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    Do Student Newsrooms Still Need Physical Space for Newsrooms?

    by Dan Reimold
    May 6, 2015
    Staffers at the Iowa State Daily. Courtesy photo.

    Late last month, the University of Tampa planned to kick the Minaret student newspaper out of its longtime newsroom, relocating the staff to a nearby office that is much smaller and without a few of the current amenities. The school’s rationale: a separate administrative team needs the newsroom space more than the paper nowadays.

    Fortunately, in the face of mounting internal, social media, and outside press pushback, UT administrators quickly caved and said the Minaret staff could stay in its current spot. But the larger question of newsroom relevancy lingers.

    "When I look back on my years at the Kaimin, I don't always remember specific issues. I do remember nights in the newsroom." - Ric Sanchez

    1In her recent farewell column, Hannah Jeffrey, outgoing editor-in-chief of the Daily Gamecock at the University of South Carolina, wrote, “I go to the newsroom like most people go home. I’ve screwed up there. I’ve cried hard and laughed way harder there. I’ve gotten and delivered the best and worst news there. I’ve moved on there.”

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    Do most collegiate journalists share Jeffrey’s sentiments? Is the student press newsroom still like home to them? Or have they moved on to a more anywhere-everywhere platform-based journalism existence?

    To dig into these questions, I reached out to 12 current and recent top editors and reporters at student media across the U.S. and in Europe. The main focus of my curiosity: in the digital-mobile era, how important is a permanent newsroom space for college news outlets? Or as one of the editors puts it: “Why do we need face time when we can just FaceTime?”

    The most prominent theme weaving through the students’ answers: even with daily production nights disappearing, a central newsroom space is still crucial to enhance staff communication, motivate greater productivity, mobilize when big news breaks, and bond between classes and during downtime.

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    A few choice quotes from their responses backing up that perspective:

    • “Our workflow is a million times more effective when the parties involved are all in one place and easily located.”
    • “More bodies in the newsroom means less time to track down an available journalist who’s not in class or at another job. Managers will be able to look at reporters and say, ‘Go.’”
    • “It’s great when your energy is starting to flag and you need a little boost because you don’t want to look like the slacker in the newsroom. There’s no such pressure if you’re working in your pajamas from the dorm room.”
    • “Beyond packaging content, what’s most important to me about a permanent newsroom is a safe space for the staff to speak privately about sensitive issues.”
    • “Maybe most importantly, it’s a social space where our team can meet and bounce ideas off each other in a free-flowing, casual way that can’t be done online.”

    Here is a more complete rundown of the answers student journalists shared with me. (To see their full responses, you can read the original post on College Media Matters.)

    Sami Edge, editor-in-chief, the Emerald, University of Oregon

    Sami Edge (Emerald)

    Sami Edge (Emerald)

    “The Emerald newsroom is critical for our team. We’re lucky enough to have a space at the top of our student union with a bird’s-eye view of campus. Not only does that make it a perfect central gathering place for all of our employees, it also is a prime location for spotting emergency vehicles heading onto campus, hearing protests and uploading multimedia posts quickly after campus events. … Though our digital focus makes it possible to do things remotely, we still require that copy editors come into the newsroom for their shifts throughout the day — they’re scheduled in two-hour shifts from 10 to 6. And we’ve recently reverted to a breaking news system where reporters have to do the same. Our workflow is a million times more effective when the parties involved are all in one place and easily located.”

    Emma LeGault, special projects editor, the University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

    Emma LeGault (Kansan)

    Emma LeGault (Kansan)

    “My aunt actually asked this question about a month ago, and I didn’t have a solid response. It’s a valid question — why do we need face time when we can just FaceTime? Reported.ly is successful, even though editors are spread across the globe and can’t meet in real time. But, much like interviewing a source, I think there’s something you miss on the phone or through Skype — something you miss without a human connection. … Although our journalists can — and are expected to — file from anywhere, more bodies in the newsroom means less time to track down an available journalist who’s not in class or at another job. Managers will be able to look at reporters and say, ‘Go.'”

