slow down the process a bit. That is until local advertisers see more value in online advertising than print advertising. And that’s not going to happen until student publications build LOCAL audiences. At the Cerritos College Talon Marks, for instance, clearly two-thirds of our online readership comes from the East Coast or Europe.

I’ve predicted in the past that California community colleges are about to see their first online-only student publication. Cypress College would like to be that first publication, but LA Harbor may give it a run for the money. Or it may simply be a school that currently does not have a student publication and sees online as the only option to starting one. And it may happen sometime during 2007.

JACC is poised to accept an online-only publication in its various competitions. Currently, in all writing categories, schools may enter any story as long as a version of it did not run in the print version of the publication. That’s a stupid limitation, but better than the alternative that no online version of a story may be entered. As for photos, the rules are different. Only printed versions of photos may be entered in photo competitions; there is a separate online-only photo competition.

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