August 8, 2008

Stormy Waters: Charting The Sun’s Place in the Journalism Industry

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Anyone who’s followed the media industry in the slightest knows that print journalism isn’t what it once was. With the internet making news so much easier to obtain, print editions are getting slimmed down, reporters are getting laid off and editors are quitting. Plus, the advent of blogging — which some consider grass-roots journalism while others call it the downfall of legitimate news — means that regular people are breaking news as opposed to institutionalized media outlets. Lastly, print advertising is down because websites like Craigslist cut down on the need to post ads in a newspaper. So, the world is scrambling to find the next big thing that will save the newspaper business, but no one really knows what it is yet. That’s my take anyway.

What will survive after the internet and blogging have had their way with journalism as we now know it? I can’t begin to answer that, because, well, everything is so up in the air. But the question of what will happen to The Sun is more up my alley.

College dailies are a bit more sheltered from the scary world of national and international newspapers. For one, at The Sun, our budget is smaller because we don’t pay our writers. Plus, we have our market niche cornered. Though a variety of newspapers dot Cornell’s campus, The Sun is the only one that provides news on a day-to-day basis. Much like your local town newspaper, we have our audience and it isn’t likely to go away soon. That’s why many in the community newspaper industry have speculated that their business will also weather this current storm.

But a recent article in Inside Higher Ed by Andy Guess ’05, former Sun EIC and a writer for the MetaEzra blog, introduced a new competitor to college journalism. College Publisher — a company which creates and hosts websites for many college dailies that don’t have their own websites — was recently bought out by Viacom, giving it virtually limitless backing in the advertising world. (The Sun, however, does not use College Publisher, as our web editor, Chris Barnes ’09, runs the website in-house.) But with all of College Publisher’s new backing, it recently released something called Campus Daily Guide, which Guess stated was meant to target college newspapers. The guides, which are personalized for each school, hope to be places to find out about local events and campus news, thus infringing on traditional college daily territory.

Though the guides seem like their coverage doesn’t quite align with what most college dailies provide, and it’s unlikely that they could provide better news than daily newspapers located right near campus, they establish a new concept. Conglomerating a lot of local coverage from different places together under the direction of one company — which the Guides are trying to do — is a business model that has also begun to take over local community news. Gate House Media, for example, owns over 500 local town newspapers. Who’s to say that couldn’t happen in college journalism? Why couldn’t The Sun be owned by a large company that also owns the The Harvard Crimson, The Daily Pennsylvanian and 100 other newspapers?

Well, if that did happen, that would severaly cut back on coverage. One of the reasons The Sun can report the news everyday is because we are right here in Ithaca. College students writing for college students provides an angle its hard to obtain when you have one reporter writing from company headquarters. With conglomerated Cornell news, you definitely wouldn’t have columnists like Jenna B. or staff editorials about campus culture and politics.

But, it seems that nothing is set in stone in the journalism industry — not even at The Sun. That’s why we’re always working to increase our online presence with multimedia and additional features and improve the look, feel, and quality of the paper. After all, once the journalistic storm calms, you never know what will emerge.