    Natalie Daher, former editor-in-chief, the Pitt News, University of Pittsburgh

    Natalie Daher (Pitt News)

    Natalie Daher (Pitt News)

    “As newspapers become less print-focused, the potentially more demanding agendas — but not the existence — of [editorial meetings] will change. Instead of discussing character counts for print, we’ll discuss data visualization for the Internet. We won’t just talk about headlines for print, but punchy taglines for Twitter, Tumblr, the website’s homepage and respective article page — you name it. Beyond packaging content, what’s most important to me about a permanent newsroom is a safe space for the staff to speak privately about sensitive issues. Student journalists aren’t just reporting on the latest on-campus bash. They’re keeping administrators and student leaders in check. It’s absolutely imperative that student editors can discuss more controversial news with one another or relevant sources ASAP.”

    Alex Bitter, editor-in-chief, Ka Leo O Hawai’i, U. of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

    Alex Bitter (Ka Leo)

    Alex Bitter (Ka Leo)

    “While our digital infrastructure is key to the way we submit, edit and publish content, there are some tasks that are better done in person. Try waiting for clarification on an upcoming article via email instead of asking the writer or editor when you see them in person, and you realize how convenient it is to have your staff pass through the same room once each day. … Just as many educators say that online college courses don’t offer the same learning opportunities as traditional classes, I argue that conducting all the business of a college newsroom online would deprive students of valuable management experiences, leaving them less prepared for the professional world.”

    Riley Brands, editor-in-chief, the Daily Texan, University of Texas

    Riley Brands (Daily Texan)

    Riley Brands (Daily Texan)

    We’re in our newsroom all the time. It’s our home base. It’s where reporters come after doing their work in the field to write their stories and it’s where all the editing happens, too. The physical space is absolutely invaluable. I was actually just thinking of this the other day when I was sitting down for in-person edits with one of my associate editors on a complicated piece. There was no way I could’ve managed edits with her over the phone or even text or Facebook chat. I speak from experience — it’s a disaster with anything complicated. … It’s great when your energy is starting to flag and you need a little boost because you don’t want to look like the slacker in the newsroom. There’s no such pressure if you’re working in your pajamas from the dorm room.”

    Nicole Brown, former editor-in-chief, Washington Square News, New York University

    Nicole Brown (Washington Square News)

    “Our newsroom is incredibly important to the staff. We meet in the newsroom five days a week to start production. We have our daily meetings and pitch meetings in the office, and we have rows of computers set up to edit and work on layout. While most of our work is online and can be sent from anywhere, having a permanent newsroom increases efficiency during production and creates a motivating environment. … While the reason we joined the staff was not because of the newsroom, the environment we experience there is often the reason people stay. Our staff is entirely volunteer-based, and if we did not have a central location where editors and writers knew they were always welcome, I definitely believe our staff would decrease.”

    Stephen Koenigsfeld, editor-in-chief, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

    Stephen Koenigsfeld (Iowa State Daily)

    Stephen Koenigsfeld (Iowa State Daily)

    “The physical space of a newsroom is extremely crucial for a daily publication. We still print five days a week and in order for us to do that, we need a place to write, edit and produce the news. Yes, we do double what’s in the paper online, but having a newsroom gives us a physical space to get things done. It’s also extremely important when it comes to a sense of home or community. At a college news organization, we spend 55 to 60 hours per week working in our newsroom. We also spend a lot of time in between classes in here, because a majority of our classes are in the same building as our newsroom.”

    Joey Stipek, assignment editor & webmaster, OU Nightly, University of Oklahoma

    Joey Stipek (OU Nightly)

    Joey Stipek (OU Nightly)

    “For a smaller, non-profit journalism organization, a newsroom isn’t essential. However, if you have more than 40 staffers in your organization, I believe a newsroom is vital to your organization humming along like a well-oiled machine. … I believe one of the benefits of having a newsroom is when breaking news occurs, you can rally staffers and devise a workflow chart to determine what needs to be covered and what interviews reporters need to get. For example, having access to a newsroom was useful when Lauren King, OU Nightly’s executive producer, helped plot our coverage the night the OU Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter was thrown off campus.”

    Courtney Jacquin, editor-in-chief, the DePaulia, DePaul University

    Courtney Jacquin

    Courtney Jacquin (DePaulia)

    “Just because it’s possible to run a student newspaper without a newsroom, it doesn’t mean you should. Our newsroom remains an invaluable part of our paper’s day-to-day activity. It’s a place where our contributors know they can always find an editor. It’s a private space where we can securely meet sources, conduct interviews or safely store documents. It’s also much easier to correct your designer by pointing directly at their screen. Maybe most importantly, it’s a social space where our team can meet and bounce ideas off each other in a free-flowing, casual way that can’t be done online. At the University Observer, I’ve found that having a strong sense of collegiality and friendship among staff members is one of the key factors in a successful student paper. Having a space that is our own contributes greatly to this.”

