Student Media Consolidation at SMC
St. Michael's College is served by a pair of student news publications: The Defender, a traditional print newspaper, and The Echo, an online magazine (for which I served as tech editor this past semester). Both publications publish weekly or biweekly, ranging from 7-10 issues per semester in recent years. They also both cover many of the same stories when it comes to on-campus events. Journalism majors at St. Mike's have traditionally had to spend two semesters writing stories for both publications as part of the two Writing for Media classes (typically sophomore year), and then spend at least one semester working as an editor on the staff of one of the two (typically one semester junior year). This is about to change, though, as the spring 2009 semester will see The Defender and The Echo produced by one merged staff.
Defender advisor Paul Beique and Echo advisor Marybeth Redmond will co-teach the combined class, and both have been adamant that neither publication is going away or getting folded into the other — this is very much a merger of equals. Two of the student staff editors from each publication are returning next semester to help lead the merger experiment, as well (including me, again — I'll be the editor of The Naked Opinion, which is sticking around and becoming cross-platform).
The move is largely designed to provide journalism majors with the wide range of media experience they need to graduate into today's journalism world. No longer is it good enough for a reporter to know how to take good notes and write a print story on deadline. The trend now is for "backpack reporters" — journalists who can write, record audio, take pictures and video, and craft a full media package for a story for a print setting and for the Web. While The Defender does have a Web site and multimedia components, it's clear that those elements take a back seat to print stories, in all honesty. Conversely, Echo staff members never have to learn print design. A glance at the Web sites for NPR or The New York Times will quickly reveal just how converged media forms are getting.
So is the merger of our publications at St. Mike's ultimately a good thing? I say yes, but with some qualifications. I personally love new media and multimedia (and that's why I'm a part-time blogger!), so it's good to see my department validating my interests as legitimate. For the journalism majors who aren't as dorky as me and thus aren't as excited to delve into multimedia storytelling, it'll be good to have the department pushing them in that direction. And from a purely practical standpoint, our campus has just 2,000 students, and two publications to cover a campus this small can get redundant. Prominent sources will surely be thrilled to no longer have two reporters begging to interview them about the same story.
At the same time, though, there is something I'll miss about having two wholly separate publications. Though they would both cover major campus events, I always liked how The Defender covered the campus more in-depth, while The Echo tended to gravitate towards more off-campus stories in Burlington or elsewhere in the area. While the publications themselves remain, I wonder how a merged staff will change story-gathering trends. And plus, it never hurts to have an extra voice in the discussion of campus issues. It'll be fun next semester to find out for sure what's gained and what's lost in our student media.