Saratoga County

Skidmore College paper tries online-only

For the first time since 1925, Skidmore College is not offering a print newspaper specializing in li

For the first time since 1925, Skidmore College is not offering a print newspaper specializing in life on campus.

Money problems have led The Skidmore News to end its weekly printing and become an online publication only, at least for the time being.

The decision to go paperless had been under consideration prior to this semester, but the “provisional” move was made this fall under Editor in Chief Brendan James, a senior. James said the decision to make the switch was chiefly about finances, which became strained partly because the cost of the newspaper’s website had gone up.

The paper, which has a budget of about $12,000 per semester provided by student government, was spending about $8,500 on printing and $2,000 on its website. Its other major cost is a professional adviser.

James said the change was also made to improve the content of the publication. He felt as though staff members were struggling under deadlines imposed by print and fell behind in their coverage of events.

“[There was] a feeling that the print edition, while respectable, was not the most prestigious,” he said.

The editors hope that by concentrating on the Web edition they can improve their content and attract more readers, allowing them to eventually return to print.

“It is provisional,” James said about the switch. “I wouldn’t want to say that we definitely killed the print edition.”

The revamped website will eventually feature a range of blogs, including live blogging of student government meetings, as well as daily stories. The editors hope an improved Web edition will also encourage more students to join the publication’s staff, which would also make it easier for them to return to print.

But it could be hard to go back, according to Roy Gutterman, a journalism professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

“Once you lose a print entity, it hurts,” Gutterman said. “I hope it works for them. It sounds ambitious.”

He said he knew of a few other campuses in the country that have switched to online-only publication. He noted that Syracuse University’s newspaper, The Daily Orange, had cut back on its printing. Originally a five-day-a-week daily, it recently moved its Friday edition to online-only, with a few exceptions.

The Syracuse decision saved money, said Gutterman, who predicted Skidmore will “no doubt” see savings. “Printing costs for every type of newspaper are the highest thing on the budget,” he said.

The move could be risky, though, because college newspapers are primarily consumed in print, he said. In order to drive people to the Internet, the newspaper needs an active social media presence and a continuous stream of content, he added.

“It’s very easy for students to walk by a drop box or a stack of papers … and pick one up,” Gutterman said. “It’s another thing to expect them to go online and look for something.”

One of the major challenges in transitioning to an online-only publication is the responsibility of updating content daily, he said. But it also represents a “wonderful opportunity” for The Skidmore News to become a daily newspaper online, he said.

Gabe Weintraub, one of the managing editors of the paper, said the switch to online-only was not pushed by the college’s administration to save money. He pointed out that the paper retained its typical budget this semester, in case it returns to print.

Since making the change, Weintraub said, the paper has averaged about 900 views on its website per day and was showing improvement. By comparison, the website used to get about 1,500 hits on Fridays, when the paper was printed, but would receive almost no views the rest of the week. If the website can average more than 25,000 views per month, The Skidmore News will see its costs to operate the website decrease dramatically because of advertising agreements, Weintraub said.

“I like this system better. I think we’re more timely and more organized,” said Weintraub, who also redesigned the website. “I am a designer, so I’m as sad as anyone to see print go.”

He hoped in the future the paper could occasionally print special editions.

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