    Ric Sanchez, editor-in-chief, Montana Kaimin, University of Montana

    Ric Sanchez (Kaimin)

    Ric Sanchez (Kaimin)

    “As the Kaimin transitions now to a weekly print issue, we’ve started to address a grave concern: How do we keep newsroom culture alive? Even though it’s possible to file our online daily stories remotely — which happens often with breaking news — we still want reporters to experience sitting down with an editor and designer to discuss the best way to present each story. News writing can be done remotely, but it’s done better with a collaborative group. When I look back on my years at the Kaimin, I don’t always remember specific issues. I do remember nights in the newsroom.”

    Jordyn Reiland, editor-in-chief, the Daily Iowan, University of Iowa

    Jordyn Reiland (Daily Iowan)

    “Even in a digital-mobile era, I think having a permanent newsroom is still extremely important. I’ve come to find that a large percentage of the job of editor-in-chief and any section editor is communicating amongst each other. In-person communication is by far the easiest way to do so and the most effective. Communication over email, text and even over the phone can be misconstrued in so many different ways, and can lead to unseen issues or unnecessary drama. Building of the idea of communication, I think a permanent newsroom builds camaraderie. The Daily Iowan staff spends a lot of time in the newsroom working, but they also spend a lot of time socializing, studying, etc. It’s so important to have that common space because that’s where the friendships and solid management teams are built. It also stresses the importance of in-person edits and critiques, which the DI requires on a daily basis.”

    Cormac Duffy, editor, University Observer, University College Dublin

    Cormac Duffy (University Observer)

    “Just because it’s possible to run a student newspaper without a newsroom, it doesn’t mean you should. Our newsroom remains an invaluable part of our paper’s day-to-day activity. It’s a place where our contributors know they can always find an editor. It’s a private space where we can securely meet sources, conduct interviews or safely store documents. It’s also much easier to correct your designer by pointing directly at their screen. Maybe most importantly, it’s a social space where our team can meet and bounce ideas off each other in a free-flowing, casual way that can’t be done online. At the University Observer, I’ve found that having a strong sense of collegiality and friendship among staff members is one of the key factors in a successful student paper. Having a space that is our own contributes greatly to this.”

    You can read the original post with longer responses on College Media Matters.

    Dan Reimold, Ph.D., is a college journalism scholar who has written and presented about the student press throughout the U.S. and in Southeast Asia. He is an assistant professor of journalism at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where he also advises The Hawk student newspaper. He is the author of the textbook Journalism of Ideas (Routledge, 2013) and maintains the student journalism industry blog College Media Matters.

    Tagged: college media college newsrooms daily kansan daily texan Ka Leo montana kaimin pitt news the emerald university newsrooms university observer
    • Steve Klein

      The late ’60s must seem like a million years ago to college journalists today, but that’s when I learned the importance of newsroom culture at the Daily Cardinal, at that time the only student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our newsroom in the basement of the old journalism building was the place I learned what it meant to be a journalist by being among other journalists. It wasn’t about the product: the paper. It was about the news, and not just the news I pursued as a sports writer and later sports editor as all the activity of the anti-war movement swirled around me. It’s the place where I first typed out a story on a typewriter; where I first set a headline; where I first laid out a page. But most important, it’s the place where I learned that there was more going on than the story I was covering. That newsroom opened my window to the world.

    • melissawall

      Do students need physical newsrooms is a question answered by the Pop-Up Newsroom project which has involved hundreds of students from around the world collaboratively producing news: http://civicmediaproject.org/works/civic-media-project/pop-up-newsroom

    • College Guy

      I ran an official campus paper for four years and now run an independent student paper that hits multiple campuses but has no HQ.

      The previous experience was mostly a clubhouse, and the better stories came from the actual journalism classes, BUT I think as a club, it was a powerful experience. We bonded a good deal, went on a lot of trips and a few of the staff did go on to journalism jobs. But, now, I can mentor from my phone and computer and the occasional meetup, and the quality of “clips” is better being away from the confines of a constitutionally elected club; so, for the student looking for a j-job after graduation, or transfer/grad school, the ultimate goal is getting good clips, and a clubhouse-style office may distract them.

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